Muscle Shoals

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 23, 2009

Longtime plant will close after ‘America’s game’ goes overseas

By John Howell Sr.

Muscle Shoals Rubber Company will close its doors after 60 years, its co-owner and president said Wednesday.

The decision came after Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, Inc. moved the manufacturer of Major League baseball cores to Costa Rica.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Manufacture of the center cores for the baseballs used in the major league was the primary product for the Batesville facility that employs 27 workers in two shifts, Cowles “Pete” Horton III said.

The company was founded in 1948 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama by Cowles Horton Jr. and retained the name of its place of origin with its 1965 move to Batesville. The company founder died in 1967, but his widow continued its operation at the Highway 51 location.

In 1973, Pete Horton moved to Batesville to enter the family business. The company rebuilt in its same location after the facility was destroyed by fire in 1977 and continued its manufacture of a variety of molded rubber products including components for golf balls and softballs. Its peak production in the late 1970s and early ‘80s included 80 to 110 workers in three shifts, Hortan said.

“Everything else has gone to China,” Horton said. “It used to be [with] Major League Baseball and Rawlings that all components were made in the U. S. and just assembled in Costa Rica,” the Muscle Shoals president said, noting the irony in the slogan of Major League Baseball: “America’s Game.”

Horton, who co-owns Muscle Shoals with his sister, Susan Horton Gray of Dunwoody, GA, lives in Huntsville, Alabama. He served as Batesville’s Fire Chief from 19?? To 19?? After a catastrophic fire and gasoline storage tank explosion at the Panola County School Bus Shop while Horton was fire chief, he initiated an aggressive program of firefighter training and equipment procurement that moved the Batesville Fire Department into the modern era.

“I almost got everybody killed in the school bus fire,” Horton said. “Eleven people went to the hospital and three stayed,” as a result of the injuries to volunteer firefighters, he added.

When Horton decided to run for ward one alderman in 1985, his main concern was a lack of city-owned public parks, he said. He served only one term and did not seek re-election.

“I saw things as alderman that were a whole lot scarier than fire fighting,” he said.