In 1943, the halting crashing noise of train wheels screeching across steel tracks and the explosive sounds of steam trumpets warning of the trains arrival meant one thing – donuts.
Throughout the 1940s, trains routinely stopped in Slaton and, following the sweet and irresistible scent of freshly baked donuts and brownies that welcomed their arrival, young troops marched down Texas Avenue and made way to the most famous landmark in town – The Slaton Bakery.
A young man named Johnny McCormick helped welcome the hundreds of troops passing through town leaving to fight in the war. He was an employee at The Slaton Bakery from 1943 – 1945.
In the book, Slaton Bakery: Baking with Memories, McCormick wrote that his job during the early half of the 1940s was to wrap bread, “which took about three to four hours each night,” he wrote.
However, his job was complicated when his friends visited.
“When my buddies would drop by,” McCormick wrote, “they would grab a handful of brownies on their way out.”
The owner of the bakery in 1943, Barney Wilson, was not pleased with their behavior. “Next time, you pay for their brownies,” he told the young McCormick.
“Needless to say, this stopped my buddies from visiting,” McCormick wrote.
By 1943, World War II Raged in Europe and America was two years into the conflict after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“During that era, there were several instances that affected the bakery,” Max Wilson wrote in the same book. “Commodity rationing was in effect including sugar, fruit, gasoline, and tires to name a few.”
It is written that Barney knew he would have plenty of gasoline ration stamps to continue to delivering his bread around town. “He never had a problem with that,” Max wrote, “but occasionally the sugar would run out before the month was out.”
During this era, fruit was also in short supply because the government wanted allocated a majority of the canned fruit possible for the troops overseas.
“On a few occasions,” Max wrote, “desperation prevailed.” Barney often told his family of times when his only options for keeping Slaton’s sweet tooth satisfied was by traveling to Houston and buy fruit on the black market. “Cherries were hard to get and sometimes he had to substitute black plums for a mix with cherries for the pies and turnovers,” Max wrote. “He [Barney] told of making pineapple pies out of yellow squash.”
However, the difficult times did not diminish the reputation of The Slaton Bakery. For many, it’s hard to imagine Slaton without the sweet smell of donuts baking during the summer mornings, sugar cookies with bright pink frosting resting in cases on spring afternoons and thumbprint cookies, fresh from the oven, cooling on winter nights.
“It started when I was a small child,” Brad Lamb wrote. “As far back as I can remember Daddy used to bring donuts and cookies home from The Slaton Bakery.”
“Home and The Slaton Bakery are the same to my family and I,” Rebecca Diane Howell wrote. “My first memory is pressing my nose up to the display case and taking in all those cookies, pies and pastries. Not to mention the familiar smells those goodies tempted you with.”
According to the book, Slaton’s Story, the history of the bakery in Slaton dates back to June of 1923 when two bakeries in the town consolidated. The bakery became under the ownership of a man named Mr. Brooks. However, Mr. Brooks’ dreams of a bakery in Slaton became short lived when the building he operated from burned down in 1927.
A new bakery reopened shortly after and was operated by the Star brothers who sold it to a Mr. Carr in 1928 before it was sold to R.D. Hickman in 1929.
It was during Hickman’s ownership, when the popularity of the bakery rose as people made their way through Slaton by train.
“I worked at the bakery around 1939 and 1941,” Calvin Lamb wrote. “Mr. Hickman owned the bakery and Barney was the baker.”
Lamb wrote of a time when people stood outside of the bakery before noon, waiting for warm donuts to come out of the oven so they could have fresh donuts with their lunches.
“We also had fried pies that were ready about noon,” Lamb wrote, “and people were eager to get them while they were hot.”
Hickman owned the bakery for many years, until being bought out by Barney in February of 1943.
Barney was the owner of the bakery during the Second World War.
“When Barney bought the bakery from Mr. Hickman,” Ollie Mae Wilson, Barney’s wife, wrote. “He worked very long hours. He didn’t have time to come home for lunch. I would pack him a lunch in a brown paper bag.”
“My mother was a silent partner with my father in business at The Slaton Bakery,” Jimella Wilson Simpson wrote. “She was also an unsung hero. I never heard her complain about the hard work. She kept house, cooked for the family and worked side by side with her husband to keep the business running smoothly. The Slaton Bakery was a true family endeavor with mother as the hub,” she wrote.
From behind the display cases filled with various types of cookies, pastries and sugary sweets of all sorts, along side Barney and his employees, Ollie Mae also welcomed troops into Slaton during the war years and wished them well on their way.
“The troops would march down Texas Avenue on the square,” Max wrote. “If we caught wind of it soon enough, Barney would set up free coffee, donuts, and sometimes brownies to give to the soldiers.”
Other businesses on Texas Avenue, such as Shorty Mell’s Café or Maxey’s Café, furnished coffee for the young men asked to defend the world from the Nazi regime.
“Several soldiers that have passed through Slaton, retracing their journey during the war,” Max wrote, “remembered this stop.”
The Wilson family said that several veterans of World War II have revisited Slaton throughout the years. “We have had them come in and ask if this bakery was still the same family that had given them just a little something special during the war, knowing that they may not be coming home,” Max wrote.