Mill Number One.
When John Martin Thompson was 23 years old, and about one year before he married and began housekeeping in the little log cabin illustrated in connection with this article, it occurred to Benjamin F. Thompson, John Martin Thompson's father, then living near Kilgore, Tex., that his personal business was of enough importance to utilize the product of at least one sash saw mill. So the inspiration came for the erection of "Mill Number One," located on the head-right of Isaac Ruddle and William P. Clusin, three miles southwest of where Kilgore now stands.
This mill was a partnership affair, B. F. Thompson and his two sons, John Martin Thompson and William Wirt Thompson, each owning one-third interest. This mill was erected in 1852 and was destroyed in 1853 by fire, which burned part of the machinery. The business, even in that short time, had grown to something of a merchant milling proposition, and at the time of the fire the partnership owned some lumber which was not burned and complacently boasted many more bills receivable than bills payable.
B. F. Thompson, not caring to embark personally further in the business, or rather desiring to give his boys an opportunity to proceed with it, assumed as his part of the loss that portion of the mill that was destroyed and turned over the business, which included the lumber and bills receivable, to his two sons, John Martin and William Wirt, for their personal ownership and control.
In July, 1908, two members of the staff of the AMERICAN LUMBERMAN, Col. D. H. Laird, of Kilgore (who well remembered the first saw mill of the Thompsons), and J. Lewis Thompson, of Houston, Tex., visited the spot where the first mill had stood and found above the very evident foundation of the old mill several enormous trees which could not have been there in 1852, because the mill and its ramifications undoubtedly covered the spot completely. Photographs of a gum tree 96 inches in circumference, with Col. D. H. Laird on one side and J. Lewis Thompson on the other, and of two shortleaf yellow pine trees, respectively 17 inches and 18 inches in diameter, were then made and are elsewhere reproduced as visual evidence of the fact that merchantable yellow pine trees have grown into that character of timber, at least upon that one spot of the earth, in not over fifty-six years of time.
Mill Number Two.
When the Thompson young men, John Martin and William Wirt, began to plan their new "Mill Number Two" they selected a mill site two miles north of the site of their first venture. They were undoubtedly taking their mill to the trees instead of bringing the trees to the mill.
At the time of the proposed erection of this mill they were much beset by doubts concerning the type of mill which they should erect. Circular saw mills were reputed to be dangerous and mechanically omnivorous, eating the limbs and bodies of men with as much avidity as they ate the bodies of trees. But ambition and enterprise won and John M. Thompson and brother erected in the spring of 1853 their first circular saw mill.
Then they began to be merchant sawmillers in earnest, and from their efforts in those days, and at the first mill in 1852, this family should claim the distinction of being the first merchant sawmillers of Texas, in a broad sense, for their circular mill was made to cut 4,000 or 5,000 feet a day, and people who desired lumber came in ox wagons, loaded with grain and hides, and traded those products for rough lumber, thus making a load both ways, between the saw mill and Ft. Worth, Tex., 136 miles; Corsicana, Tex., 90 miles; Dallas, Tex., 110 miles; and Waco, Tex., 136 miles, as the crow flies or the ox wagon creaked. Many old houses still standing in those thriving cities were built of lumber hauled from the mills the Thompsons built in Rusk county.
Mill Number Three.
Two and a half miles northwest from the site of "Mill Number Two," on the bank of a lake, at a point about two miles southwest of Kilgore, J. M. Thompson & Bro. erected about 1860 "Mill Number Three."
This lake is to this day called Thompson's lake, but every vestige of the appearance of sawmilling of former days has disappeared. A picture of this spot made in July of this year accompanies this text, the two human figures shown in the picture being W. D. Thompson, the oldest son of William Wirt Thompson, a man in his fifty-third year, now the owner of the William Wirt Thompson homestead not far away, and J. Lewis Thompson, of Houston, Tex.
It was there that the Thompsons added a grist mill to their saw mill equipment.
As recorded elsewhere in the particular stories of the lives of John Martin Thompson and William Wirt Thompson, they became gallant Confederate soldiers in the war between the states, and left their mill at Thompson's lake to be operated by help hired for the purpose, and here, outside of the biography of John Martin Thompson and in the business history, must be recorded an act of human kindliness and charity worthy of a tablet in bronze as a commendation of posterity. They left an order—these boys in gray—that during their absence the miller was to grind the grain brought to him by the womenkind of all men in the south who had taken up arms for their country, and from that grain the miller should take no toll.
Mill Number Four.
After the war the mill was removed from the bank of Thompson's lake to a point on Helton's creek, where the cut was increased to an average of 7,000 to 8,000 feet a day. Here Henry Tucker became associated with the Thompsons a little while after the death of William Wirt Thompson, July 14, 1874. This mill was destroyed by fire in 1879.
Mill Number Five.
After the fire on Helton's creek Thompson & Tucker erected "Mill Number Five," at a place not far removed from where John Martin Thompson and William Wirt Thompson erected the first mill in 1852.
B. F. Thompson, the third child of John Martin Thompson, began to figure strongly in the affairs of Thompson & Tucker just before the erection of ''Mill Number Five." He had worked in "Mill Number Four" during his primary school days and was at school when the Helton's creek fire occurred and on his way home from college at Poughkeepsie, N. Y. He stopped at St. Louis, at the request of the firm, and bought a Curtis & Company Manufacturing Company saw mill plant, which was erected and run as "Mill Number Five."
This "Mill Number Five," the second mill of Thompson & Tucker, was run upon the site upon which it was erected in 1879 to late in 1881, when all of the Thompson & Tucker lumbering interests were moved from Rusk county to Willard, Trinity county, Texas.
Mills Number Six and Seven.
When Thompson & Tucker moved from Rusk county to Trinity county they put into the business something like $30,000 and not one dollar has been added, from any outside sources of finance since that time.
In the latter part of 1881 John Martin Thompson and Henry Tucker came to Trinity, Tex., looking for timber. At that time the Missouri, Kansas & Texas road was projected and partly built from Trinity to Colmesneil, Tex. In Trinity these lumbermen got a pair of horses from George Gibson, the father of J. B. Gibson, now land agent of the John M. Thompson Lumber Company, with headquarters at Trinity, and rode down the line of the projected railroad, to the east, to a point on the line where Willard now stands. At that point a man of the name of Turner Evans showed them 640 acres of timber land situated on the G. T. Woods survey, Trinity county, which when they saw they fully concluded was all the timber land they should ever desire to own, or wish to lumber.
The old and musty records of the then Thompson & Tucker partnership, and the now Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company, show that this particular section of land produced 16,000,000 feet of lumber, an average of 25,000 feet of lumber to the acre, so it can readily be understood that these lumbermen from Rusk county might easily think that they had indeed found the Promised Land for the exploitation of lumber manufacture.
They bought this land and returned to Kilgore, and sent Benjamin F. Thompson to Willard to break ground and become the Trinity county pioneer of the Thompson family. Lovelady, Tex., was then, the nearest point on the railroad, by good wagon road, and to Lovelady the heavy machinery was shipped that had made up "Mill Number Five." Many of the appurtenances were brought through on wagons from Rusk county.
Several men are yet in Willard who were then in the employ of the Thompson & Tucker people. When "Mill Number Six" was built, near the spot where the planing mill now stands, those in interest were John Martin Thompson, Henry Tucker, B. F. Thompson, J. A. Thompson and J. E. Tucker. Of these five only J. A. Thompson, of Taylor, Tex., and J. E. Tucker, now interested in the manufacture of lumber in Vancouver, B. C. are now alive.
"Mill Number Six" was practically a rebuilding of "Mill Number Five." The picture of the mill site where "Mill Number Six" was erected in 1881, printed as a part of this article, was made late in July of this year, and shows besides the three men W. J. Bradberry, Ben Williams and Henry Ward, who worked in that mill, and a great willow tree 2 feet in diameter, grown in the years that have elapsed since the mill was abandoned.
When "the expedition" was at Willard, late in July last, seeking out in devious ways the facts to be later woven together into this saw milling story, the old negro, Ben Williams, happened to be the only person at hand who remembered vividly those very early days of Thompson & Tucker history. Speaking with great reverence of John Martin Thompson, B. F. Thompson and William P. Thompson, under whose several directions he had labored in the early days, he pointed out with accuracy, backed by faultless reasoning, the historical points about Willard; at no time in his life did John Martin Thompson make his home at Willard: "Mill Number Six," between May and October, 1882, used to cut 12,000 feet a day; when the cut went to 13,000 a day all the men at the mill got an extra silver dollar each with which to celebrate the event. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas road, building in from Trinity toward Colmesneil, reached Willard June 18 or 19, 1882. In October, 1882, "Mill Number Six" was stopped, a planer was put there, and then began the erection of "Mill Number Seven" where one can see the big sawdust pile out of a north window of "Captain Jack's train" as it moves east, every morning. These were the facts which the old darky substantiated with careful accuracy.
"Saw Mill Number Seven" was a Curtis & Co. Manufacturing Company mill cutting 40,000 feet daily.
In 1883 J. A. Thompson, who for some time had had charge of the retail yards of Thompson & Tucker, came to Willard to relieve his brother B. F. in the management of the business, or rather to change work with him for a time.
During the life of "Mill Number Seven" considerable enterprise was shown in securing logs, by the building of a wooden tram road north from Willard over which logs were brought in on eight-wheeled trucks. This method obtained until 1887.
In 1884 John Martin Thompson bought for $14,000 Henry Tucker's one fifth interest in the business of Thompson & Tucker, This advance in the book value of the business from $14,000 in 1881 to $70,000 in 1884 was considered remarkable money making.
In 1884 William Pressley Thompson, then a man of 21, came into the business and in 1886 Thompson & Tucker bought out Fowler & Saunders, located on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railway near Willard, and W. P. Thompson was put in charge of the business.
In 1887 the book value of the business of Thompson & Tucker was $250,000, for in that year John Martin Thompson bought out J. E. Tucker's interest, a one-fifth portion of the business, paying him $50,000 cash for that share. By this purchase the family of John Martin Thompson became the entire owners of the business. The business was then incorporated with an authorized capital of $200,000.
In 1887 the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company bought its first tram engine, the H. K. Porter affair referred to more particularly under the head "The Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company."
In 1887 the first steam logging road was built in a southerly direction from Willard; over it "Mill Number Seven" was thereafter supplied with logs.
In June, 1888, the erection of "Mill Number Eight" was begun. This mill, with repairs, improvements and alterations, is still running at Willard and further on in this story is particularly described under its proper heading. This mill, finished in June, 1889, was planned by B. F. Thompson, and built under his direction.
From 1881 until the spring of 1891—save a few months' interim in 1883, to which allusion has before been made—B. F. Thompson remained at the active head of the operation of the mill at Willard.
William P. Thompson assumed the management of the plant in the spring of 1891 and remained in control until July, 1898, when J. Lewis Thompson succeeded him.
In 1896 J. A. Thompson withdrew from the firm, taking all of the retail yards at that time owned by the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company. In 1896 J. Lewis Thompson became a stockholder, securing a fourth interest in the business.
J. Lewis Thompson had been actively engaged at Willard since August, 1891, and had had the advice and example of John Martin Thompson, B. F. Thompson and W. P. Thompson, which he claims made the accession to the managerial honors an easy one.
B. F. Thompson died in 1895 and W. P. Thompson died in 1900.
On the death of W. P. Thompson he left his entire estate to his father, John Martin Thompson, which made, at that time, the latter a three-fourths owner of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company.
So at the beginning of 1900, or following W. P. Thompson's death, John Martin Thompson and J. Lewis Thompson became sole owners of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company, for shortly after B. F. Thompson's death John Martin Thompson and William P. Thompson had purchased of his widow B. F. Thompson's share in the company.
The management of William P. Thompson had carried the business through the seven lean years that ended in 1898; then with an upturn in business the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company began a season of long prosperity.
In 1900, by courtesy of his father, Hoxie H. Thompson became a stockholder in the company.
In December, 1901, there was a cleanup in the way of dividend matter; the property was inventoried on a basis of $1.50 a thousand feet for the stumpage then owned; the stock then increased to $400,000 and the business was sold January 2, 1902, 55 percent to J. Lewis Thompson and Hoxie H. Thompson, and 45 percent to Tom S., and Ben B. Foster, of Kansas City.
At that time J. Lewis Thompson was made president, Thomas S. Foster vice president, J. T. Beall secretary and Hoxie Harry Thompson treasurer of the company.
The company then owned 22,000 acres of virgin timber. J. Lewis Thompson was the second president of the Thompson & Tucker Lumber Company. He had previously been secretary, treasurer and general manager. He has continuously held that position ever since.
At that time Liggett N., Hoxie H., and Alexander Thompson, brothers of J. Lewis Thompson, were working at the Willard plant, during their school vacations.
In September, 1902, Alexander Thompson elected to go to Cornell university for a law course, and at that time obtained, through J. Lewis Thompson, an interest in the business, in like proportion to that held by Hoxie H. Thompson.
In the spring of 1903 Thomas S. Foster sold all but a nominal amount of his stock in the company to J. Lewis Thompson, receiving $1.50 for what he had previously paid $1.25.
In August, 1903, Liggett N. Thompson came into the business as yard foreman at Willard.
In February, 1904, J. Lewis Thompson sold Liggett N. Thompson the same amount of stock that his other two brothers held in the company and Liggett N. was made secretary and sales agent of the company.
In July, 1906, the general offices of the company were moved to Houston, Tex., as is recounted fully in the "Selling End" of this history.
In 1907 the capital stock of the company was increased to $600,000, but none of this stock was distributed either by sale or stock dividends, and the extra $200,000 still remains in the treasury.
In January, 1908, Hoxie H. Thompson became active manager of the business at Willard, Tex.