In many of the great central railway stations in the metropolitan centers of the world, a thousand trains of cars daily rush in and out and round about in such an apparently promiscuous manner as to lead the layman to wonder how the trains ever get in, and, close upon the heels of that, to wonder how they ever get out.
We know vaguely that there is a long building on stilts somewhere about--a kind of electrical dove-cote. We know that there is a man in there--sometimes just one man and sometimes a man and a few deputies. We know that they reach out and pull levers; that they reach back and push levers; that from morning until night and from night until morning this man, or his deputy or deputies, is always playing with the levers. We give little thought to him. either person-ally or collectively; but away down in our sub-consciousness we do have a wonderful respect for the man in the dove-cote.
The man behind any movement, any business, any great theory always has our wholesome respect, whether or not our surface consciousness recognizes that fact.
The man who occupies the electrical dove-cote for the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company, of Kansas City, Missouri, and who looks out and ahead for that organization through the night, is probably as little known personally as any individual today connected with the yellow pine lumber trade of this country. It is not because William Russell Pickering has not attained success in that line of the industry, but rather because of his modest and retiring disposition and his conservative and unobtrusive method of conducting his affairs. Withal, he has his friends, many of them, and, in the several decades that he has followed lumbering, he has accomplished much to be proud of.
William R. Pickering is of English ancestry. His father was brought up in Derbyshire, in the Midlands of England, but came to the United States and settled in Missouri, where he became a school teacher and later a county judge. His mother's maiden name was Ann Greenstreet. The son, William R. Pickering, was born December 31, 1849, in St. Louis County, Missouri. When he was a lad of ten years his parents moved to Waynesville, Missouri, where he spent his youth and gained the best education afforded by the schools of that day.
His first actual experience in business was in the mining of lead at Joplin, Missouri, where he went in 1872. Eight years later he entered into a partnership with Ellis Short, to do a merchandise business at Joplin, though this business was later extended to northern Arkansas, where the partners bought a tract of timber at Seligman, Missouri, on the southern border of that State. This timber business grew to such proportions as to overshadow the merchandising and by 1887 Short & Pickering extended their operations into Indian Territory, where they began the manufacture of lumber at Stanley. In 1894 Mr. Pickering organized the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company, establishing headquarters at Springfield, Missouri. Retail yards were put in at Springfield, Lebanon, Deepwater, Ozark and Pierce City, Missouri, and Fayetteville and Vanburen, Arkansas. A planing mill was run at Tuskahoma, Indian Territory. The retail business was continued until 1898, when it was closed out and the company engaged in the wholesale yellow pine lumber manufacturing business.
With the growing scarcity of timber in Indian Territory, which precluded the possibility of the extension of the operations of the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company, an investigation of other localities for the continuance of the business of the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company was made. This work of investigation was intrusted to William Alfred Pickering, Mr. Pickering's son, and, after an examination of many bodies of land in Arkansas and Louisiana, resulted in the purchase of 30,000 acres of virgin longleaf yellow pine timber in Vernon Parish, Louisiana. This original tract was estimated to contain 300,000,000 feet of timber, and was the best virgin longleaf yellow pine for sale anywhere. A point on the main line of the Kansas City, Pittsburg & Gulf Railroad (now the Kansas City Southern), sixty-five miles from Lake Charles, Louisiana, was selected for a mill site. Ground was broken in March for the building of the mill, and operations were started in December, 1898. The enterprise was responsible for the growth of a considerable settlement and the place is known as Pickering, in honor of the founder. In the years that have passed since the company entered Louisiana, several large tracts of timber land have been bought in addition to the original property. In order to operate these tracts, another town, called Barham, in honor of T. M. Barham, the secretary of the company, was located in the southwestern section of Vernon Parish, on the Kansas City Southern Railroad. The Pickering plant is equipped with two bands and one pony circular. The output of this mill is 200,000 feet a day. In addition to the sawmill is operated a modern planing mill and a stock of 12,000,000 to 15,000,000 feet of lumber is carried. The logs for the mill are brought from the company's holdings over a standard gauge railroad seven miles long, built entirely of steel, and having a full equipment of cars and loco-motives.
In 1905 a third mill was built by the company to increase the output and so care for the growing demand for yellow pine. This mill is at Cravens, about twenty miles southeast of Pickering, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. The plant is of the most modern type and as complete as any mill in the South. It has two fourteen-inch band saws, a Corliss engine and every up-to-date device for the quick and economical handling of the logs and the finished product. Steel and concrete entered largely into the construction of this mill, which insures greater permanency than is usually found in plants of the South. The timber from which the company draws its logs for the three mills in Louisiana and eastern Texas aggregates 1,500,000,000 feet.
The main offices of the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company are in the Keith & Perry Building, Kansas City. Mr. Pickering is president; his son, W. A. Pickering, is vice president and manager; T. M. Barham is secretary, and R. E. Browne is general sales agent. Mr. Pickering, Senior, devotes most of his time in the management of the company's affairs to looking after the financial end of the business and the buying of timber, leaving the actual operation of the mills and its detail work to W. A. Pickering and his efficient assistants.
While, as has been said before, Mr. Pickering's chief interest has been as a lumberman since 1887, he has, nevertheless, had experience in financiering. In 1893 he began a banking business at Marionville, Missouri, which he carried on until 1897. Among his financial interests is a large holding of stock in the Bank of Springfield, a state institution.
Mr. Pickering married Miss Jane Coggburn, at Iberia, Missouri, February 13, 1870. Two sons were born to the couple, one of whom, W. A. Pickering, vice president and general manager of the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company, survives.
Mr. Pickering is a member of the Masonic Order, though he is not an active Mason. In politics he is a supporter of the policies of the Republican party. He has few interests out-side of those of the company, and he devotes all of his attention to the direction of the immense enterprises of the W. R. Pickering Lumber Company.