Bernice Historical Society
Bernice Dots #28
By Cathy Buckley
The Salley Story
In August of 1952 Salley Grocer Company opened its new facilities in Bernice. The Salley story began in 1916 when a 27 year old young man named C.T. Salley opened a meat market and café across from the Depot. Within two years the business had grown enough to warrant a new building and in 1928 young Jack Salley took over the active management of the business after his graduation from high school.
At that time C.T. Salley began a livestock business hauling livestock all over Louisiana and south Arkansas. His family had grown with the addition of sons Truitt and Fred and the older boys, Jack and Van had married to start families of their own. This led Salley to the realization that his family was too large to exist from the same little retail establishment.
This eye-opener led Salley to establish a contract with a flour mill to deliver its products across Louisiana and Arkansas. Then he began to buy large amounts of feed to resale to individuals and businesses. This led to the construction of a separate warehouse across the railroad tracks which was christened the “C.T. Salley Wholesale Grocery”.
Now the Salley family had the meat market and café, the livestock business and the Wholesale Grocery business and Jack and Van his oldest two sons were taken into the business as full partners. The wholesale grocery business grew rapidly and in 1938 its name was changed to Salley Grocer Company. Employees were added from the Bernice area and by 1940 the firm had 7 salesman and 17 trucks delivering groceries across Louisiana. The salesman all had begun work as either a truck driver or on the floor of the warehouse and this process continued throughout the life of the company.
With the growth of the company it expanded into Monroe and Shreveport with a member of the Salley family at the helm. Truck and trailer hauling led the company into those areas not served by the railroad. By 1943 the business was considered one of the most outstanding grocery hauling operations in the Deep South.
This accomplishment was unusual because of the 300 mile length of the territory with each trailer carrying a maximum of 45,000 pounds. It was noted that each truck had a greater length of spacing between the tractor and trailer in order to prevent overloads. In 1948 the Fruehauf Trailer Company built a company truck and trailer especially for the use of Salley Grocer Company. The truck was designed by Van Salley and appeared in advertisements in national magazines with the Salley Grocer sign on the side. At the top of the ad was written “Here’s Tomorrow’s Dinner, 22 Tons of Food on a Fruehauf Truck-Trailer”. This truck ran a total of 1,200,000 miles before it was retired in 1949.
The company was a great supporter of the war effort and all employees bought Defense bonds and stamps on every pay day. During the war 55 employees of the firm entered the armed services.
By the end of 1948 the company ran a fleet of 55 trucks which traveled over 125,000 miles a month in the Ark-La-Tex. At each of their locations there was a garage with mechanics that cared for the trucks. Over 25,000 gallons of gasoline were used each month.
Then came 1952 and the opening of the new offices and warehouse in Bernice. All area newspapers ran pages of the Salley Story filled with ads from those companies which had also profited from their family’s success in the grocery business.
One such ad came from the H.J. Heinz Company which congratulated the company for being its exclusive distributor in Louisiana and for its faith in the community of Bernice. “From Pittsburg to Bernice, we are proud to be associated with you and wish you continued success.”
At the time of the dedication of the new warehouse and office the company employed 125 people and was the largest taxpayer in Bernice. An estimated 5000 people poured into Bernice to attend the formal opening. Numerous civic and business leaders across Louisiana addressed the crowd. Music was furnished by the “Lighthouse Doughboys” from a flour mill doing business with the company.
A food fair was part of the celebration with 30 manufacturers dispensing refreshments and samples from booths set up in the warehouse. Pillsbury Mills provided a 500 pound cake with the first piece going to Mrs. C.T. Salley. The event was broadcast over KRUS radio of Ruston.
C.T. Salley died in Bernice in the summer of 1963 and his obituary listed some of his accomplishments but a tribute to him written by A.T. Mitchell his former pastor best described him: “He fed the hungry. The poor man walking the highway would come to his café and he would sit them at a table and tell them to order whatever they liked to eat. He helped feed and clothe the local poor, the sick and the suffering. He provided transportation to carry sick people to hospitals and clinics across Louisiana. He led crusades to build churches, Scout houses, civic buildings and other needed buildings and institutions. I never knew him to turn down any needy cause. He truly lived out the phrase, ‘Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man’.”
********************************************************************************************* Cathy Buckley is a native of Union Parish and lifelong citizen of Shiloh. She served as Principal of Spearsville High School for many years until her retirement. Cathy is now the director of the Bernice Depot Museum and a active member of the Bernice Historical Society.