Monday, November 22, 2010

First Lines (History of the Mill part 2)

Harlan Brown had a herd of sheep on his hands, thousands of pounds of wool, and a dream of mountains of yarn. Through the grapevine, Harlan heard that a wool mill in South Carolina was selling some of their equipment. The price was right, so in the spring of 1980, Harlan and his wife Janet hopped in the tractor-trailer used by the farm and headed South to retrieve the equipment.

They returned with a pindrafter
and a spinning frame.
The pindrafter and spinning frame pictured above are the ones in use now--yes, the operation has grown!

Harlan spent the first six months of the year learning how to use his new toys. On July 4th, he had the first ball of yarn in his hand. For those of you who are familiar with Brown Sheep Company, you know that we have multiple lines of yarn. This was the first. What Harlan perfected over the first year was the line of yarn that is still known as Top of the Lamb. This product is a single-ply, 100% wool yarn that is still loved today.

Confidant that this was an excellent product, and unique for its time, the Browns packed the trunk of their Ford with as much yarn as it would hold and hit the road. They spent several weeks marketing their new product and establishing their customer base. Many people turned them down, but when they hit Omaha, Nebraska, they found one buyer who cleared out their stash. That emptied their trunk, so they headed back to western Nebraska to make more. Their second outing was to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. More on this trip in a later post!

A note on Top of the Lamb:

This is still a popular seller 30 years later. It comes in 35 colors, and is used for industrial production of things like blankets, rugs, and other sturdy manufactured products. If you need a tough, made in the USA yarn, this one is for you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Before the Wool Mill

We would like to begin a series on the history of the Brown Sheep Company to fill in the holes left by our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Harlan Brown was a farmer in western Nebraska. For 35 years he farmed the family land. During this time, he developed an interest in wool and the sheep that produce it. As he collected larger and larger flocks of sheep, he became facinated with the wool production process. This fascination led to his involvement with the American Sheep Council, and the Midwest Wool Growers Association. This company officially started in 1980 as a family owned and operated business.

Over time, there were sheep and lots of them. Harlan worked to streamline his sheep growing and wool producing operation. By the end of the 1970's, the Brown family had over 1000 head of sheep. EDIT: a zero was left off--there were over 10,000 sheep at the height of the wool production process.

Harlan realized that there was profit to be had in adding value to the wool he was producing, and the idea for a wool mill was born. The Brown Sheep Company took its name from the Brown family and in 1980 the first equipment was purchased for the production of yarn.