The Collins Pine Co. has played a vital role in the town of Chester for several decades, not only in providing employment for generations of workers at its sawmill location just off Main Street, but also in the company’s generous philanthropic efforts through the Collins Pine Company and the Collins Companies Foundation.
Throughout the years, both organizations have enriched our community by supporting a number of local events, including providing seasonal sponsorships for Chester Little League at the Truman-Collins Sports Complex; Chester Classic 4th of July Fun Run & Walk, opening the Collins Pine Forest as part of the racing route; the annual Chester Winterfest Dog Sled Race, granting organizers a use permit every year to hold the race on its forested property; partnering with Point Blue and the STRAW program in its commitment to be a part of the effort for community-based science education in the furtherance of habitat restoration; as well as recreation opportunities for hikers using the Collins Pine Nature Trail. Plus educational scholarships through the Almanor Scholarship Fund, and grants to the Chester Fire Department, ARPD, Seneca Hospital District for needed equipment and most recently a van to transport patients, among many other contributions to individuals and local organizations.
The following biographies illustrating the lives of founding Collins family members are taken from information posted in the Collins Pine Museum, with some edits.
Truman Doud Collins
Born March 7, 1831, in the village of Cortlandville (later Cortland), New York, Truman Doud Collins was one of five children of Jabez and Adaline Doud Collins. The family eventually moved to a small nearby farm when he was 9 years old, where he attended Cortland Academy. As a youngster, he was in poor health.
Truman, who friends affectionately called Teddy, said the turning point in his life came when he reached the age of 12, when the world opened up to him anew, and he was “determined to make myself, my character, my health, and my business career,” the focus of his life.
At the age of 16, the ambitious young man began earning money by traveling to neighboring farms to buy butter, eggs, and produce and shipping it to a buyer in New York City for a profit.
By age 20 in the year 1851, Teddy left the family farm and took a job working for the engineering corps constructing the Binghamton and Syracuse Railroad.
At first, he worked driving stakes for the survey of railroad track, but soon advanced to running a transit due to his natural talent for mathematics and engineering, and within three years became an engineer of a division in Broome County, New York.
For most men, such a vocation in railroading would last a lifetime. But in 1854, Teddy along with his older brother, Joseph Van Halen Collins, and three friends decided to work as laborers in Hickory, Pennsylvania, on the Allegheny River, working 12 hour days for just 60 cents a day.
After nearly a year, Teddy had saved enough money from his previous work at the railroad together with the meager wages he and his cohorts had earned laboring long hours in the woods, to buy a steam mill and timber company at Turkey Run, near Whig Hill, Pennsylvania, with a down payment of $3,000 and a three-year mortgage of $17,000.
Once their mortgage was paid off in full, Teddy and his brother bought out their friends after an additional six years in 1864. They now held full title to the original 1,480 acres. Teddy had now found his life’s work as a lumberman and mill operator.
Teddy succeeded in owning and operating 13 mills in Pennsylvania, which included the Beaver Valley Mill, Old & New Salmon Creek Mills, Mayburg Mill, Pine Hollow Mill, Golinza Mill, Bucks Mill, Nebraska Box Mill, Tionesta Manufacturing Company, and the Mayburg Chemical Plant.
At the height of his annual production, well over 50,000,000 board feet of timber was processed in his mills, using 66 teams of horses to deliver the timber to barges or to rail cars.
In fact, Teddy built over 100 miles of railroads, operating 25 locomotives to support his mills and timber communities.
According to information provided by the Collins family archives, his railroading began with the Fox Creek & Little Coon Tram, then the Tionesta & Hickory Valley Railroad, onto the Tionesta & Salmon Creek Railroad, and finally the Sheffield & Tionesta Railroad.
A number of communities sprung up in support of his timber and railroad operations, requiring the construction of houses, schools and village stores. He and his partners supplied water, fuel and oil to homes.
Dedicated to his faith, he considered his most prized accomplishment to be building a Methodist Church, where he and his wife Mary, a redheaded schoolteacher with a quiet, introverted, intelligent disposition, taught Sunday school.
Teddy stuck with his horse McGinty, and his two-wheeled cart even when cars came into fashion.
Those who met him described his appearance as small in build, with chin whiskers, often wearing a blue work shirt, slouched hat and frayed jeans that had been brushed by countless trees. He always wore his old leather boots as he waded into the forests or in his office environment.
He was also known to be a bit crusty, frugal, cordially impatient and an extraordinary philanthropist.
Teddy and Mary left to their son and future generations something more enduring than the lands and trees, mills and railroads that spread over the country. More importantly were the values of doing the right thing, believing in self-discipline, to be scrupulously honest, an unwavering commitment to a strong work ethic and to live simply.
The Collins were said to have had a deep respect for those who labored at their mills, in the forests and on the railroads.
“And remember,” Teddy said to all who would listen, “if God has given you more, then more is expected of you.”
At the ripe old age of 83, Teddy Collins died on April 15, 1914, in his beloved town of Nebraska, Pennsylvania, located in the Tionesta Valley, where he had lived with his family since 1882. Mary Stanton Collins preceded him in death, dying six years earlier on Oct. 29, 1908.
Everell Stanton Collins
Teddy and Mary Collins had an only son, Everell, born in Cortland (previously Cortlandville), New York on March 30, 1866, the same town that his father was born.
Although Teddy and his wife decided to return to Cortland from Pennsylvania supposedly so he could retire from his life as a lumberman and Mary could raise their son around the Collins family, trees remained in Teddy’s blood and, as it turned out, in his son’s too.
Teddy and Mary returned to the woods of Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania in 1867, and for the next 14 years, Everell called this his new home.
During his boyhood, Everell grew up in an idyllic setting, spending many hours hunting ducks, squirrels, woodchucks and rattlesnakes. He also loved fishing for trout with a spear or by hook, along with swimming and rafting with friends.
But his life was also one of hard work. After all he was his father’s son and there were lessons to be learned, the harder the better. There would be no soft life of easy money, servants, travelling abroad and private education with a plethora of tutors.
By the time Everell was 9 years of age, he was already packing shingles for 34 cents an hour. And by 13, he’d spent winters in sub-zero temperatures hauling timbers out of frozen creeks. By 15, he was working in the mill.
He would grow up to be a shy, serious, disciplined, intelligent man and, according to his bio, his life was so far from soft that it probably ended up killing him.
His father vehemently objected to Everell going to college, which he considered a waste of time and money.Nevertheless, he attended Allegheny College but returned home after just one year.
Everell decided in 1887 to head west with a number of his friends after catching Gold Fever, but never found any gold. Within a year, he bought 40 acres in Mexico and built his own place.
He fought fatigue brought on by his old nemesis, consumption, and returned once again to Pennsylvania, bowed but not broken.
With his accustomed way of doing things, namely being a good steward toward the land, along with the qualities of honesty, integrity, hard work and always acting with a sense of responsibility, Everell took a $2,000 loan from his father, headed West, and hit the ground running.
Within nine years, he built his first sawmill in Ostrander, Washington, followed by a hotel, a Methodist Church, a two-room elementary school and a community hall.
Everell launched the Ostrander Railway & Timber Company, the Silver Lake Railway and Lumber Company and along the way, served two years in the Washington state legislature representing Cowlitz County.
The town of Ostrander became known throughout the county for its signature logs — Doug firs, some reaching 270 feet in height. To Everell, the West was timber’s future, where he surveyed potential timberlands in Washington, Oregon and California, from which he built his reputation and wealth.
There was more to life than timber, however. Everell met the daughter of Bernard and Susannah Laffey. Mary Emma Laffey was a bright and confident woman, and soon became the joy of his life. They married Feb. 7, 1899, in Catlin (now Kelso), Washington, and had three children, Alton, Grace and Truman.
He also was careful about what he ate, preferring fruit and nuts. On a drive to one of his logging operations, it would not be unusual for him to carry along a bag full of raw cabbage, fistfuls of fruit, and pockets stuffed with nuts.
Lumberman, entrepreneur, legislator, husband and father, Everell Collins was a polite and honest man, as well as frugal, thrifty and religious.
He never ate in fancy restaurants, drank alcohol or gambled, laughed much, bought expensive clothes, promised more than he could deliver, or hobnobbed with the rich and famous.
When Everell died Dec. 18, 1940, in Portland, Oregon, his obituary told of his accomplishments and listed many of his contributions. Besides those already mentioned, they included business ventures like St. Helens Pulp and Paper Company, Ochoco Lumber Company, Mt. Adams Pine Company, J.T. McDonald Logging Company, Lakeview Logging Company, Elk Lumber Company, Grande Ronde Pine Company, and Curtis, Collins & Holbrook.
Everell also served as director of the Northwestern and U.S. National Banks.
His philanthropy includes everything from the Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound, to the E.S. Collins Science Building at Willamette University, to YMCA’s Camp Collins and so much more.
But perhaps his most generous gift was giving, in perpetuity, 60 percent of the net proceeds from the Collins Pennsylvania Forest and the Collins Almanor Forest to the National Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Church.
In the Oregon Journal editorial, it was said that, “He earned ably and spent wisely. There were elements of greatness in E.S. Collins, lumberman, banker, philanthropist — a rich man who went about quietly doing good, E.S. Collins was a living success story at its best, … remembering always the social obligations that go with wealth. He will be remembered with gratitude and pride.”
Note: The above text is an edited summation from an article from the Oregon Journal, dated January 1, 1941.
Truman Wesley Collins
The third child of Everell and Mary Collins, Truman Wesley Collins was born in Ostrander, Washington, Aug. 29, 1902.
Like those before him, the lives of this third generation Collins would revolve around trees.
Truman embraced his father and grandfather’s worlds as lumbermen, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. For his grandfather, Teddy, it was the hardwoods of Pennsylvania. For his father, Everell Collins, it was the giant softwoods of the West Coast. And for Truman, it was learning the value of sustainable forestry.
While he kept the lessons from the generations that preceded him, he also charted his own course. Similar to his father, Truman entered the oil business, and became a silent partner in a number of business ventures, in one case, with a college friend, George H. Atkinson of the Guy F. Atkinson Company, together they built dams in Oregon, California, Washington, South Carolina, North Dakota and even as far away as Pakistan.
But most of all, Truman increased, nurtured and supported the forestlands he inherited; the flora, fauna, and fish that needed those lands and waters to thrive; and the people and their communities whose lives were dependent on the success of a shared vision.
Truman spent his young years in the woods of Ostrander and in Kellettville, Pennsylvania. In his teens his family moved to Portland, Oregon, where he graduated from Lincoln High School, went on to Willamette University, then to Harvard for a master’s degree in business.
As an adult, Truman was shy and reserved. He was not a drinker of alcohol or a party man. It was said he did like hunting pheasants mostly, and climbing Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier, skiing, was a stunt pilot, played a good game of tennis, rode his tractor on Saturdays to mow his field, and rode horses as fast as he could whenever he had the chance.
For a man born to wealth, who could have lived a life of self-indulgent luxury, the challenge was pure joy. He once said to his wife, Maribeth Wilson Collins, whom he married March 12, 1943, “I think I would pay money to do what I’m doing.”
They later had four children during their marriage: identical twins Timothy and Terry, born June 5, 1948, and joined two years later by their sister, Cherida Lynne, born Aug. 1, 1950, and three months to the day after Truman died, another son, Truman Wesley Collins Jr. was born May 23, 1964.
He also enjoyed walking his daughter to school; and long after his father died, when his mother was much older, he stopped to visit her every day on his way to work.
Truman earned the respect of those who worked for him, and it seemed that almost to a person they would walk over coals had he asked.
Mt. Adams Pine Company in Glenwood, Washington, was Truman’s first lumber business. In 1926, when he was 26, Truman came under the tutelage of one savvy, unabashed, wheeler-dealer-storyteller, who was also one hell of a good logger, close friend and partner, J.T. “Mac” McDonald.
Truman was one of the early truck-logging pioneers, and he became its biggest proponent, noting that it was less expensive or intrusive than building a railroad to enter the woods.
Mt. Adams Pine Company taught Truman four valuable lessons: Be fair and loyal and care about your employees; be open to change; put down roots in the community where you live and support the people; and finally, don’t strip the land, take its riches, and leave.
The Grande Ronde Lumber Company in Ponderosa, Oregon, was his next opportunity when it was placed up for sale in 1931, deep in The Depression, and was ultimately successful despite warnings he would lose his shirt.
He formed a joint venture with a number of his long-time employees in 1946, as a way to give an ownership stake of the Grande Ronde Lumber Company to those who had given so much, and by 1952 production had reached 121 million board feet per year.
In the early 1940s he started to plan the construction of a sawmill to be located in Chester, tucked away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, combining everything he had learned about forestry and business. The resource for the sawmill would be 67,800 acres of timberlands that had been originally purchased by his grandfather Teddy.
Earlier in 1941, with the help of his attorney and close business advisor Ed McCulloch, Truman had already begun a sustainable logging operation where he built a sawmill in Chester, supporting a healthy community and creating family-wage jobs.
He turned to the men who had started with him in Glenwood, moved on with him to Ponderosa, and now with their families, became the backbone of Chester and the future of what became the Collins Pine Company.
If all his business endeavors weren’t enough, Truman served as a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve during World War II; president of the Board of Trustees, Willamette University; chairman, Keep Oregon Green Association; the National Board of Missions of the Methodist Church; as well as a member of the board of directors for YMCA, Crown Zellerbach Corp., Standard Insurance Co., and the US National Bank.
In addition, he was president of the Pacific Logging Conference; chairman, Forest Industries Council; director, National Lumber Manufacturers Association; and was honored as Portland’s First Citizen by the Portland Board of Realtors.
In 1993, long after his death from a heart attack Feb. 23, 1964, at the age of 61, those forestlands known as the Collins-Almanor Forest, became the first forest owned by a wood products company to be independently certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for its sustainability practices.
Truman had kept The Collins Companies intact and it is now into the fourth and fifth generation as a family-owned business.
For Truman, a life well lived meant giving back to the community and to those who worked under him for so many years. To that end, he created the Collins Medical Trust in the State of Oregon; the Almanor Scholarship Fund in the north half of Plumas County; the Collins-McDonald Trust Fund in and around Lakeview, Oregon; The Collins Foundation in Oregon; and much more.
Truman Collins was known to be a man of decency and graciousness, possessed with a sense of humor, integrity and generosity.
As recorded in the Oregonian Editorial article after his passing, “Mr. Collins was that rare citizen who recognized no limit in the devotion of his resources, his time and his efforts to the good of his fellow citizens. His philanthropies were legion, and many of the most significant of them will forever go unrecorded, because he sincerely sought to avoid both private and public recognition of his many benefactions. … Although he was self-effacing and reticent about his own contributions, he brought strong convictions and vigorous expression into the councils of the organizations and institutions he served,” adding that, “It can be said of Truman Collins, as few others, that the community will miss his leadership and his example, which may be commended to others of resource and talent.”
Today, the Collins family continues their long legacy of responsible forestry and sustainability, including maintaining a tradition of philanthropy and community outreach.
The above biography is a partly edited, condensed version from an article published in the Oregonian Editorial, dated Feb. 25, 1964.