Third-generation Kentucky Proud business began with a Tennessee railroad worker and his family sausage recipe
SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. – The F.B. Purnell Sausage Co. may be Kentucky Proud, but its roots are in Tennessee.
It all began in the fall of 1932 when Tennessee farmboy Fred Baines Purnell moved to Nashville to work for the railroad. But in the city, he couldn’t find any sausage that compared to his mother’s country sausage that he grew up eating.
So Purnell bought a dressed hog and, using his mother’s recipe, made it into sausage for his lunches. One day, when Purnell shared his homemade sausage with a co-worker, the man liked it so much that wanted to buy some for himself. So Purnell bought two dressed hogs and started selling his sausage part-time after work, mostly to his railroad co-workers.
“A lot of the railroad employees knew me as ‘Old Folks,’ my nickname,” Purnell stated in a 1965 newspaper article. “I took that for my brand name.”
Purnell’s son, Al, the company’s current chief executive officer, said his father got the nickname because he enjoyed sitting and listening to elderly people.
By 1939, Fred Purnell was buying 140 head of hogs per year, some of which weighed as much as 800 pounds, and processing them in his spare time. When a second hernia operation left him disabled in 1944 and unable to continue his physically demanding work as a steam locomotive mechanic, Fred went into the sausage business full time.
Fred bought a second-hand cooler for $100 (about $1,300 today) and built an 18-by-40-foot addition onto the small kitchen at his home in Bakertown, Tenn., where he made his Old Folks sausage. His wife, Clara, sewed cloth bags used to pack the sausage.
A key factor to the success of Old Folks sausage was its seasoning recipe, which remains secret 80 years later, and using all of a hog’s pork instead of trimmings that most sausage makers used.
As the business grew, Fred experienced stiff competition from larger, more established sausage companies in middle Tennessee, such as Odom’s Tennessee Pride in Madison, Tenn., and Clifty Farm in Paris, Tenn.
“He went broke,” Al said. “They [competition] had a better foothold.
“A spice salesman told him he ought to go to Louisville because there’s not a lot of competition up there. So he and Uncle Bob drove up there and found a little plant to rent.”
Fred and Clara moved their family to Louisville in 1950 and started making their Old Folks sausage in a plant owned by Schwab Packing Co., which had made bratwurst from 1927-49.
In 1952, Fred bought 16 acres of land in Simpsonville with plans to build a new 5,000-square-foot plant, which opened in 1955. It is currently undergoing the latest of many expansions, a $1.5 million addition to house a new freezer and upgrade its refrigeration system.
“Kentucky’s been better to us than Tennessee,” Al said.
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