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Sound Wormy

Sound Wormy: Memoir of Andrew Gennett, Lumberman

With a foreword & afterword by John Alger
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Sound Wormy
    Book Description:

    Set in what remains some of the wildest country in the United States, Sound Wormy recalls a time when regulations were few and resources were abundant for the southern lumber industry. In 1901 Andrew Gennett put all of his money into a tract of timber along the Chattooga River watershed, which traverses parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. By the time he wrote his memoir almost forty years later, Gennett had outwitted and outworked countless competitors in the southern mountains to make his mark as one of the region's most seasoned, innovative, and successful lumbermen. His recollections of a rough-and-ready outdoors life are filled with details of logging, from the first "cruise" of a timber stand to the moment when the last board lies "on sticks" in the mill yard. He tells how massive poplars, oaks, and other hardwoods had to be felled and trimmed by hand, dragged down mountain slopes by draft animals, floated downstream or carried by rail to the mill, and then sawn, graded, and stacked for drying. He tells of buying timber rights in a land market filled with "sharp" operators, where titles and surveys were often contested and kinship and custom were on an equal footing with the law. Gennett saw more than potential "boardfeet" when he looked at a tree. He recalls, for instance, his efforts to convince the U.S. Forest Service to purchase undisturbed areas of wilderness at a time when its mandate was to condemn and buy up farmed-out and clear-cut land. One such sale initiated by Gennett would become the Joyce Kilmer Wilderness in North Carolina. Filled with logging lore and portraits of the southern mountains and their people, Sound Wormy adds an absorbing new chapter to the region's natural and environmental history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-3787-6
    Subjects: History, Technology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD. Woods Bulls and Ballhooters: The World of Andrew Gennett
    (pp. vii-xviii)

    Shortly after the Civil War, the country shook itself off as a dog through a river and said, “Well, what's next?” Though the war had devastated many, it had enriched others. Though the nation had experienced a great tearing down, so had it experienced a great building up. The war had been a conflict of machines and movement, and, with its end, the Industrial Revolution came to the country to stay.

    There had been logging and lumbering before the war, of course. Indeed, the vast timber resources of the East helped fuel the development of an agricultural nation. The greatest...

  4. Editors’s Note
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
  6. ONE My Birth and Childhood
    (pp. 3-14)

    I was born on December 12, 1874, at Nashville, Tennessee, in a little red brick cottage that had been built by my father after his marriage. My mother lived at first with her mother-in-law, and I doubt very much whether she was happy in that situation. But after my father built this place in which she lived for about eight years, she was very happy indeed and was an enthusiastic housewife. This little red brick cottage is still standing at 623 South Fourth Avenue (formerly Cherry Street) and was built on a part of the home lot where my grandfather...

  7. TWO Gennett Family History
    (pp. 15-19)

    My grandfather was a poor Italian immigrant not more than twenty years old who found his way to Nashville about 1830, penniless and a stranger in the community. He had good business instincts and opened up a wholesale and retail grocery business on Second Avenue (then Market Street) in Nashville and soon became one of the leading merchants in the city. At his death he left an estate of about sixty thousand dollars, which was a very fair estate for that time and place. He died in the year 1856.

    The business was continued after his death by my uncle...

  8. THREE Lebanon Law School
    (pp. 20-21)

    In the fall of 1898 I returned to Tennessee and took up my work in the law school of Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee, where my mother and I became domiciled in a boarding house operated by a Mrs. Patterson. I spent the winter there, as this law school required only one year’s attendance at that time and the bar examination. I stood the bar examination and finally was admitted to the bar in the state of Tennessee. In the year 1899 I had some very pleasant contacts in Lebanon and spent a delightful and profitable last year of the...

  9. FOUR Entry into the Lumber Business
    (pp. 22-31)

    Fortunately for me, a change was coming in my life of which I knew nothing but that was to lead me far away from the chances of politics. One night early in 1901, my brother, Nat, came home highly excited and very much elated over the outlook of a timber purchase that he and his partner, Sam Ransome, had offered to them and that they were wild to look over. I knew nothing of timberlands, hardly knowing one tree from another, and very little of the possibilities of the lumber business. My health had been for some time very much...

  10. FIVE First Run of Logs, February 2, 1903
    (pp. 32-35)

    It was about the second of February, 1903, that our first logs began to come. We had an excellent flood, and all preparations were made for it. The boom was completed; men were kept on the platform of the boom watching for the signs of the flood; and finally, it came.

    It so happened that the logs caught inside the boom jammed, and the swiftness of the river current began sucking the logs out from under the jam. This was reported to Nat, and we began to have fears of a pretty heavy loss. We had only 200,000 or 300,000...

  11. SIX New Camps on the Chattooga River
    (pp. 36-43)

    In the spring of 1903 the floods were adequate in character: just high enough to bring in the logs without alarming us in any way about catching them. Our spirits rose and with them our plans for the next years run. Around the first of June I started upriver to the lower camp, which then was located at Panther Creek in Habersham County, Georgia, with intentions of operating all along the river to its head. My first plan was to purchase more cattle and to use the animals for logging purposes.¹

    I made a horseback trip to Cherokee County in...

  12. SEVEN Depression, 1904
    (pp. 44-47)

    All through the spring of 1904 I organized crews of men with pike poles and peaveys to go along the river and roll the logs from behind these rocks and shoals back into the current so that when the floods came they would float out. This occurred best during what we called “head rise.” That is to say, the main body of the flood was on the head of the river so that the front of the flood was practically its highest point, and when it got down to the boom the logs were brought with it. This was arduous...

  13. EIGHT Visions of Timber Deals, 1905
    (pp. 48-57)

    When I was living in Tallulah Falls, Georgia, and putting logs into the lower end of Chattooga River back in 1905, there lived just below Tallulah Falls a Swiss Jew. He was of a fine education, musical, artistic, and he knew all the cultural arts of living, besides being a practical and enterprising businessman. I recall him on account of the fact that he gave me a piece of advice one time that I thought was exceedingly wise. At that time he was engaged in trying to raise silkworms. I do not think he ever got far with the idea,...

  14. NINE Episodes in Madison, South Carolina
    (pp. 58-66)

    The sale of our mill at Madison, South Carolina, along with the twenty thousand acres of land to Mr. R. G. Wood that occurred in May of the year 1905, concluded the second phase of my life. I think it might be wise at this place to pause for an instant and give a few anecdotes of the life that we led at Madison for three years.

    We had plunged recklessly and ignorantly into backwoods and lawless country and had attempted a business that was risky and of which we were absolutely ignorant. When we finally realized the condition that...

  15. TEN Romance of Rabun County
    (pp. 67-72)

    This whole country on the south side of the Blue Ridge and even as far up as Franklin, North Carolina, was filled with historic and traditional romance.¹ Seneca, South Carolina, was the seat of one of the earlier Cherokee villages that was raided without notice, and the entire village was wiped out by British and Colonial soldiers in 1758. The remaining Indians then withdrew from the south side of the Blue Ridge, and their southernmost villages were located at a place now called Otto, in North Carolina.

    Tradition said that the beautiful Nacoochee Valley was named for an Indian princess...

  16. ELEVEN Recollections of Clayton, Georgia
    (pp. 73-84)

    Nat and I continued to live at Madison, South Carolina, for nearly a year after selling our timberlands and mill, completing the sale of the house in which we lived and the small yard of lumber that was located there. At that time we did most of our business in Rabun County and Macon County We subsequently moved to Clayton and went to board at the old Clayton Hotel. It was a log house covered with lumber that was built in the early days of the county, probably as early as 1820.

    Some of the Rabun County population had very...

  17. TWELVE Sawmilling on Tessentee Creek, 1907–1908
    (pp. 85-86)

    During my first operation on Tessentee Creek in North Carolina, I made my headquarters with a red-headed widow named Annie Conley who operated a little store about five miles up the creek. She paid our men and handled our payroll. In the course of our operation about one hundred thousand feet of logs had been yarded up on the mountain and had to be hauled by a wagon down to the mill, which was two or three miles down the creek. Without thinking of what the consequences might be, I sent our teamster, a Negro man by the name of...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. THIRTEEN Removal to Franklin, North Carolina
    (pp. 87-92)

    Rabun County in Georgia is one of the most rugged and picturesque counties on the south side of the Blue Ridge. It has an atmosphere all its own, and at that time many people there were crude and ignorant. When we moved to Macon County, North Carolina, there was a very different atmosphere. We found that in Rabun County the manufacture and sale of moonshine were not only tolerated but encouraged. Yet when we crossed the state line into Macon County, the liquor business was under rather strict control, and its effect upon the character of the people was quite...

  20. FOURTEEN The Weeks Act of 1911 and Land Sales to the Government
    (pp. 93-106)

    We come now to the consideration of what was to be the most momentous land trade in which I have ever been engaged. Several have involved larger sums, but none was more significant or led to greater consequence than the one that I now will detail.

    While the Himmelburger-Harrison deal was still in the process of completion, we learned that Chastain Brothers of Fannin County, Georgia, were offering a tract of twenty thousand acres for sale in that county. We had in our employ a man named Edwards who was a very irresponsible and unreliable person and an inveterate user...

  21. FIFTEEN Eminent Domain
    (pp. 107-117)

    Some of the incidents that occurred during the time that these acts of eminent domain were being carried out are worth relating. One of the most dramatic of these incidents occurred in the fall of 1912. On my usual trips to visit these lands, I made it a habit to board with Joe Painter. His wife was an excellent cook and usually kept a fair bed and a clean place to stay I knew that Joe was a notorious moonshiner, but he seemed to be a very clever fellow, pleasant and agreeable. It never entered my mind that he would...

  22. SIXTEEN Marriage to Julia Bell Tate
    (pp. 118-124)

    During my work in Atlanta I met the assistant United States attorney, who was Mr. Carter Tate’s son, Howard Tate. Howard and I immediately struck up a close friendship. Along in October 1912 he invited me to visit him in his home at Jasper, Georgia. We were sitting in the hall when his youngest sister, Julia Bell, stepped out of the dining room. She was about twenty years of age, and I was nearing thirty-seven. She was a rather stout girl, but she had a springy walk and a confident and well-balanced stride that immediately impressed upon me the fact...

  23. SEVENTEEN Appalachian Logging Congress
    (pp. 125-131)

    It was at this time that Nat and I expanded our circular mill business to its utmost capacity. We purchased a good many tracts of land from the W M. Ritter Lumber Company.¹ One of these transactions has always appeared to me to be amusing and more or less typical of us.

    The Ritter Lumber Company sent their agent down from Columbus, Ohio, and he and Nat dickered over a boundary of timber on Poplar Cove, a few miles west of Franklin, North Carolina. Ritter’s man wanted $10,000, and Nat offered him only $9,000. The agent returned and reported to...

  24. EIGHTEEN Interesting Experiences While Cruising Timber
    (pp. 132-138)

    It was during this period of time when cruising timber for the circular mill jobs that I had some of my most interesting mountain experiences. In the year 1917 we were negotiating with W. M. Ritter Lumber Company for twenty-two hundred acres of timber at the head of Betty’s Creek on the dividing line between North Carolina and Georgia. It became necessary for me to cruise these twenty-two hundred acres during the last week of July. Cruising in the summer is usually a rather unpleasant and difficult job. The heavy growth of timber and thick underbrush make the going difficult....

  25. NINETEEN Running Band Mills in Tennessee, 1919–1933
    (pp. 139-142)

    In Tennessee, where we operated three sawmills at one time, the Workmen’s Compensation Act was first put into effect in 1919, about six months after we had started the building of our sawmill at Montgomery Creek in Campbell County, Tennessee.¹ About the first of August, one of our men left at eight o’clock in the morning on the railroad train for the purpose of cutting timber at the head of the creek, and at ten o’clock he was brought back on the train, having been killed by the felling of a tree. The weather was terrible, as it was midsummer...

  26. TWENTY Perversity of Inanimate Objects and Peril of Lumber Industry
    (pp. 143-147)

    It was during these years in the lumber business that I became impressed with the perversity of inanimate objects. I have had several unique adventures with things that ought not to have caused any serious difficulty but that have endangered my life several times. The lumber business is exceedingly treacherous. From the time a man goes into the forest to cruise the timber until the manufactured lumber is loaded on cars, there is always some danger. During the course of our experience in this business, we have had four men killed while felling timber. Each fatal accident was unique in...

  27. TWENTY-ONE Failure of the Revenge Theory
    (pp. 148-150)

    As a sequel to the Ellison lawsuit, I personally received a most bitter lesson as to the futility of seeking revenge for what one might consider an injury done to him. I was very sore at Ellison, because he had brought a suit for half the profits on the land sale when he knew that that contract had been canceled and destroyed. Ellison also knew that he had, on the porch of his own hotel, agreed with me that he would look to Johnson for his commission on this land. I felt that if there was any way to punish...

  28. TWENTY-TWO Inevitability of Lawsuits in the Lumber Industry
    (pp. 151-157)

    The Gennett Lumber Company has been involved in a great many lawsuits, arising principally from three different causes. In the first class are damage suits for personal injury. At that time, these lawsuits were based almost entirely upon the old law of the negligence of the defendant. This negligence had, by processes of legal interpretation, become so artificial as to be almost meaningless. The judgment in these cases was largely the result not of justice but of local prejudice. This was particularly so in railroad damage cases, where the jury seemed to have little consideration for the railroads. The principal...

  29. TWENTY-THREE Struggle and Stress in the Lumber Industry
    (pp. 158-160)

    The period of time from 1902 until 1914, when I married, was a period of struggle and stress for myself and my brother. We approached our affairs with the energy of a steam engine and the alertness and readiness of a cat on a hot stove. During this time we were accused by one of the opposing lawyers of engaging in “sharp practice,” but I never felt that we were guilty of such a thing. In my experience I have always found that when a young company is struggling to get ahead and to gain success and a foothold, it...

  30. TWENTY-FOUR The Necessity of Luck
    (pp. 161-168)

    I think it wise to pause here, to philosophize over the things that create success in this life. For more than twenty-five years I had a very happy experience. I was healthy, I had a reasonably intelligent mind, and I was engaged in doing those things that I wanted to do. As a young man I set my goal at the accumulation of material things. By concentrating every effort, working unremittingly, and being endowed with a superior amount of luck, the material things of life were coming my way. I was uniformly successful in the objects of my effort.


  31. TWENTY-FIVE Periods of Economic Panic
    (pp. 169-180)

    I want to give some description of the elements and conditions that brought about episodes of financial panic and my experience in them. The first one occurred in 1893, when I still was quite young and without much knowledge of the causes that brought about these conditions. Those opposed to the principle of capitalism constantly reiterate that these panics were brought about by overextensions in the production of commodities and the capacity to produce commodities as well as reckless speculation. The panic of 1893 followed an advancing period that had lasted from 1873 up to 1890, when signs of a...

  32. TWENTY-SIX Resumption of Timber Purchases for Speculation
    (pp. 181-198)

    In the year 1924, Nat and I made a timber purchase from the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, a wealthy corporation in the business of manufacturing pool tables, billiard balls, and bowling alleys. They offered to sell us a tract of timber that they had been unable to manufacture successfully on Stony Fork Creek in Campbell County, Tennessee. Also, they had a mill and a lot of machinery that was offered to be included in the sale. The timber was very high in price but very wonderful in grade. I debated for a long time whether we should undertake this transaction. The purchase...

  33. Afterword
    (pp. 199-202)

    So ends the written story of Andrew Gennett and his brother, Nat, but the story itself does not end. There’s still a little more to tell.

    Today it is popular to focus on what the old-time loggers took and to forget all that they left or to put some other reason to their leaving.

    Andrew Gennett left the Joyce Kilmer Forest.

    There are tales today, some of them written, as to why the Joyce Kilmer exists today in its undisturbed state. One tale says that Gennett went bankrupt. Another says that he could not get rail access when the lake...

  34. Notes
    (pp. 203-212)
  35. Index
    (pp. 213-218)