Mac McPhail Contributing columnist
September 29, 2013
I read with sadness the article in this newspaper last week about the closing of the beef processing plant at Martin’s Abbattoir and Wholesale Meats Inc. Martin’s Meats, a meat processing plant, was one of the larger employers in Sampson County, with around 175 employees affected by the closing. They have been operating for 58 years at their location in northwestern Sampson County, near the Cumberland County line. One of the largest family owned businesses in North Carolina, and one of the seven major cattle processing facilities on this side of the Mississippi River, the closing of the beef processing plant was another result of the volatile and fragile economy.
I’ve known the Martin family pretty much all my life. Carlton, W.C. and the rest of the family often seemed like family to me. (Actually, I think we may be related somewhere way down the line.) I can remember playing in the front yard of the Martin house as a child, going with daddy to take cows to be slaughtered, and going with momma and daddy just visiting. As I have shared before, W. C. Martin, and his wife, Edna Glynn, have played an important part in my life. It was through the One-Way singers, which they started back in 1972, that as a teenager, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour.
As I read the article, I thought back to those days. There was another memory of the Martins and Martin’s Meats that is not too clear. It may be because it was from around forty years ago. Or it may be because of epoxy paint.
Back when I was in college, I came home one weekend and worked over at the slaughterhouse, where they were expanding the operation. W.C. had gotten myself and another friend, Gary, to help paint the walls of the new kill floor. The walls were cinderblock so we were painting epoxy sealant on them to seal the walls before painting. I’m sure on the outside of the paint cans there were instructions to use only in a well ventilated location. But, of course, we didn’t read them. The room was very large so there was little to be concerned about. But as we worked during the day, listening to the radio, we ended up that afternoon high on a scaffold (not otherwise, at least not just yet) in a tight area where the large air conditioning unit was located.
This is where things become a little hazy in my memory. I’m going to have to take W.C.’s word for it. He says late that afternoon when he walked into the room to check to see how we were doing, we were doing just fine. Maybe we were doing a little too fine. He looked up and there we were, dancing to whatever the song was that was blaring on the radio. On a scaffold, probably over ten feet up in the air. He says he carefully got us down from the scaffold and decided that we had painted enough for one day. I’m going to have to take his word for it.
While I’m sure W.C., Carlton and the rest of the Martin family are discouraged about the closing of the beef processing plant, they should also take pride in the fact that it operated for over fifty years. There are not too many businesses that can say that. While working with the Revenue Dept., I dealt with many businesses. I grew to really respect those individuals, like the Martins, who stepped out, took the risks, and dealt with all the challenges of running a business. And these days, it is a challenge.
The company plans to continue paying its employees for the next 60 days and will keep all the company benefits in place as well. They don’t have to do that, but knowing the Martins, that does not surprise me. The article in this newspaper noted that in the prepared release about the closing, “the Martins are suspending their beef operations just as they started them: on their own terms, quietly, with dignity … no cries for government bailouts; no complaints.” And that does not surprise me, either.