HOUSTON – One hundred years ago, O.E. Baird and E.E. Baird bought a shop downtown and this month the third generation of Bairds will celebrate a century of work at that location.
Bobby, Doug and Rob Baird still go to work at the shop at 221 North Jefferson each day turning parts, forging fittings and machining pieces for farmers, industry and individuals across Northeast Mississippi.
“We don’t do the high-tolerance stuff – we can – but we are not a true tool-and-die shop,” said Bobby Baird. “We are more of a job shop. It’s what we’ve always been.”
Step into E.E. Baird Machine Shop on North Jefferson and you are in a world where men work hard, know their craft, know their customers and provide quality work at a fair price. Today they call that a sound business model. The Bairds just say it is the way they have done business for 100 years.
“My grand-dad and his brother bought this place on May 20, 1913,” said Baird. “I hate to say everybody knows us, but they do.”
There was a blacksmith shop in the North Jefferson building when Osma Everett “O.E” Baird and Earl Evans “E.E.” Baird signed the deed not long after the turn of the century. Earl handled the blacksmith’s shop and woodworking. Osma handled the machine shop.
And Bairds have been making and machining things for people ever since.
Bobby Baird pointed to contracts to build houses, erect water tanks and forge parts. The business still has ledgers and diaries that go back to the early 1900s.
Those ledgers show transactions to fix engines, plows, springs and even screen windows for local homes. One entry shows O.E. Baird paid $18 for for six days work and E.E. Baird paid $10 for four days labor.
The brothers had learned their trade in Green County. The family came to Houston about 1912 and later built the wood frame house just south of Houston High School on Starkville Road.
“We’ve got pictures of an arched door in this shop where they used to bring in wagons,” said Baird. “They added a second floor 1917 and I’m not real sure when they bought the white building.”
Baird pointed to a South Bend lathe bought brand new in 1917.
“We still use that lathe and I called the company a couple of years ago as a joke to see if they had parts,” said Baird. “They told me they only had inventory back to 1950.”
But these are men who make parts, tools and machines for a living.
There is a hand-made metal saw made out of an old plow beam. They have a massive 150-ton press whose frame was forged in Birmingham and then assembled in the very spot is now stands.
And while many tools and machines in the shop are ancient, the Baird’s have always tried to keep up with the latest technology.
“We were one of the first to offer oxy-acetylene welding,” said Baird. “The second electric motor in a Houston business was here with the first one in the old Coca-Cola building. The Coca-Cola building is gone and our motor still works.”
And when a machine breaks, they fix it.
“The only difference between the quality of work we do for ourselves and other people,” said Baird, “is we don’t get paid when we do it for ourselves.”
That attention to quality and willingness to satisfy the customer has kept them in business for 100 years.
“The city (of Houston) called me Friday night two weeks ago and said they needed a part to fix one of the water mains they were working on downtown,” said Baird. “We made what they wanted and they got the pipe fixed.”
Bairds have also been involved in community service for decades, too.
The Bairds played a key role in moving the aluminum stands at the high school football field from Louisville to Houston years ago. Baird said he has machined parts for the clock on the Courthouse Square and has done iron work for numerous homes and businesses around town. They even helped build some of the first school buses used in Chickasaw County in the 1930s.
And Baird Machine Shop has been a lifesaver for farmers, businesses and industry, too.
“We used to travel all over the state, but we are pretty much local now,” said Baird. “Doug and Rob do most of the outside work. I answer the phone and spend most of my time in the shop.”
As Northeast Mississippi saw furniture factories and manufacturing plants move in, Baird’s made the transition to pure machine shop and forge.
Baird said when a farmer or industry calls, something is usually broken and work has stopped.
“I have been working with some of these factories around here for a very long time,” said Baird. “We know their machines and they know our work. Customers like that are important to a hometown business like us.”
Baird said Baird Machine Shop has been serving some farmers in Chickasaw and surrounding counties for three generations, too.
“I remember my grand-dad and his brother working in this shop,” said Baird. “My grand dad Earl Evans (Baird) bought the equipment here in 1943. They moved into the 211 South Jefferson building – that’s where we have our forge – in 1946.
“My dad retired in 1982,” said Baird. “We bought the business from Hubert and Everrett (Baird) in 1988.”
Bobby Baird said his son Rob started with the company in the late 1980s shortly after he graduated from high school.”
Baird said his son has always had a knack for things mechanical and he realized that the day Rob “fixed” the tail-lights of the company work truck.
“I came home from lunch and when I came back out and the back light was unscrewed,” said Baird. “I still don’t know how he got up there or how he got it off.”
Rob Baird said there is a lot of satisfaction working in a family business.
“I will say the hardest man I ever worked for was my father,” said the younger Baird. “Our name is on the front of the building. My family has always done good work and they expect the same out of me or anybody else who works here.”
Baird has also taken up the mantle of being involved in the community.
He recently represented Houston in a dance contest in Tupelo that raised money for Houston’s Boys & Girls Club. He is also a Houston Volunteer Firefighter and even served a stint as fire chief.
The Bairds said technology and techniques have changed but serving local industry and family businesses has stayed pretty much the same.
“Houston has been good to us,” said Bobby Baird. “We’ve got everything around here just about paid for. Maybe we’ll be around for another 100 years.”