"If it's made of iron or steel, draw a picture of it and we'll build it." With those words, George H. McDowell who heads the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Inc., explains his company's business. " As a matter of fact," he says "you can now add brass or aluminum to that list."

A moulder fashions the intricately detailed pattern into which molten metal will be poured to solidify in the shape of the mold.

For more than 75 years this Johnson City foundry has been one of the principal industries of the East Tennessee city named after its first railroad station agent. During the entire period it has been served by Southern Railway and one of its major predecessor lines, the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia.

The East Tennessee and. Virginia, an even earlier predecessor, began building through the area of what is now Johnson City around 1854, about the same time that Henry Johnson bought a half-acre of land along side the wagon road and fronting on the new right of way.

Foundry workers pour melted aluminum into a mold under the direction of V. M. Eads (left), foundry foreman.

By 1857 trains were running from Bristol, Va.- Tenn., to "Johnson's Tank." And in 1858 through train service was begun on the railroad completed from Bristol to Knoxville, Tenn.

A little more than a quarter of a century later, the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works was established and a small plant constructed on Ashe Street close to the railroad tracks.

Johnson City's oldest industrial concern in continuous operation (76 years) , the foundry continues an expansion program which over the years has increased its size from little more than a blacksmith shop in the center of town to a large plant on the edge of the city, consisting of several shops and other buildings. The company moved to its present site in 1907.

George H. McDowell, president and treasurer of the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Inc., has headed the company since 1946.

Additional space allowed the foundry to expand. Today, its five departments: gray iron foundry, structural and plate shop and the light iron, machine and pattern shops - make a variety of products.

A huge tank manufactured at the plant on special order rests on a flat car at the door of the structural shop while workmen add finishing touches - spraying the tank with rust-resistant paint.

Most orders are special orders, and call for anything from a cast brass cross for a church steeple to heavy steel girders and uprights for a giant construction job.

The plant can switch from the manufacture of tiny cogs to huge generator wheels almost overnight. It turns out all types of ornamental iron work, stairways, pipe rail, fire escapes; fabrications for boilers, bridges, tanks and many types of special equipment; ore washers and other mining equipment, and machines used to make aluminum foil.

Its steel products are sold under the registered trade name of Tennessee Bridge and Steel Company.

Almost from the beginning, the foundry has produced castings and special machinery for railroads. An advertisement in a local newspaper in 1890 stated that the foundry repaired and built "locomotivs (that's the way the newspaper spelled it) and engines." The company still makes heavy machinery repairs.

Such items as gears, pulleys and grates ( supplied by the foundry since its organization) are cast in a manner that has changed little since the turn of the century - by pouring molten iron into pattern molds. The quality of the products, however, has steadily improved over the years. And the patterns used in the foundry are now made in the plant's pattern shop.

A machinist prepares a casting for finishing operations on a planing mill.

Traditionally a jobbing plant, the Johnson City foundry and machine works makes only one exception to its policy of supplying products tailor - made to customers' orders. The product manufactured for general sale is the company's huge veneer slicing machine used in the lumber and furniture manufacturing industries.

George W. Sitton, an early plant manager, developed this unusual piece of equipment. (Mr. Sitton, incidentally, sent two sons to Southern Railway - the late George L. Sitton, once assistant chief engineer of the Southern, and John Sitton, now a locomotive engineer at Sevier.) Originally known as the Sitton Slicer, the elaborate machine was renamed the Johnson City Slicer in 1914 when it was further enlarged and improved.

The "Johnson City Slicer" - exclusive product of the Johnson City Foundry used in the lumber and furniture industries to slice thin sheets of wood veneer.

A long cultivated habit of adjusting to the times constantly brings Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works face to face with new challenges. For example, the company works closely with the aluminum industry in helping develop new products to be manufactured from the light metal. It has had a small part in the government's atomic development program. This policy of adaptation allows the company to fill production gaps left when modern machines and methods supplant the old and when certain manufactured items it furnishes are no longer needed.

This flexibility has helped keep the foundry in continuous operation since 1883, except for a brief period in 1914 when a local bank was forced to foreclose on a mortgage.

At the time of the company's first and only financial crisis, a young man named Glenn W. Setzer was selected to take over the organization. Appropriately, he had served most of his machinist apprenticeship at the plant. He completed his training for the trade on the Southern Railway at Bristol.

Mt. Setzer operated the firm successfully, as the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Company, through the early depression years of the 30's. Upon his death in 1935 his widow assumed management.

In March, 1946, Mr. and Mrs. George H. McDowell became president and treasurer, and vice-president and general counsel, respectively. They changed the company's name slightly to make it the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Inc.

Mrs. McDowell, a sister of Mrs. Setzer, had been an employee of the company before becoming an attorney.

"This is really a family-style business," Mrs. McDowell points out. "Many of our employees are related. There are fathers and sons, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles and husbands and wives working here."

The company takes pride, too, in the fact that most of its 125 employees have been with the company for many years. Nearly all of the department foremen, she adds, were trained at the plant.

Two examples of the variety of product that has been a key to the foundry's years of successful operation - a brass cross for a church steeple, and the steel girders and uprights for the framework of a building.

Elexibility has made these long - time personnel associations possible - the ability of the company to move with the times to stay in business and of its employees to adjust to change.

Another close association - three quarters of a century of rail transportation service to the company - may also be credited to another company's ability to move with, or ahead of, the times.

Southern and its predecessor have over the years hauled an ever-changing variety of raw materials and products for the foundry with railroad plant and equipment steadily improved to meet the needs of a growing territory.