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DEQUINCY: ONCE THE TURPENTINE CAPITOL OF LOUISIANA

©  By W. T. Block      (click here for W. T. Block web page)

DeQuincy was never a great sawmill town like Singer, Carson, DeRidder or Longville.  In fact DeQuincy came to thrive off the garbage that the sawmillers left behind in the forest - the big liter pine stumps.

Up until 1922 much turpentine and rosin was exported from Southwest Louisiana, but it was distilled from tree sap, bled into buckets attached to pine trees in the forests. Long-Bell operated a turpentine distillery at its log camp in Walla, midway between Newlin and Carson on Cowpen Creek. The Walla distillery began in 1908 and ceased about 1920 when the Long-Bell log camp at Walla closed.

The Rustville, LA., distillery of Gulf Lumber Company at Fullerton was the largest turpentine plant in Louisiana from 1908 until 1922, when it was converted to a wood alcohol distillery.  Before 1922 the Rustville plant employed 259 Negroes in its heyday and produced 150 barrels of turpentine and 450 barrels of rosin weekly.

By 1925 Southwest Louisiana's vast sawmill industry was rapidly drawing to a close.  Fullerton cut out in 1927, leaving 175,000 acres of cutover stump lands in East Vernon Parish.  Long-Bell cut out about 1935, with 200,000 acres of stumps left behind.  Lutcher-Moore of Orange cut out in 1930, leaving 260,000 acres of cutover lands in Calcasieu, Beauregard, and Vernon parishes.  W. E. Pickering and Chicago Coal and Coke cut out in 1928, with about 150,000 acres of cutover lands. There were mufti-thousands of acres of stumps left over elsewhere - from Louisiana Long Leaf at Fisher, Industrial Lumber Company at Calcasieu, Oakdale and Elizabeth, and others.

Altogether there were 25,000 square miles of stump lands left in Western Louisiana, and an estimated 30,000 square miles of stumps in East Texas, much or most of which were within reach of the new DeQuincy plant.

Before 1915 stumps were removed only to clear land for agriculture, and removal usually consisted of the difficult and dangerous method of blowing out the stumps with dynamite. By 1907 Hudson River Lumber Co. at DeRidder had cleared all the stumps on its 200-acre experimental farm, and by 1925, Long-Bell was using 2 steam-driven stump pullers on its cutover lands around Longville. After 1935 enlistees in the Civilian Conservation Corps were using a steam-driven stump puller in the Kisatchie National Forest.  By 1932 perhaps as many as 300 unemployed men supported their families by pulling stumps and hauling them to DeQuincy.

While the buzzards of ghost town status roosted on the water towers at Carson, Newlin, and Juanita in 1925, DeQuincy was enjoying a veritable boom. The Gulf Coast Lines of Missouri Pacific Railroad had brought its regional car shops to DeQuincy, along with 800 employees under G. C. Kennedy. The new railroad plant included a large roundhouse; machine shop, that could literally build or rebuild a locomotive; a blacksmith shop, car sheds, and car shops; a power house and related facilities for all rolling stock between Houston and Baton Rouge, and as far north as Alexandria, improvements worth $250,000.

In 1919 a man named H. L. Smith was sent to DeQuincy to conduct a survey relative to the availability of large quantities of pine stumps for processing into rosin, turpentine, and pine oil.  However, it was Oct., 1922 before the new million-dollar plant opened; it was named Acme Products Co., Inc., a subsidiary of Gillican-Chipley Co. of New Orleans. The new plant never closed its doors, operating three 8-hour shifts daily to process 150 tons of pine stumps into finished products.

The original plant opened with W. B. Logan was general manager and G. L. Olsen as superintendent. It was soon dispensing a monthly payroll of $60,000 to its 175 employees, even though the minimum hourly wage then in effect was 22 1/2 cents. Another 150 men were employed full time as stump pullers in the immediate area. An acre was worth only $2 an acre as stump land, but it was immediately worth $25 an acre as farm land as soon as the stumps were removed. And DeQuincy needed to develop a farm economy as soon as possible.

By 1924 a year's output at Acme Products amounted to "60,000 rounds of rosin, a round being equal to 500 pounds; 14,000 casks of turpentine, a cask equal to 50 gallons; and 5,000 casks (250,000 gallons) of pine oil. Pine oil had many medicinal uses, as well as being used in tooth paste, polishes, soaps, perfumes, and solvents.

The stumps went first into the "chipping hog," which ground the stumps into fine wood chips. The latter were subjected to intense steam heat, and the vapors emitted from the boiling solutions were then condensed and refined. The distilling process was not unlike that for making wood alcohol or whiskey.

In Dec., 1928, Acme Products sold out its DeQuincy plant to Newport Industries, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin for $1,500,000. Ownership would remain the same for the next 29 years, except that Newport would merge with Heyden Chemical Corporation about 1955. About the same time in 1928, the LeTourneau Machinery plant in Longview, Texas made a "huge steel fork," which when attached to the front of a heavy bulldozer, could literally "root out" large stumps handily.

With the improvements in large stump pulling machinery and thus the enlarged volume of stump deliveries, Newport made some expansions to the plant, enough to process 400 tons of pine stumps daily, and thus triple the output of its products. When sawmills around DeQuincy closed during the Depression, Newport Industries "kept right on a-cookin...," supplying half the payroll that was to sustain DeQuincy's economy.

During World War II Newport was declared "65% wartime essential...," and as more male employees disappeared into the war machine, many female employees took their places in the office, maintenance staff, the cabs of trucks and on the production line. Until the end, some stump crews could not afford any other method than blowing up stumps, with at least one person killed annually by premature explosions. By the time that Newport closed the plant on Oct. 28, 1957, the plant had processed nearly 3,000,000 tons of stumps removed from 1,134,000 acres of land. Total products for the 35 years amounted to 470,000 tons of rosin; 16,000,000 gallons of refined turpentine; and 14.7 million gallons of pine oil. The plant also paid out $16,000,000 in salaries ; $18 million for raw materials; and $7 million for stump pulling labor.

By 1925, the Acme plant was at least halfway responsible for the building of DeQuincy's new high school building; its Evangeline Highway, running from Bogalusa on Pearl River to Beaumont, Texas; its increased population to 5,000; 120 new homes in one year; its new power plant, water system and fire truck; its new Calcasieu Marine Bank; its new farm cooperative, with its 200-bale daily cotton gin and a 1,500 acres planted in cotton; and 40 new merchants in town.

Sadly the passing of the cutover stump lands meant also the passing of the turpentine plant, but it so doing, it had cleared out 10,000 acres of farm land adjacent to DeQuincy. Nevertheless the Newport plant will always remain a pleasant memory for all who ever worked there or who profited from its existence.

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