Hiegel Lumber: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

In the days before large chain building supply stores, doing it yourself was often the only option. Thankfully, the people of Conway and the surrounding areas were fortunate to have Hiegel Lumber as a one-stop place to find supplies and friendly assistance for those do-it-yourself projects.

In 1910, J.J. (Jake) Hiegel purchased the Conway Lumber Company location on Oak Street. Hiegel Lumber would become a DIY destination there until it closed in 1997. At first, there was just one building that included a lumber shed, office and stable for “Nellie.” Ben Gwin was Hiegel’s only employee.

He and “Nellie” delivered lumber daily along the muddy streets of Conway. At the end of the day, “Nellie” would be stabled and fed before Jake went home at 7 p.m. The only materials offered for sale were surfaced lumber, common brick and wood shingles. Soon cement, lime, hardware, wood windows and doors were added.

When Jake decided to retire in 1938, he sold his company to his brother, Pete, and his sister-in-law. Pete’s sons, Alphonse (Al) and Paul, grew up in the business and had bought interest in the business by the early 1960s. They later bought their parents’ interest but Pete maintained an office there in retirement.

During this time, the business expanded and prospered. “Nellie” was replaced with two trucks in the 1920s and eventually the business had a fleet of trucks to do long-distance hauling and local deliveries. In the 1940s, almost all of Hiegel’s merchandise came by rail and was unloaded from box cars at the rail siding along the north end of Parkway. Eventually trucks would pick up merchandise from wholesalers in Little Rock and other cities.

The original building was replaced in 1942. In the mid-1940s, Hiegel’s began operating a saw mill to cut rough lumber. Planers transformed the lumber into finished products. Two on-site generators produced the power to run this equipment. The company also began installing glass in wood windows and doors. A few plumbing supplies would be offered.

Later the millwork shop began to build screen doors and custom wood picture windows. It also began to design, build and install kitchen cabinets and window valances. In addition, customers could choose from 15 different patterns of picture frame moldings. The glass shop would then install the glass.

During the 1940s and 1950s, there was a Farmers Market rural bus stop at Van Ronkle and Markham. Every Saturday, about 12 buses would leave the small communities in the county as well as Cleburne and Van Buren counties. They were loaded with their townspeople and would stop along the way to pick up farmers.

Farmers who could not make the trip would give the driver a shopping list. The driver would buy the material around Conway, keep his receipts and deliver it on the way home. Hiegel’s was one of several companies that delivered material to the bus stop and put it on the various buses. Material was loaded on the back or pushed under the seats.

Hiegel Lumber Company also sponsored a live country western music band, the Drifters, which entertained the crowd around the buses each Saturday evening. KCON radio station aired the program for those out in the county to enjoy. The band even sang a jingle to let people know they were listening to the Hiegel Lumber Jamboree.

In 1961, Al Hiegel was flying his airplane near Greer’s Ferry Lake and noticed a windmill. He traded $250 worth of material for it and had Jack Ward set it up in front of Hiegel Lumber. Cuerden Sign built the “paint bucket” sign and installed it.

During the 1970s, Hiegel purchased five old houses that adjoined the lumber yard. They were torn down and the business was expanded. The company name was changed to Hiegel Lumber and Hardware. It became the place to find almost everything do-it-yourselfer might need from sporting goods and guns to building materials.

The arrival of large chain building suppliers led the company to close its doors in 1997. The property was sold to Walgreen Drug and the Conway Chamber of Commerce.

The windmill would be set up in front of Hiegel Supply on Bruce Street.

Jerry Hiegel, son of Al Hiegel, opened up Hiegel Supply on Bruce Street in 1999, continuing the Hiegel legacy of providing building supplies and assistance to do-it-yourselfers.

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