Bud Thomas’ fab trays will be a collector’s item

The year was 1949, year three of the post war baby boom that David Foot talks so much about. Times were optimistic and Barrie’s borders enveloped 11,986 people. At the foot of Toronto Street, The Sarjeant Company was producing concrete to pour basements on postwar houses on the new Codrington and Gunn streets, providing lots and houses under Veterans Land Act for young lads returning from World War II.

Bud Thomas had served overseas, and married Dorothy, a lass from Scotland, during the war. They settled in Hamilton and Bud took a job with a wholesale company, General Supply. Before long, Bud decided to “go out on his own” and in 1949, he and Dorothy moved to Barrie, and Bud opened Thomas Electric at 14 High St., across the road from The Sarjeant Company.

Bud died last Saturday, close to his 80th birthday. And his legacy to Barrie is interesting, memorable, and full of lessons for us all.

Thomas Electric in 1949 supplied wholesale parts to the service and retail industry. Bud hired a youngster, Stu Emms, to work with him and Dorothy kept the office in tip top shape. The company flourished. And one day Bud was approached with an “offer” to sell out to a larger corporation, Zenith Electric, or suffer the consequences of competition. It was 1959. Bud sold.

Zenith maintained the Thomas name, until it was folded in the 70’s into an even larger corporate structure called Lighting Unlimited. The company moved from High St to Brock St and Stu Emms and an office manager, Helen Corbett, staffed what became a lighting retail operation.

Bud got a bit bored and teamed up with Ron Hardy to produce wood products. In 1963 they set up on the third floor of the old Underhill Shoe Factory (now demolished, then located west of the Flamenco apartment building on Dunlop St E. From their hands and tools came lovely bookends, nut bowls etc. He also opened a retail store in downtown Barrie, called The Uncommon Touch.

But a guy with sales ability doesn’t sit still long and Bud and Ron bought a Keswick pottery manufacturer, Hardwood Pottery, to add to their growing product line. They had been playing around with polyester resins, coating maps for the Registry Office so construction guys could write on them, and return them to be cleaned for the next user. Hardwood Pottery’s art-tech fellow, Lester Bertch watched the resin process, and developed the blending of resin with cloth or paper in applications. They made molds of resin, pressing fabric (or paper) patterns onto the resin and covering that layer with another layer, applying heat and giving a shape. Gary Ransom was working in the manufacturing end in those days and remembers it well: “A layer of polytester would go down, then the fabric, then the second layer of resin. That would be put into boiling water to soften it and then we cut them into circles with a machine designed to cut out shoes. Then we’d put them bac k into boiling water and then into a wooden mould. I actually developed a system that would do the flutes as the mould pressed the resins into their final shape. Before that, we did the flutes by hand, just like making pies.”

Fab trays, is what they were called. Canadians had insatiable interest in these, and supply could hardly meet demand. Bill Linton’s printing company next door to Bud was creating the four-colour separations to create the patterns for Bud’s fab trays. A dozen employees were pouring resin, pressing patterns, cooling, boxing, shipping, invoicing, bookkeeping, and marketing the product. Bud was the salesman for the team and used his charm to call on leading buyers across the country. Hardy Glenwood had moved to 124 Brock St by then, and shipped product to Eatons, Birks, Bowrings, Simpsons, Woodwards, Peoples, Hudson’s Bay Company, all the major high end retail chains across Canada and into the United States. The City of Barrie contracted with Bud and Ron to produce the City of Barrie gift and the fab tray bore the coat of arms so meticulously developed by Ozzie Rowe, with a teal blue background to represent the waters of Kempenfelt Bay.

At their peak in 1973, Hardy Glenwood was producing 800 to 1000 trays a day, all with little mechanization.

Fab trays, fab coasters, fab wall art (so named because fabric was applied to resin), fab, fab, fab.

And then the fab tray died.

Why? The mid-70’s brought a tremendous worldwide shortage in oil. Oil was the main component of the resin fab tray. A tray that sold for $7.95 jolted onto the shelves at $12.95 and supply soon overcame demand. Bud’s success had its own impact on him, and he sold the company to an organization that quickly put it into receivership. Bud’s partner Ron returned to the engineering business, before being tragically killed in a car accident in Innisfil Township.

Bud’s life included a second marriage, and he relocated to the Ottawa area, later retiring to Elliot Lake.

Today, Bud’s grandson, Ryan Thomas carries on family ties and meets with many of his grandfather’s former friends, employees and business associates as he works at the Barrie Country Club.

Many of those friends and business associates will be looking out to Kempenfelt Bay these days and thinking about those days when Bud put his considerable energy into developing Barrie Winter Carnival, whose heydays peaked about the same time as the fab tray. They’ll remember a person who could enthuse others to launch a business, develop an idea, run with it and make it happen. Those friends will be paying homage to their colleague, each in their own way, since Bud requested immediate cremation, and burial in Cataraqui Cemetery, Kingston.

Thanks, Bud. Thanks, Ron. Thanks Hardy Glenwood.