WT Block Jr -- Temple Made Mark on Lumber Industry
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from Beaumont Enterprise Wednesday, September 15, 1999.
An East Texas forestry report of 1900 predicted that, “at the present rate of cutting,” East Texas had a 300-year supply of saw logs. Had some one ridden with me through the neighboring counties in 1925, and viewed the countless miles of ugly cutover stump lands, it would have been apparent that the “300-year supply” had been reduced to only 30 years.
Two East Texas cities, Pineland and Diboll, are ample proof that permanence could have been built throughout the East Texas saw milling industry, instead of the “cut and run” tactics of a dozen Kansas City and St. Louis firms. And if Tom Temple had an aversion to burning waste wood of a size that could be “re-manufactured” into a hammer handle, then so be it.
Every sawmill in East Texas, other than Diboll or Pineland, had a “Harvey fuel hog,” a slab pit, or huge incinerator for burning waste products, but Tom Temple’s mills had only “re-manufacturing divisions,” that made tool handles, broom and mop handles, box car doors, door frames, toilet seats, and a great variety of other products.
Diboll’s history, The Cornbread Whistle, noted that, if Mr. Temple found a short slab on a “dollyway,” he would take it back to the shipping clerk and remind him that it could be “re-manufactured” into a hatchet handle. As a comparison, in 1911 the Olive sawmill near Kountze was burning 37 tons daily of waste wood, perhaps half of which could have been “re-manufactured” in Tom Temple’s mill.
Between 1894-1920, the Temple loggers had cut over 150,000 acres of forests in 8 counties. Temple foresaw that, if his mills were to become permanent facilities, forest preservation and better logging practices were a “must.” The rehaul skidders, so destructive of pine seedlings and young saplings, were abandoned following the labor shortages of World War I. Trees less than 14 inches diameter were left to mature. In 1927, mill manager P. A. Strauss wrote that:
“...We are taking care of the young trees on all our holdings... We keep the undergrowth cut... We discovered by accident that when we put cattle to graze on the cutover lands.... this improved the growth to a great extent...”
Temple cut 4 kinds of pine trees in his pine mills, in addition to a large variety of hardwoods. In 1934, although Temple owned a 10-year supply of old growth trees, he still owned 200,000 acres of cutover lands, where young stands of timber comprised all his hopes for future permanence.
By 1930, a dozen out-of-state firms had already “cut out and got out” to their new timber reserves on the West Coast, leaving a hundred ghost towns in their wake. During the Great Depression, when scores of East Texas sawmills remained closed for years, Temple avoided economic disaster by selling 81,000 acres of cutover lands, now a part of the Sabine and Angelina forests, to the Federal government.
As examples of Temple’s “re-manufacturing” processes in 1947, Pineland shipped daily 18,000 “squares” of laths and “shorts” to Diboll, which were made into 1,000,000 broom and mop handles monthly. The Pineland mill also made 1,250 box car grain doors daily, 20,000 toilet seats monthly, a variety of hardwoods for furniture, appliances, handles; and “Templeboard,” made from wood fibers.
As of 1962, the Temple mills produced over 100,000,000 feet of lumber annually; in addition to countless other products, and the Pineland payroll alone totaled $2,000,000 that year. In 1994, the Temple-Inland operations included sawmills, a chip mill for paper pulp, particleboard, wood preserving and other woodworking plants, veneer mills, and paper mills.
In writing about Temple, the writer does not deprecate other East Texans - W. T. Carter, Kurth Brothers, Thompson Brothers, many of whose operations lasted 60 years or more and spawned such towns as Trinity, Groveton, and Camden. Nevertheless, Texas needed a dozen more like Tom Temple, whose monumental legacy hopefully will always be with us.