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Jack goes to Europe

In the summer of 1938 Jack and his college buddy, Lou Marsten, spent several months in Europe, mostly France and England, that was part vacation and part “scouting mission.” Marylou later joined the for a stretch of time in France.

C.C. had sent Jack to Europe with instructions to look into what the prospects for business on the Continent might be. As this is the first evidence of a serious foray into export markets, we reprint Jack’s entire report from a letter mailed from France, dated July 2, 1938:

“As to the calls I made on lumber houses in London: A tale of woe everywhere I went—everyone saying the wood (as they call it) market is the worst in fifty years. The English businessmen are now becoming anti-Roosevelt and blame him for their own sorrows. For they say it is impossible for British business to prosper without decent conditions in the U.S., which is largely true, for indirectly the two countries have many mutual interests. They are tolerant enough to admit it isn’t altogether Bro. Roosevelt’s doings—some of it may be attributed to wars and war scares.

“Most of the lumbermen in London don’t feel that the impending trade treaty will be signed in the fall. They do not think it will be of much value for our interests—as it likely will be nothing more than a revision to lower the duty on goods not in competition with those of the United Kingdom—which means that British Columbia will retain its present advantage. Even so, most of their purchases of softwood are from Scandinavia, which has the transportation advantage. However, lumber that goes to other parts of the empire, such as Australia, South Africa, etc., is in a favorable competitive basis with Scandinavian woods. And nearly all of this business is handled through London houses.

“The men I talked to are a little indignant over the fact that their trade association has never been consulted on the proposed Anglo-American treaty. So they evidently know little about it.  I’d like to know what you think shall come of it. Are you still pressing for contacts in the Eastern Canadian market?

“As for the people I saw:

“Arthur Heath & Co— talked with a Mr. Tangforth who had little to offer. The company is concerned with all sorts of export, lumber seemed to be a minor item with them and failed to show much interest.

“W.C. Davie & Co.—Spent quite a time with Mr. Davie, getting a line on the situation, as he was the first I called on. Unfortunately, they handle nothing but hardwoods. He gave me an introduction to two Glasgow firms, one of which was the Cant and Kemp (will see them when we return to the British Isles).

“Gordon, Watts & Company – Nothing here; also hardwood.

“Churchill & Sims – Concerned almost solely with pulpwood.

“Withers & McDougall—Friends of F. Gramm. They are also hardwood; just a personal call. Sorry to hear of Mrs. Gramm’s death.

“Chas. Gane & Co. – Mr. Gane is a fine old man – sat and had tea with him—thrashed out the political situation more than lumber. He was the most pessimistic of the group—thinks the world has gone to Hell. Handles both soft and hardwood; says the former has dropped off terribly. Will send inquiries to you.

“W.H. Hooker – This is the firm which desires an American connection. Marylou brought me the Govt. bulletin on them. They have established contact with a firm in Norfolk, Va.—their representative is due in London soon. I only met Mr. Hooker, who is a man 85 years of age, and then I spent the rest of the time with Mr. Bushell and Mr. Lowndes. I went into the office at two o’clock and emerged at five after six, again consuming tea and other refreshment. Once again, the world situation was given a thorough going over.  They struck me as an extremely good firm—over 50 years in business, etc. They have made no American connections as yet and are anxious to do so soon, in view of possible developments over the treaty. One item in particular may be of value. They handle most of their business in Africa and India. It seems that for the past few years the Zanzibar Gov’t. sends out inquiries for structural timbers, specifically Douglas fir. W.H. Hooker had formerly had connections with some Vancouver firm, and on the basis of the latter’s quotations bid on this, only to have the Canadian firm back out on them. So they are no longer interested there. The virtue of this Zanzibar business is the fact that the preferential 10% does not apply, so we could bid equally on it. Insofar as it must be Douglas fir, I said I doubted whether this Norfolk concern could handle such an offer. So they said they’d send the inquiries on to you when they arrive in another month or so. Any correspondence, send to Mr. D.N. Bushell.

“The value of working in a sawmill and logging camp was apparent to me in these calls for all of them are curious to know about it. At one time the three of us in Hooker’s office were standing in the middle of the room performing an intricate skidding operation.”   

An interesting aside in the letter was this observation of the mood in Great Britain and France at the time (about a year before Hitler invaded Poland, thus touching of the second World War):

“Incidentally they (London’s lumber houses) are all confident that the possibility of a major war is extremely remote. The Berlin-Rome axis is the only danger—yet neither country has sufficient financial and economic reserves to attempt such a folly. They further believe Hitler’s bluff has been called in Czechoslovakia. The Austrian affair was a little different. There, the majority of people wanted Nazi rule. But now that they have a taste of it, Germany will be kept very busy controlling them.

“However, the French are wrought up over German activities and it would not take a great deal to set them in action. After listening to them talk and seeing their military preparations in evidence everywhere, it is hard to believe France is the great peace-loving nation she poses to be. France is not a great deal less belligerent than any other country.

“But then, all this personal observation is of little value. Things generally occur quite the contrary from what even the most astute observers predict. So, in as much as my experience is limited, I shall cease being astute.”

Of course, war erupted in Europe in 1939. By the summer of 1940, just two years after Jack’s visit, the Germans occupied France. It wasn’t until late 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor that the United States entered the war.