And now you know: Dinner in the woods

Published 8:49 am Tuesday, May 15, 2018

By Mike Louviere

In April 1904, the Association of Texas Lumbermen held their annual convention in Orange. The lumbermen and citizens of Orange wanted the convention visitors to have a good time, be treated like royalty, and always remember Orange.

The headquarters of the convention would be at the Holland Hotel. In those days, the Holland was one of the leading hotels in the South and one of the most luxurious. There were receptions held in the homes of W.H. Stark and Hugh Ochiltree that rivaled any receptions held in larger cities. After all, they were millionaire timber barons in Orange.

On the last day, April 14, the special event was “Dinner in the Woods”. As reported: “The trip over the Orange and Northwestern Railroad into the pine forests yesterday was, perhaps the most enjoyable to many of the visitors of the forms of entertainment provided during the convention of lumbermen.”

The railroad provided a special train consisting of five railroad coaches under the charge of Conductor Savage. Railroad General Manager C.W. Hole and Roadmaster H. Montadon were on board to see that everything was done properly for the enjoyment and comfort of the guests.

The train traveled at 45 miles per hour from Orange to Myrtle Prairie, then stopped 40 minutes for the dinner.

Myrtle Prairie was the shipping point and headquarters of C.E. Slade’s timber operation. Slade was one of the largest timber contractors in the South. Slade furnished the dinner. Meats of all kinds were barbequed; pork, beef, mutton, goat, and venison steaks. There was also Irish stew, chili, bread, biscuits, pickles, and relishes. Accompanying the meal were gallons of hot coffee.

The dinner was served on long tables under an awning that had been erected near the tracks. The dinner arrangements had been made by Mrs. C.E. Slade, Mrs. Charles K. Rein, Mrs. W.H. Smith, and Mrs. Robert Morgan. Mr. Slade with his chef and assistants had helped the ladies.

While at the site, the visitors were shown how the ties were brought in from the woods by heavily loaded wagons pulled by mule teams.

After the dinner and demonstrations, the visitors boarded the train for the trip to Buna. General Manager Hole told the engineer to “Throw her open and give the guests a run.”

The track was in excellent condition and the train only stopped once to take on water.

From Buna the train went to the Bessmay Mill. The mill was reputed to be one of the finest mills in the south. The planning mill was run entirely by electric motors under the charge of Adolph Baierski, of Orange. Visitors were given ample time to inspect the big mill.

“A neat compliment was here tendered by Miss Bessie May Kirby, the charming daughter of President John Henry Kirby of the Kirby Lumber Company. Kirby had accompanied the party on the trip. The Hoo-Hoo Band, while the train was at the Bessmay mill, played complementary to Miss Kirby, the Bessmay Waltz.” (As you may have discerned, Bessmay was named for Miss Kirby)

The train then went eight miles on the Kirby tram road to the longleaf pine forest. They saw the tree felling operation, trees sawed into logs, logs loaded on skidways, and finally the logs loaded onto rail cars. The woods foreman had called in one of his best and fastest loading crews and had set a car on a track next to the train. The crew then demonstrated how cars were loaded in the woods by men and horses.

“The entire trip was made without mishap. The train pulled into the terminal station at Orange at 5:45 p.m. everybody was pretty well tired out, but pleased with the day’s outing.”

“And now you know”