Several times in the past two weeks, I’ve mentioned Faribault Woolen Mill Co. Having spent half of my growing up years in Minnesota, I had friends from summer camp who lived in Faribault and whose parents and friends worked there. The mill is a bit of a state landmark.
According to their website, “Since 1865, there has been a woolen mill in Faribault Minnesota. Five generations of skilled craftsmen have elevated the weaver’s art and been responsible for many of the industry’s most important contributions.”
Minnesota Monthly interviewed the current owner. “ ‘At one point, Faribault Woolen Mills was producing half the wool blankets in the United States,’ Paul Mooty tells me. Probably true, considering that besides the popular consumer goods, the mill produced blankets for all branches of the military, hotel bedding, and airlines.”As many Marines and other servicemembers can attest, these blankets are warm. I slept on one all through Marine Corps boot camp. I say on, not under, as I went to boot camp in the summer and it was easier to keep our racks made that way.
I love wool. Whether a particular blend is certified “organic” by the FDA or not, all wool is organic. It’s easily replenished and industry practices are constantly improving both in the treatment of animals and in their environmental impact.
As militaries the world over know, and the great historical world explorer’s knew, wool is sturdy. It’s naturally water repellent. It’s naturally anti-microbial. And it retains its insulating properties even when wet. With innovative manufacturing and material selection, it doesn’t even have to be scratchy. When compared to synthetics that are largely made from petrochemicals, it’s hard not to love wool.
And it’s hard to not be in love with a company that is committed to sustaining the livelihood of a small town in the heart of America. Having been open for over 140 years, the mill closed in 2009. But cousins Chuck and Paul Mooty, recognized the potential and bought the company. In September of 2011, they proudly re-opened the mill.
Reading about them also re-opened my memories of those great blankets. Now, most Marines are “gear junkies”. We love to collect all manner of things relating to our service. I am no exception. My home office boasts a virtual museum of surplus ammunition crates and cans, flags, shell casings and other memorabilia from my Grandfather’s and my service (he served in WWII, and I served in Iraq).
To my consternation, most of the current online offerings are imported and/or made with acrylic blends and pressed reconstituted fabrics. The real ones from Faribault Mills are worth every penny of their price tag, but it’s a price I simply couldn’t afford at the time. Just two days ago, I posted a link to Twitter showcasing Faribault Woolen Mill Co’s “Foot Soldier” Blanket as an item I would heartily accept as a Father’s Day Gift.
Today, then, was a day from hell at work. Afterward, I needed to de-stress. One of my hobbies is browsing the many military surplus stores in our area. So, I ventured forth into the dusty, musty aisles to see what I might find. I thought, “I might even grab an old blanket.”
There at the first stop, I found myself guided by an unseen hand toward those classic green blankets. Of course, there were the featured “Camping Blankets”, imported, with a loose weave. Bright orange stickers priced them at $30.00. Then on the next shelf were the “Government Issue” blankets. These were good used blankets of a thick and heavy weave. They were in various states of wrapping, unwrapping, fading and fraying. These were priced at $38.00. Now that’s a pretty decent price. So I started digging for the best one.
Then, nearly hidden at the bottom, one stood out. The package was still completely sealed and it was oddly priced at $29.99. Sometimes surplus stores are weird. But maybe this one was different. I surreptitiously opened the edge of the plastic wrapping (all the others were open, what could it hurt?). The wool was thicker. But softer, too. The edge stitching was neat and straight, not ragged.
“No freakin’ way!” I thought.
I tore open the edge of the package a little more, just so I could fit my fingers into the open side of the corner folds to assuage my incredulity and confirm my suspicions:
“Jackpot!” I had found a new, in the package, un-issued, government surplus military blanket handcrafted by the good workers in Faribault, Minnesota. Incredible! As you can imagine, I made haste to the cash register. It was an unbelievable stroke of good fortune. Except that I don’t believe in fortune. I don’t believe in luck.
Scoff if you will, but after the day I’d had, I choose to believe this was God’s way of saying, “Things may sometimes go very badly for you in life. There will be tough days to come, just like today. Maybe worse. The world is a cold, harsh mistress. But, as a loving Father, I will always be there to warm you. No matter how badly things may go, I am there if you look for me. And when you find me, like you’ve found this blanket, I will cover you in my lovingkindness.”
And I’m blessed to be wrapped in goodness.
For updates on the rebirth of this great American company, follow Faribault Woolen Mill Co on Twitter @FaribaultMill