Doctors Inlet’s Florida Soap Plant
For years, folks living in Clay County could tell which way the wind blew by whether their nose hairs were curling from the wafting aroma of Florida Soap and Tallow’s rendering plant in Doctors Inlet or from …
Doctors Inlet’s Florida Soap Plant
For years, folks living in Clay County could tell which way the wind blew by whether their nose hairs were curling from the wafting aroma of Florida Soap and Tallow’s rendering plant in Doctors Inlet or from Jacksonville’s paper mill to the north.
Tampa Soap and Tallow was already making a killing cooking up meat scraps salvaged from military mess halls at McDill Air Force Base in their back yard and were anxious to make a deal to do the same at Camp Blanding. In early 1939, they sealed the deal for the advice and support of local power broker, landowner and businessman, Bryan Jennings and got to work.
First on their list was hiring a young go-getter with military contacts at Blanding to arrange acquiring meat scraps and manage production. Several officers at the camp recommended a young Army Sergeant, Walter Odum, trained as an M.P. and working in the commissary while he awaited a medical discharge.
The state of the art rendering plant was constructed in Doctors Inlet off County Road 220 and just east of the railroad tracks. Rendered grease was hauled out by train in tanker cars.
It was nasty, hard work. Meat scraps were picked up from Camp Blanding, area restaurants and meat processors in 50-gallon open drums and transported to the plant in open body trucks. The worst dread of any local was to get caught behind one of these trucks on a hot summer afternoon in the days before air-conditioned cars. Unidentifiable foul-smelling objects periodically catapulted from the trucks and lumpy liquids sloshed along behind leaving a smelly trail to steam on the pavement.
Once at the plant, the contents of the drums were run through the chipper to reduce large bones to manageable dimensions then dumped in the 15-foot tall cooker. Every few feet, a thick metal disk was tamped into place and then another layer of meat and bone alternated until the goulash reached the top and the heavy lid was clamped into place. Workers then fired up the steam-powered pressure cooker.
After a time, the cooker was turned off, the steam valve released and the grease valve at the base opened. When the stream of grease slowed, the steam piston was hooked up to compress every drop of grease out to the collection drums. The cooker was opened and the metal discs slung into a pile for use in the next batch and the compressed, cooked wafers of squeezed dry meat and bone were rolled off and stacked to sell for animal feed.
The equipment was washed down and the greasy water funneled to the separator tanks where the grease was reclaimed.
Odum couldn’t stand to see anything go to waste and the immense quantities of feathers his trucks left at the chicken processors gnawed at him until they came up with a solution. They built a rotating heated dehydrator and carefully regulated the temperature so as not to set the feathers on fire. Once dry, the feathers were ground into a fine pure protein powder, packed in bags and sold to Ralston Purina. Locals swore that blue-streaked clay with Feather Meal mixed in made an unbeatable shrimp bait.
Folks griped about the smells from the grease plant but to the men who worked there and the people they traded with – it smelled like money.