Tidbits of Shelby County History
Haslam and the Pickering Lumber Company
There is much information written about the Pickering Lumber Company and its establishment of the town of Haslam. I am going to share some of the information that can be found in the Shelby County Museum on this important part of Shelby County history.
The W.R. Pickering Lumber Company was first established in 1894 in Springfield, Missouri by William Russell Pickering who father was of English ancestry. Mr. Pickering's first business venture was in the mining of lead at Joplin, Missouri. This business was later extended when he and his partner bought a tract of timber and extended their operations into Indian Territory. The growing scarcity of timber there forced the company to seek new stands. This led to the purchase in 1898 of 30,000 acres of virgin longleaf yellow pine in Vernon Parish, Louisiana.
Simultaneously, as Pickering's lumber operations were beginning in Louisiana in 1901, the Pickering Company began buying large land tracts in East Texas with the express purpose of expanding the company.In 1901, the Pickering Company sent L.S. Moore to live in Center, Texas area. Mr. Moore was Pickering chief lumber inspector and purchaser. By 1906 he had purchased for Pickering over 100,000 acres of prime virgin pine and hardwood. This was valued at that time of 2.5 million dollars, most of this land and timber was located in Shelby County with a small portion located in San Augustine and Sabine Counties. The Pickering Company was a cut-and-run timber company headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri that came to Western Louisiana and East Texas during the lumber boom of the early 1900. These companies specialized in cut-out-and-get-out which was the practice of buying timberlands, stripping the land of usable lumber and then selling or abandoning lumber mills and the region. But these companies provided jobs (although dangerous and low paying), cleared land for development, and provided access to a transportation system that lifted the "Pine Curtain" of East Texas.
As the company continued to deforest its land in Vernon Parish, the need for a larger mill and fresh timber reserves forced the company to begin planning a new mill in Shelby County. In 1906, acreage estimates showed that Pickering held 125,000 acres in Texas and 131,000 acres in Louisiana.After the failed purchase of the Emporia Lumber Company in Doucette, Texas, in 1906,Pickering began planning a new lumber mill that was to be located in the town of Center, Texas. However these plans deteriorated when disagreements regarding taxation arose, W.A. Pickering (W.R.’s only son) and Will Haslam made plans to build on a site near the Sabine River that had access to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Will Haslam who earlier had been superintendent at Pickering Louisiana, but who was soon promoted to general manager of sawmills. Haslam, the principal Pickering sawmill town in Shelby County, soon acquired its name from Will Haslam. At first, two smaller sawmills were built (begun in 1912 and became operational in 1913); these mills produced around 90,000 board feet of lumber daily. Construction for a larger sawmill began and was completed in 1915. The Haslam mill was one of the biggest and probably most modern mill in Texas. It was equipped with two bans saw and a re-saw and was built of steel and concrete throughout minimizing the danger of fire. The Haslam mill could saw and dress timbers up to forty feet long and could kiln-dry lumber up to twenty feet long. The lumber was handled around the plant by means of an electric overhead system, and every other ingenious device for handling with facility in use. This mill became an industrial complex for timber production, and the town that it produced became known as Haslam.Haslam was located "in the extreme northeast corner of Shelby County, about one mile from the Panola County line and one mile from the Louisiana line, and on the Houston to Shreveport branch of the Southern Pacific Railway."
With little experience, Mr. Haslam, a childhood friend of William Alfred Pickering, drew the layout of town, the blueprints of the sawmill, planer, light plant, log pond, shop tram roads and office, hotels for white and for colored employees, and resident sections for the families. The work beganwith teamsters, carpenters, concrete men, steel men, railroad men, engineers and surveyors all under the direction of Mr. Haslam.
Two years later in 1915 the construction was completed. The first log went through the saws in the very early part of 1915 and the last on the last days of 1929. The mill at Haslam was a large manufacturer of lumber, with production noted at 200,000 board feet of lumber per day.The city of Haslam and the Pickering Lumber Company had a great many things that no other local town had, such as a telephone service, a commissary, a train depot, a two story hotel, a barber shop, an ice house, and a doctor’s office. The sidewalks were wooden, the light poles were electric. The city had an office and commissary, mill-owned light and water plants, sawmill, planer, dry kilns, dry sheds, and loading docks for twenty-five box cars, blacksmith and machine shops, carpenter shop, boarding house, drug store, water towers, 25 acres of log ponds, a long tram road in the forest, as well as locomotives and log cars.The whole town was run and operated by its own generators, it was completely self-contained. The workers pay was $2.25 per day for six days a week, ten-twelve hours per day.Everything from caskets to shoelaces could be bought at the lumber firm's commissary. The company issued currency called "doogies" which was accepted for payment. If the company had an employee between paydays who had to draw money, they paid him in company money. Merchants in neighboring towns of Logansport, Louisiana and Joaquin also honored the "doogies".
Logging operations at Haslam ran twenty-four hours a day. Typical for the era, logging crews worked out of several camps scattered throughout Shelby County. At the camps, fresh timber was cut by loggers then sent by railway cars to the mill at Haslam. The timber was cut into lumber, cured in kilns, loaded on to rail car and shipped to Pickering's retail outlets in Missouri and Arkansas.
By 1920 an excellent growth of hardwood had been left as the pine was being cut. Pickering established a hardwood mill for the purpose of taking the oak, gum and other species of hardwood from the land. Cutting the hardwood followed the pine in same fashion until all was cut out. Private railroads, or tram lines, were built into the forest, with spur lines moving to the sides when-ever necessary. On one car was a huge steam-powered machine called a skidder, from which 200-300 foot cable lines were run into the forest by a man on horseback.
The cables were attached to felled logs piled at convenient points and the logs were towed to the tramline for loading on flat cars. Anything trying to grow in the dragline’s path was torn up. Many trees too young for harvest were destroyed in this manner, and in some area the forest took years to recover from the damage.
Logging with a skidder was intensely dangerous. Cables could be snapped, or started up before the cable workers were ready, causing injury or even death. A system of hand signals was used to communicate between the workers and the dragline operator. To shorten the distances workers had to travel, “front” camps were built at the temporary ends of the tramways. There were at least six of these logging camps surrounding Haslam: Camp No.1, Camp Welborn, Camp Brittain, Camp Ragtown, Bedford School and, of course, Camp Pickering. Many of them were abandoned when the lumbering operations pushed forward into the woods once again. Camp Ragtown was so named because housing there consisted of tents. (Note: My grandfather, Jack Snider, worked at this camp and told me stories of what life was like there. My grandmother had a set of twins born in March 1920 and told me about almost losing the babies because it was so cold). The camp is remembered today as Ragtown Recreation Area, a campsite in the Sabine National Forest on Toledo Bend Reservoir. The original location is covered by the waters of the reservoir.
Another interesting note about the Pickering Lumber Company is the armadillo. Rattle snakes were in large numbers in the area whereloggers were workingand many of the workers died from snake bites. Pickering had heard about an animal from South America that would kill the snakes so he ordered a box car load of armadillos and turned them loose into the woods. The armadillos could not kill a rattle snake, but they would fight with the snake and during the fight the armadillo would cut the snake to shreds and it would die from the wounds. The armadillos also would eat the very young snakes; this was Pickering’s way of thinning down the rattle snakes and getting part of the dangers to the men out of the woods.
After W.R. Pickering’s death in 1926, his son W.A. Pickering took over. Then the son was killed in an airplane crash one year later in 1927. W.A. Pickering’s son took over the management. The Haslam mill site was sold to William C. Garrett who built Haslam Lumber Company. Garret sold out to Thayer May who was president of May Brothers Lumber Company of Louisiana in 1942. That 5-million-dollar transaction included all houses, sawmill, all machinery, planers, dolly ways, rail spurs, etc. Several other mills were operational on the land near Haslam until 1957. The town of Haslam continued its population decline and had an estimated population of 101 in the year 2000.
There is little doubt, but that W.R. Pickering Company represented about the worst in non-resident ownership of the sawmill, as well as its harsh logging practice of “cut out and run” sawmill tactics. Nothing affects company policy as well as the mill town than the annual profit and loss statement. Some sources quoted 1927 as the last year Pickering log sawing at Haslam. And certainly, the company had abandoned all operations at Haslam by 1931, a year in which retail price of lumber dropped to 2/3 of its normal price. With Pickering operations ended at three Vernon Parish location as well, the Haslam plant management packed their bags and moved to West Coast forests.In 1935, when legislation to create the system of national forest was passed, Pickering began liquidating their Texas holdings with the help of Center attorney, W.I. Davis, Sr. They sold about 85,700 acres at an average price per acre of $2.82 for its cutover lands that went into the Sabine National Forest. Another 3,922 acres of Pickering land in San Augustine County went into the Angelina National Forest. The forest covers a total of 160,873 acres in five counties - Sabine (95,410 acres), Shelby (59,037 acres), San Augustine (4,317 acres), Newton (1,781 acres), and Jasper (64 acres).Those portions not sold to the federal government were sold to private individuals.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped the Texas Forest Service develop the forest between 1933 and 1940. CCC Company 880 established camp near Center, Texas on October 26, 1933 and planted thousands of pine trees in an area that became the northern part of Sabine National Forest. The CCC built the Boles Field Campground, including a pavilion and amphitheater, in the forest near Shelbyville, Texas.