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Jim McKee: Havelock building lives on

July 15, 2018

As buildings age they often grow and modernize while changing ownership and usage. An interesting example of this is the rambling two-story structure at 4021 N. 56th St., which was a truck and airplane manufacturing plant, stored B-17 parts, hosted a welding school, made leak-proof gasoline tanks and ultimately built plastic and rubber automotive parts.

Arthur Grainger Hebb moved to Lincoln from Aurora about 1901, where he operated a Ford and Chase car and truck sales franchise. In 1916 Hebb built a plant at 10th and Vine streets where he began producing truck bodies for Ford chassis.

Less than a year later he incorporated the Hebb Motor Co., which built Patriot Trucks and opened a second factory at 26th and X streets, then established a business office at 1333 P St.

In 1917 the Woods Bros. Company of Lincoln had assumed the unsold lots and property of the Lancaster Land Co. at Havelock and set out to establish a major manufacturing city around the established Havelock Shops of the Burlington Railroad. To that end the Woods Brothers Company offered Hebb a triangular site of about 15 acres situated on both the Rock Island and Burlington railroads on which they would build a new structure combining their three Lincoln facilities.

Construction of the 180,000 square foot building began in May of 1918 and was completed the following year just as arsonists destroyed the 26th and X building. Although Hebb initially projected building automobiles as well as trucks, post World War I demand did not materialize. Government contracts expired while truck demand plummeted as the farm economy collapsed.

In an attempt to restructure, the Hebb Motor Co. was assumed by Patriot Motors Inc. with literally the same ownership, but within a year the company was bankrupt and the plant closed. The Woods brothers then bought the building and factory at a sheriff’s sale for $110,000 and incorporated the Woods Bros. Truck Co. which reestablished production of Patriot trucks in the same facility.

In 1926 Woods brothers bought the plans for the Arrow Sport airplane, opened production in the Havelock building and were immediately successful. 1929 opened with 271 aircraft orders, at which point, building four planes per day, they were considered “the largest aircraft production facility in the world.”

The Woods Brothers Company was smart enough to realize that with the Great Depression few of the orders on hand would be honored. Production was cut to a minimal level and in order to retain key employees, a welding school was established. As the depression eased attention was turned to establishing a much less expensive airplane centered around a $57 Ford V-8 automotive engine. When the U. S. Bureau of Commerce approved the design, production of the Arrow Sport F commenced immediately.

About 1939 Arrow Aircraft contracted with Boeing to supply parts to their Washington state plant. When Boeing reneged over shipment damage concerns, an entanglement ensued with Arrow’s East Coast financing for necessary expansion. The result was default, resulting in the shuttering of the Havelock plant and another sheriff’s sale March 24, 1940.

After sitting empty, Goodyear Rubber Company leased the facility in December of 1940 to manufacture rubber leak-proof airplane gasoline tanks and store B-17 parts. Production soared during World War II to the point where parts storage was moved to the state fairgrounds. In August of 1945, with the end of wartime contracts, 750 employees were laid off, but Goodyear elected to continue its lease and later that year purchased the facility for $125,000.

In order to encourage Goodyear’s continued presence, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce purchased about 17 acres adjacent to the Havelock plant for their hoped-for expansion. In 1950 or 1951 Goodyear built a 162,000 square foot addition, added a large parking lot and dredged a small lake with a picnic cabin to the south on the Chamber’s donated land.

In 1975, 56th Street was vacated to the north allowing expansion to the north and east of the original building. Goodyear’s engineered products division sold to Veyance in 2007, which was purchased by Continental AG/Continental ContiTech in 2015. One wonders how many of the several hundred employees still working in the North 56th Street building know of its history in truck and aircraft production or even when there was a Rock Island Railroad spur track to its dock.

Lincoln buildings that have made history

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