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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 1 - Chapter Three. Transfer Timber Operations to the United States


I 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 English market.

On 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.

While 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.

With 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.

I 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, mostly Irishmen.

After 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 hostelry.

After 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.

On my 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.

After 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.

As 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.

In 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.

We 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!

I 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 Superior country.

To 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.

On 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.

I 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.

We 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 winter.

On 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.

I 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.

After arriving in California, my brother and I bought with Mr. Westover what is called the Meeker tract in Sonoma County—the largest tract of redwood remaining in that 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.

in 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.

On 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.

As we 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.

In 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.

I 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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