My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Sunday, September 18, 2011

SATURDAY'S STRUCTURE - Charlie's Transfer Company

Charles Clinton Flemming (1854-1932) started Charlie's Transfer Company in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1902. Charlie, as he was called, is my great-great-grandfather. Charlie was born in Darlington, South Carolina, the oldest son of James Benjamin Flemming (1827-1907) and Sarah Linza Jackson (1837-1902), my great-great-great-grandparents. He moved with his parents first to Cassville, Georgia, before the Civil War, then to Rome, Georgia, when Cassville was burned down. Here he met and married Elizabeth Agnes "Lizzie" McCaffrey (1858-1922). They had ten children, eight surviving to adulthood. Their oldest child was my great-grandfather, Harry Clinton Flemming (1878-1955).

By 1888 Charlie had moved to Birmingham with the Alabama Great Southern Railroad. He worked primarily as general yardmaster at the freight depot, located on Morris Avenue between 16th and 17th streets. [The yardmaster would oversee switching and yard operations where trains are "made up" or prepared for their next service and schedule maintenance of trains.] He was a large man, 6'6" and 300 pounds. In 1902 he retired from the railroad and started Charlie's Transfer Company.

Charles Clinton Flemming

Charlie's Transfer was located at 2111-2113 Fifth Avenue South on Birmingham's Southside, next door to the Coca-Cola company. It was known to the Flemming family as "the stables" since it began as a horse and wagon outfit, later switching to trucks. The business apparently flourished. The company were movers of furniture, machinery, safes; provided general storage; and were general distributors and handled bonded goods.

Over the years many family members earned their living here. Oldest son Harry, while employed as an Engineer with the Alabama Great Southern RR, also kept the books for the transfer company, becoming Vice President at one time. Charles Clinton, Jr. (1884-1935) started in the family business as a Clerk, later became Treasurer for a number of years and was made President when his father retired. Son James Benjamin (1889-1932) became a Collector for the company and held various positions, including Clerk and Foreman, eventually serving as Secretary-Treasurer and Vice President. Son Thomas Joseph (1896-1918) was Bookkeeper before his death at age 22 from the Spanish Flu (at the height of the 1918 Pandemic).

Unfortunately the Great Depression caused the company to close. By 1937 several family members had restarted the company as Flemming Transfer and Warehouse Company. That year the Birmingham City Directory listed Elizabeth Cahalan Flemming (1891-1972), the widow of James B. Flemming, as President of Flemming Transfer & Warehouse Company. Catherine Cahalan (1911-1985), oldest daughter of James and Elizabeth, was listed as Sec.-Treas., and their oldest son Charles Clinton (1915-1982) was listed as the company's Vice President. The company was located at 2305 Morris Avenue. That company continues to operate today as Flemming Transfer, located at 2701 11th Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, and is still owned and operated by descendants of Charles Clinton Flemming. (My husband and I hired them for a move and they were great!)

The following article appeared in Birmingham Coca-Cola's 75th Anniversary Newspaper, describing how Charlie Flemming, and his company, had a major impact on Coke's early start in the city:

Coca-Cola's first retired employe was mule
"When I joined the Coca-Cola Bottling Company here in Birmingham in 1919 as garage superintendent, I found that my job would be more than just taking care of our small fleet of trucks.
Because stabled at one end of the garage, with no gate on the stall, was the company's first retired employe - a mule. Named Bird.
Bird had been retired about four years earlier when the last of the mule wagons had been given up for trucks. I soon learned that Bird was a queen. And she knew it.
She had complete freedom of our lot, and during the daylight hours when the street gate was open she was permitted to roam all over Southside. The tracks of streetcars and railroads were her self-imposed boundaries.
There was a good reason for Bird being queen. In a sense, she was responsible for getting the business started. When Mr. Crawford Johnson was about to begin bottling in March, 1902, he had just about run out of funds. So he went down to see Charlie Flemming at Flemming Transfer and asked Mr. Charlie if he could borrow a mule and wagon - long enough to help him get started.
Mr. Charlie let him pick out one, and mule he picked was small, mouse-colored Bird.
It was rough going those first few months, until Mr. Charlie suggested to Mr. Johnson that he put some fancy harness on the mule and a new coat of bright red paint on the wagon. The idea, said Mr. Charlie, was to drive that wagon "hell-bent for election" through town so people would think he was selling so much of this new drink called Coca-Cola that he just couldn't meet the demand.
It worked.
Folks who weren't already handing Coca-Cola began selling it. Bird and her fine new harness and that red wagon became a familiar sight on the streets of Birmingham. And nine months after he first opened, Mr. Johnson's "loan" of Bird ended. He bought her and the wagon.
Bird loved anything green. The first winter after I started at the company. Mrs. Johnson sent some of her fine plants (which she was afraid would be killed by the cold" down to be stored. The only warm place available was in the garage.
And sure enough, the plants didn't freeze. Actually, they didn't have a chance to. Bird ate everything but the roots.
Later, I found out why Bird was so reluctant to cross any kind of tracks. During the latter part of her working days, it seems, she took a nasty fall  while pulling a loaded wagon over some icy streetcar tracks and got so tangled in her harness that she had to be cut out of it and lifted to her feet with a block and tackle. From that day on, she never crossed any tracks of her own accord.
Bird was a self-appointed supervisor around the lot. She kept her gray nose in everybody's business while they were trying to load or unload trucks - or while I was trying to repair one.
One afternoon she planted herself squarely in front of the water spigot while one of the salesmen was trying to get water for his truck. After a lot of oral persuasion, which was absolutely futile, the salesman picked up a big two-by-four and was about to let Bird have it in the rear end.
Mr. Johnson happened to be looking out the window just then, and when he was Walter James about to whack Bird, he yelled down, "Walter, if you want to hit somebody, you come up here and hit me!"
Yes, Bird was a well-respected lady.
By 1922, the business activity on the back lot had picked up to such a pace that Mr. Johnson was afraid Bird would be hit by one of the trucks. He decided to pasture her at Mr. Charlie's farm in Oxmoor.
Bird didn't appreciate this a bit. Every time she could find a hole in Mr. Charlie's fence, she'd pay us a visit at the plant.
In the spring of 1924, Bird died. She's buried in Oxmoor." (by L.C. Barrow)

An interesting tidbit I discovered when writing this - "Charlie's Transfer Company" was a plaintiff in three separate lawsuits that were eventually settled in the Alabama Supreme Court. The first, "Charlie's Transfer Co. vs Leedy & Co.", decided December 13, 1916, involved the company being sued for injury resulting in one of its trucks striking a horse and buggy. The second, "Charlie's Transfer Co. vs Malone", decided February 3, 1909, involved the transfer company's earlier suing of its landlord after pipes burst in the property they had rented, damaging the goods stored in the warehouse. The final case, "Fleming (sic) vs Fowlkes & Myatt Co.", decided May 20, 1920, involved a judgement again Charles Flemming in 1903 by another business, which had never been paid. In 1916 another suit was filed on behalf of the first corporation - the Fox Sons Smith Company - to recover the earlier unpaid claim. The suit alleged the transfer of ownership to Charlie's wife Lizzie on the same date in 1903 that the judgement was made which made it impossible to recover any money since Charlie now had no money of his own. Very interesting don't you think?

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