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Cass Hough changed city forever

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Until the late 1950s, there was very little industry in Rogers except farming. The entire business community was concentrated in a five-block area downtown. The population had remained fairly constant at about 3,500 people for the previous 30 years. In 1958, something happened that changed the city forever.

Cass S. Hough brought Daisy Manufacturing to Rogers from Plymouth, Mich. A vigorous effort by Rogers' leaders Earl Harris (of the Harris Bakery and Harris Hotel), Gene Harris (American National Bank), Dorman Bushong (F&M Bank), Darrow Garner (home builder and developer) and others convinced Hough to come to Rogers.

It took 38 train car loads and 71 truckloads to move the machinery and raw materials for the new plant. "When Daisy came to Rogers, it was the springboard for new industry," said Pat Harris in 2007. Other companies came to support Daisy, including Continental Can Co., which made cardboard boxes for Daisy. Before 1960, the primary industry in Northwest Arkansas was farming, but very few farmers lived from farming alone. Most farmers came into town to work to supplement their farming income."

Hough brought about 60 key personnel to Rogers and soon hired 1,000 local employees to manufacture BB guns and other products. These were good high-paying jobs, and the economy of Rogers boomed with new homes, businesses and industry.

Hough contributed his time and money to the people of Rogers, including supporting the Rogers Memorial Hospital and city library. Until 1964, the Rogers Public Library was a room in the City Hall on Elm Street, but Hough donated more than $100,000 to renovate the old post office on Poplar Street into a modern library. The dedication of the Rogers-Hough Memorial Library in 1964 was a major event for Rogers.

Hough's wife, Beth, also was involved in the evolution of Rogers. She founded the Friends of the Rogers Museum in 1975 to support the newly created Rogers Historical Museum.

MEMORIES

So, who was this man, Cass Hough? According to those who knew him, he was almost a larger-than-life person -- a war hero, businessman, statesman, expert pilot and friend to thousands of Daisy employees. His two main loves in life were flying and Daisy.

To get a feel for the character of this man, I asked for help on a Rogers' web site for memories and experiences from those who knew him. Here are some memories:

Donna Jane Williams-Pitts: "One year, in the late 1960s, the Daisy family Christmas party was held at the old Victory Theater. Hough called all of the employees, their spouses and their children by name. I was star struck."

Mark Simpson: "When I was 14, I rode the school bus out to Daisy where my father worked, and I shined shoes for the office employees. Cass Hough would leave his shoes out in the hall for me to shine. I couldn't do them on his feet -- he either didn't have time or didn't want me to blacken his socks."

John Skaggs: "My dad, Cliff Skaggs, was the tool room supervisor at Daisy from 1961 to 1965. He bowled in a league in Rogers, and Cass also bowled in the league. I once got to sub and was lucky enough to bowl with my dad and Cass that one night. He was really nice to everyone. He also owned a Gullwing Mercedes."

Gayle Roske Draughon: "I didn't really know him, but I do remember they would occasionally come to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in the 1970s. He and his wife both drove Bentleys with vanity tags that said: BB Gun 1 and BB Gun 2."

Kathryn Fairchild: "One year, Cass sent a large box of one of every gun Daisy made to my parents for all of us kids (5 at that time) as a Christmas present. Mom immediately enrolled us in gun safety classes -- can't imagine why! One of the best Christmas presents I can remember. None of us worked at Daisy -- just good friends."

John Sampier: "I might stand corrected, but the first private club liquor license associated with a motel and restaurant was in the Town and Country Motor Lodge. It was initiated by Cass and a small group, and it was named the Bombardier Club, because of his association with aviation."

WAR HERO

Hough showed he was a remarkable man in many ways, but he achieved fame long before he came to Rogers. At the beginning of the World War II, Hough served for 38 months as a colonel and director of technical operations with the 8th U.S. Air Force based in England. He brought with him the new, untested American plane, the P-38 Lightning. The experienced British fighters tried the P-38 and said it wasn't good enough to compete with the German Luftwaffe air force. In a mock battle with the British Spitfires, the P-38 was badly humiliated.

Hough refused to be discouraged and worked with mechanics to revamp the plane using every trick and engineering know-how. In the next mock battle, the P-38, pitted against the British planes, captured German Fockewolfs and Messerschmitts and outperformed them all. However, the plane had to pass one critical test essential for any fighter plane; it had to survive a power dive.

The first power dive ended in disaster, when the wings came off and the test pilot was killed. Another American pilot attempted the dive and was unable to pull up. He ejected, but the tremendous force of the parachute yanking him from the plane broke both of his legs.

Undeterred, Hough refused to give up on the powerful military weapon. He spent days and nights working and finally arrived at a possible solution. The next morning, Hough took his own Lightning up to 43,000 feet -- eight miles into that thin air where the temperature was 60 degrees below zero. He proposed to send 7 tons of airplane, with two 12,000 horsepower engines, wide open hurtling straight down toward the earth. After a few minutes to build up courage, Hough took a deep breath and pushed the plane's throttle forward.

For the first 5,000 feet, everything was normal. The air speed indicator reached its limit of 500 miles per hour and started around the second time. The needle on the altimeter -- which makes one complete revolution every 1,000 feet -- was spinning like a wheel. At 35,000 feet, the plane started to buffet -- that is, to undergo violent surges which make a pilot feel as if he is being dashed against a concrete wall. Hough was traveling about 800 miles per hour, faster than the speed of sound, faster than any living being had ever traveled before. The pain in his ears was torture, and the last instant to attempt to parachute came and went. All attempts to recover control of the plane failed, but Hough refused to give up. He abandoned the controls and began turning the little wheel that controlled the trim tabs. As he flashed below 20,000 feet, he had about 15 seconds to live.

Finally, with 12 seconds left, the trim tabs made the plane start to slow slightly, and Hough began to black out as he pulled back on the controls. When he came to, he was a mile high in the sky and climbing. Back on the ground, it took Hough three shaky minutes to light a cigarette.

Hough's heroic dive and his scientific brain had at last made the Lightning P-38 a superweapon. This was proven a short time later when 10 of Hough's revamped P-38s battled 25 Messerschmitts and shot down 16, with only one P-38 lost.

For his heroic aeronautical contributions, Hough earned the Air Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Belgian Croix de Guerre and other citations. (Excerpts from "15 Seconds to Live" by Francis Drake published in the Reader's Digest, 1944.)

That was the kind of man that lead Daisy to great accomplishments from 1959 until his retirement in 1976. During Hough's retirement, Daisy was owned by larger corporations that funneled the air-gun profits into other divisions. For the first time in 96 years, Daisy lost money. Hough became concerned, and in 1983, assembled a group of investors which bought Daisy back. The announcement that the ownership of Daisy was returned to Rogers brought long and loud applause from Daisy executives and machine operators alike. Cass Hough died in 1990. (Excerpts from the History of Benton County, Benton County Heritage Committee, Rogers, 1991)

NAN Our Town on 10/11/2018

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