Make your own free website on Tripod.com

[Previous] [Next] [Index]

CHATTANOOGA

The translation from Montpelier to Chattanooga did something to my father that I have never been able to explain to myself. While he was in Indiana he was bold, aggressive, venturesome; he ruled his little empire - not with an iron hand, people don't love iron-handed rulers the way they loved him in Montpelier - but he was the boss and there was never any doubt about that in anybody's mind. He speculated in this and he dipped into that, whenever he could see a chance to make money, and nobody pushed him around. He went there in 1870, with only a little block of capital, stayed there fourteen years, weathered the panic of 1873, lived well and, early in 1885, walked out with a clean clear sixty thousand, practically all in cash. Now you couldn't do that in a small farming village in Indiana in those days unless you something on the ball. But when he moved to Chattanooga, he seemed to lose his nerve; the speculative, venturesome side of his nature went into an eclipse; his aggressiveness was gone and his partners often more or less pushed him around for years. If the vigorous, virile J.T. Arnold of Montpelier had gone to Chattanooga in 1885, we would all be millionaires today. Loomis & Hart had a gold mine there and all that it lacked to make it pay out was just such a man as had been the dynamo of the little business in Montpelier. I have never been able to understand it and can think of no sound explanation for it. Probably some psychology scholar could trace it out and blame it on Lettie or possibly Kit Johnson, but I frankly just do not know.

An interesting point is that, when times of real stress came - the panic of 1893, the fire in 1912 and the reorganization that followed - his partners came to him with their hats in their hands and listened to his words of wisdom as to a father.

It was a strange combination that ran the Loomis & Hart Manufacturing Co. "Old Man Loomis" (he really was a year or so younger or older than my father, I forget which), the president, was an old lumber man, raised in the business and possessed of considerable executive ability. Unfortunately he "got religion" about his fortieth year and it took so violently that it warped his judgment and went far toward destroying his value. As an example, he protested one day that it was all wrong for them to carry insurance on the plant and a waste of money; if the Lord willed that the plant was to be destroyed, it would be destroyed and insurance wouldn't help any. The fire of 1912, which destroyed the factory, went far toward converting him to a somewhat more rational view on that particular point but not on others. He fooled around with religion as his primary interest in life, and his business secondary, for many years but finally got tangled up in a number of outside matters, pledged much of Loomis & Hart Mfg. Co. stock, and I think, died practically impoverished.

Jack (Andrew Jackson) Gahagan was a North Carolina hill-billy, skinny and about my height, with an intellectual capacity that placed him just a little above the moron level. He came to Chattanooga, after serving in the Union army throughout the war, and got a job in one of the banks. He married the daughter of Old Man Duggar, who was a rough-necked old timer who had grown quite wealthy by tinkering in real estate during the post civil war period in Chattanooga, when the town enjoyed something of a boom. With some assistance from his father-in-law, Jack was able to buy his way into the partnership at the time my father came in and was made Treasurer, by virtue of having been a bank clerk.

Father, in his strange, non-aggressive way, was made Secretary and given some little job around the office, which ultimately wound up by his keeping the books. His history for the years 1885 to about 1910 are fairly well covered by the old saying that "happy lives make dull biographies". Not that he didn't have his worries but his story during those years was practically a history of Loomis & Hart and that wasn't a particularly inspiring tale. Father traveled the even tenor of his way, contented and happy at home and taking his business worries in his stride.

He survived an attack of typhoid fever in the early nineties and finally conquered a long drawn out spell of dyspepsia that might have worn out a less rugged man. He managed to make enough money to keep his family in a fair degree of comfort but we never developed any delusions of grandeur as to our wealth - no one seemed to in the nineties, despite the survival of the term "Gay Nineties".

Father's sound sense and judgment kept the firm on an even keel throughout the panic of 1893 and, except for a few years about that time, they made considerable money - around 10% of their capital - paying out their profits as dividends and, owing to the high and increasing value of their real estate, able to get deeper and deeper into the local banks for expansion funds. Shortly after the turn of the century, Gahagan got to losing so much money on poor credit risks that finally my father's ire was roused - something of the old J.T. of Montpelier came to the surface - and he fired Gahagan out of the job of credit man took that over himself, working off his old book-keeper job onto my brother Henry, who came with the company in the summer of 1896. While Loomis & Hart was a corporation, it was operated much as a partnership, the entire stock being owned by the three of them and they had an agreement under which no stock could be sold except to the other members of the trio.

In 1903, Father mustered up enough courage and extravagance to take a trip to Europe with our step-mother. He was abroad when your mother and I were married; I recall that very distinctly, as I had to wait until I returned home in order to get their itinerary, so as to write them the glad tidings, and one of the neighbor women - Mrs. Montague, I think - beat me to it and got her letter in one mailing ahead of mine, which didn't please me much and didn't set very well with my step-mother either. A few years later, he planned a trip to Mexico - partly to see the other Jim, concerning whom more appears later - and around by California to see my brother Bob and his fiancée, Bob's army career having him at Angel Island at the time. Unfortunately, Mrs. A's health was failing at that time and she didn't accompany him, which was a big disappointment. Dad seemed to kind of like Alma - at least he had sufficient regard for her future happiness so that he told her that she was a damned fool to marry Bob - a bit of advice with which she came to agree with years later. Shortly after his return from this trip, he and his wife made a trip to Boston, to visit friends they had met on their European trip. Your mother and I were living in Sayre, Pennsylvania at the time and they didn't even take the trouble to tell us they were coming east, to say nothing of offering to visit us. You may draw your own conclusions; I drew mine and lost no sleep.

My step-mother's health kept growing gradually worse and, by 1910, she drifted into pernicious anemia and finally passed away about Thanksgiving day of that year. I was struggling along on a small salary in Jersey City at the time and, when the news came, I was caught in the predicament of not having any money in the bank and little in my pocket. Father included in his telegram the suggestion that it seemed a useless waste for me to go to the expense of coming and bringing the family. The only way I could have gone would have been to telegraph him for money and so, while I appreciated the enormity of my apparent neglect, I took advantage of Father's suggestion and stayed away. I have no doubt that the tongues of the neighborhood gossips wagged enthusiastically over my conduct but I never heard any of it and so was unharmed, except my own conscience.

In the spring of 1911, Father staked me to open up the chicken farm at Hightstown, thoroughly approving of the idea, which was itself a big surprise to me.

----------------------------

In the summer of 1912, the big blow fell in the form of the burning of the factory. That old factory was a curiosity and deserves a digression all its own.

Originally Loomis & Hart was a partnership of J.F. Loomis and John A. Hart, organized to operate a sawmill in Chattanooga, receiving their logs by enormous rafts floated down the Tennessee from away up in the mountains of East Tennessee and the western tip of Virginia. They made money selling their first class lumber but had a terrible time finding a satisfactory market for their second class lumber, culls, etc. Eventually they conceived the brilliant idea of making it up into cheap - and I do mean CHEAP - furniture to sell to the poor white trash and negroes throughout the south. Theirs was really the first of the southern furniture factories, although a concern in North Carolina claims the honor, but the latter started considerably later than 1869, when Loomis & Hart began.

Their first factory was probably a clapboard shed, near the saw-mill. As the furniture business grew, the factory was expanded - with no conception of efficient arrangement, safety of personnel or fire prevention - until, by the time I first saw it, it was the damnedest hodge-podge conglomeration imaginable. It covered acres; not a brick or stone in it, except for the boiler setting across the street from the main plant. The nearest thing to fire escapes were a few vertical iron pipes, which ran up outside the second and third story windows, down which the employees slid, when they were in too big a hurry to walk to the stairs - if they could find them. I was through it a number of times - worked there in fact - but, even when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I could hardly find my way around it. Now add to this balled-up mess of wood-working machinery, saw-dust, shavings and dry lumber, the fact that the boilers, not fifty feet away, were fired largely by dust, shavings and scraps conveyed there, partly by chain conveyors and partly by exhaust pipes, and dropped in automatically and you can vaguely begin to visualize what a fire-trap it was.

Fortunately, it burned at night. It went like a pile of excelsior and I tremble to think what the result would have been - in the way of human life - if the fire had come in the day when crowded with employees. The first fire engine pulled down to within about a hundred feet of the nearest plug. Before they had time to turn the water on, the fire broke through that side of the building and the firemen had to run for their lives, while the fire-engine just melted where it stood. By the purest of luck, no lives were lost, the brick ware-house, diagonally across the street, did not catch fire and, except for the loss of inventory involved and the interruption to manufacturing, the fire was somewhat of a blessing in disguise; they would have had to tear it down in a year or two anyhow, to keep it from falling down. Some understanding of the fire-trap nature of the building may be gathered from the fact that after it was replaced by a modern, slow-burning mill construction factory, the amount of their former annual insurance bill, put out at going interest rates, would have brought in enough income to pay the premium each year on the insurance policies of the new factory. Father didn't know anything about the fire until he came down to breakfast the next morning.

After the fire, Mr. Loomis and my father wanted to quit. They were each nearing seventy and felt that their affairs were in a good position to liquidate. Mr. Gahagan had other ideas; his father-in-law had recently died and Gahagan and his son Jesse were more or less bulging with the proceeds of the old man Duggar's estate, and they wanted to rebuild the new factory and continue the business. Loomis drew out, I believe, but Father, somewhat reluctantly consented to leave his capital with them but specified that he was to have nothing whatever to do with running the business, not even to the extent of being a director. The plan finally worked out involved the splitting of the business into three parts: viz. 1. Loomis & Hart Mfg. Co., retaining the saw-mill and lumber business. 2. Loomis & Hart Furniture Co., operating the furniture manufacturing business. 3. A.G. Stivers Lumber Co., taking the South Chattanooga planing mill. I am a little hazy as to the precise corporate set-up between the first two but they were closely enough connected so that bankruptcy for either meant bankruptcy for both. Mr. Gahagan, his son Jesse, and my brother Henry undertook to run these, while the Stivers Company was operated by A.G. Stivers and was pretty well divorced from the others.

After the new factory was completed, my father put his affairs in order and planned a trip around the world. Before he left, he looked over the set-up of the new companies and bluntly told Gahagan that he was a fool to start out, as he was doing, with insufficient capital and that they would be broke before he got back from his trip. Gahagan pronounced this all nonsense, opining that he guessed he knew how to run a business and that they had everything paid for and $50,000 in the bank. So my dad followed the example of the Arab and silently stole away.

Father paid us a visit on the farm, while on his way to board his ship in New York. He told me of the arrangements, including his misgivings as to the adequacy of their capital. Skipping the gruesome details, the babes-in-the-woods, trying to run the new plant, soon found that the $50,000 bank roll, which seemed to them such a stupendous sum, had become absorbed into the inventory of goods in process, long before they were ready to fill orders; as a result they had gotten into the banks as deeply as the banks would let them go and hadn't a cent in sight with which to pay for the heavy rafting of logs coming down the river on the spring freshet of 1913, and which must be paid for in cash. The result was that Father was greeted on the dock at San Francisco by a telegram begging him to come home immediately in order to save the business from bankruptcy.

Father was disturbed of course but, as soon as he reached Chattanooga and had a chance to look the situation over, he felt a little better. Mr. Gahagan became panicky and announced that he was going up town to make an assignment for the benefit of creditors. For one of the few times in his life, my father blazed with anger and told Gahagan that, if he tried to do that, he would beat him to the court house and have him hauled up for examination as to his sanity, as soon as he arrived. Father's suggestion was to go up and talk to the bankers.

The amount owed by the little company to the banks was only $50,000 but the bankers had said "No more". In one of their early meetings, just after father came home, Jesse Gahagan came through with the sage suggestion: "Let's pay the damn banks off and tell them to go to hell." "That's just fine, Jesse", said my father, "but you pay them the fifty thousand and let me tell them to go to hell."

The bankers wouldn't really talk to anyone except Father and insisted that he take charge of the little company. Father reluctantly agreed to go on the board. "Board, hell", they replied, "You have to run the business or we will not lend another cent." Thus Father found his prospective retirement cut off and took over, immediately concentrating on finding some way to salvage their capital by selling out. He finally located Gaston Raoul and opened up on him. Raoul, like the bankers, wouldn't talk to anyone else but Father and finally came through with the offer to the effect that he would put $50,000 of new capital into the business, operate it for five years, paying the stockholders 5% on their capital; at the end of that period Raoul to have the option of buying the stock at par or walking out and leave his $50,000 in the business.

In some way, the details of which have escaped me, they had already gotten the saw-mill separated from the furniture factory and here comes what has always appealed to me as something of a joke.

Shortly after the civil war, the business was started as a saw-mill, to which had been added a little furniture factory, to use up unsalable second class lumber. This factory was added early in the seventies and now, in 1915, Raoul was approached as to taking over the saw-mill too. His reply was that he was glad to get a furniture factory but didn't see what he wanted with a little saw-mill tacked on at one end of it. The tail had grown until it wagged the dog.

And Gahagan and my father moved over to run the saw-mill and Raoul moved into the factory. Henry went with the factory and Jesse Gahagan was out. Father and Gahagan lead a cat and dog life running the saw-mill until about the time Raoul completed his five years and took over the factory, when a buyer for the saw-mill showed up. He was a go-getter type and expected to make his fortune out of it in a few years but he promptly had another big fire which burned up his mill and lumber and faded out of the picture. So much for the saw-mill but my father had attained his heart's desire and, at seventy-five, was able to retire; the wealthiest man in the world, at least to the extent that he was the only man I ever knew who had all the money he wanted. He had nothing to do, a large house in which to do it and an income of $15,000 a year, which was $3,000 greater than he had set as his highest desire some thirty years before.

Here is a little digression which might as well as come here as anywhere.

Shortly after the death of our step-mother, Father persuaded Henry to sell his house on Prospect Street and Henry and Orphia moved down to the East Terrace home. Orphia became the lady of the house and, in consideration of her supervising the household, Father made an arrangement by which Henry was able to reduce his living expenses to almost a nominal amount. This, combined with his natural thrift, (he inherited more of the Scotch blood even than I), enabled Henry to begin to build up what has become a modest fortune.

There were two colored servants, one the butler-coachman-gardener named Marcus, whom you boys will remember, and a rather nice looking "yellow gal", who functioned as cook and house-maid. I think her name was Lena but the following anecdote may be a vile slander of the real Lena, if it ought to be told on some other successor or predecessor.

----------------------------

Orphia awaken one morning at an hour when the household should have been astir, only to sense a somewhat perturbing silence from the lower regions. She arose to investigate and, while on her way down the back-stairs, hear a mild commotion in the cook's room at the foot of the stairs, culminating in a hastily opened window. Orphia hurried her investigations and stepped out on the little side porch just in time to see a big "buck nigger" scamper across the adjoining yard.

Duly outraged, Orphia came back into the house and fired the cook instantly, chasing her right out of the house. Then she started in herself to do something about breakfast for Father and Henry. After some delay, she finally prepared the meal and, while they were eating, recited, in accents of indignation, the terrible reason for the delay and what she had done about it. Father listened sympathetically and then delivered the following:

"Of course you understand, Orphia, that I don't want these colored people making a bawdy house out of my residence but looking after other people's morals is a poor business and Lena was a damned good cook."

----------------------------

The foregoing events took place a few years before we moved to Hasbrouck Heights. Immediately after we were established there, Father began the practice of coming up to visit us for a couple of weeks every June. There wasn't any particular reason why he should limit his sojourn to a fortnight but he always did, fearing, I suspect, that he might wear out his welcome. It was during these visits, when he was in his eighties, that I grew to really appreciate what a grand father I really had.

About the time Father retired from business, when in his middle or early seventies, he grew a little sensitive about his age and wanted his birthdays ignored. But when he passed eighty all that was changed; he was eighty years old and proud of it. He decided that he was too old to be bothered with a lot of artificial inhibitions and didn't see why he shouldn't express himself about anything that came along. With a less kind-hearted and sympathetic person, this attitude might have resulted in a querulous, bitter, sarcastic old man; with Father, his natural feelings of friendliness and tolerance of the views of others prevented his becoming venomous while his utter freedom from restraint added a piquant spice to his conversation that was a never ending delight.

About 1924, when he was eighty, he took another trip to Europe. He was gone for three months and lived that time with one suit of clothes. When we met him at the pier, on his way home, he looked like a tramp. We took him home and your mother loaned him a suit of Stuart's and sent his suit out to be cleaned, etc. We also loaned him one of my hats and, between the two additions, he was somewhat restored to respectability. His suit was really a splendid suit, brand new and when it came back from the tailor's, Father looked like a different man. Henry and Orphia met him at the train in Chattanooga and were full of foreboding as to the horrible sight he would present, after a three months trip to Europe with no one to look after him. Much to their astonishment, he came off the train looking like Beau Brummel - a new hat and well pressed suit (he always did buy good clothes). Orphia gave just one gasp and said, "My God, I might have known Edna would get her hands on him; how she did it , I cannot see. I can never do anything with him."

Father came regularly each June for several years. In 1928, he announced that that was the last time he was coming; that next year he would be over eighty-five and that was too damned old for a man to be travelling around and that, if we wanted to see him anymore, we would have to come down and visit him. We took him up on that suggestion in 1929 but in 1930 it was too hot and he telegraphed us not to come. The two following years being depression years, they probably explain themselves; anyhow, after 1929 we didn't visit back and forth any more.

During those last few years, I used to write to him now and then. He appreciated letters and welcomed them but he wasn't a very voluminous correspondent himself; brevity, with an occasional epigrammatic bit, was the chief characteristic of his letters. He kept failing slowly, as his age advanced, but never seemed to have anything that was especially the matter with him, until late in the autumn of 1933, when he got hold of some tainted salmon of some kind, which made him pretty sick. The whole family was affected the same way but, probably due to his age, he didn't seem able to recover the way the rest did. Henry kept me fairly well informed as to his condition and, shortly after New Years, I called Henry on the telephone and suggested that, if Father wasn't too sick, I would be glad to come down and see him. "Wait until I ask him", said Henry. Pretty soon the answer came, "I am pretty sick but not too sick to see Jim." That was the nearest he ever came to expressing affection for me, since I was five years old, when he used to take me on his lap and cuddle me as his "poor little orphan boy".

I went down and spent the larger part of a week with him. I did little more than step out of the house once in awhile but just sat and talked to him. While it was pitiful to see to what extent he had failed physically and have it forced home upon me that his end could not, at best, be very far away; nevertheless, that last little visit was one of the happiest episodes in our relationship. His mind was perfectly clear; his eyes were so far gone that he didn't read a great deal and, for the first time in his life, apparently he would rather talk than read.

He knew that he didn't have a great while left in this world and didn't seem to care much and was not disposed to bother about it. He said, "I guess I will stick around until the fifth of April; I hope so at least, as I will be ninety years old then. No Arnold, in the last two hundred years, has lived to be ninety and I want to break the record. "H.C." came pretty near doing it but he missed by thirty days.

The last day of my visit, I was sitting with him late in the evening, planning to go to the train immediately after dinner. He decided that he wouldn't take the trouble to come down to dinner and, when I started down, he said, "Don't forget to come up and say good-bye before you go to your train." After dinner, I came up to bid him good-bye and was talking with him quietly, when he seemed to grow somewhat somber and said, "Jim, there is something I want to say to you." Thinking he had some special message on his mind, I stepped over to the bed and took his hand, saying, "What is it, Father?" He looked up at me in the most serious way imaginable and said, "Jim, this depression is going to last a long time and it behooves you to hang onto every damned dollar you can get your hands on." I laughed and yet my eyes were filled with tears; as I went out of the door, I heard him chuckle. Those were the last words I ever heard him speak.

As the fifth of April drew nearer, it seemed to lose much of its importance to him; he was just tired of life and glad to see its end approaching. Late in March, Henry bade him good night and received this reply, "Good night, Henry, maybe I won't be here in the morning but I am afraid I will." On Saturday, March 24th, his man Sam came in: "Good morning, Captain, how do you feel today?" "Not very robust this morning, Sam, I don't believe I'll get up." "Now, Captain, if you will get up and have your breakfast and then sit in your chair and smoke a cigar, while I fix your bed, maybe you will feel better." "No, Sam, I guess my smoking days are over."

And his smoking days were over at last: he grew somewhat weaker through Saturday and had a pretty rough time of it Sunday, being finally put out of his immediate suffering by a shot of morphine Sunday night. He passed away quietly on Monday morning, March 26, 1934, just ten days short of his aspiration but coming nearer to it than any of his immediate rivals.

Of course, I went down to the funeral but I did not see him. I didn't care to see him dead; I wanted to carry in my mind forever a recollection of the last time I had seen him, when he sent me away with a chuckle. That was the picture I wanted to hold in my heart and that is the one that has endured through the years.

----------------------------

There fared a bold adventurer, when you put out to sea
And questioning, you steered your bark into eternity.
Tales you had heard and read of what would be on that great sea;
"I do not know", you said. "They may be right, they may be wrong
but I shall go and see." And so you set your sails and went;
Aye, you went gallantly.

You had no compass and no chart, when you set forth that day,
Unto the bourn whence none return to tell us of the way.
You only said, and bravely smiled at those who stood there
At your side and wept, as you set out; "What comes I will accept."
And how you fared, we do not know, but oh, we dare to pray
That we may go as gallantly, when death says, "Now, today".

[Previous] [Next] [Index]