Highland News Leader

A Thought to Remember: C.J. Hug was one of Highland’s great builders

CJ Hug
CJ Hug

Christian “Christ” J. Hug, in the early 1900s, was a carpenter, builder and contractor. He owned Highland Planing Mill and Lumber Co., and later, Hug Construction Co. of Highland. All of this, he accomplished before 1919, when he was the most progressive small general contractor in southern Illinois.

Hug had completed several road projects for the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. and others in Madison County.

“Christian J. Hug was born on a farm in Bond County, near the Hug Cemetery area, to Samuel and Elizabeth Baumann Hug on Dec. 15, 1877. He was the third of eight children going to the rural school and finishing in Highland, at 18.

“He entered a hardware store as a clerk and at the same time acted as agent for an insurance company. He was promoted to assistant superintendent of the Prudential Insurance Co. office at Canton, Ill. He then went to St. Louis for a year and to Oklahoma, where he ‘homesteaded’ a farm.

“Christ returned to Highland and became a carpenter and later became a contractor. In 1899, he married Claudine Gruenenfelder, and by 1912, they had two children, Leslie, 10, and Gladys, 8.

“He started the Highland Planing Mill and Lumber Co. and was its president. His business was successful to an unusual degree and his preeminence in the building trade is merited by his excellent work and good management,” so quotes the Centennial History of Madison County of 1912.)

“Hug became a major builder of milk factories for Louis Latzer, for Helvetia Milk Condensing Co., which in 1923, became the PET Milk Co. Hug built plants throughout the Midwest and did it with verbal orders and handshakes with Louis Latzer, the president,” so quotes the Sesquicentennial History of Highland.

Chuck Rhoads of Collinsville has supplied the following information.

“In 1920, C.J. Hug secured a contract from Illinois Division of Highways, today known as IDOT, for grading, bridges, culverts and paving of a section of the National Trail, later called U.S. Highway 40, in Bond County, near Pocahontas, then through Highland and to Collinsville.

“C.J. wanted a better and heavier truck than the  ¾ -yard concrete dumps made by Ford or Sampson. He wanted a 1- ½ -yard dump truck and none were available, so he built his own. This first truck was built in the Leutwiler Machine Shop on Pine Street in Highland in late 1920. By spring of 1921, the 4-inch-I-beam, metal-frame dump truck was ready and was on the job tested throughout 1921. The tests were outstanding.

“By 1922, ‘The Hug Co.’ for building trucks and road-building equipment was incorporated.” (Hug rented the old railroad freight building on the north side of Sixth Street, about where St. Morgan Produce and Barnett Pest Control is today.)

Christ, better known as C.J., was another man who put Highland on the national and even the world map. He began building eight more trucks, just like his original model, and eventually a two-ton dump truck, then three-ton models, that were shipped all over the world. He also invented the Hug Turntable, a unit that could turn around a loaded concrete truck and also invented the Hug Subgrader.

Later, C.J. purchased the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. buildings, added a building up to Sixth Street, to build his larger trucks. His Special Speed Truck brought in many orders and much employment for Highland.

“Perhaps his biggest contribution to the city of Highland was when he fathered the idea of paving every street in the city at the same time.

“The project began in 1928, just before the Great Depression. It was finished in 1929, with a huge street paving dedication and picnic. Hug was assisted in the project by Victor Koch and Mayor Keith Tibbetts, who later married C.J.’s daughter, Gladys Hug Tibbetts.

“The cost of the projects, including side walks, was $360,000, with the city, businesses and 3,000 residents of Highland at that time bearing the cost.”

Information from my column of June 10 and 17, 2010, follows.

“In 1929, Hug introduced the ‘Roadbuilder’ truck, which could haul a six-ton payload, and total sales were 400 units.

“In 1932, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began several large dam projects and was looking for proven, heavy excavations trucks. Fifty of the ‘Big Hug. Model 99,’ which had a 36,000-pound load capacity (18 tons), were sold to the TVA at $13,000 to 14,000 each, with the last one shipped Jan. 4, 1941.

“In 1936, Hug built six fire truck chassis for the city of San Antonio, Texas, and in 1940, also built six trucks for the U.S. Army. Then, material was non-existant for building additional trucks, but Hug had built 4,020 units, from 1921-42.”

The above was condensed from an article that Chuck Rhoads of Collinsville wrote for Wheels of Time in March/April 2003. Rhoads is the largest collector of Hug Truck information, pictures etc. He also has a collection of unrestored Hug Trucks, has restored Hug Truck No. 42 and had it in the Sesquicentennial parade, with C.J.’s nephew, former Mayor Lester Hug, riding with him.

Cleatus Hug and his family restored a1922 Hug Truck for the 1987 Sesquicentennial Parade.

(My thanks to Chuck Rhoads and Steve Hug, the son the late Jack Hug, the youngest son of C.J., who was born in 1924. Steve, of California, was here for Christ J. Hug’s induction into the Highland Area Schools Alumni Hall of Fame in 2014.)