Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 1 - Chapter Three. Transfer
Timber Operations to the United States
decided at this time to give the foreign trade the preference, and found
the most desirable timber was of a larger size than could be found on
the Canadian side. So on July 6, 1882, I moved to Michigan, making
headquarters at Marquette, and there got out fine large timber for the
the 13th of July, 1882, we started to build a sawmill in the forest at a
place afterwards called Dollarville, to manufacture lumber out of logs
that were not suitable for the foreign trade. This mill had a long and
successful career, and manufactured lumber for over thirty years. After
running it five years I sold out.
I was looking up a mill site, as well as timber for the mill at
Dollarville, the railroad was under course of construction at this
point. It was a wild, undeveloped country at that time.
a man to help me I went to the end of the railroad and camped in a house
kept by a Mr. O'Brien and his wife. They had gotten a barrel of whiskey
to celebrate Christmas and New Year's and it was about empty, but they
were to have a last blow-out that night. When I went into the kitchen on
my arrival, Mrs. O'Brien was busy grating blue stone and putting it into
the whiskey barrel. I asked her what in the world she was doing, and she
told me they had all made up their minds to have a big last drunk that
night, and as she had found there was not enough whiskey she knew there
would be the dickens to pay. and the only
thing she had to make it out of was
pepper and blue stone, with water and what
little whiskey was left in the bottom of the barrel.
said we had better go and tent out as we had all the outfit with us, and
I did not want to be in a place like that, but she said it was a
terrible, cold night and on no account to leave as w e could go into a
lower bunk in the corner and no harm would come to us. So with her
assurance we remained. The men, about twenty-five of them, came in at
dark and had supper. They were a very quiet looking lot of fellows,
supper they started drinking, My man and myself went to bed with the
ground for the bottom of our berth where there were several roots and
small stumps that made ;t. anything but level or soft.
However, we spread out our blankets and as we were tired we were soon
asleep. About midnight we were awakened by a terrible row. The lamp was
knocked out and the big stove overturned and smashed to pieces, and the
contents went flying all over the shanty setting it on fire in many
places. The men all made a rush for the door and got out into the snow.
As it was many-degrees below zero and we were in our bare feet we were
in a bad way. The drunkest ones came out into the snow to get more room
to finish their fight, and the more sober ones to throw snow and water
on the burning shanty. So we got to work and assisted in saving the
building. Rolling in the snow had the effect of putting an end to the
fight, and quiet was restored. We had breakfast and were glad to get
ready for our departure, having seen enough of the results of Mrs.
O'Brien's blue-stone whiskey combination. While we were packing up our
provisions I could not find the flour we had. I asked the landlady if
she had seen it, and she replied, "Sure enough I saw it; I got short and
have used it all up!" So we were forced to return that night again, but
supplies had arrived that day so we replaced our flour and went on our
way rejoicing to sleep in the snow which we preferred to O'Brien's
this I examined the timber in the northern part of the Ontonagon River
country. I walked through the woods to Florence, Wisconsin, having two
Indians with me, a trip which took us three weeks. That whole country at
that time was unoccupied, not a person living in it. New it is quite a
farming and agricultural district, and has turned out to be the great
mineral belt of Michigan.
arrival 11 Michigan, along with my own business, I started up business
for the British Canadian Lumber Company. To say I was busy does not half
explain it. To start a corporation of the magnitude of this concern, as
well as attending to my own affairs, was a great undertaking.
I moved to Michigan I found there were large tracts of Government land
for sale at $1.25 an acre. I invested every cent I had in this land, and
it proved to be a good investment.
previously stated, I left Scotland in 1858 and did not return until
1884, when I went back partly on business and partly to see
my old home. A few of my friends were still
alive. I was much interested in visiting my mother's grave in the
churchyard at Falkirk.
looking over the town I found they had no public library although it was
quite a large place. No town in the United States the size of it would
have been without a library. So, while I could not very well spare that
amount of money out of my business, I strained a point and gave them
enough to buy books to start a good sized library. A few years later Mr.
Carnegie gave them a building, which made the library a great success.
left Scotland on the 10th of June. 1884. and visited the first electric
railroad ever operated. This was at Port Rush, and ran to Bushmills in
the north of Ireland. After we had gone about three miles we found a car
stuck and they could not get it to go either backwards or forwards. I
was very anxious to see it under operation, and asked the brakeman and
conductor how long before they would start. They said it might be an
hour and it might be a month, but they had sent for Sir William
Thompson, who was the only man they knew of who could make it go, and
when he came they thought he would immediately get it started. This
proved to be the case as it took him only a few minutes to get it going.
What progress has been made in electricity since that time!
returned home in July completely recovered in health. In fact, this,
trip showed that all that ailed me was that I had been working too hard,
and if I could only have listened to reason and not over-taxed my brain
and physique, I need not have taken a trip for my health. In February we
took a trip to New Orleans to get out of the intense cold of the Lake
show the great difficulty that the railroads operating on the upper
peninsula of Michigan had to contend with, we got thirty miles from
Marquette when the train stuck in the snow and remained there for a
week. Every winter the snow lay very deep on the upper peninsula, and
the terrific storms sweeping across Lake Superior made it difficult for
both lumbering and railroading.
the 4th of July. 1883, at Dollarville, it being the first national
holiday for the village, we had a celebration with the usual result in
all backwoods places, the men got tilled up with bad whiskey and there
was, of course, a free-for-all fight. Two of the worst fellows were
arrested, but there was no lock-up so the justice of the peace came to
me to know what to do with them. I saw a box car on the siding so I
said, "Put them in it and lock the door." The next morning the justice
reported that a freight train had taken the car to Marquette, one
hundred miles distant. The sequel to it was that the fellows woke up in
the morning and a brakeman opened the door. They looked around and
everything being strange the first question they asked was where they
were. When told they were in Marquette they took to their heels and
disappeared in the town, so we had a good riddance.
continued lumbering on the upper peninsula of Michigan until the good,
large, timber was getting scarce and hard to find. During those years I
got out from eight to ten ship loads for England, besides ten to fifteen
million feet of logs which I had sawn into lumber. Part of it was sold
at Tonawanda and part at Chicago. The business was profitable as long as
I kept at it, but the profits were getting less every year.
remained in Michigan until 1888, For a few winters previous I hail found
the severe cold weather was telling on my health, and it became
necessary to go to a warmer climate during the severest part of the
one of these trips we visited California and decided we would finally
settle there. So we made our home in San Rafael, making our business
headquarters in San Francisco.
find in my Diary for 1887 the distance I had traveled, showing the
amount of hustling it was taking to keep my business going. During that
year I traveled 31,141 miles; 29.100 by water, 1050 by rail, and 991
with horses. This was considerably more than once around the globe. That
year, needless to say, I was glad to be able to spend Christmas and New
Year's at home.
Although we moved to California to live in 1888 it took three or four
years to finally close our business in Michigan and to sell the land,
which amounted to over twenty thousand acres.
arriving in California, my brother and I bought with Mr. Westover what
is called the Meeker tract in Sonoma Countythe largest tract of redwood
remaining inthat county. Here we started lumbering and
manufacturing at Guerneville. A part of this land was later sold to the
Bohemian Club, of San Francisco, which they still use for their Grove. I
later sold out my interest to my partners.
1893 I started up a mill and lumbering establishment at Usal, in
Mendocino County, California, and ran it for six years. During this time
I found it very difficult to get vessels to carry our lumber so I
started investing in vessel property. I contracted to get several
vessels built and also became interested in a large mill at Mukilteo,
near Everett, Washington, to supply cargoes for our steamers to carry to
China and the Far Fast.
one of my many eventful trips to Usal I experienced what was probably
one of the closest calls I ever had. I went on the steamer "Newsboy."
When we arrived off the wharf at Usal it was very rough, the sea
breaking outside the wharf, making it impossible to effect a landing. We
kept out to sea for the night and next morning approached the shore and
found the wharf had been totally destroyed during the night. It was no
use waiting there so I decided to go to Fort Bragg a nearby port, and
endeavor to get a cargo there.
approached Fort Bragg a signal was run up on shore that it was too
rough, and for us not to attempt to make port. Later in the day the sea
moderated some and another signal was run up that we might try it. When
we got close to the entrance we found a terrible sea breaking on the
reef, .and a strong current swept us past the entrance and on to the
reef with a terrific crash. The next sea swept over the ship, smashing
in doors and windows, so it was evident it was only a question of two or
three more seas when the ship would be smashed to pieces. We had not
long to wait, for in very few minutes we could see a gigantic wave
approaching us which we felt sure was to be the last of the ship and
crew. Every one got hold of some part of the ship to prevent being
washed overboard as it went many feet over our heads, but, strange to
say, this one was so big and irresistible that it lifted the steamer
completely over the reef and landed us in the comparatively still water
of the harbor. The ship was leaking badly, but we managed to keep her
afloat, and both steamer and crew were miraculously saved.
1901 we made our first venture in the China trade with the steamer
"Arab," capacity of six thousand five hundred tons, which we had bought.
I found that if we were going into that business it would be necessary
to have an organization, as the first trip the steamer made she had
about half a cargo at a very low rate, which did not pay, thereby losing
money at the start.
might say here, the early training I received in Scotland has stuck to
me all through my life, and when living in the lumber camps, amongst the
roughest of the rough. Having no opportunity of reading the Bible in
quietness, I always made it a practice, on Sunday, to take my Bible out
to a quiet place and read it, even in the coldest weather. Ever since I
have had the opportunity of being alone in a room, I have always read a
passage out of it every morning, and amongst other things, attribute
much of my success to the teachings received from this daily reading.
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