Faces From the Past

 

'Red' Bateman: pioneer nursery specialist

By James Barnett
Special to The Journal

Soon after Henry Hardtner, president of the Urania Lumber Company, began efforts to reforest his company's lands, the Great Southern Lumber Company, headquartered in Bogalusa, became interested in reforestation. The Great Southern Lumber Company was one of the larger mills in the South, and had the financial backing of the Goodyear family of rubber and tire fame.

The Great Southern Company began an aggressive forestry program in 1919-1920. Col. William H Sullivan, General Manager, named F.O. Bateman as Head Ranger. Bateman was known as "Red" for his florid complexion. Unlike his younger brother, Dr. Bryant Bateman, long of the faculty of the School of Forestry at Louisiana State University, Red's formal education extended only to the ninth grade. However, he had a remarkable talent for extracting both factual information and constructive ideas from the many professional foresters with whom his work brought him in contact.

From the start of Great Southern's artificial reforestation at Bogalusa, Red was the prime mover in developing planting principles and techniques. By 1922-1923, two growing seasons before Philip Wakeley arrived at the U.S. Forest Service's Southern Forest Research Station to conduct reforestation research, Red had worked out the essentials of the general practice still employed today-slit planting of bare-rooted seedlings grown at moderate seedbed densities in the nursery without shade. He developed a planting tool (or "dibble") that is still use to plant pine seedlings. The 6- by 8-foot spacing he chose as most suitable and economical for southern pines was the almost universal standard throughout the South for decades. Before the Great Depression halted his company's planting operations, Red had planted 12,700 acres. With only one exception (the Biltmore estate in North Carolina), there was no other successful southern pine plantation of more that 100 acres.

Bateman's ingenuity was described by Phil Wakeley when he remarked to Red that it was a pity that the persistent wings of longleaf pine seeds prevented drill-sowing that species on nursery beds. By noon, Red asked Wakeley to stop by the nursery. During the morning Red had designed a drill seeder that worked with longleaf pine. It was a wooden trough five feet long to fit across nursery beds. It was hinged to open at the bottom and drop seeds on the bed. A pair of tall, curved handles at each end permitted opening it without stooping or kneeling, which make the devise easy to use. This seeder designed in a morning resulted in marked improvement in the uniformity and quality of longleaf pine nursery stock.

Not only did Bateman determine how to plant southern pines effectively, in anticipation of a bumper fall crop of longleaf pine, he persuaded Col. Sullivan to let him fence 15 thousand acres of burned forest land to protect the area from hogs. The 1920 crop exceeded all expectations and Red's activity resulted in establishing longleaf seedlings on 10 thousand acres, all from a single seed crop-a notable achievement.

Another aspect of Bateman's early work was the prevention and suppression of fire on company lands. Red observed the fire was needed to prepare areas for seed fall or planting, but that seedlings were killed by fire while in the cotyledon stage. As they developed they became tolerant to fire.

As an example of Red's practical approach, he described to a couple of young researchers why direct seeding would not work. This was decades before repellents were found to protect seeds from bird and rodent depredation. Wakeley quotes Bateman's comments on his final vain attempts to direct seed in plowed furrows:

"When we went out to start seeding, there was a pheellock [field lark or meadowlark] sittin' on a fence, he whistled, and up come fifty more pheellocks. We went down the furrows, dropping five longleaf seeds every six feet. The pheellocks follered us drown the furrows and, gentlemen, when we got to the end of the furrows, there wasn't a damn thing left in the furrows but bird-s-t!"

Bateman was an untiring and marvelously keen observer with far above average in ability to reason about what he saw. These personal traits and his accomplishments make him as Wakeley described "one of the greatest silviculturists the South as known."

(Philip C. Wakeley's article on F.O. (Red) Bateman in the April 1976 issue of the Journal of Forest History was used as a resource for this article)

--James Barnett, Emeritus Scientist, USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Pineville, LA. jpbarnett@fs.fed.us 318-473-7214.

Not only was Red Bateman a great silviculturist, he was remembered by Charles Goodyear as a tung-orchardist and a trainer of pointers to hunt quail. Red died at age 46 from a heart attack