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H. A. Clemens Planing Company
Bonnie Durtnall

H. A. Clemens Planing Company


 Originally, the company was known as Wideman and Clemens. In 1894, the owners, Louis (later Major) Wideman (1851-1917) and Herbert A. Clemens, set up their business near the Eramosa Bridge and Trafalgar Square. Wideman, born Conrad Ludwig Weidman, was a German immigrant who immigrated to Guelph. He was a carpenter who became a builder and listed himself as an architect in the 1901 census. According to the local industrial records, he was a “practical architect” with office and drafting space on MacDonnell Street. One of his major projects was the design and construction of the Traders Bank Building.

Wideman became a captain of the 30th Regiment. He s also touted as being the owner of the first automobile in Guelph. Although this is disputed, he did, at least, have one of the city’s earliest automobiles. It is said to have been a four-seater Conrad. A touring car, it had only one-cylinder.

Clemens made no such claim, nor was he able to. He was not a carpenter. Although what he produced helped in the construction of homes, he was not an architect. What he knew was lumber. As a lumber agent, he brought knowledge of the product and where to find the best, into the firm. He was to carry on the business as the HA Clemens Company after he split with Wideman.

The Electric Planing Mill

Wideman and Clemens operated what they called the “Electric Planing Mill.” An 1890 ad describes them as “Agents for Brick, Tile, Metallic Roofing and Siding.” However, the ad also states that they manufacture “the Electric Base Ball Bat – one of the best bats manufactured.” However, it was probably their ability to provide quality lumber and other products that made the company an early success and lead to its expansion.

H. A. Clemens Planing Company Ltd.

The company shifted direction and expanded when Clemens took over in 1898. It soon added a moulder.” The moulder weighed approximately 2.5 tons and was to increases the company’s ability to produce “better class work.” In 1901, the firm built an addition to ensure it could provide its customers with all kinds of building material. The machinery was boasted to be the “latest” and the equipment “modern.”

To further guarantee the lumber obtained was suitable, the company had a lumber yard located near North Bay, possibly close to Perry Sound.  This allowed them to always have at hand a sufficient amount of material for manufacturing their products. The approach was not an uncommon one in the lumber and planing business. In Guelph, the Robert Stewart Mills had struck a deal with the Guelph Lumber Company around 1884.

From its conception, HA Clemens seems to have been successful. The staff, which numbered about 40 by 1908, was described as “skilled” while Clemens, himself, was touted in a 1903 Directory of Industries, as “a gentleman thoroughly alive to the wants of the trade, and [with] untiring energy and push with honest methods…” The company had come to be viewed as specializing in stair building and interior fittings.” However, the HA Clemons Company also produced one other item for which they had become known. This was washing machines.

The two washing machines the company manufactured were:

  1. The King
  2. The Improved Handy

The King Washing Machine remained a product of the company until its demise; the Improved Handy did not. Later ads for HA Clemens do not mention other products such as their “Patent Automatic Weather Strip” and “baby jumpers.”

Accidents

Although a planing mill involved sharp-edged tools, particularly planers and saws of various types, Clemens factory had a fairly low accident count. This does not mean it was safer than say Robert Stewart’s Planing Mill. It may mean that fewer accidents were recorded or made the papers of the time. However, at least three workplace incidents did occur while Clemens was the sole owner.

In 1900, a Mr. Tindall had a close call when a knot flew out of a board he was working on. It just missed striking his head. Another, more serious one happened to F. Summers in September 1907 when a sander removed three of is fingers. Later that same year, in November, another worker. P. H. Freure, received serious damage when using a saw. Another accident also occurred the following year. In this case, Muir Anderson had three fingers severely cut by a shaper.

A Surprise Assignment

In the early 1900s, HA Clemens appeared to be conducting a busy and profitable business. However, this did not prove to be the case. On May 2, 1910, with what The Mercury referred to as a “great surprise by the citizens,” the company made an assignment. The local newspaper reporter had remarked on how successful the company had been since its inception. It noted the company had several orders on its book and had only recently hired a number of hands to help fulfill its commitments.

Nevertheless, the company did go into assignment in 1910. Creditors were considered on June 8, 1910. As for Clemens, himself, although his company was no longer in operation, he was still listing his services as a lumber merchant as late as 1917.

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