Isaac Martin Meets W. K. Vanderbilt

Readers;  Here is another bit from the novel in progress.  This is a bit of the back story that takes place in the early part of the 20th century, before WWI.


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Isaac Martin’s timber was dragged out of the Walhonde River at Lock Number Two just above Lower Falls.  There it was sawed daily into posts and boards and loaded onto freight cars on the mill’s wye track that connected to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway for destinations east to Newport News, Virginia, and west as far as St. Louis, Missouri.   In Newport News at least ten cars a day of  Martin’s fine hardwood were unloaded and  transferred to ships headed across the Atlantic Ocean.  The fantastic output of the Martin Lumber Company and the unmatched quality of the wood, most of it still first-growth cherry, walnut, oak and poplar, caught the eye of W.K. Vanderbilt, a major shareholder in the C&O, who from a mahogany-lined corner office on the top floor of the railway headquarters, overlooked and marshalled the unrelenting flow of commerce on the thirteen sets of tracks that ended in Newport News.

Vanderbilt was a good Presbyterian who knew that man entered heaven by the grace of God alone, but he was also a good industrialist who knew that the multitudes on the earth were drawn out of poverty only by those few chosen men who saw opportunity and worked like the devil to exploit it.   When he saw such men, or the evidence of such men, he sought them out.  The nation had been founded more than a hundred years before, but it was only now being built by the men who laid railroads and constructed dams and organized workers into assembly lines.  He would connect with every such man he could.  They were the new world; the world in which he hoped to secure a high place for himself and his family.  He had even heard that there were brothers in Dayton, Ohio, who were building machines in which men could fly.

And so Vanderbilt tracked down Isaac Martin and invited him to come fishing for Brook trout in Hughes Creek on the grounds of the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  The palatial hotel had its very own railroad terminal on the C&O line and Vanderbilt sent one of his personal railcoaches west to Walhonde to carry Martin the 112 miles east to the grand resort.  They met there on a warm Monday morning in late May and after a long day in the cold stream and an outdoor dinner of grilled trout prepared by the chef Vanderbilt had brought along, Mr. Vanderbilt got to the point.

“My daughter is married to the Duke of Marlborough.  He has connections to a man by the name of Arthur Von Suttner.  He’s an Austrian nobleman and possessed of great landholdings in the Caucasus Mountains.  I take it you’ve never been there.”

“No.  I’ve never been abroad at all.  Busy, you know.”

“Yes.  I do know.  That’s why I mention Baron Von Suttner.  He’s interested in starting a timber business.  His land is much like the land here in West Virginia.  Old mountains, covered with uncut forests.  Miles and miles of ancient hardwoods.  His property is bigger than the State of Vermont.  I’ve written to him about your operation.  He’s interested.  He’d like to visit and take a look at how you do things here.”

“I’ve never entertained nobility.  I don’t know how I’d have the proper hospitality.”

“That’s where I come in.  I’ll give him the use of the coach that you came here in.  Complete with a staff.  I’ve got to do that much.  It’s a family obligation.  My son-in-law would have an interest in the Baron’s operations.  It would benefit my daughter.  Keep her secure for life.  The grandkids, too.  Is there a place there at your operation where he could park the coach?”

“Yes.  I’d be glad to accommodate him there.”

“There will be benefits for you, too, you know.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, for starters, you can expect a return of the hospitality.  That is their custom.  It would be an embarrassment to him – and his family – not to have you visit there in Bavaria.  It’s not only a beautiful place; you’ll meet some important, influential people there.  Doors will open for you.  You’ll have a chance for business all over the world.”

“I don’t mean to be flippant or dismissive, but I have about all the work that I can handle right now.”

“I’m not talking about more work.  I’m talking about more money.  Maybe even for less work.  I’ve seen the lumber you send here day by day.  All of it cut up for rough construction.   The wood you have there, virgin hardwood, first growth hardwood, is in the right markets worth ten times what you are now getting for it.  The cherry, the walnut, the poplar.  Outside this country that wood would be shaved into veneer and used in finishing the finest of furniture.  Tables and chairs and wainscoting that will sit in castles and country houses.  With the right connections over there you can multiply your income without having to hire a single extra employee.”


copyright 2018

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