Hurricane Ida's floods have caused huge problems for WeatherWool production and for Littlewood Dyers. But none of Littlewood's people were injured.
Littlewood is the company that dyes wool for us and for many other people in America's wool and textile industries. So problems at Littlewood have widespread effects.
In the aftermath of Ida, many people asked if we were OK ... THANK YOU ALL! And here at WeatherWool HQ, our home, we had no issues at all. We live on a hill and rain doesn't directly affect us. We have been personally very fortunate in that regard and this is something we are very thankful for.
On Tuesday evening, Sep 7, we got a call from American Woolen, who has primary responsibility for turning our clean fiber into Fabric. Jacob Long, owner of AWC, and Giuseppe Monteleone, Director of Operations, relayed to us some very bad news they'd gotten from Littlewood.
We live about 90 minutes from Littlewood, so we grabbed some shovels and gloves and galoshes and headed down to Littlewood on Wednesday the 8th. Turning onto Main Street, Philadelphia, where Littlewood is located, was shocking. Although everything was dry on the surface, evidence of flooding was everywhere. The high-water marks were obvious on the buildings, debris caught in the top of 8-foot fences and higher still in the trees.
Main Street hugs the Schuylkill River, and Littlewood is only about 30 or 40 steps from the river bank. Walking over to the Schuylkill (locals sometimes call it the Sure-Kill), I was surprised that the water level was about 20 feet (6 or 7 meters) below the banks. Ida's floods must have been 35 feet (around 11 meters) higher. And I am guessing the River was still unusually high Wednesday, as the saturated lands were still draining. I didn't check the statistics on the Schuylkill, but the gauges at The Swamp, our own little place in New Jersey's Swamps, did not drop below official flood stage until a full week after Ida's peak.
Littlewood has been operating on Main Street since 1860 (!!), so they have a lot of experience dealing with the Schuylkill's floods.
When we approached, water and mud were draining out of Littlewood's facilities. WOW. We didn't feel it appropriate to walk into the plant, so we climbed the steps into the 2nd floor office. All the doors and windows were open to admit both air and light. Power was not yet restored. The water had clearly reached a few feet high on the second floor walls. Eventually, someone walked through the office, heard us out and returned shortly with Bob Littlewood. Bob and I knew each other from a couple of long phone calls a year or so ago, but we'd not spoken since.
We introduced ourselves and explained we'd come to help, however we could. Bob laughed a little at the idea of shovels. They were removing mud and debris with Bobcats.
The situation would have exhausted anyone, both mentally and physically. Bob had been working around the clock for a week. Littlewood has been very well prepared for every flood since 1972, the previous time they'd had flood damage. They raise steel plates that drastically reduce the rate at which floodwaters can enter their facility. Inside the buildings, they can pump the floodwaters out more quickly than the water can work its way in. But Ida's floodwaters were higher than the steel plates, and could not be resisted.
Before the flood, Bob had raised all the goods in his care as high as he could, but even so, when Ida breached the steel, much of the material was submerged.
As we toured the plant with Bob, we noticed some bales marked WW on the dock. These bales didn't look all that bad. The bales on top had probably not been fully submerged, and even the bales on bottom didn't look ruined. They had been very tightly wrapped and baled and it seemed like the rapid rise and fall of the floodwater didn't submerge the wool long enough to get it very wet!!
This was a whole lot better than what we'd expected. Based on the phone call from the previous day, we thought our wool had somehow been swept away by the Schuylkill! Bob found some more of our bales, and we got busy on the phones.
Bob's four forklifts had been rendered inoperative by the flood, and were blocking the loading dock. But Bob borrowed a forklift. We spoke with Jacob and Giuseppe again, and with Diego Paullier, who is the Operations Manager at Chargeurs, where our wool is scoured. We all felt that getting the wool to Diego was the best bet to salvage it. Diego said that any wool that needed to go through the scouring train again would need to be mixed with a large portion of greasy wool or it would not process properly. Fortunately, we still had our Batch 8 greasy waiting at Roswell Wool in New Mexico. So we then enlisted Advisor Mike Corn, partner at Roswell, and Cindy, Office Manager, to get Batch 8 shipped to Chargeurs in South Carolina so that it could serve as the medium within which any Batch 6 and Batch 7 wool could be re-scoured, if necessary.
While Debby and I spoke with Jacob and Giuseppe and Mike and Cindy, Denali found a nearby Penske Truck Rental depot that had a suitable truck.
By the time we got back to Littlewood's with the truck, Bob had located 11 of our 12 bales of wool, and we got the 26-foot straight-job loaded quick. Denali drove my pickup home and Debby and I were suddenly and completely unexpectedly on the road to South Carolina.
We got the wool to Diego and unloaded by about 2PM on Thursday the 9th. Diego felt that we would lose very little wool and that the great majority of the wool would need nothing more than to be re-baled.
A few hours after we left Chargeurs, headed back to Philly, we got a call from Bob Littlewood. He found what he believes to be our missing 12th bale of wool. It looks like this wool had actually already been dyed, and was up on the 3rd floor of the plant, out of reach of the floodwaters. We sure would love it if this turns out to be the case.
We won't know the real fate of our fiber for another 10 days or so. But we are now feeling an awful lot better than we were upon arrival at Littlewood's on Wednesday.
BUT ... even if all our fiber turns out to be in great shape, our production is still indefinitely stalled because we do not have anyone else to dye our fiber. On the way home from South Carolina, we made some phone calls and have some possibilities in mind, and finding a way to dye our fiber is the big item for Monday morning and probably for weeks to come. We hope Littlewood catches some breaks, but Bob feels it will be months before he is back in business.
And so another little chapter is added to our Production Backstory, which tries to explain why we've had so little inventory for such a long time.
It's now closing in on midnight, Friday the 10th, and I've got a lot of catching up to do from 3 days away. Plus, we have Open House on Sunday!
THANKS ALL for your kindness and concern. This is all just "stuff", and stuff can be replaced.
10 September 2021 --- Ralph
Updated 16 September 2021