Henry Childs celebrates 90 years young Childs returns to the depot where his dreams began

Published 6:14 pm Saturday, October 27, 2018


By Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


Henry Childs is celebrating two milestones in 2018. He will turn 90 on Sunday and this year marks the 50th year of continuous operations of Childs Manufacturing and Building Supply, Inc., also known as Childs Building Supply and Childs ACE Hardware in Orange.

While working for the Southern Pacific Railroad, Henry worked at several depots in the Golden Triangle. However, his time at Orange Train Depot is where he began his dream of opening a building supply and construction company so he could build.

“I built about 20 houses,” Henry said as he saw the depot for the first time, on Friday, since its renovations.

“We also rebuilt my truck, many times,” Brad Childs, Henry’s son, said. “And a sailboat.”

According to Henry, when he was renting a room across from Lamar he was studying to be a hand computer.

“That was back when you did everything longhand,” Henry said. “I was not fast enough to make the grade. My uncle told me not everyone was academically inclined and maybe I should be a builder instead.”

One day while working at the depot, shortly after the ‘new computers’ were installed, Henry asked how many train cars were there between here and California.

In those days, a card had to be inserted for the computer to compute the answer.

“He thought he was going to get fired that day,” Brad said. “They had to shut down all the computers between here and there.”

“Apparently there are a lot of train cars between here and there,” Henry said with a smile.

While working at the Orange Depot Henry became aware of “railroad lease property” at the intersection of the newly constructed Interstate 10 and State Hwy 87. He made a handshake deal for a 99 years lease with the Southern Pacific Railroad leasing agent, bought an old used U-Haul style truck, took three months of earned vacation and took a trip to Hart Stud mill in East Texas, loaded up with studs, parked on the property at 16th Street and Interstate 10, rolled the door open and Childs Building Supply was open for business.

“Dad told the agent he needed this many feet and they walked it out,” Brad said.

Southern Pacific Railroad eventually sold the leased property to the owners along 16th Street.

Later, an eight by eight building was erected which became the first office for the business.

“It survived Rita, but started to deteriorate after that,” Brad said.

Brad arranged the private tour for his dad to “show him how far he and his dream has come.”

Also present was Jack Elliott, of Jackbuilt. Jack was the renovating contractor of the Depot.

Henry taught Jack construction while Jack was in high school and hired him to help build homes with Henry.

“Jack and I learned to build from my father and now Jack renovated the building where my father dreamed of being a builder and a supplier to builders,” Brad said.

While reflecting on yesteryear, Henry was presented a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Orange by Mayor Larry Spears Jr.

“My son deserves half of this,” Henry said.

“It all started with you, Dad,” Brad replied.

Spears said it was inspiring to hear Henry’s story and the beginnings of Childs Building Supply.

Lanie Brown, of Congressman Brian Babin’s office, presented Henry with a Congressional Recognition for achieving the American Dream with Childs Building Supply’s 50 years, his 90th birthday and his time served during the Korean War.