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Eddie's Torch

This special exhibit item - Eddie Florell's cutting torch - was a gift from R.G. LeTourneau to Eddie Florell.  Florell began working with LeTourneau in 1919 and worked for the company until his retirement in 1976 - nearly 60 years later.  The story behind this torch is fascinating and a glimpse into a welding engineer who welded alongside R.G. LeTourneau.


In 1993, the Vicksburg Post published this story on Eddie's Torch:

Eddie Florell went to work welding in Stockton, Calif. When he was 15. He met LeTourneau, who was almost 20 years older, in 1923.

Florell, now 85, was 19 when he went to work for LeTourneau. He left the Vicksburg plant in 1976 but continued to do some work for the company for several years.

“it all started in a corrugated steel building on a sand lot on Moss Avenue in Stockton,” Florell said. “Moss Avenue was just a narrow, black-top road where two Model T’s could pass. Mr. LeTourneau’s house was on the other side of the avenue.

Florell recalled that there was no mechanical way to bend or form steel plates. Everything was done manually.

“We had two sledgehammers – a 12-pound hammer we named Little Mike and a 40-pound hammer we named Big Mike,” Florell said. “Now, you could buy a 12-pound hammer. That 40-pound hammer was designed and built by Mr. LeTourneau. He said he built it to get the job done.

 NOW April 1946 RG swinging Iron Mike

R.G. LeTourneau demonstrating how he used "Iron Mike" to fashion wheel discs.
(NOW, 19 April 1946, R.G. Museum & Archives)

“Now, when we went out to man handle Big Mike, we went in pairs. At first, we’d raise the hammer way above our heads, but as the day wore on and we wore down, that hammer would just come up maybe shoulder high. Then when we could only lift it chest high or waist high, Mr. LeTourneau would come by. 

“He’d say, ‘hand me that hammer’ He’d take the hammer and come up with a gigantic, windmill overhead swing and that hammer would go up, up, up and then come crashing down, down, down. He’d take several swings with that hammer. 

“Now Mr. LeTourneau was a man endowed with logic. So, when he handed the hammer back to us he’d tell us, ‘Now the higher you pick this up, the harder it will fall.”

At LeTourneau’s insistence, Florell followed him from Stockton to Peoria, Ill., to Toccoa, GA., and finally to Vicksburg in 1942.

“Mr. LeTourneau really figured on going to Natchez,” Florell said. “But the Chamber of Commerce here offered him a better deal.”

Florell, now 85, was a welding engineer. He made the archway over the entrance to Marathon-LeTourneau and was known to many of his co-workers as the “dean of welding.”

He quickly passes that title to LeTourneau.

“He was truly a master at welding,” he said. “He’d come out and weld in the shop with me many a time.”

Florell remembers when the Vicksburg plant was being built.

“Mr. LeTourneau saw that the trusses weren’t tying in the roof right and he couldn’t get anyone to tell him exactly what the builders were doing 30 feet up in the air, so he said, ‘Get me a ladder.’ The safety director came over to me and asked me couldn’t I talk him out of climbing up there.

“I said I wasn’t even going to try to stop him. So Mr. LeTourneau went up the ladder, found out what he wanted to know and came back down. If Mrs. LeTourneau has seen him, she’d have had a running fit.”

As for the sense of community at LeTourneau, Florell didn’t hesitate.

“Mr. LeTourneau made it that way. The man had a personal magnetism about him. Once you worked for him, you didn’t want to work for anyone else.”

In the earlier days of their association, Florell said he’d always complain about other welders using the same cutting torch and messing it up.

One day LeTourneau presented Florell with his own cutting torch with these instructions, “Take good care of this.”

That was in 1931.

Today Florell has the cutting torch in a felt-lined wooden case. It is a cherished possession.

“We prepared for years for the company to go out,” he said. “it would hit bottom, but would always flourish back again. That’s why it’s so hard to believe it’s really closing this time.

“I guess I thought it would go on forever. I honestly never thought there’d be any end to it.”

 Eddie with torch


Vicksburg Post article