Mendocino Redwood Company

Finkbine-Guild Company
The four most dangerous words in investing are "This time it's different."
  Sir John Templeton (1912 - )



Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company (1925-1927) had made ambitious plans for Rockport. A copy of a preliminary report from their title insurance company, dated September 1, 1925, states that Finkbine-Guild is seeking a loan for $2,225,000 "to complete the purchase of timberlands and for the building of a manufacturing plant at Rockport, California" (Rockport Records, ctn 4, folder 7-1). This sizable mortgage was to be secured by "approximately 29,278.60 acres estimated by James D. Lacey and Company to carry virgin timber in the amount of 1,080,344,000 feet, of which 84% is redwood, and 16% Douglas fir and by sawmills, loading facilities, dwellings and other operating improvements now being placed on the lands at a cost of more than $1,000,000" (ibid). A deed of trust required re-payment of the loan in ten installments of $225,000 plus interest, beginning September 1, 1927 and ending September 1, 1936.

Finkbine-Guild had been successful at operating southern pine mills in Mississippi. After exhaustion of their Mississippi timberlands, they planned to keep their mills as re-manufacturing and finishing plants and feed them with California redwood.With headquarters in Jackson, Mississippi, the Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company bought the Cottoneva Lumber Company, dormant for 15 years, in 1925. The officers of the company at that time were W. E. Guild, president; W. O. Finkbine, vice-president; R. H. Finkbine, vice-president; H. M. Finkbine, vice-president; R. G. Berry, treasurer; and C. E. Klumb, Secretary.

The new owners constructed a sawmill, logging railroads, and loading facilities, including redwood towers and a cable system, powered by a steam engine, to sling logs from shore to the "island rock" and then onto ships—the Frank B. Stout, the Bertie M. Hanlon, the Florence Olson, and the Necanicum. Because of the remote location, Finkbine-Guild built the first modern family homes at Rockport and introduced many new services, including a company store, a mess hall, a hotel, a barber shop, and an emergency hospital with a doctor in attendance. Since 35 families were now living at Rockport, there was also a school with two teachers for the 60 children registered to attend. One of the teachers was Miss DeVilbiss, a well-known family name at that time in the Rockport area. Benefits for the sawmill workers, however, did not necessarily include national holidays. A notation in the Finkbine-Guild files from Joe Alexander, the company general manager, says: "Did not shut down for Thanksgiving, but I am giving the crews a turkey dinner tonight" (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-27, research paper presumably by Edgar L. Stetson from Sacramento State College on Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company, p. 18).

In an age before email, faxes, and even reliable phone lines, W. E. Guild, company president, and Joe Alexander exchanged letters daily. Were someone to analyze those letters, we would have an excellent picture of the day-to-day workings of the company and the difficulties a manager had coping with the problems of a remote location and remote company executives. Daily problems included broken turbines, broken cable lines, bad weather, blocked roads, difficulties in getting materials and groceries, and, of course, labor issues. Guild usually addressed Alexander as "Dear Joe" or just "Friend Joe." Guild writes to Alexander on 20 January 1927, blaming his delayed response on endless meetings and encouraging Alexander to keep the lumber schooners sailing on schedule:

I think possibly you think you have been forgotten and left to fight your battles alone, which I know are numerous and most perplexing, but such is not the case, Joe, I can assure you. I received your different letters sent to Des Moines and I read the same carefully. I was unable to answer them, Joe, for the reason every moment from the time I arrived there Monday morning until late Tuesday night was taken up. We had so many meetings to get through with in such a short time. ..I are still having trouble and I know how exasperating it is, Joe, and how trying it is, but I suppose one of these day these things will be overcome and we will then forget the troubles we have been through.

I also note the weather you have been having and the serious condition you are in on account of the road being blocked between Rockport and Ft. Bragg. It does seem as if the County should keep these roads open when they are collecting taxes from the property owners and their transportation to and from their properties depends on the keeping open of these roads. While I know we have no way of forcing them to do it, it does seem as if it should be done. It looks as if we were going to have a very hard trying winter out there and undoubtedly the roads will get worse instead of better, but if we can only have regular sailings of the boats we can keep our supplies on hand and keep going just the same. They should in some way be able to keep open the telephone lines so you could have constant communication with the outside world by telephone at least and also the mails should come and go regularly in some manner. (Rockport Records, ctn 18, folder 58-1)

All the redwood logged at Rockport was destined for Gulfport, Mississippi. Finkbine-Guild spent considerable money building a dock and loading facilities in San Francisco Bay near Sausalito. From there, logs would be transferred to one of the company's oil-burning ships: the Abron, Dochet, Manhattan Island, Sabatowan, and Dio ((Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-27, Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company, p. 13 -14). Four were purchased on November 20, 1925 and the last on February 10, 1926 (ibid). Together they were called The Redwood Line. The ships steamed from San Francisco Bay through the Panama Canal to Gulport, Mississippi. At Gulfport, the ships were unloaded and logs were put onto railroad flat cars for the trip to D'Lo, Mississippi. It was at D'Lo that the logs were processed into finished lumber. Rockport mill only produced cants—unbarked logs that are roughly cut into several pieces for later re-manufacturing. There were no planers to produce finished lumber. According to one researcher with access to the Finkbine-Guild records, the sawmill at D'Lo received 12,344, 022 board feet of lumber during the first 9 months of 1927—less than anticipated (ibid, p. 15). In 1927, redwood lumber prices at D'Lo ranged from $45-$100 per 1000 board feet (ibid).

Money and technology do not guarantee success, as any CEO or general can attest. The opportunities for project failure are legion. By 1927, nothing could stop the corporate bleeding at Finkbine Guild, including a top-level shakeup that resulted in E. C. Finkbine as president; W. O. Finkbine, vice-president; and W. E. Guild, treasurer and general manager. Within two years of operation, the Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company was broke. Despite the fact that Finkbine-Guild Lumber Company was the first electric-powered sawmill in Mendocino County—the most technologically innovative sawmill on the Redwood Coast—it has been called a "magnificent failure" (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 58-24, Letter of Bernie Agrons to Elwood R. Maunder, Foest History Society, 12 August 1963). The ultimate failure of Finkbine-Guild is a lesson in Business 101 and the bottom line. They could not compete because they were bearing extra handling costs that local redwood companies did not have.

From here on out, the story of Finkbine-Guild becomes more complicated. A letter from the Mendocino County Title Company on December 30, 1929 confirms that all the lands acquired by Finkbine-Guild were deeded to Southern Redwood Company on July 1, 1928 (Rockport Records,ctn 4, folder 7-1). The arrangement between Finkbine-Guild and Southern Redwood Company has been called variously a "re-organization" and a "merger" to continue operations at Rockport. Documents do show that Southern Redwood Company took out a second mortgage on the Rockport property from Great Southern Lumber Company on August 27, 1929. Whatever the relationship between Finkbine-Guild and Southern Redwood Company was, Finkbine-Guild ended it when they defaulted on the Rockport property's first mortgage on September 1, 1929. The total amount of the obligation had been $2,225,000. Prior to the default, $450,000 had been paid, leaving the default at $1,800,000 (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-30, "Cottoneva Redwood Company" Prospectus). In Case #11508 before the Superior Court of the State of California, E. T. Dusenbury, as trustee of Cottoneva Lumber Company, foreclosed on the Finkbine-Guild mortgage on May 1, 1931. On January 14, 1933, Dusenbury transferred title of the property to the newly chartered Cottaneva Redwood Company (Rockport Records, ctn 19, folder 59-30, "Cottoneva Redwood Company" Prospectus).

Photo Credits

Rockport towers (1925), Robert J. Lee Collection (Ukiah, CA).

Rockport rail line and lumber "sling", Robert J. Lee Collection (Ukiah, CA).

Finkbine-Guild Shay Engine #1, Mendocino County Museum (Willits, CA).

Primary Sources

Rockport Redwood Company Records, BANC MSS 70/184 c, The Bancroft Library (Berkeley, California).


 Mendocino Redwood Company - Ukiah, California