Heckethorn Manufacturing Company

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Heckethorn Mfg. & Supply Co. (Heco) building at 2585 W. Main Street, July 2, 1955
Heckethorn Mfg. & Supply Co. (Heco) building at 2585 W. Main Street, c. July 2, 1955.

Known as Heco by the residents of Littleton, Heckethorn Manufacturing Company originally stood at 215 Main Street in downtown Littleton. Founded in 1938, it was incorporated in 1939 by William R. Heckethorn, a native Coloradan born in Holly, Colorado in 1915.

William R. was the son of William W. and Margaret Heckethorn. When William Jr. was still a teenager, he became the manager of Columbine Tractor and Implement Company of Sidney, Nebraska (1932). Also in 1932, he became a member of the local Rotary Club, the youngest member in the United States. He worked up to partner in the tractor firm from 1936-38.

Heckethorn building, date unknown.
Heckethorn building., date unknown.

In 1938, William R. decided to form his own company in Littleton, Colorado, naming it Heckethorn Manufacturing and Supply Company. His father, William W., and his brother, Jack, were brought in to help with operations. Heco manufactured pulleys and hardware. In 1941, William R. converted the company to war work for the Navy, manufacturing photographic products and hardware specialties such as 20mm projectiles and 4.2 inch chemical mortar fuses. Heco provided jobs for many local residents and helped improve the post-depression economy of Littleton. In 1942, Heco employed 160 people in three shifts a day at their large plant located at 5859 S. Prince Street. During the peak production year of 1945, Heco employed 1100 people, and manufactured approximately 50 million projectiles for war use. This was an important time for Heco and Littleton, and residents appreciated the dollars that Heco brought in to the town.

William R. married Rosemary Cotter and they soon had five children, Tisa, Paula, William P., J. Michael, and Christopher P. Heckethorn.

When the war was over, Heckethorn successfully converted his company to peacetime uses, manufacturing specialty hardware, photographic products and war medals. It was the largest industry in Littleton. During the 1950s, Heco again expanded to 1200 employees and produced high quality shock absorbers.

Edwin A. Bemis holding a HECO rocket, made in Littleton. Photo taken March 24, 1954 at the Marine Air Base at Kaneohe, Hawaii
Edwin A. Bemis holding a HECO rocket, made in Littleton. Photo taken March 24, 1954 at the Marine Air Base at Kaneohe, Hawaii.

In 1951, D.E. Buchanan was named the new president of Heco. William R. Heckethorn was named vice president in charge of sales and handled government contract negotiations. William W. Heckethorn, William R.'s father, stayed as director of research and development. William R.'s brother, Jack, continued as engineering director.

D.E. Buchanan, previously retired, had worked in the Oklahoma oil business for 30 years. He and his wife moved to Colorado in 1946 and purchased the Hiwan Ranch at Evergreen. Quickly Hiwan became one of the best Hereford ranches in the state. He also bought 340 acres on S. Wadsworth Blvd., which he named Hiwan; there he moved his show cattle from the Evergreen ranch. The Buchanans lived in Cherry Hills and raised three daughters.

In the 1950s, the plant began experiencing high distribution costs and severe labor problems. William R. Heckethorn and president D.E. Buchanan agreed to expand the manufacture of shock absorbers to a new plant in Dyersburg, Tennessee. This location was close to the Mississippi River and Memphis, and would offer manufacturing savings on freight costs and electrical power. In fact, the plant would be served directly by the Illinois Central Railroad and truck carriers. The Littleton operation would continue at a full staff working on government orders and civilian projects. Only a few employees were transferred to Dyersburg, and all other employees kept their jobs. Heco also operated another plant in Oklahoma City. This plant manufactured Kool Kooshions, ventilated seat cushions for cars and office chairs.

The company continued to have financial problems and in 1957 Heckethorn closed the Littleton plant and moved the company to Dyersburg, Tennessee. Heco, the company so closely associated with Littleton, would not return. Also, in 1957, William R. Heckethorn was named president of Heckethorn Manufacturing, serving as president until 1986. The company received many awards for manufacturing quality products from companies such as Sears Roebuck and Company, Ford Motor Company and the U.S. Army.

The Heco building in Littleton was redeveloped in 1985 as a retail outlet for about 20 stores. Brian Pesch was in charge of developing the new shopping center.

William R. Heckethorn died in Oct. 1989 at his home in Dyersburg, Tennessee. He was 74. The Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce had named him the Outstanding Businessman of the year for 1974. He was survived by his wife, five children, brothers and sisters.

Bibliography

Dyersburg News. Dyersburg Star Gazette. Kidon Media: Dyersburg, Tennessee.

Littleton (Colo.) Independent. The Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888-

Littleton Museum. Card File: Biography.

Littleton Museum. Vertical File: Biography:

Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.

 

Compiled by Rebecca Dorward

Edited by Phyllis Larison and Lorena Donohue

Updated May 2017