Black Changemaker Gus Hyatt Remembered for Unparalleled Career at Lodge
When you take a look at the life of legendary Lodge employee, Gus Hyatt, it would be easy to say that cast iron was in his blood. For 60 years he was known as the man who could do every job in the foundry, and he was an inexhaustible resource even after he retired.
Gus was born in the year 1900, a mere stone’s throw away from one of the three cast iron foundries in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. When he turned 14, he came to work at Lodge Cast Iron. He blossomed into a youth whose work ethic surpassed most adults twice his age. Gus eventually grew to be over six feet tall, was incredibly strong, and was one of the most capable workers at Lodge. Folks said he could master every task given to him and he was known to be able to fix just about anything.
Gus generally worked six days a week at Lodge. On Sunday, his day off, he regularly attended church which is where he likely met Miss Novella Beene, his future wife. Together, they built a home on Old Jasper Road that was known for its bountiful gardens and beautiful landscaping. They had 12 children.
By the time that 1930 rolled around, Gus had become the expert on every piece of equipment and task at Lodge. He was the second employee there to operate a Jolt Squeeze Molding Machine. During this time, he mastered the art of making tea kettles, which were the hardest items to make, and also made English Pots, Dog Irons, and No 6 skillets. Visitors and fellow employees alike were mesmerized at Gus' strength and durability. He was often seen walking down the gangway from the pallet line carrying a No 40 wash pot in each hand—each wash pot weighed about 100 pounds each.
When the Great Depression took root in South Pittsburg, times were very hard for the community—and for Lodge. Employees like Gus who had been used to six-day shifts now had reduced workloads because consumers were no longer buying cast iron cookware. Lodge adapted to these changing times and began producing novelty items, like door stops, yard ornaments, and well wheels. These items weren’t as successful as the cookware had been, but sales increased so that Lodge could keep their doors open and keep employees like Gus on the payroll. Most employees moved to 30-40 hour shifts during this time.
When World War II jump-started the economy several years later, business picked up at Lodge and Gus returned to regular work weeks. After the war, Gus was known as one of the company’s most valuable assets. He could step in and work any job in the foundry. Eventually, his knowledge and skills landed him in the pattern shop where he became the pattern maker. This was—and still is—one of the most crucial jobs at Lodge. The pattern shop is where all products get their start and if the pattern is flawed, hundreds and thousands of castings would also be flawed, resulting in lost time and money for the company.
Gus worked at Lodge for nearly 60 years and eventually semi-retired, but time and time again, Lodge called him back to fix a problem or to show an apprentice how to run a certain piece of equipment. He remained an inexhaustible resource to those still working at Lodge because the knowledge and experience he had, only he could provide. Gus passed away on March 16, 1988 at the age of 87.
Charles David Head was born and raised in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, where he resides today and holds the post of town historian with the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society. He is an author of two books, a history columnist for the Marion County News, and has written over 50 articles for numerous magazines and newsletters. As a lover of heritage and history, Head has been a collector of items pertaining to history in Marion County, including Lodge cast iron cookware.
Sources: South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society & Heritage Museum | Lodge Manufacturing Company | Marcus Banks | Dale Woodfin