John W. Watzek, biography c. 1905
[American Lumberman magazine]
  Source: American Lumberman. The Personal History and Public and Business Achievements of One Hundred Eminent Lumbermen of the United States, First Series. Chicago: American Lumberman, 1905. pp. 411-414. Original courtesy University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Texas Transportation Archive
J.W. Watzek

When the lumberman of experience and the man of capital enter into partnership, the investor should bring to the business something more than his capital; he should also bring to it and give fully of the same thought, effort and care that made him successful in other walks of life. If he does not a satisfactory result is by no means certain. This is the secret of the success of men like Dr. J. W. Watzek, of the Crossett-Gates interests. Doctor Watzek's training was that of a physician and his personal success has been achieved in that profession. He was thirty-five years of age before he made his first investment in timber, but in less than two decades he has made for himself a reputation as a lumberman that exceeds in range his distinction as a physician. He brought to the lumber business the same thought and application he exercised in his study and practice of medicine.

Dr. J. W. Watzek is a native of Austria, where he was born in 1856. His father's death left him dependent upon his own resources, and, hearing that opportunities for advancement were better in America than in his own country, he took his boyhood savings to buy a "ticket for Amerika," and emigrated to the land of his adoption at the age of fourteen.

Believing that an education is the best kind of a foundation that a young man can lay, no matter what his calling in after life may be, every dollar that he was able to earn at anything that he could find to do, he spent in acquiring mental equipment. The night schools those friends of many a poor but aspiring young man gave him his education in the language; and, after an academic training received at Wyoming Seminary, at Kingston, Pennsylvania, he decided to study medicine. Moving westward in search of better opportunity to complete his education and to find a promising place in which to practice his profession, he graduated in 1881 from the State University of Iowa as a Doctor of Medicine.

He first located at Sigourney, Iowa, and four years later moved to Davenport, Iowa, where he enjoyed a large and lucrative practice, and, through his professional work, became intimately acquainted with many of the prominent lumbermen of that city. His success as a physician is not excelled by any practitioner in the state and his reputation is more than local. That he went into the lumber business with the same painstaking care which made him a great physician was an earnest of success in the lumber field.

Doctor Watzek's first investment in southern pine was made in 1891 when, with J. A. Freeman and M. C. Smith, he formed the Freeman Lumber Company, of Millville, Arkansas. He was made vice president of that company, but later disposed of his holdings. In the same year he became interested with E. S. Crossett and C. W. Gates in the Fordyce Lumber Company, of Fordyce, Arkansas, and this was the beginning of the pleasant and uniformly successful business relationship which finally culminated in their copartnership under the firm name of Crossett, Watzek & Gates for the more convenient management of their various and extensive interests in the South. Doctor Watzek at once proceeded to familiarize himself with the business in which he had made his investments, with Mr. Crossett as his able tutor, by making frequent visits to the woods and mills in the South for practical study of the timber and the processes of its manufacture. He has acquired a knowledge of the lumber industry which causes his associates to respect his opinions in the settlement of questions of business policy. Becoming a firm believer in the advancement of values in yellow pine, he has been unceasing in his efforts for the acquirement of standing timber and its development, taking especial pleasure in the solving of the financial problems necessarily connected with these operations.

When, in 1891, he joined Mr. Crossett and C. W. Gates in the formation of the Fordyce Lumber Company he was elected one of its directors and later its treasurer. During the next year or two this company severely felt the general business depression of the time. Money was scarce and the rate of interest was high, while the price of lumber hardly equaled the cost of production. The company, however, weathered the storms, and when the tide turned it was ready for expansion, the capital was enlarged, a modern saw mill plant built and the timber holdings so increased that in 1905, after a steady run of fourteen years of manufacturing an average of 30,000,000 feet of lumber a year, the company owns 60,000 acres of standing timber and a stumpage of 500,000,000 feet and points with pride to the fact that it is entirely out of debt.

In 1899 Doctor Watzek, E. S. Crossett, C. W. Gates and E. W. Gates purchased from Hovey & McCracken, of Muskegon, Michigan, 50,000 acres of selected pine lands in Ashley county, Arkansas, and Morehouse parish, Louisiana, and organized the Crossett Lumber Company. Doctor Watzek was elected a director and made treasurer of the company. This nucleus of 50,000 acres was added to until the company now owns 135,000 acres of the best shortleaf pine. In 1900 the town of Crossett was started in the midst of the timber of Ashley county, Arkansas, and two modern saw mill plants were erected to manufacture lumber for at least twenty years to come.

In 1902 the opportunity and desire to own more timber led Messrs. Crossett, Watzek and Gates to buy two-thirds of the stock of the Jackson Lumber Company, of Lockhart, Alabama, ex-Governor E. E. Jackson, of Baltimore, retaining the other third. This company owns 144,500 acres of longleaf pine with a stumpage of 1,200,000,000 feet.

Doctor Watzek was elected president, and the financing of the deal was left largely in his hands. It is his particular pride that he has been able so to convince capital of the value of this property as to enable him to secure the bonding of it for $1,000,000 at 5 percent, with the bonds at par. Development was proceeded with immediately, and under the able local management of W.S. Harlan, a brother-in-law of Doctor Watzek, the town of Lockhart was laid out and a saw mill plant, having a capacity of 60,000,000 feet, erected and ready for operation in less than ten months. At the same time the naval stores industry, until then new to Doctor Watzek and his associates, was also developed.

Doctor Watzek is a close student of conservative forestry methods in lumbering, and the large tract of timber owned by the Jackson Lumber Company is being treated with a view to one recut at least, all trees under a diameter of thirteen inches being left standing. Besides the foregoing companies, Doctor Watzek is also interested in the Gates Lumber Company, of Wilmar, Arkansas, and the Grant Lumber Company, of Selma, Louisiana.

These five companies, with which Doctor Watzek is identified and of which he is a conspicuous member, own an amount of timber and conduct operations that are monumental. Their land possessions embrace 420,000 acres, with 3,350,000,000 feet of standing pine and 400,000,000 feet ofstanding hardwoods; the daily cut of their saw mills produced by six bands, four circulars and five gangs is 800,000 feet; their planing mills have a capacity of 720,000 feet per day; their better grades of lumber are dried by thirty-four steam kilns; they own one hundred and sixty miles of logging railroads, with sixteen locomotives and two hundred and twenty-six cars; they employ over two thousand people, and the value of their annual output is between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000.

The story of Doctor Watzek's life is a remarkable one, a fact readily recognized when comparison is made of the young immigrant of three decades ago and the extensive lumber operator of today.

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