Peter G. Gates
If Peter G. Gates, one of Arkansas' best known yellow pine manufacturers, were asked the secret of success he would probably say, in his usual crisp and concise way: "Mixing brains with business."
Mr. Gates was born at Big Rock, Iowa, 1855. He had no practical experience in lumbering before going to Arkansas in 1885. His father was engaged in general merchandising, and for four years previous to the year mentioned young Peter G. Gates held a position in Colorado as superintendent of a mining company, which, owing to ill health, he was compelled to resign. While in Colorado an accident befell Mr. Gates which came very near resulting fatally. While exploring the mountains one day he was caught by an avalanche and swept down at terrific speed for a distance of 1,700 feet, a part of this awful experience being a sheer drop over a precipice to a depth of one hundred and twenty feet. He was picked up for dead, but recovered from the accident, which would have proved fatal in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred.
In 1885 Mr. Gates turned his attention to Arkansas and began his career as a lumberman as secretary of the Camden Lumber Company. A short time later Mr. Gates and associates decided to erect mill plants elsewhere, and the present location at Eagle Mills, Arkansas, a few miles north of Camden, on the St. Louis Southwestern railway, was chosen and the Eagle Lumber Company has since been operating there. At the same time Albert H. Gates, his elder brother, went northward to Thornton, also in Arkansas and on the St. Louis Southwestern road, and formed the Thornton Lumber Company, in which P.G. Gates was a partner, thus extending the two brothers' interests into two milling plants. The Thornton mill was run for four years, when the timber was cleaned up and A.H. Gates moved to Wilmar, Arkansas, on the Valley branch of the Iron Mountain railway, organizing the Gates Lumber Company, where he has operated as a shortleaf pine manufacturer ever since. Peter G. Gates retained his interest with his brother in the Gates Lumber Company, and still has his stock interest in that enterprise. E.S. Crossett, of Davenport, Iowa, also invested in this concern's stock.
It was before the formation of the two companies mentioned that Peter G. Gates began to investigate the shortleaf timber lands in the vicinity of Eagle Mills and gained the knowledge of that timber which afterward proved so profitable to him and to the Eagle Lumber Company.
Mr. Gates was well aware that mere industry and economy were not the only requisites in building up the yellow pine or any other sort of business; that he must possess himself of all possible information about the business in hand and use the information with intelligence and originality. To this end he spent many weeks in the woods, much of the time on foot, and eventually became one of the most expert woodsmen and estimators in the Southwest.
With the knowledge gained in this close-to-nature study, he began quietly to buy all the lands he could get, and secured them at low average prices. He interested others from his native state, who joined him in heavy purchases of lands, the Eagle Lumber Company acquiring thousands of acres of virgin shortleaf yellow pine. The holdings of the company at this date amount to timber enough, at the present capacity of the Eagle Mills plant, to run it for twenty years; in fact the timber is growing as fast as it is cut and, in consequence, is practically inexhaustible.
As an estimator of timber Mr. Gates is probably without a superior. In this line of work his services have been in considerable demand for state appraisements, and also by railroad companies in estimating the tonnage of forest products for certain localities and, on occasion, he has inspected and estimated large tracts. A few years ago he was invited to do this by the State of Idaho, and spent several months on that state's timber holdings. He estimated a large tract at the special request of the governor, for which work he was handsomely compensated. It was more an expert examination, however, than an estimate, his report showing how the state could best handle its lands and get the greatest returns. In Arkansas Mr. Gates personally went over every acre of land controlled by his company, and his reputation as a judge in such matters is high.
While the five Gates brothers are interested in six different milling plants in Arkansas, Louisiana and Alabama, and their milling connections are not identical, their timber land holdings are not wholly separated and it may therefore be stated statistically that these six companies own 479,000 acres of yellow pine lands, as follows : The Eagle Lumber Company, of Eagle Mills, Arkansas, 50,000; the Gates Lumber Company, of Wilmar, Arkansas, 42,000; the Fordyce Lumber Company, of Fordyce, Arkansas, 60,000; the Crossett Lumber Company, of Crossett, Arkansas, 130,000; the Grant Lumber Company, of Selma, Louisiana, 53,000, and the Jackson Lumber Company, of Lockhart, Alabama, 144,000. This large total makes the holdings of the Gates brothers and their allied interests the largest in southern pine. It is supposed that the present value of the combined mill and timber interests of the allied companies will aggregate between $8,000,000 and $8,500,000. The several interests are now manufacturing at the combined rate of 870,000 feet a day.
The original incorporators of the Eagle Lumber Company were H. M. Gilchrist, E. B. Hayward, P. G. Gates and G. W. Cable. Mr. Gilchrist was president until his death, when Mr. Hayward assumed that office. Mr. Gates was general manager at the incorporation and for many years afterward, but has now retired from that office. He still continues as vice president. D. S. Gates is manager and O. F. Wyman is secretary. Messrs. Hayward and Cable were also interested in the Camden Lumber Company.
The original capitalization of the Eagle Lumber Company was modest, but it has been increased from year to year as the uniform and steady growth of the business warranted.
Mr. Gates has always been an ardent and consistent association man. He is high in the counsels of the Southern Lumber Manufacturers' Association and was a member of the Missouri & Arkansas Yellow Pine Company, a combination of mill men in existence some years ago but since disbanded. He has been a familiar figure at yellow pine manufacturers' meetings for the past fifteen years, and even since his retirement from active management has attended many of these gatherings, although he has recently made his home in South Pasadena, California.
The success of Peter G. Gates shows that although this world is a hard world, in the long run it is essentially a just one. Actuated sometimes by the best motives and sometimes by the most selfish, it is always groping about for men of ability and integrity to fill its places of responsibility. Once these men are found, however, the world is quick to recognize and reward them.