This is a history of Standard Laboratories, Inc. including its formation, its successes, its failures and its hopes for the future. It is the story of the rise of a small closely held family business and how it emerged during the last half of the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century to become the dominant player in the United States coal laboratory industry and a major participant in other coal markets throughout the world.
The official record shows that the Std Labs venture was incorporated as a closely held company in 1954 in the town of Whitesburg, Kentucky. However, the Std Labs story actually started in 1949 near the small Virginia town of Darwin, Virginia. The company was not incorporated at that time but rather was an informal sideline business permitted by the Garland Coal and Mining company. As a condition of employment, Gladys and her husband, Troy Stallard, were allowed to operate a private laboratory for the local coal companies in the eastern Kentucky, southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia coalfields. This arrangement was concurrent with the setting up and operation of a company owned coal lab for Garland. Since 1947, Gladys had been working as a coal laboratory technician for Godwin Laboratory in Bluefield, West Virginia. Her good work had impressed the Garland company as they had been using Godwin as their independent lab to perform all their work up to that time. When Garland decided to set up its own in-house lab, Garland offered employment to Gladys and Troy. As a part of the terms of employment, they negotiated a provision which permitted them to provide lab services to other coal companies for their own account. After the incorporation in 1954 the business began its long and successful growth in reputation and revenues. In order to paint a complete history of Std Labs, Gladys' background and qualifications need to be discussed at this point to clarify the work ethic and devotion to excellence that later laid the foundation for the fundamental success of the company.
GLADYS BERCHTOLD STALLARD
Gladys was born into a rather poor family on August 1, 1924 on a small remote farm located on a mountaintop near Keystone, West Virginia. Her father, Charles Beaman, struggled to work odd jobs and was away from home for extended periods to find appropriate work; he was disabled in the use of one arm. In his youth he had lost his right forearm and hand in a tornado accident wherein a living room table crashed down on him in the town of Cary, North Carolina. He did, in time, develop skills in painting houses and hanging wallpaper. Yes, indeed, he was a "one armed paper hanger". Her mother gave birth to nine children with Gladys being the second youngest. Unfortunately, Gladys' mother died when she was only five years old and therefore was only able to retain vague memories of her life with her natural mother. With her father out seeking employment during the Great Depression she was essentially brought up by her older sisters and throughout her life she always gave them all due respect for her successes. The family had very little in terms of income and had to eke out a bare living on their mountaintop with hard work and the assistance of good neighbors. Gladys once remarked that on one Christmas she got a single gift which was a used baby doll with only one arm attached.
One quick note about Keystone, West Virginia. It was a railroad town on the banks of Elkhorn Creek branch of the Tug Fork River in McDowell County. This town in the1920s and 30's had a rough reputation as rail workers and coal miners participated heavily in drinking, fighting and prostitution and as such was not a very positive environment in which to raise nine children. But, out of this rather difficult situation Gladys grew strong mentally and physically throughout her childhood and adolescent years under the care and nurture of her sisters. Her oldest sister, Olga, was married at the time and unable to devote too much time to Gladys except in providing advice and counsel. The second oldest sister, Jessie, actually became a surrogate mother and provided most of the care in Gladys' upbringing.
Gladys was truly an outstanding student and excelled in school work skipping a number of grades and entering Concord College in Athens, West Virginia at the age of
16. She graduated college at the age of 19 in 1942 with a BS in chemistry. She had little money for social or luxury items and once related that she had only one winter
coat which was so old that she was afraid to lift her arms which would then reveal the worn and ripped seams holding the coat together. While she had aspired to become a medical doctor the necessary funds were simply unavailable to let her continue schooling. She instead took a job with the Union Carbide Company in Charleston, West Virginia for, she reported, $140 dollars a month. There, she worked as a Chemist supporting the war effort for about two years during 1942 to 1944.
During that period she had met Troy Raymond Stallard who was then a fur coat salesman for a clothing company in Bluefield, West Virginia. The two became romantically involved, married on May 31, 1943, and decided to make a home in Bluefield. She initially taught classes at Beaver High School where one of her students, John Nash, later became a Noble Prize winner. Because World War II had drained many teachers and students, in 1943 she later taught chemistry at Bluefield College at the age of 21. Many of her students were actually older than she at the time.
TROY RAYMOND STALLARD
During those years Troy and Gladys started a family which consisted of a son, Troy Francis (1944) and two daughters, Susan Hope (1945) and Catherine Ann (1948)
These children and their offspring would eventually become important in the development of Std Labs.
Later in 1947, as mentioned before Gladys found employment at Godwin Laboratory and learned the skills of a coal lab technician. After a couple of years, 1947 to 1949,
she was offered the job with Garland Coal Company in 1949. Her husband,Troy, was also offered the position to do the field work and they moved to Clintwood, Virginia and started Standard Laboratories. In short order their reputation for good, unbiased work and excellent service grew across the non-union companies in Virginia and Kentucky. At that time the larger coal Companies were basically unionized and were primarily located in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Gladys and Troy saw the growth of small non-union coal companies in eastern Kentucky as a real opportunity for them.
Some of those mines were still using ponies and donkeys to haul coal from their mines and quality control was lacking almost entirely. After only four years (1949 to 1953) with the blessings of Garland Coal, they decided to set up their own independent laboratory in the town of Whitesburg in Letcher County, Kentucky. Whitesburg was a small town with a population of about 1000 and was the economic and commercial business center for the county. This move required a great deal of courage for a young couple aged 29 and 32 as they had little money, three children and no equipment. Armed only with promises of potential customers, a total of $600 dollars cash, and a loan of basic equipment from the Prieser Scientific Company, they set up a basic analysis lab in the front of an old, dilapidated gas filling station near the Graveyard Hollow section of Whitesburg. Gladys once said the lab was about the size of her kitchen at their house.The Prieser equipment loan was to be paid back over several years assuming the new venture would be successful. The rear portion of the filling station was occupied by a company providing electrical services to the mining industry in that area.
Gladys ran the analytical and business segments of the company and Troy was responsible for field work (sampling) and preparation. The business once established
grew rapidly as its reputation for accurate and unbiased analyses became regionally known. The number of customers increased steadily especially in the non-union eastern Kentucky coalfields. Within a couple of years the laboratory had outgrown its initial facility and a somewhat larger building was rented just across the road. At this time the Stallard family moved from a rented house in Whitesburg to a 52 x 8 foot mobile home which was parked directly beside the lab for easy access to the operation. It was during this time Troy Francis (Frank) Stallard, the young couples' son, who was still in elementary school was introduced to the procedures involved in coal preparation. Specifically, he was taught how to use the pulverizer. His daily task was to reduce coal samples from 8 mesh to 60 mesh for further use in the analytical laboratory. This was his first responsibility in Std Labs.
As the business continued to grow the family was then able to move into a newly built house in Whitesburg as well as renovating an even larger building for the lab operations on a site near Mayking, Kentucky. This building was approximately 50 feet x 30 feet with a half basement for preparation activities. The company had perhaps four to seven employees at that time. As coal markets expanded customers began to require a greater number and variety of tests and Std Labs begin to offer washability testing, ash fusion tests as well as a number of more sophisticated tests and procedures.
Gladys proved to be a very good chemist and very good at running a sole proprietorship. She hired competent employees and was able to diligently train them in the established American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) procedures. (Much more will be said later about ASTM and Gladys' influence in that organization.)
Most importantly, she instilled in employees the desire to produce honest and reliable results for our customers. She had a terrific work ethic and also required her employees to work very hard. She was demanding and her husband was a good help mate in the enterprise. Customers trusted them and were able to use their services to help create a good, properly controlled industry in the mountains of Kentucky. Std Labs grew in reputation and in size but encountered a somewhat difficult period in the late 1950s as the United Mine Workers Association (UMWA) tried to organize companies in the eastern Kentucky. This was a time of great stress on the company and saw Gladys actually carrying a gun for her protection. One employee, a sampler named James Breeding, was attacked by the organizers with a stick of dynamite which exploded beside his residence. Moreover, a machine gun was mounted on a coal tipple only about one quarter of a mile from the family home. In time, the UMWA abandoned their attempt at organizing and the local industry returned to its normal pattern of steady growth.
During the 1960s the company tried to expand into different territories utilizing its in house employees as branch managers. The first such attempt was to establish a lab
near Hazard, Kentucky. The manager was Jimmy Vanover, who had previously worked with the Stallards at Garland Coal and had been recruited to the Whitesburg operation. This branch lab only lasted a short time and Vanover went on to other employment. A second lab was established in Pikeville, Kentucky, and unfortunately, the name of that manager has been lost and the lab failed within a short time. A third attempt was the establishment of another lab in Grundy, Virginia. It was managed by Roy Waddell who had also been an employee of Garland Coal and had come to Whitesburg where Roy functioned as a second in command for several years. This operation was eventually sold to Roy and became Levisa Testing. Another attempt at developing branch labs was an effort in Harlan, Kentucky. It was managed by Bea Wood, who was one of Gladys' sisters. This lab lasted only about two years and was destroyed by a flood event.
At about this time Gladys was also beginning to be recognized as a valuable member of the national standards organization ASTM. She initially became involved in order to strengthen her technical knowledge and to obtain competent consulting on various coal technology issues. Soon, the committee in ASTM that focused on coal, 05, saw that she was beginning to make substantial contributions to the body of science for coal testing.
In 1968, Troy R. Stallard died of complications due to stomach ulcerations. This left Gladys alone to run Std Labs but she was very much up to the task as the business hummed along for the next couple of years without very much disruption .At this time the company was owned 50% by Gladys and 50% by Troy's estate. Troy's will established the distribution of some of his shares to each of their children and the remainder back to Gladys. This introduced a next generation into ownership in the company.
In 1971, because of continued growth, Gladys built a completely new facility on Solomon Road in Whitesburg. This was a then state of the art laboratory with special preparation facilities for core analyses and washability studies. This new lab boosted the reputation and market visibility so much that Std Labs became recognized as a very strong participant in the regional markets of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.
While the new facility was being constructed Gladys met Paul Berchtold, who was a plumbing contractor involved in the project. After a couple of years of romantic
courtship she decided to open a new water testing lab in South Charleston, West Virginia in 1974. This location was near the hometown of Paul and she was now looking for new opportunities and experiences. The idea for water testing was incident to new governmental regulations with which the mining companies had to comply. It appeared to be an expanding market and central West Virginia seemed to be a convenient place to start. Gladys was at that time somewhat afraid to attempt competing with Commercial Testing and Engineering (CT&E) which was the largest coal testing laboratory in the world and had actually established its first lab in Charleston, Wv. Gladys assumed it would not be best to confront CT&E with a new coal lab in their home territory. In this expansion she decided to head the new venture herself and she left the Whitesburg lab in the hands of her assistant , Curt Hensley. Curt had been working with her for a few years after having been trained in a captive coal company lab elsewhere.
For the South Charleston water testing lab Gladys hired Richard "Dick" Kelly, now deceased, as a chemist. Dick had a chemistry degree from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia and he soon became the key technical employee of the company. After only a short time the lab began to be approached by coal producers who basically insisted that there was a tremendous need for a qualified coal lab to provide an alternative to CT&E's lab in Charleston. After summing up her courage, Gladys moved the South Charleston water lab into a larger facility in the Kanawha City area of Charleston proper and the proceeded to set up a coal lab in that location. The lab was actually a rented space over what was at that time a restaurant (Bell Restaurant) beside a truck stop on MacCorkle Avenue. This move put Std Labs into direct competition with the world's largest coal testing company which was eventually acquired by SGS, the world's largest testing and inspection company in general. This was a very large step into the future. The Charleston lab has had a number of managers in the years since 1976. For the record these include Gladys (Stallard) Berchtold, Dick Kelly, Israel Broome, Steve Lendhardt, Marv Davis, Ray Daniels, Sharon Blankenship, Vicki Dehart, and Claudette Young.
Thus, at the end of 1975 Std Labs consisted of two labs located in Whitesburg, Kentucky and Charleston, West Virginia and about 20 employees and proved its capability to move from a single location into a multiple location business marking its transition into a larger enterprise with expanded markets.