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While, as I have reiterated to the point of boresomeness, my father was an amiable, friendly man, whom everybody in and around Montpelier seems to have somehow loved, he was no dummy. In fact, that is what makes his remarkable popularity in the community the more non-understandable to me; the proprietor to the local general store is not often so highly regarded in the small town. He seemed to extend merchandise credit and financial assistance with an extremely free hand but he always kept his eye on the indicator and was either born with or acquired pretty high-grade credit judgment. When he guessed wrong, he ceased to be easy (if he ever really had been) and didn't hesitate to sue for what was due him. As a result, he acquired several farms in the vicinity of Monpelier. In the well of one of them, when he came to take possession, he found quite a quantity of goods that had evidently been looted from his store at a comparatively recent date, which seems to cast some doubt on his ability to read character, after all.
Through over extension of credit in one case, he came into possession of a fairly good-sized saw-mill in the town. Admittedly, he didn't know much about running a saw-mill, so he went up to one Nimmins, in Bluffton, who was in the lumber business, for advice as to whom he could get to put in charge. Nimmins recommended Al (A.L.) Johnson, a young man of ability, who was making his living by buying up a car-load of lumber and then hustling around and selling it elsewhere. He was somewhat restricted, as he had just about capital enough to finance one car and, when he had bought one car, he had to sell it before he could repeat; the living expenses of his family approximating the profits, in each case.
My father knew Al and sent for him, the upshot of the interview being a deal characteristic of Father; - Al was to take the saw-mill, run it to suit himself, depending upon my for father for financial support and, when as and if any profits came in, they were to be divided fifty-fifty. Al Johnson (if I remember correctly, his name was Abbott Langley Johnson, the "Al" being a name coined from his initials and not a shortening of Albert or Allen) seems to have had plenty of business ability and it wasn't long until my father's share of the saw-mill profits were about as big as those from his other activities. Al Johnson, however, never seemed able to accumulate anything out of his share, my father explaining the anachronism by saying that "Al had an expensive family."
About the time I was old enough to be really conscious of goings on (I recall when the Johnson family lived in Montpelier), a fellow-band8 factory in Muncie, Ind., that bought a great deal of lumber from the Monpelier saw-mill, seems to have gotten into financial difficulties and Al and my father bought it (Father furnishing the money and Al, the good judgment). It was really a little bigger proposition than the original mill, so it was decided that Al should go to Muncie and run it, operating the Monpelier mill from there, rather than trying to run the Muncie business from Montpelier. When Al came to move to Muncie, he couldn't find a house to rent that was suitable for his expensive family and didn't have any money with which to buy a home, so - call on J.T., of course, everybody did - my father bought a house for him, worthy of the family. That Muncie plant made everything that could be made out of hard-wood, from cinnamon impregnated tooth picks to fellow bands and, probably, freight-car sills and bolsters.
When my father was preparing to clear up his affairs in Montpelier, about the end of 1884, and move to Chattanooga, he, of course, gave Al the opportunity to buy out the half interest in the lumber business. Al seems to have, even by that time, been unable to get ahead of the game, with his expensive family; he bought the half-interest by giving his note for (I think) $20,000 - things were relatively small, as you can see. To Al's credit be it said, he paid that note in strict accordance with the agreement and then went on to become a millionaire. He and my father remained staunch friends for the rest of Al's life; he seemed always conscious of a debt of gratitude to my father and often told me that "J.T." had done a lot for him and that he considered that a large part of his success in life was traceable to the early association. Not so the expensive family; they were not so keen about that phase, being glad to gloss over that part of his career, being much prouder of the reputed fact that he had once worked for John D. Rockefeller.
It hurt my father terribly, years afterwards, when he visited Indiana and put in a long distance call to his old friend Al Johnson at Muncie, only to find out he was dead - had been dead for some months - and no member of the family had even taken the trouble to write and tell about it. This would seem to confirm the cynical theory that gratitude rarely lasts throughout one generation and never survives beyond.
Al, himself, wasn't that way. The grim joke is that, in an effort to reciprocate, he let my father in on the ground floor of a lumber proposition in Louisiana, which promptly caved through the basement, costing Father $30,000. (See reference in the story of Robert III).
8 Just in case you don't know, offhand, what a fellow-band is, I will say that it is a piece of wood out of which is made that part of a wagon wheel that receives the outer end of the spokes and goes just under the tire.
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