With Carter at at Camden (Gulf Coast Lumberman, 1937)  
  Source: "With Carter at Camden", Gulf Coast Lumberman, December 15, 1937. Bound in a scrapbook in the collection of Lester Haines.  
W.T. Carter Lumber Company at Camden, Texas  
W. T. Carter & Brother's commissary (left) and offices (right).  
  With Carter at Camden  

This is a story of Camden, Texas, where W. T. Carter & Brother operate their big milling institution. When you write about W. T. Carter & Brother, you are really writing of the lumber manufacturing history of the state of Texas, for this concern has been manufacturing lumber continuously since 1876, a matter of some sixty-two years.

It is likewise the story of a most remarkable man, the late W. T. Carter, of Houston, who had the vision and the energy that made the success of the concern named after him, a possibility. Mr. Carter was unquestionably one of the strongest, ablest men, and one of the best lumber manufacturers that Texas has ever known.

He was truly a pioneer. Born in Tyler, Texas, February 4th, 1856, the son of Joseph J. Carter, he was raised amid the pine trees and in his early youth learned the hum of sawmills. His father was engaged in the sawmill business during the years of his early manhood, and we find W. T. Carter in the sawmill business for himself when just twenty years of age, at Trinity, Texas. The mill was small, as were most of the mills of that period.

In 1881 when the "Katy" built their line from Trinity to Colmesneil, Mr. Carter went to the eastern end of the line and began buying timber. In 1882 he built a new mill at Barnum on that line between Corrigan and Colmesneil, and here he operated until 1897 when the Barnum plant was destroyed by fire. During these years he had been amassing a. great timber empire just south of the Barnum territory, so when he rebuilt he moved away and established a new town and a new mill in the center of his timber holdings. He called it Camden, and located it about seven miles east of the small town of Moscow on the H. E. & W. T. Railroad.

W.T. Carter Lumber Company at Camden, Texas  
The old Carter home above Camden.  

He probably selected the site of the mill because of its natural advantages. There was a natural valley between some very pleasant hills at this point. He damned the valley at one point to create his log pond. He built his home on a high hill overlooking the pond and mill site, and he built a stout sawmill equipped with a circular and gang; laid out a model sawmill town around the mill; built his own standard gauge railroad to connect Camden with the H. E. & W. T. Railroad at Moscow; and went to cutting lumber from his mighty forest possessions. He had both long and short leaf yellow pine in great quantities. And, although the value of same was not yet recognized at that time, he also had a great stand of fine Southern hardwood timber. He had had associated with him since 1882 his younger brother, Ernest A. Carter. Both of them were splendid sawmill operators. They were likewise very efficient sawmill builders.

The first time the writer ever visited Camden was in 1907. He was told that he would find Mr. W. T. Carter over at the sawmill.” He did. Mr. Carter, who loved machinery and was never happier than when close to the operation of his mill, was in his undershirt, there was sweat on his brow and grease on his hands, and he was personally directing the fixing of something that had gone wrong in the mill. To the day of his death, February twenty-third, 1921, he remained always a keen, interested sawmill man who liked to direct his own lumber making operations.

In 1909 the Camden mill burned, and then Mr. Carter built the present pine plant, and got it running in 1910. He built a solid steel mill. When he thought the bids for building the mill were out of line, he just took his own men and built it himself, and it stands today as a monument to his constructive genius, one of the solidest, strongest, most efficient sawmills in Southwestern history. It is equipped with two bands and a gang, two edgers, and everything else that goes to make and handle their large output effectively.

One of the interesting things about the mill is an automatic drop sorter devised and built by the late Mr. Ernest Carter himself, and quite unlike any other drop sorter ever built anywhere. As the lumber leaves the trimmer one man lines up the ends on the drop-sorter chains, and after that no help is needed except to pile it on the kiln cars. The drop-sorter chains move OVER the lumber which slides along on smooth steel skids, the dogs that push the lumber hang down instead of up, and the thing works perfectly, and has for 27 years. Experienced mill men always stop to watch and marvel at its ingenuity.

The plant has been kept right up to date. Just two years ago they put in an entirely new boiler room. The engine room and power plant is big, open, and a gem to look at. Just now they are installing a new engine to drive the planing mill, building an entirely new engine room to house it. The dry kilns have at various times been modernized. The planer is equipped with the latest and best machinery. All the lumber except red-heart goes through the eight double kilns. There is ample shed room for their dressed and rough stock. Now and then when the order file is low they have to pile some kiln-dried No. 3 outside the sheds. One day J. J. Carroll, son-in-law of W. T. Carter, and sales manager of the company since 1903, visited the mill and saw some kiln-dried stock piled outside. He said to Sid Adams, superintendent of the pine plant and one of the Carter veteran employees "Looks like we need more shed room." The laconic mill man said, "No, Mr. Carroll, what we need is more orders." The genial sales manager didn't know the answer to that one.

In 1908 Mr. W. T. Carter and his immediate family moved to Houston, and the general and sales offices of the firm were moved there at the same time, and have remained there ever since. J. J. Carroll, the sales manager, has, as previously stated, been in charge of sales for thirty-four years. Mr. Clyde Miller, his right-hand man, has been in that position since the first day of January, 1923.

In 1922 they built the hardwood mill at Camden. This is an entirely separate institution from the pine plant, and is located about half a mile away. They selected a grand site for the new mill, and built a single band sawmill which has been in continuous operation now for fifteen years. The mill is generously supplied with hardwood logs which are lifted from the log trains by a huge steel derrick, which likewise piles them in front of the mill and then, as desired, lifts the logs up onto the short chain that takes them into the mill.

Until just a year ago the hardwood department simply manufactured rough hardwoods, air-dried the lumber, and sold it that way. But the rapid progress of Texas hardwoods in the past several years induced the management to improve their product, and go deeper into the work of preparing it for market. The result was that they have just finished a thoroughly modern set of four double dry kilns, fire-proof, automatic in their operation, utterly scientific in the seasoning of the wood, and of the fan type. They now air-dry their stock from three to four months, and then put it through the kilns. They are prepared to furnish any specified moisture content desired by the most careful hardwood buyers. Back of' the new kilns there is also a big cooling shed, which is a prime necessity in the proper seasoning and shipment of hardwood lumber.

Also they have finished a modern planing mill right back of the hardwood sawmill, equipped with a planer, re-saw, end-matcher, and various other machinery. The entire hardwood plant is conveniently constructed on a hill. They have a big hardwood lumber yard, and likewise a hardwood storage shed where they pile stock that has been long enough on the yard. They are thus equipped to manufacture, season, dress, and properly prepare for market anything in the line of Texas hardwoods, and their logs are unusually large in size on the average.

A most interesting thing about the entire lay-out at Camden is that it is manned by a veteran organization such as is seldom encountered. Mr. Sid Adams, pine superintendent, has been with the firm in various capacities since 1898, and has held his present position since 1922. He is assisted by Mr. Victor Wilson, likewise an old Carter man. The hardwood department is under the direction of Superintendent M. J. Taylor, Jr., who has held that position since 1923. He was born on the Carter plant and has lived there all his life. His father was the Carter mill physician from 1892 until a few years ago when he moved to Houston. The hardwood superintendent is likewise the nephew of Dr.. Judson Taylor, famous Houston surgeon, who married one of the daughters of W. T. Carter.

A very efficient and fine young man, this M. J. Taylor, Jr., and seldom has the writer enjoyed a day at a sawmill more than he did the one with Mr. Taylor and Mr. Adams. With the veteran Mr. Adams we visited at length, and many were the delightful reminiscences of the old days around Camden that he recited to us. Here is an old school sawmill man we found it a joy to meet.

All over the Camden plant are men, both white and black, who were born right there on the job and have never lived or worked elsewhere. There is a darkey feeding the first machine as you go into the planer, who belongs in lumber history. His name is Cicero Edwards. He has probably dressed more yellow pine lumber than any other man that ever lived. No one knows his age. But away back at Barnum he started feeding a planing mill machine when he was so small he had to stand on a block to get high enough, and for somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-five years he has been continually feeding a planing mill machine every working day. It is doubtful if any mill worker, anywhere, has such a record. The writer wanted to take his picture, but Cicero was home sick the day of our visit.

S. F. Adams (left), A. B. Caton  
S. F. Adams (left), A. B. Caton (right).  

Somewhere in this story will be found a picture of Mr. A. B. Caton. Mr. Caton is retired. He logged the Carter mill for forty-five years before they made him quit. He has been on the retired list now for a number of years. He joined W. T. Carter in 1892, and stayed with him continuously since that time. His family is scattered, and he lives in a private apartment in the Camden Hotel, where he has his own private bath and anything on earth he wants. He is the "head man" at Camden, whom all the organization loves and caters to. He is continually smiling, loves a good story, has a fine sense of humor, and can tell more about "the old days" than any other man in the Texas sawmill industry. He is 79 years of age.

The Camden institution has been managed by Aubrey L. Carter, son of W. T. Carter, since the father died. Mr. Carter lives in Houston, but like his father keeps closely in touch with the mill. Another son, W. T. Carter, Jr., lives in Houston and runs the Carter Investment Company, the investment and real estate end of the estate.

No transient thing is this Camden institution, even after 39 years of operation. They figure that at the present time they have sufficient yellow pine timber to supply the pine plant for about thirty years. They have enough hardwood in sight to supply the hardwood mill for at least ten more years. And, of course, it is likely that the operation of the pine mill may be continuous. Because at the rate short leaf pine is now known to grow in East Texas, the land they are cutting today will have another big stand of commercial timber by the time they cut their present stumpage.

What W. T. Carter saw fifty years ago, is now coming true. His family may, with careful forestry efforts, continue to operate his mill for generations.

They even have one big stand of long leaf virgin stumpage left, enough to supply their pine plant for about four years. They do not know when they will cut it, as it lies many miles from their present logging operations. But it is a magnificent stand of timber that reminds you of the way the long leaf forests used to stand in the good old days. So they have a mighty supply of quality timber left at Camden, and from it they cut quality lumber. The dressed shed at all times contains a big and well assorted stock of wonderful looking clear lumber. Finish is no novelty at Camden. You can get it as long and as wide as you want it, and in any quantity.

Just one boast Mr. Adams makes about their pine product. That it is well manufactured. You go through the rough shed and look at the lumber just as it comes from the saws and you see none of the thick and thin stuff that is so often noticeable. The rough stock is as definite and regular in size as the dressed.

"Mr. Carter taught us that it paid to manufacture our lumber carefully and well," said Superintendent Sid Adams to the writer, "so why shouldn't we continue to do it his way?"

And there seems to be no answer to that, either.

Text and images were digitized and proofread from the original source documents by Murry Hammond. Contact Murry for all corrections, additions, and contributions of new material.