A Lesson In Perseverance

Mount Vernon
Mills Cuero, Texas, plant part of the companys Brentex Division recently celebrated 99 years of
producing textiles in southeastern Texas. The plant, whose product line includes 100-percent drill
fabric, fabric for boat covers and 65-percent/35-percent cotton greige goods for apparel, recently
completed an expansion and renovation project that has taken place over the past two years. For
Mount Vernon, the road the Cuero plant took to reach its current status as one of the most modern
plants in the textile industry wasnt nearly as smooth as it had expected.After acquiring the Cuero
facility, along with the Brenham, Texas, plant in 1992, Mount Vernon decided, in 1996, to expand
its Cuero location by building a new warehouse and manufacturing location to adjoin its existing
manufacturing facility. The ground breaking took place in July 1998. Three months later, what
happened within about a five-hour time period caused Mount Vernon to drastically alter its initial
plan. The plant, the town and much of south central Texas were decimated by a natural disaster that
many people in the area call the 500-year flood.  The Water’s WrathThe decimation began with a
weather system that dumped approximately 22 inches of rain in the area around San Antonio, Texas,
about 80 miles northwest of Cuero, and produced about six inches of rain in Cuero itself. Cuero was
given notice that the nearby Guadalupe River would crest in two days at 50 feet, more than six
inches higher than any other time on record. However, those predictions proved to be wrong. The
river did crest at 50 feet, but only hours after notice had been given.When the floodwaters
crested, the Cuero plant, like most of the town, was under water. An estimated 9.7 million gallons
of water filled the existing portion of the plant and the section under construction within about
two hours. Almost four feet of water filled the plant, leaving a months worth of clean up in its
wake. The water and silt damaged or destroyed many of the machines in the plant and buckled the
wood floor. All of the companys inventory was lost, as was the yarn, sliver and fabric that was in
production.As devastating as the flood was for Mount Vernon, the community of 7,000 fared far
worse. While there were no fatalities from the flood a situation that would have undoubtedly been
much different had the floodwaters risen at night the damage was severe.Robert D. (Bobby) Heyer,
plant manager, Cuero, was one of the many people key in the evacuation process, as he rescued
people from their homes via helicopter. Others in the tight-knit community used their boats to
evacuate people trapped in or on their homes.Its hard to believe that water will rise five feet an
hour, Heyer said. Its like backing your truck down a boat ramp to put your boat in the water and to
come back half an hour later to find that your truck is under water.There was catastrophic damage
throughout the town. Approximately one-third of the homes in Cuero (800 homes) were destroyed. More
than 100 of those homes vanished without a trace. Many homes suffered a varied amount of damage, as
only the downtown area of the city was spared the water’s wrath. Starting OverThe waters
receded within a week, and the overwhelming clean-up process began almost immediately. The flood
had destroyed more than homes. Livestock was lost from nearby ranches, and the fear of water
contamination was a major concern as streaks of chemicals could be seen in the floodwater. For
those whose homes had been destroyed or damaged, there was little initial relief. Many of the
affected victims moved in with family or friends, some lived out of their cars, and some left the
town altogether.According to Heyer, only one Mount Vernon employee was among those who left. For
those employees who did stay, Mount Vernon immediately granted financial assistance.The Pamplin
family, owners of Mount Vernon Mills, provided greatly needed assistance to those devastated by the
flood by giving $2,500 to each of the affected families. The company also gathered clothing,
bedding and other non-perishable goods at its plants across the nation and sent truckloads of items
to the flood victims. So many items were donated by company employees that excess goods were given
to the Red Cross and other relief organizations for other flood victims. Cueros customers also sent
first-quality clothing to the towns victims. Luck In TimingAs the town began its recovery
efforts, Mount Vernon began its own clean-up and rebuilding efforts. The Cuero plant was actually
quite lucky. Much of the machinery that was to be installed as part of the initial expansion and
renovation project was ordered but it had not arrived prior to the flood.Said Kent Snow, president,
Brentex Division: We really werent planning on buying 10 more cards, but the flood basically
decided that for us. The timing, as bad as it was, was very fortunate from the standpoint of how
far along the project was. We had cards coming in for the expansion that we put into production so
we could run until we could get the new ones in. Within 45 days of the flood, the plant was up and
running, although it took some innovative techniques to get there. One of the biggest achievements
of the restart was the pouring of the concrete floor in the spinning area while the spinning frames
continued to run.  
Kent Snow,
president, Brentex Division,checks out the new weave room at Cuero. Extreme Innovation
As a result
of the massive amount of water and silt, the wood flooring had buckled, causing many problems
throughout the plant, including the inability of cans to be used effectively.The buckled flooring
was to be removed and replaced with a concrete floor. However, if the spinning frames were to be
removed from the area while this was done, at least a month in production time would be lost. The
need to maintain production was made that more pressing because one of Mount Vernons largest
customers was in immediate need of the 100-percent drill fabric produced at the plant.Plans were
immediately devised to rebuild the flooring with as little downtime as possible. The existing
flooring in the spinning room had a three-foot crawl space that would provide the space necessary
to pour the structural support for the new floor. It was decided that the 12 Schlafhorst SE9
spinning frames would be kept in place and running while the new floor was being constructed.The
spinning frames were jacked-up and stabilized with large dowel rods, while the old flooring was
removed and the new flooring was installed. A temporary plywood floor was built and lightweight
concrete was poured through holes cut in the plywood for structural support. After the support
beams were in place, the rest of the concrete floor was poured.  Making It Modern
Even before
the flood, a great deal of forethought was put into the project. As with Mount Vernon in general,
the focus of the renovation was on how to improve its product for its customers.A large part of the
Cuero expansion was oriented toward the customers in terms of defects levels, Snow said.Heyer
continued: We only have approximately 20 machines that were in here before the flood. There were
the 12 Schlafhorst spinning frames, two Rieter Uniflocs, two Unimixes and two A80s.The plant itself
was built to be both flexible and customer oriented, as shown by its ability to run 2.25- to
1.2-denier polyester. Cuero uses Rieter exclusively in its opening, cleaning, blending, carding and
drawing operations. The plant was the second operation in the United States to have the Rieter A80
blending line installed when it was brought to market, and its carding process uses the C51 Rieter
card, which can operate at a rate of 200 pounds per hour. The Rieter system has given the company
great flexibility, especially in opening.Along with the 12 Schlafhorst spinning frames, the company
also has nine Rieter R20 spinning frames with foreign fiber detectors. The foreign fiber detection
was purchased primarily because one of the companys major customers wanted to reduce the number of
seconds it was producing. The Cuero facility is also currently the only operation in the world to
use the Barco clearer on the R20s.This is the first Barco installation on the R20 spinning frames,
said Heyer. This is unique, no one else has done it.Mount Vernon also purchased two WestPoint
Foundry and Machine Co. warpers and slashers. An automated kitchen for slashing, which will
eliminate the manual handling and mixing of chemicals, has also been added.The new weave room has
145 Sulzer Textil L5200 and L5300 air-jet looms running at upwards of 870 picks per minute. Of
those looms, 45 have a width of 210 cm, allowing customer fabric use to be optimized. Because of
space limitations, the company decided to build its weaving operation with two levels, with the
looms on the top floor, and with the Alexander Machine take-up machines in the lower area. By using
this arrangement, the company has been able to optimize its weaving operation as seen by a
150-percent increase in production.Snow and Heyer agreed that the new Williamson wrapper that was
recently installed has been a hit both with the company and its customers. The wrapper is located
on the lower level of the newly built weave room along with the take-up operation. It is designed
so that the rolls of fabric can be moved from take-up to a conveyor, and then moved to and wrapped
by the wrapper. After the roll has been wrapped and labeled, it is moved via conveyor to the upper
level where the warehouse is located.This process has eliminated most of the manual handling and,
according to company estimates, saves approximately 120 cm of fabric per roll from damage.The
companys warehouse, which was initially used to store new machinery while the renovation was
underway, is designed to hold two weeks of inventory but has the flexibility to hold more if
necessary. Staying Power
While life in
the town of Cuero has yet to return to the way it was before October 1998, it is slowly getting
back to normal. Thanks in large part to Mount Vernons commitment to its employees, customers and
the town, the transition to life after the flood has moved on as smoothly as possible. Today, there
are still many residents living in government-supplied housing while more permanent homes are
built.For Mount Vernon, the rebuilding process has been completed at the plant as well. The
expanded and renovated plant is now able to produce approximately 750,000 yards of fabric per week
up from 300,000 yards per week before the renovation.The renovation of the Cuero plant was truly
unique. This is the first time a plant has been rebuilt from the ground up in this company, said
Snow. The closest thing was the Alto, Ga., facility in 1966 but that was a new construction. This
plant was totally rebuilt piece by piece with several areas running while another area was being
renovated.In the conference room is a prime example of Mount Vernons resourcefulness and
innovation: the conference table. The table was made from the useable portion of the wood salvaged
from the wood beams that were damaged in the flood. This unique table will not only provide
functionality for years to come, but also serve as a centerpiece of the Cuero legacy.

May 2000