Allen Brothers Feed & Supply got one thing right from the very beginning — location. James Benton “Lefty” Allen and his elder brother, Glen, started their store next to a rail spur. Perhaps more importantly, they were also next to the rail agent’s office.
A hundred years later, a fourth generation of the family is helping run the store, but the location has moved fewer than a hundred yards and Allen Brothers has become a fixture in Pawhuska. Residents ease around to 129 5th Street to buy animal feed, weed trimmers, pet care supplies, bales of straw and more. James Allen, one of Lefty’s grandsons, recognizes and greets them.
The afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 26, Allen Brothers will celebrate 100 years in business. From 1-5 p.m. there will be food and live music and good company. The public is invited.
Lefty Allen got the nickname because he was a talented, left-handed baseball pitcher. Born in 1890 in Mississippi, he grew up in St. Paul, Arkansas, where his family used mules and horses to transport logs to the railroad, his grandson said. Baseball took Lefty Allen all over the U.S., including to Pawhuska, but the decision to open a business here was a result of family economic considerations, James Allen said, referring to family letters.
James Allen uses the family nickname “Daddy Jim” to refer to his grandfather, and notes that his grandfather served in the U.S. Army in France in 1918, in the waning days of World War I, but was back pitching baseball games by mid-summer of the next year. Helping run the feed business and playing baseball overlapped for a while and “Daddy Jim” didn’t retire from baseball enirely until 1923, according to a blog article written by former Tulsa television reporter Dan Bewley. Bewley has made a film about the Allen Brothers store, the latest version of which is to be ready by Oct. 26, James Allen said.
Allen Brothers started out with livestock feed (they added Purina products by about 1921), with flour, grain, gear oils, and some farm hardware, James Allen said. “Daddy Jim” bought the current store building, located on 5th Street, around 1930. Daily household deliveries were also a big part of the business in the early days. People in town had cows and chickens in their yards.
The current building had multiple uses before “Daddy Jim” bought it, including part of the structure housing a chicken hatchery, and parts of it being used for a roller rink and prize fights, James Allen said. There has also been innovation in the business through the years; for instance, in 1957, Joe Allen (James’s father) bought a brand new Daffin self-contained unit that would grind and blend grain and ingredients. It was a major innovation for Allen Brothers and lots of small farmers brought their grain in for processing.
Joe Allen took over the business in the middle to late 1950s and eventually retired in 1992. James bought it from him, and now Hannah Allen Gibson and her husband, Austin, are part of the team at Allen Brothers. They earned degrees at Oklahoma State and tried the urban life, but found out it wasn’t what they wanted.
James Allen explained that each generation has been allowed to decide for itself whether it wanted to join in and then take over the business. He recalls that his dad, Joe, informed him several months ahead of time that he would be getting out of the feed business, and then left him to decide what he wanted to do.
“It was always my decision, whether I stayed or went,” James said.