The Phipps/Fulbright Mill and Arkansas Forests

Albright sawmill workers, Red Star (Madison County), 1918–1920. The white-oak logs came from the Fitch place on Reeves Mountain. They were 12 feet long, 44 inches in diameter, and each produced over 1,200 board feet of lumber. The logs were so heavy they had to be brought to the sawmill on a heavy-duty boiler wagon. Back, from left: Nathan Ward, Virgil Holland, and Newt Ward. Front, from left: Squire Eaton, Bill Killian, Temps Ward (barely visible), Dave Samuels, Jim Eaton (seated on ground), and Lewis Samuels. Frank Eaton Collection (S-87-55-20)

The longest lived of Fayetteville’s mills—although not located at Fayette Junction nor as far as can be determined was it originally dedicated to producing wagon parts—was that of J. H. Phipps, who had established his milling operations in 1898.  Phipps Lumber Company occupied a prominent location on the west side of old Fayetteville on the original Prairie Grove Road, now the site of a Chick-fil-A, Sonic fast-food drive-in, and Arby’s at the southeast corner of 6th Street and Razorback Road.

C. M. Jones and Company, Pettigrew (Madison County), 1910s. Bob Besom Collection (S-82-213-53)

By 1915, Mr. Phipps saw the coming decline of timber harvest along the established railways. Thirty-five years of frenzied sawing had cleared the hillsides within reasonable distance from the rail lines. Not willing to stand by and watch the decline of his profitable enterprise, he began developing a plan to reach the vast forests southeast into Franklin County. He bought thousands of acres of forest land in Madison and Franklin counties. He brought together Ed. E. Jeter of Combs, Jesse Phipps of St. Paul, and J. M. Williams and W. J. Reynolds of Fayetteville as partners in the formation of the Black Mountain and Eastern Railroad. They built a line that joined the St. Paul track at Combs and plunged south into the mountains.

According to Clifton Hull’s Shortline Railways of Arkansas, “There were trestles which spanned gulches 125 feet deep. At the Cass end of the line, the grade was so steep the locomotive couldn’t pull a car of logs up the mountain, so the cars were snaked to the summit one at a time by a team of oxen. In May 1916, the name was changed from the Black Mountain and Eastern to the Combs, Cass, and Eastern. It was abandoned in 1924.”[1]

Another short-term tangent for hauling logs sprang from the Pettigrew terminus, a tram line called the “spoke plant tram.” Railroad historian Tom Duggan notes that this line ran from the Little Mulberry River to a point several miles south of Pettigrew called Campground.[2]

Phipps sold out to Jay Fulbright in 1920, and by the time of the plant’s demolition in the 1980s, it was commonly known as the Fulbright mill. As late as the 1970s, local residents could visit the mill where an accommodating workman in overalls would deftly replace the hardwood handle of the hoe, shovel, rake, or other metal implement in question.

Sawmill, Goshen (Washington County), 1900s–1910s. The men in front hold cant hooks (metal hooks on wood poles) to turn the log on the carriage. Attached to the upright headblocks on the carriage are “dogs” which hold the log in place. Ruth Flanagan Collection (S-84-234-6)

In 1928, the plant was reportedly the “biggest plant of its kind west of the Mississippi.”[3]  During World War II, Phipps Lumber Company under the guidance of Bill Fulbright bought out Springfield Wagon Company and brought with it to Fayetteville “over a dozen new families…a sizeable payroll and…a market for more Arkansas timber.”[4]

Timber remains an important industry in Arkansas. Evidence of individual logging operations on private and public lands can be found in Pettigrew, where stacks of logs awaiting transport accumulate in the same place where the old railroad roundhouse was located. The hardwood forests of the Arkansas Ozarks have been the focus of nearly fifty years of conflict between forest industry participants and conservationists who want public forests protected from indiscriminate and harmful harvesting techniques such as clear cutting. Wildlife habitat, watershed protection, and recreational uses have become equally as important as the benefits of timber harvest.

In other parts of the state, timber production is largely a corporate enterprise involving pine “plantations” where mature pine crops are mechanically harvested, hybrid seedlings are planted, and native vegetation is “suppressed” by use of herbicides.

In 1997 the Arkansas Educational Television Network produced “Out of the Woods,” a documentary that “takes an in-depth look at Arkansas’ timber industry.”

“The program shows that farming, the railroad industry, and a boom in logging have forever changed Arkansas’ forests. Through forestry research, careful land management and restoration efforts, however, new forests in the Natural State are thriving. In a study of forested land in the state from 1988 to 1995, each region showed an increase in the number of acres reforested.”

Conservationists would argue the term “reforested,” pointing out that a monoculture of fast-growing pine has been established where mixed hardwood forest had grown.

The thirty-minute AETN video “demonstrates that harvesting timber is the state’s biggest industry. Giant paper mills, plywood plants and saw mills pump $1.4 billion dollars into Arkansas’ economy ever year. Fifteen percent of the entire Arkansas work force is employed in the timber industry. The industry provides 40,000 jobs and an annual payroll of $938 million. In southern Arkansas, the business of harvesting trees has given birth – and continues to sustain – small towns throughout the pine belt.”[5]

As a result of the massive clear cuts and the environmental degradation wrought by the timber boom period and/or the extreme topography of some areas, the government ended up owner of thousands of acres of cut-over, nonproductive land. This is particularly true in the rugged landscape of south and southeastern Washington County, southern Madison County, and northern Franklin County, which became the western part of the Ozark National Forest.

A poem preserved at Shiloh Museum provides a slice of life from the Phipps Lumber Mill operation:

Who’s Who and What They Do At Phipps

There’s a hard-wood plant near our city

An industry of highest rank

Manufacturing buggy, plow and wagon stock

And all kinds of hardwood plank.

Lee Moore is our good superintendent

And he’s always on the hop

For to manage a business like this is

Takes a man that knows no stop.

Bill Swaney is the master mechanic

He’s built many mills here and there

He studies and schemes and sets up machines

And keeps them in good repair.

Emmet W. Lucas

Is foreman of the shop

He don’t get around like a whirlwind

Yet he knows what his men are about.

Sam Swaney is the engineer

He keeps the engine running good

And when he pulls the big whistle

She roars like a bull in the woods.

Jim Dixon runs the jointer

And also the ripsaw too

And with his helper daddy Dodd

They put the timber through.

Frank Osburn runs the bandsaw

At this Frank has no match

It makes no difference what the pattern may be

For he saws it to the scratch.

At the plainer is Billie Winkle

Dressing timber all the day

While his helper daddie Bogan

Is trucking it away.

Mose Osburn runs the shaper

With arms like the legs of a mule

If its light or heavy it matters not

Mose shapes it good and true.

And when they start the big tongue machine

Oh you ought to hear her hum

But when it comes to keeping steam

Well, the fireman most has to run.

It makes both the tongues and double-trees

And finishes them up just right

And whether you work at the front or the rear

You’ve got to go in “high”.

Harvey, Crossno, Graham, and Harper

At the turning lay this they work

Turning yokes and spokes and singletrees

And have no time to shirk.

Sang Brothers are the sanders

And theirs is no easy task

They sand all day on yokes and spokes

But they finish them smooth as glass.

Shorty Smith and Edward Bogan

In the finish shed you’ll find

Grading spokes and felloes

And tieing them up with twine.

The work on the yard sometimes is hard

And sometimes it’s easy too

But if you haven’t some sand in your craw

Toating tongues won’t appeal to you.

Claud Guist is the loading boss on the yard

He loads the cars to their brims

Sometimes axles sometimes tongues

And sometimes hickory rims.

Or it may be felloes or wagon spokes

And a lot of singletrees too

And this is the motto of this plant

“Direct from the stump to you.”

Bob Hannah is foreman of the bending plant

Where they bend plow handles and rims

Vernon Swaney is the engineer

John Grissom keeps the steam.

Add Baker runs the big bender

Bending rims and wagon hawns

Etter Hannah does the “nailing out”

Chas. Minn does the “knocking down.”

Taylor Jordan runs the moulder

Dressing handles all to size

Geo Moore and Guage do the bending

And stack them away to dry.

I am the company’s wood-hauler

I’ve hauled wood this city o’er

And when I drive up to a woodshed

There’s always a smile at the door.

For the wood is sound oak and hickory

With sometimes some ash and gum

And the housewife knows as she fills up her stove

Her cooking will soon be done.

And then when Tuesday rolls around

We all look for “Uncle Jay”

For he’s the man who has the stamps

And we always get our pay.

So we’re a jolly good bunch of “hardwooders”

Earning bread as best we know how

For it was spoken in the garden of Eden

Thou shalt live by the sweat of thy brow.

by B. W. Sivage

(Woodhauler)

 

Log train at J. H. Phipps Lumber Company, Fayetteville (Washington County), 1912. Burch Grabill, photographer. Robert Saunders Collection (S-96-2-452)

Photographs from the website of Shiloh Museum, https://shilohmuseum.org/project/timber/

~~~

[1] Hull

[2] Personal communication to the author, postcard dated February 2004.

[3] Campbell p 39

[4] Northwest Arkansas Times undated clip, front page; Box 20, file 13 WCHS vertical files, UA Special Collections

[5] See http://www.aetn.org/OOTW/

[Excerpted from Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past, The History of Fayette Junction by Denele Campbell]

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