Recognition of the possibilities in any selected line of business, or foresight, as it is sometimes denominated, and the courage to devote one's capital and energies to the working out of the theoretical conclusion has often been the means of placing an individual in the foremost rank of successful business men. It is the pioneer who assumes the great risks attached to any enterprise who must be given credit for what has been accomplished. A pioneer in the production and distribution of yellow pine is William Grayson, of St. Louis, Missouri.
Early in the '70's he became a principal figure in a company that was for a quarter of a century known as the St. Louis Refrigerator & Wooden Gutter Company. From this institution grew the extensive manufacturing and wholesaling business of the Grayson-McLeod Lumber Company, of which he is at the head today and which is one of the largest operators in the shortleaf pine belt of Arkansas.
Mr. Grayson is an Englishman by birth, having been born at Droylsden, near Manchester, in 1844. It was in his native country that he secured his education and spent his early days. The prospects of success appeared brighter to him in the United States and, impelled by ambition, he went to St. Louis in 1870. His first employment was in the railroad express business, which he followed for three years.
An opportunity to engage in business for himself, where his earnest labors would prove of more direct personal benefit, occurred in 1873. June 5 of that year he organized the St. Louis Wooden Gutter Company, having as his associates in this enterprise L.H. Cordry and C.W. McGregor. The purpose of the company was the manufacture of wooden eaves-troughs, or gutters, for which there was considerable demand. The original capital was $25,000, but only half of this was paid in. It was no large amount to begin business with, but it sufficed to meet the needs of the company when the business was inaugurated. A policy of expansion was early adopted by Mr. Grayson and his partners, which policy he has consistently followed in all his connections. The manufacturing of refrigerators was added to the initial line and in 1875 the name of the concern was changed to the St. Louis Refrigerator & Wooden Gutter Company. This title was borne until April, 1902.
The entrance of the company into the wholesale lumber business, which afterward grew to extensive proportions, was in January, 1876. By this time the lumber requirements of the factory had so increased that Mr. Grayson deemed it necessary that an independent source of supply should be obtained for the plant. With this in view a sawmill at Hope, Arkansas, was bought. The mill was a single circular affair of what would now be considered small capacity, but it provided for the company's demands until 1880, when saw and planing mills were erected at Whelen, Arkansas.
Another plant was built at Gurdon, Arkansas, in 1882, and has been improved and enlarged since then. Two years later another large plant was erected at Daleville, Arkansas. The two last-named plants furnished substantially the stock for the wholesale lumber business of the St. Louis Refrigerator & Wooden Gutter Company during the earlier period. Mr. Grayson was energetic and aggressive in his business methods and it was not long before the company was led to an expansion beyond its own resources; it thus became a heavy buyer of mill cuts and handled not only Arkansas pine but longleaf yellow pine, oak and other hardwoods.
For years the business progressed under the direction of Mr. Grayson, expanding until the company became one of the heaviest manufacturers of lumber in the South and one of the largest lumber wholesaling concerns in the country. Through a visitation of the elements in 1896 the policy of the company was changed. Fire and a tornado wiped out the big manufacturing plant of the company at St. Louis. In the course of reconstructing its affairs the company retired from the miscellaneous lines in which the plant was utilized, and devoted itself exclusively to the lumber business. About two years after the fire N.W. McLeod bought all of the stock in the company not owned by Mr. Grayson, the company then being composed of Mr. Grayson, who organized it, and Mr. McLeod.
A reorganization marked this change and the Grayson-McLeod Lumber Company became the successor to the St. Louis Refrigerator & Wooden Gutter Company, William Grayson becoming president; N. W. McLeod, vice president and treasurer, and W.E. Grayson, secretary. Mr. Grayson's work has always been on the manufacturing side of the business, with general executive oversight, while Mr. McLeod has charge of the sales department and the finances.
Going back to the history of the business as made by Mr. Grayson, many changes may be found. The present plant at Gurdon was erected about six years ago and includes a band and gang equipment, a modern planing mill and a railroad eighteen miles long. In connection with the Daleville plant the company owns and operates a standard gauge railroad thirty-five miles in length, operated by a separate corporation, which does a large passenger and freight business. The company in recent years built a plant at Kirby, Arkansas.
Mr. Grayson from his entrance into the lumber business has been a firm believer in the value of standing timber, and his belief has left its mark on the policy of the company. Years ago the company purchased in Pike and Clark counties, in Arkansas, 78,000 acres of yellow pine timber land and made other investments, until now it has more than 100,000 acres of pine land on which is estimated to stand not less than 612,000,000 feet of timber. In connection with the purchases in Pike and Clark counties Mr. Grayson and Mr. McLeod bought the Arkansas South-western Railway, which extended from Smithton to Pike City, Arkansas, a distance of thirty-four miles.
This road, by the elimination of grades and curves and improvement of the roadbed, was put in first-class condition by the expenditure of approximately $100,000 and the line was extended into Gurdon, this branch being used for the passenger business and the Smithton line for freight purposes.
Practically all of the timber adjacent to this railway, including much hardwood, is owned by the company, which has encouraged the establishment and maintenance of small mills to work up the varied timber of the section. In the purchase of timber lands, the acquirement and building of railroad properties and the establishment of manufacturing plants, Mr. Grayson has shown rare ability and foresight. The combined properties constitute a very heavy investment of capital which Mr. Grayson and his associates readily contributed, and, in spite of the exceedingly large losses the company has sustained through fire and storm, it has been one of the solid institutions, financially, of the Southwest. The present capital is $1,000,000, though that amount comes far from representing the actual value of its various holdings, but, in contrast with the capital of $25,000 with which the business was begun, it clearly represents the growth of this remarkable enterprise.
Mr. Grayson's foresight, integrity and conservative progressiveness are entitled to the credit for the success which the company has achieved. He is a tireless worker as a business man, quick in decision and action, and with a keen grasp upon any question presented to him. Personally, he is an extremely retiring man who seeks no prominence socially or politically. His duties in the company are such that many among its customers and associates have never met him, but he has, nevertheless,a large circle of business and social acquaintances and friends.