Harvey Crowley Couch

 1877 – 1941

Harvey Crowley Couch was born on a hillside farm in Calhoun County, Arkansas, the son of an itinerate Methodist minister, Thomas C. Couch, who preached on Sunday and farmed during the week.  Of Welsh extraction, his great-grandparents were born in Georgia.  Couch went to work in his teens; his first job was firing a cotton-gin boiler at fifty cents a day.

Born during Reconstruction, Harvey started life unpropitiously, but he plowed, milked, and “slopped” hogs and grew in strength.  Resourceful from the beginning, he built flutter wheels on the banks of creeks as a child to saw wood with waterpower, and after seeing his first railway train he improvised a toy track down hill.  When Harvey was seventeen, his father’s health failed and the family moved to Magnolia, Arkansas.

Oversized, nearly six feet tall, he was assigned to the fifth grade with boys of twelve and thirteen.  Wearing a hickory shirt and homespun suit made by his mother, with other boys in white shirts and “store bought” clothes, Harvey endured his embarrassment for a month, when he confided to his teacher that he felt out of place and was going to quit and go to work.  His teacher, Pat M. Neff, who later became governor of Texas and president of Baylor University, belittled the ridicule of Harvey’s classmates, suggested he try to make two grades in one, and wrote on the blackboard a lesson Harvey never forgot:  “A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits.”

Neff inspired Harvey with the thought, “Men like you have built empires.”  In later years Harvey Couch often said, “Next to my mother, Pat Neff has influenced me more than any other person…He touched me with his great personality.”  Harvey was a pupil under Neff for two years when the helplessness of his father made it necessary for him to go to work to support his family.

Fortified with what he had mastered in school and fired with the irrepressible urge to get somewhere and be somebody, he went forth to achieve fame and fortune.  Starting empty-handed, he built a telephone line from Bienville, Louisiana, to Magnolia, Arkansas, while he continued his mail run.  By the time he was thirty-four, his telephone system, which he sold to the Bell interests, covered several states.

Couch then bought two small electric plants at Arkadelphia and Malvern, Arkansas, contracted with a sawmill to supply current, and connected the two towns with a transmission line.  This was the birth of the Arkansas Power & Light Company, with headquarters in Pine Bluff.  Couch bought millions of dollars worth of electrical equipment on open account.  He constructed Remmel Dam on the Ouochita River to generate the first hydroelectric power in Arkansas.

Having pioneered in communication and electrification, Harvey Couch next ventured into the business of transportation.  He bought the Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad on which he once had been a mail clerk and merged it with the Kansas City & Southern to form a major railway system under the management of his brother Charles Peter Couch.

Harvey Couch married Jessie Johnson of Athens, Louisiana, on October 4, 1904, and they had one daughter.

In 1932 during the depth of an economic depression, President Hoover organized the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.  He appointed Couch as a director, and he continued to serve under President Roosevelt as chairman of the corporation.  In this strategic position his wide experience was felt in every part of the country during a period of national recovery.

Countless calls were made upon him in the public service, and his leadership helped initiate an industrial revolution in the Deep South.  At the time of his death on July 30, 1941, he was identified officially with many industrial and commercial enterprises and was active in a number of charitable and educational institutions.

Couch was the indefatigable worker and persistent student.  He educated himself by asking questions and became one of the best-informed men in the country.  He had an abiding faith in the people of the South and confidence in its future.  Though he could pinch his pennies and was often a hard trader, he wanted to help the little man.  He had earned his own way the hard way.  “Success in life depends in part on the kind of friends one makes.” He said,
make friends and be true to them.”