Harris turns a new chapter in its history

Published 7:49 am Wednesday, June 29, 2022

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D. J. VanDeusen, president and general manager of Harris stands in the more than 100 year old machine shop dur to be demolished over the summer.


By Neil B. McGahee

Managing Editor

After more than 150 years, the last building of the original Tomlin-Harris Machine Company will be torn down to make room for a newer, more efficient building.

“This was the original machine shop built sometime around 1910,” D.J. VanDeusen, president and general manager said. “It even served as a horse barn.”

In the late 1880s R.C. Harris worked in the Central of Georgia railroad machine shop with dreams of being a locomotive engineer. Instead, he met Robert C. Tomlin, an entrepreneur looking for good investments. They formed a partnership and created the Tomlin-Harris Machine Company in 1889.

The area was rife with sawmills and railroads estimated to be 25 or more  and all in regular need of maintenance and parts.

To take advantage of the burgeoning business opportunities, the two men erected a planing mill and the modern day Harris was born.

Over the years, the company rebranded itself to accommodate changes within the industry. In 1938, the first hydraulic sheet metal baling press was designed and manufactured by Russell Harris, the founder’s grandson.

World War II and the Korean conflict brought more changes as the company began producing machine gun parts and more than 15,000 bombs in support of the war effort and more than two million 90 millimeter shell casings.

In 1981, a depression in the scrap metal industry caused the company to innovate once more, producing very large cranes and solid rocket motor frames for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration.

On July 5, Harris’s next evolution will begin with the demolition of the old plant and begin construction of the 14,000 square feet expansion to accommodate the company’s advanced machine shop. And so it is that the original shop must be torn down.

The expansion encompasses new production and training space as well as the CNC machining center for turning, milling, drilling, and shaping. The facility will provide an environment for machinists to improve their trade and allow for central meeting and training space for the nearly 150 employees on the Cordele campus.

“We are thrilled to provide an upgraded environment for our skilled machinists,” VanDeusen said. “We are excited about the efficiency gains the new layout will provide, and proud to be making this substantial investment in Cordele and Crisp County. It is a testament to the Harris commitment to call Cordele home.”