Biography of MARVIN LEON MASON - The Early Years.

      * * *By his younger brother: John Jesse Mason* * *


      Marvin Leon Mason was born in the rural community of Rose Bay, in Swan Quarter Township, five miles west of Swan Quarter, the County Seat of Hyde County, in North Carolina.

      He was the third son and fourth child of Joseph R. and Ina (Bennett) Mason.

      He attended the one-teacher country school at Rose Bay beginning in 1920 and graduating from elementary school in 1927. He then attended Swan Quarter High School, riding back and forth in his father's Model T. During his last years of High School he drove the school bus which was a 1930 Ford with curtains on each side and long seats along each side facing inward. There was also a small seat running lengthwise for small children. The curtains on the school bus were rolled up except in inclement weather.

      Marvin graduated from High School at Swan Quarter in 1931 in a class of probably sixteen to eighteen students.

      After high school he went to work for his father on the farm and at the sawmill. Wages at that time were about 7 cents to 10 cents an hour, working ten hour days and five hours on Saturday.

      He worked in a supervisory capacity, and despite his youth, was given a considerable amount of authority in decision making and management. Despite his youth he was held strictly accountable for errors or mishaps and his father was very rigid getting things done right. He was very intolerant of mistakes and oversight.

      During this time he studied business management through an extension course of instruction. Also during this time period he attended a civilian military training course oriented generally toward further training to become a commissioned officer.

      In late 1933 or early 1934 he was able to purchase a 1930 Chevrolet truck. This must have taken some doing with wages in the 7 to 10 cents per hour range. This truck was about a one ton capacity which was the normal size in those days for general hauling. There were larger trucks but they were generally long range hauling types.

      Using this truck he hauled firewood that he had cut and sold. He also hauled lumber for his father and took any other hauling jobs that he could find. The depression was at its worst, and any business related to sales, and business related to for hire hauling were hard to come by. There was a painful shortage of money and people were holding on to what they had. Their reluctance to buy held the price of wood down to the point that meeting overhead expenses was difficult. Collecting was also difficult. Good, honest people were often unable to pay their debts and it became difficult to trust them. People meant well but they were desperate and frequently lowered themselves to lying or otherwise acting in a misleading manner to get credit. In the operation of the business during this depression getting enough money to pay expense was very tough and creditors were always not far behind.

      When he got out to drum up business, people often wanted credit. It was a hard choice to give credit or lose business.

      During this time, probably in 1934 Marvin was able, through hard work and perseverance, to stabilize his business and begin to show some progress. Then disaster struck in a form apart from the depressed state of the economy.

      An acquaintance of Marvin's who lived in Engelhard wanted his household goods moved back to the Swan Quarter area. He asked Marvin to haul them back for him. Taking Rudolph Whitaker, a colored boy who worked for the Masons all his life, and Willie Carawan the owner of the household goods, Marvin left Swan Quarter about dusk on his way to Engelhard.

      As he proceeded on a gravel road about half way between Swan Quarter and Swindell's Fork (About 3 miles from Swan Quarter) Marvin noticed a car approaching him head-on on the wrong side of the road (the other driver's left).

      Marvin continued on his side of the road hoping that the other driver, who was later reported to be intoxicated, would move back to his proper side of the road. As the other car approached head-on, Marvin waited as long as he could and gave the steering wheel a hard turn to the left crossing to the other side of the road hoping to avoid a head-on collision.

      Unfortunately, the other driver at the last minute decided to go back to his side of the road and they collided near the middle of the road and came to a stop on the left side of the road. The other car struck Marvin's truck near the front and was turned around heading almost in the same direction as the truck. The right front corner of the truck body entered the left door and window of the car probably causing the death of the other driver.

      Since both vehicles were near the left side of the road there was some speculation that Marvin was at fault, being on the left side of the road. The position of the vehicles headed generally in the direction the truck was traveling, and the very plain indication that the front right corner of the truck body enters the left door of the car could leave no doubt that both were turning toward the left side of the road and collided in the middle.

      Marvin received injuries to his arm. Rudolph was scratched up and Willie Carawan received head injuries and a broken leg. The other driver died sometime shortly after the accident and Willie Carawan died a few days later. The truck was a total loss. The car was completely ripped off with parts of it on the engine and part of it in the road in front of the truck. The seat, dash, and steering wheel was completely in the open. The steering post was bent so as to be sticking straight up.

      It looked as if Marvin's career in the trucking business was over. The business that he had built up through long hard months of hard work and perseverance was wiped out in a few seconds. There was no such thing as insurance and banks were not about to lend money without collateral.

      Marvin took the engine out of the wreck and took it to Washington to, I believe, the Go-More Chevrolet Co. He was able to deal for another truck, one that was older, and not in very good condition. It had no doors and the engine did not have much power, but it was usable and it represented a means of getting a new start.

      Marvin started again in his trucking business, hauling lumber for his father, cutting and hauling wood, and any other trucking job that he could find. The depression was still in full swing and money shortages and request for credit were always problems.

      Marvin worked long and hard to rebuild his business. Not too long after he bought his second truck he was able to purchase a heavy duty International truck that had been wrecked. It was carrying a load of lumber when the steering mechanism became disconnected and it went into a ditch. The lumber moved forward and damaged the cab to the extent that it had to be cut off. The windshield and about three feet of the rear of the cab were left but there was no top.

      The truck was a good solid vehicle capable of carrying heavy loads but the driver was completely exposed to the elements - cold in winter - hot in summer and wet in rainy weather.

      Marvin put this truck to good use in building up his business.

      I believe that he added a trailer which enabled him to haul larger loads of lumber and perhaps logs.

This clearly typified Marvin's determined efforts to build up his business during the hard part of the depression. It was a horrible looking outfit and probably the butt of many jokes, but it was a means of overcoming the obstacles of the depression and Marvin used it successfully.

      He braved the elements in this odd looking vehicle and at least once encountered a dangerous situation caused by its mechanical pecularity.

      As at the time the steering mechanism failed and caused it to be wrecked, the steering mechanism again became disconnected when Marvin was returning from Fairfield where he had delivered a load of lumber.

      Driving along a dirt road bounded by a soybean field, the steering mechanism failed. The truck crossed a sizable ditch into the bean patch and then came back across the ditch and finally stopped on the road. Marvin was driving probably forty miles per hour when it happened. He repaired the damage and continued to use the truck. He stabilized his business and continued to make progress.

      In 1935 Marvin was able to work a deal with Calfee the Ford dealer in Belhaven to trade in his International truck for a new 1935 V-8 truck. Calfee allowed him $125 for the International and, I believe, sold it back to him for $25.00. He was thereby able to build a dual wheel trailer, and with his new truck, his hauling opportunities were greatly increased. I believe that for awhile he contracted hauling logs full time.

      This was probably a major turning point in Marvin's business career. He had previously worked at small time jobs that he could drum up to stay in business. He had now reached a point where he had new heavy equipment that allowed him to expand into large business ventures.

      In 1935 he rented his father's sawmill and cut lumber which was hauled to Interstate Cooperage Company in Belhaven. Roy Jordan drove the truck and Marvin's uncle Sheridan who was visiting from Chicago frequently rode with Roy. This business seemed to be stable but the profit margin was small and left no room for mismanagement or error. The men worked hard during their ten hour days and there were no coffee breaks. Although the business was stable there was little money left for luxuries. As I recall Marvin did not own a car in 1935.

      I believe that about Oct. or Nov. 1935 Marvin joined his father and brother Harvey in a logging job near Williamston, N. C. As I remember the rainy season came and stayed on and on. Apparently there was little money made by anyone.

      Sometime in late 1936 or early 1937 his V-8 truck caught fire and was completely burned up. He managed to purchase another 1935 V-8 truck about the same as the one that was burned.

      In 1937 Marvin contracted to log a tract of timber near Camp Leach, which is in the Bath area. Most of the timber was in a very boggy swamp, making conventional logging completely impossible. Several experienced logging people were very doubtful that this tract could be logged for the price the lumber company was paying.

      Using an old Buick Motor and a large heavy duty winch and heavy cable Marvin was able to snake the trees to a central loading point where they were cut up and loaded on the truck. They were then hauled through the woods along a ridge to a creek where they were put overboard and rafted. When he undertook this job he knew that there were many obstacles and headaches to be encountered and he knew that he was taking a chance.

      He built what could be called tracks or runways about 12" to 18" above the bog for the truck to be driven on. Each track was about 1 to 1 1/2 feet wide requiring the driver to be on his toes to prevent running off.

      He also subcontracted some of the timber to a man who used a team of oxen.

      Again the crunch of the depression was still present. Prices paid by the mill for the logs were meager. Measurement of the board feet in the logs was also on the lean side, sometimes painfully so. Even a little less than honest.

      Once, while on this job his truck driver who was 15 bought a pair of gloves that had sporty gauntlets on them. One day when he was wheeling down the road through the woods, he came to a sharp turn. As he started to make the turn the gauntlet of his left glove caught on the door handle and he couldn't turn the steering wheel fast enough to make the turn. The left front fender hit a pine tree of about 6" in diameter and was left with a perfect imprint of the tree.

      Marvin was extremely displeased and issued instructions as to what to do with those gloves.

      The Camp Leach job was completed in the summer of 1937 and Marvin moved his equipment to a tract of timber in the New Holland area. The logs were cut and hauled to a canal near New Holland and put overboard to be chained together making a huge raft. Later while working this tract of timber he trucked the logs to Rose Bay Creek.

      This was in late 1937 and early 1938. Marvin had been in business for himself for about four years. Considering the jobs he took and the impact of the depression he would have to be called a successful operator. He worked very hard and did very many unconventional things. Most were successful and his ability to make things work were always enhanced through these experiences. Marvin worked hard and worked his men hard. He paid good wages and came up with their pay each week regardless of the circumstances.

      In late 1937 or early 1938 Marvin moved his operation to a tract near Bath. He contracted logging and delivery of the logs to the Wood Lumber Co. in Washington. Also in late 1937 or early 1938, Marvin bought a 1933 International truck that was a real joy to drive. It had lots of power and could haul a huge load of logs. It would take several miles to get into high gear (4th gear. In the thirties the gears of a truck were described as extra low, low, second, and high instead of 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.) The power it had made it a real pleasure.

      Once a contract hauler moved in with a new 1938 GMC truck. He was real proud of it and it looked pretty flashy. Along side this old International with the high cab and no streamlining grill in front of the radiator. One day both trucks were loaded and the GMC, with the cocky driver, tried to move out first. The ground was soft and he couldn't move. The old International moved around in front of him, and with its own full load of logs pulled him to the highway before he realized what was going on. There was no more bragging about the new truck. (I didn't like him anyhow because he tried to date my girl in High School)

      Like all logging jobs in the thirties, this job entailed long days of hard work and tight management. Breakdowns had to be avoided, and repairs had to be made on the job, sometimes after the end of the work day. On one occasion when the wheel bearings burned out of the trailer, Marvin spent a rainy Sunday afternoon melting babbit and repairing the trailer so that it would be ready to go at 7:00 A.M. the next morning.

      For a short time tires became a real problem. The heavy loads were taking toll and the tires were pretty well worn. Marvin bought tires at the junk yard for, sometimes, as low as a dollar apiece. Flats were occurring almost every load. On one occasion the inside tire on the trailer went flat. On entering the lumber yard the outside tire dropped off the ramp leaving all the load on the flat. That tire was completely chewed up in a few feet. Repairing and changing tires became a time consuming problem.

      After a relatively short period of this troublesome problem, Marvin bought an old Dodge truck that had six very sound 34x7 tires. He installed these tires on the International and that completely terminated the tire problem. (Happiness is a big load of logs with good tires.)

      Although these were hard times with lots of hard work no one seemed bitter or gloomy or complained a great deal.       Everyone worked hard, seemed to be cheerful and lived it up on Saturday. Sunday was a day of complete rest, well earned and enjoyed - unless there was repair work to be done to get the job going Monday morning.

      Since the payoff was in the amount of timber delivered to the mill, every truck load counted. The pressure was on to get that truck on the road and get it back for another load.

      The standard was four loads per day from the Bath area to Washington. Twenty loads per week, period. Any less and the profit was lowered proportionately. The distance to the mill was 17 miles. The truck was heavily loaded and it took about 3 miles to get rolling up to 35 to 40 miles per hour.

      Frequently, at a little place called White Post some one would pull out in the road and the driver had to start in the lower gears and work back up again. There were some hills near Washington that required the driver to work down to 2nd gear and then work back up again.

      To make this trip and load and unload in two and a half hours was pretty hard to do. Often it meant loading up just before quitting time at 6:00 and leaving early the next morning probably around 6:00 A.M. On one occasion the truck left with a load just before six and was just leaving Washington as it was getting dark. The driver pulled into a service station to avoid the police and tried to repair the lights. He could get tail lights on the truck to work but he couldn't get them to burn on the trailer (he was confused about the grounding wire). He had to drive back to Bath and leave the trailer. The police had spotted him and watched while he tried to install lights on the trailer. Although he left to return to Washington at 5:00 A.M. the next morning to get the trailer it was an unnecessary loss of time and affected the overall number of loads of logs delivered. There was little room for such incidents in the meeting of overhead expenses and it was a mistake not to happen again.

      During one rainy period the logging road became so soft the truck quickly mired down and frequently became stuck. This was a very serious problem because it meant shutdown or in the least put on much lighter loads. Either way it meant a loss of income. Marvin told Rudolph to hook up to the truck with the tractor and put it in 2nd gear. He told the truck driver to use 1st gear. He loaded the usual very large load of logs and told Rudolph "Hit it and don't stop until you get to the highway." He told the driver of the truck, "Keep pulling but don't ever let that chain get slack."

      They moved out, and in places the ruts were so deep, the mud came up on the running board, but the momentum kept the truck going. More important, the tractor pulling in high gear and the chain kept tight meant both vehicles were pulling all the time.

      This practice continued for several days without falling below the four loads per day or putting on smaller loads.

The tract of timber near Bath was logged off in the summer of 1938. Marvin moved his operation back to Hyde County, again in the New Holland area.

      Running these types of logging jobs entailed frequent relocation and the necessity to be near the job. Marvin built a mobile trailer and he and Lillie Mae lived in it throughout the depression. As in many places during the depression, there was no electricity, no running water, and no central heat. It was somewhat primitive but it was mobile and adaptable to the kind of use required in running a logging job.

      Some time in late 1938 or early 1939 Marvin rented a sawmill in Engelhard and went into the retail lumber business. This was a very difficult time. The town of Engelhard just could not support a retail lumber yard. Times were hard, money was extremely scarce and people just could not afford to build. Also logs were hard to get and hauling was expensive.

      This venture was not a success. The depression generated obstacles that no amount of hard work and good management could overcome.       Marvin moved back to Rose Bay with his equipment in the fall of 1939.

      There was a logging job in the Rose Bay area where he moved logs across a stretch of marsh to a creek to be rafted. This was s short job after which his logging business was temporarily shut down.

      He built a body on the back of his log truck and went around the county buying scrap iron. When he had a full load he took it to Norfolk where it was sold.

      The war had started in Europe at this time. Marvin applied for military service but was turned down because of physical reasons.

      He then went to work in a defense job where he stayed for three or four years after which he went back to the logging and lumber business where it grew to the corporation it is today.

      It all started with that 1930 one ton Chevrolet truck!



Mason Family Pages

Visit NCRoots.com & Beaufort County's Virtual Community

Diane Mason 2003