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VIDEO VAULT: Caught in PepCon explosion 3 decades ago, memories of a marshmallow factory

Marshmallow Assembley Line.jpg

There will be a lot of talk about "PepCon" over the next couple of days, culminating in a special report this Thursday night on News 3 at 11.

May 4 marks the 30th anniversary of the day Pacific Engineering and Production Company of Nevada was destroyed in a series of massive explosions.

But what's not quite as well known is the story of the adjacent factory that was leveled as well.

A former News 3 reporter spoke of it recently while being interviewed about covering PepCon three decades ago.

RELATED | Explosion's aftermath: Confusion, blame and lessons learned

"One of the things that I remember most was there was a smell in the air of burning marshmallows," reminisced David Riggleman, now city of Las Vegas communications director. "It had almost like a campfire feel to it."

In 1988, Riggleman was a reporter and anchor for Channel 3, and had been at the station on Foremaster Lane when a series of explosions more than a dozen miles away shook the building.

It turns out that News 3 had visited the factory next door to PepCon the year before.

"Laura Stephenson has the story of a unique business that serves up a sweet product, but manages to avoid sticky situations between employees and management," said anchor Rikki Cheese in 1987 to introduce a lifestyle segment about a marshmallow plant in Henderson.

"One aspect that's unique about Kidd and Company is that the owner isn't just an invisible figure," reported Stephenson. "Mr. Kidd himself makes frequent visits to the factory, and is on a first name basis with employees. In addition, when employees work overtime, management makes sure that it doesn't go unnoticed."

"Everybody knows each other by first name," elaborated Kidd Plant manager Wally Cox. "We all work together even though we're on three different shifts. And we like to have a good time together."

The goal at Kidd was to create a pleasant work environment on an assembly line, and the strategy appeared successful.

"I like the job," said worker Frances Goodhue on a break from packing marshmallow cartons. "We have a bonus once a month. We put out a lot of extras. It's a good bunch of people here."

"Do you think you're going to stick around here for a while?" asked Stephenson.

"Oh yes," responded Goodhue enthusiastically. "As long as they'll have me!"

But as everyone now knows, the job was interrupted on that fateful day in May of 1988, when the factory next door exploded, taking Kidd with it. Incredibly, all the marshmallow company employees managed to evacuate before the blasts hit.

Over the next several days and weeks, Kidd would be part of the backdrop for Riggleman's live reports.

"As we pulled up, you could see these pallets," he remembers. "Pallets and pallets of marshmallows that were still smoldering a couple of days after the explosions. It just was hard to gather that we had a rocket fuel plant next to a marshmallow plant, and that somehow they were co-existing out there."

As the marshmallow plant was rebuilt, Kidd employees never missed a paycheck and spent some of their time on community services. The company was later acquired by Kraft and closed its doors in 2001.

The larger and deadlier story, of course, is PepCon itself. The subject will be explored in depth this Thursday on News 3 at 11 p.m.

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