Faces from the Past

 

 

 

Les Pomeroy made sustained yield forestry profitable

By James Barnett
Journal Correspondent

Leslie Pomeroy was born in Hub City, Wisconsin, in 1896. He entered the University of Wisconsin to study civil engineering and worked part time in timber testing at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory with a fellow student, Eugene P. Conner. He and his friend Conner dropped out of school to enlist in the armed services during the onset of World War I. Neither was accepted due to physical problems. They returned to the Forest Products Laboratory and engaged in research devoted to kiln drying of timber products. Conner finished his engineering degree, but Pomeroy did not.

After the war ended in 1918, Pomeroy conceived the idea of making a trip around the world to study forestry and related matters in foreign lands. With letters of introduction, Pomeroy and Conner departed in 1919, bound for Japan. They managed to find work doing dry kiln consulting and worked as seamen on a voyage that took them to Japan, Philippines, China, Egypt, India, Siberia, and Italy. They then went across Europe to do forestry research in France and England.

Pomeroy and Conner returned to the United States and were offered jobs by Edward J. Young, president of three southern lumber companies. They were sent to learn to cruise timber and other tasks related to the manufacture of lumber. After two years of training, they were given administrative jobs. During a sales trip, Pomeroy called on Herman Kessler, the owner of the Stoughton Wagon Company, maker of wagon wheels. He wanted to sell a small Arkansas sawmill in Wilmar.

In 1925, Pomeroy and Conner moved to Arkansas to become owners of an abandoned sawmill in the ghost town of Wilmar with neither electricity nor running water. They started Ozark Badger Lumber Company which included 160 acres of cut-over timberland. At the time, lumber companies had clear-cut and hauled timber out by railroad and moved away. These cut-over tracts had scant timber left to cut. By selectively marking a few trees per acre to cut, the land became productive enough for Pomeroy and Conner to allow periodic timber cutting while the forest regenerated.

Pomeroy began timber management by surveying the land into 40-acre parcels, cruising the standing timber, establishing the number of board feet per acre, and formulating a cutting plan to be carried out on five-year rotations. Thus, he became the 'father of sustained yield'. His management plan was so impressive that H.H. Chapman and Yale University forestry students who came to Hardtner's nearby Urania Lumber Company each year, studied his methods. The Ozark Badger Lumber Company now owned a number of small tracts of timber. They became the first to use trucks rather than trains to move timber to the mill.

In the late 1930s, Pomeroy was asked to evaluate the W.T. Smith Lumber Company of Chapman, Alabama, to survey their situation. The owner, J. Greeley McGowin, a successful lumberman and owner of 190,000 acres of timberland recognized that they were approaching the end of their timber supply. Shortly before his death, he told his sons to give up the mill and organize a wholesale lumber business. However, after his death his sons called upon Pomeroy for his recommendations.

Pomeroy recommended that "If you will acquire 10,000 acres of adjoining timberland, let me divide it into 10 operating units, and buy some logs for the next three years, you can soon be on a permanent 10-year operating cycle, dividing this 200,000 acres of land into ten cutting units each of which you will log every 10 years. After you get through, you start around again. You'll have timber forever." This was contrary to prevailing thought, but with open minds they followed his recommendations. The McGowins became the first large-scale operators in the South to put that sustained-yield principle into effect.

So successful was this collaboration that in 1938, Pomeroy joined forces with Julian F. McGowin to form Pomeroy and McGowin Consulting Foresters based in Monticello, Arkansas. During the next 50 years, the company served as consultants to owners of over 50 million timbered acres in all southern states and several foreign countries. One of Pomeroy's significant achievements, with the aid of McGowin and Jim Girard of the U.S. Forest Service, was development of volume tables for measuring standing timber.

Leslie Pomeroy died in 1976, but the company continues as Larson and McGowin, Inc. headed by L. Keville Larson. Larson comes from the same tradition of talented lumbermen and professional foresters. His mother was Estelle, from the McGowin family, and sister of Julian, Earl, Floyd and Nick McGowin. The continued success of this consulting group is influenced by the quality of early employees such as: Don Harper, Zeb White, Bill and Ed Gandy, Roy Morgan, Robie Scott, John Wood, Don Sampson and, of course, Julian McGowin.

(Marcia Camp's 2008 document about Les Pomeroy published in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture was used as a resource for this article)

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