Teddy Collins
Old Time Tales of Warren County


Teddy Collins

A plump bay horse with shaggy foretop comes leisurely along a narrow woodland road drawing a light two-wheeled cart. In the cart a man of middle size wearing a blue shirt, jeans trousers frayed and stained from much contact with the forest, a pair of well worn leather boots, into the tops of which the jeans are tucked unevenly. A bit of hazel branch with a couple of leaves left on the end is in the man's cordy, brown hand; he slaps the shaft of the cart with the switch, thinking, meditating. Out-hanging stalks of blackberry bushes brush the slim spoked wheels as the slow moving vehicle makes its way along the sandy road. Long shafts of yellow sun slant down from interstices in the tree tops high overhead. Beneath the slouched hat of the man in the cart is a short brush of brown beard, a fine face with keen, intelligent eyes, deepset. The man smiles to himself as he drives along behind the deliberate bay horse. He pulls a sweet apple from his coat pocket and takes a hearty bite, munches meditatively as the cart slowly proceeds. The high wheels pick up clots of soft sand, carry them up and half way 'round, drop them back into the road. The long ends of the lines are looped below the slatted bottom of the cart.

The bay horse reaches over for a mouthful of low maple leaves, stumbles, recovers himself with a plunge of the head, trots a few steps, settles back into his deliberate, tail-switching walk. The man in the cart has not appeared to notice the bay stumble, he was studying some particularly tall, straight pines on a hillside just then.

The man in the blue shirt hums a tune, a good old Methodist hymn, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; O what a foretaste of glory divine." Horse, man and cart pass 'round a turn in the road, the horse's feet drum hollowly on a little plank bridge over a run. Suddenly the man straightens, looks about him, touches the round rump of the horse lightly with the hazel switch, "Get on there McGinty, get on there, pick up your feet, we've got to be getting home. By gum, McGinty, you're getting slower every day, nearly dinner time and only to Pine Creek !" The bay puts his ears forward and goes ahead at a trot. A sudden curve in the woods road obscures the traveler.

Who is he? Some poor, clearing farmer with fine breeding back of that intelligent face? Just possibly a poor country preacher whose sparse collection plates make some other sort of work necessary for the support of his family. Or, if you had failed to glance closely under the slouch hat, "Probably a man who works in the woods."

It was just a typical glimpse of Teddy Collins, multimillionaire lumberman, rigid Methodist, philanthropist who gave more money to the cause of foreign missions than any other individual in America. While he jogged by in his leisurly two wheeled cart perhaps a Bishop or a College President or two were waiting to see him at his home which was on a knoll overlooking the tiny village of Nebraska, where was one of Collins' mills.

Teddy Collins never lived in Warren County but he did live not far from the line, in Forest County. And his banking and other business connections in Warren County were so large and numerous he was a well known figure in Warren.

Many believe that the name "Teddy," which Collins undoubtedly enjoyed being called, was a colloquial combination of his initials, "T. D." But Collins' mother called him "Teddy" when the philanthropist-to-be was a small boy. The name stuck to him through life, or perhaps he stuck to the name. At any rate there are proofs that Collins never resented being called by the nickname and plenty of evidence that he enjoyed it.

The train on the railroad he built from Nebraska to Sheffield is still called "Teddy."

Truman D. Collins, one of the most picturesque figures among the lumbermen who reaped the great harvest of the trees in Warren and Forest Counties, was born in Cortland County, New York, in 1831, the son of Jabez C. and Adeline Collins. His father was a farmer in moderate circumstances. The youthful Teddy had the sort of raising that has produced practically all America's men who carved out a big success and left their imprint on the times. Teddy walked four miles to attend school in the little log school house, could capably milk a cow when he was eight years old, borrowed every book in the neighborhood and read them winter evenings by the light of tallow dips made by his mother. At fourteen he could handle a team and plow as straight a furrow as any man in Cortland County.

The Cortland Academy was his aim and he attained it. A fate, with great things in store for the lad saved him from a higher education. Like Abraham Lincoln, one of his first paid jobs was that of carrying the chain for a surveyor. In 1853 he came to Forest County to embark in the lumber business. His first job in the big woods along the Allegheny was that of a common laborer at sixty cents per day.

There was a wonderful stand of pine timber in the vicinity of Whig Hill, Charley Chase who had estimated more timber than any other man in Western Pennsylvania, said there was no finer in the region. Collins set up a small mill near Whig Hill and began to gain experience in the lumber business. His name was destined to become known from coast to coast. His generous gifts to missions might almost be said to girdle the globe.

There was "gold in them thar hills," also in the valleys and on the flats. It was green gold that grew everywhere in the beautiful big pines and hemlocks, the prized soft woods which went first to market from Warren and Forest Counties. Collins glimpsed the gold in the yellow sawdust his saws flung out from the aromatic trunks of the great pines, he visioned the value of the tall, virgin forests whose green glory gave to Forest County its name. He saw markets expanding, the country growing, uses for lumber increasing on every side. His faith in the future was absolute and he bought and bought, first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of acres of choice timber as his resources grew.

Collins built a combined sawmill and grist mill at Beaver Valley, also a store. He often worked among his men. There was not enough water in the creek to furnish power for both the sawmill and the gristmill, Collins would work late at night grinding grain, or get up very early in the morning and rtin the gristmill till it was time to start the sawmill. And "very early in the morning" in those days meant soon after midnight.

Teddy Collins believed in hard work and plenty of it. He was a bundle of driving energy and expected every other man to be. They will tell you, some of them, around Tionesta and Nebraska and Kelletville, that Collin's men worked long hours, they will tell you he never had a regular payday, which was not true, and that his men had to wait for their money till such time as the big boss was good and ready to pay.

They will tell you he was thrifty to the extent of having his farm animals which died of natural causes, skinned, to save the hides. There's a story attached to this practice of Teddy Collins' of having the horse or cow that died on his premises relieved of its hide. An old Irishman who had worked for Collins for years was laid up in bed, a very sick man. He must have lain there reflecting on his condition and the fact that he had long been laboring for Collins, just like his horses, almost Collins' property he must be, like his cow. The priest came to see the old Irishman as he lay in bed. "Father," inquired the patient, "D'ye think likely if I doie that Teddy will skin me?"

Collins liked to ride his own rafts down the river to Pittsburgh and long after he was a man of wealth mingled with his men like one of the crew. Many a trip he made to the smoky city on a raft, wearing his famous leather boots, blue shirt and slouch hat. With Collins aboard, profanity among the man had to be held down to the minimum, he didn't like it. After he joined the Methodist church at a revival meeting, conducted in the little school house, he discouraged swearing among his men as much as possible in a lumber camp. Once he came on one of his teamsters stuck with a log he was skidding out of the woods. The driver was cursing a blue streak, damming the horses, the log and things in general.

"Tut, tut," reproved Collins, stepping from behind a tree. "It's no use your asking the Lord to damn a horse. Better fasten those grabs lower down, pull the horses to the left, and ask the Lord to help you."

How Teddy Collins came to join the Methodist church is a story interesting and picturesque. In Western Pennsylvania, preaching here and there in small country churches, was a tall, lanky young preacher by the name of Reverend Hicks. Angular, utterly lacking in poise or presence, Reverend Hicks was not very successfud with the backwoods congregations to which he was sent. Came the day, when Methodist Conference assembled in Pittsburgh, the body meeting for the purpose of allotting preachers to new fields, filling vacancies, making changes. And when the assignments were read out the good Bishop hesitated, cleared his throat, twiddled his gold watch chain and said he much regretted to announce that the committee on pulpits had been unable to find a church for the Reverend Hicks, there was, in fact, no place for him.

From among the pews the figure of Rev. Hicks arose, trembling. His voice had a desperate eagerness which pierced every listener. "Gentlemen," he said, "send me somewhere, anywhere. I must preach. I must have a church. I must give my life for the Lord."

The committee retired. Such a plea could not be denied. They must find something for Rev. Hicks. They did, it owas something like the story of "The Little Church Around The Corner." They sent Hicks to preach in the remote woods of Forest County where he could give his life for the Lord freely, very freely. The Bishops little guessed that this charitable move of sending Rev. Hicks to some sort of a place in which to preach, rather than leaving him out entirely, was to be the means of bringing into the church a man who would give more money to their mission boards than any other individual in all the land. "God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform." Doubtless He moved the Bishops to send Rev. Hicks to Forest County where Teddy Collins, the coming millionaire, was all ready to receive him.

An Old Time Revival

Dim little oil lamps hung in iron backets on the walls, sent their soft yellow rays out through the small window panes of the little log schoolhouse at Beaver Valley. It was a night in early spring, the forests dripping, deep mud making travel on the road all but impossible. There was to be "preachin"' in the schoolhouse, it was revival meeting, had been going on a week with good attendance. Men and women sat on the crude school benches. On the the small blackboard in blue and white chalk were the words, "Jesus Saves." Men had brought lanterns, turned them out and put them on the floor beside their seats. The figure of Rev. Hicks leaning over a small lamp which stood beside his bible, cast a strange shadow on the wall and ceiling. The room was filled, men stood up behind the rear seats, others stood on the raised platform outside the door, catching some words of the sermon now and then when the door opened. Women wore calico and shawls, a few had paisley shawls that reached almost to their feet. All the men wore boots. The only white collar in the place was on the neck of the preacher. It was real religion. Rev. Hicks, unpolished though he might be, was a real exhorter. There was power in his sermons, power born of sincerity. He was a salesman with the greatest thing in the world to sell, he believed in his line. This night he preached on the parable of the loaves and fishes.

He was full of vehemence, he reached out his arms to the little congregation sitting close before him. He pounded the table making the oil dance in the glass bowl of the lamp. He spoke earnestly, low and long, they said afterward he never before preached quite so powerful a sermon. There was no organ, the choir sang without accompaniment, the congregation joined in. Hymn after hymn of invitation was sung, the Rev. Hicks pacing the platform, mourners beginning to go forward and kneel at the long bench that stretched across the front of the little schoolhouse.

"Jesus is tenderly calling thee home-Calling to-day, calling to-day; Why from the sunshine of love wilt thou roam Farther and farther away?

"Call - - ing to-day - - Call - - ing to-day!"

It was heart-singing, there was not a trained voice in the schoolhouse. Rev. Hicks had done something many a man preaching in broadcloth from a velvet carpeted pulpit has failed to do, he had touched the hearts of his hearers, made them soul-hungry. The words of the hymns voiced their feelings, they wanted to sing. As the last stanza of one hymn died out another was raised.

"There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins, And sinners plung'd beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains; -

The singing was hypnotic, men and women looked straight ahead as they sang the familiar words of the hymns, their paper bound song books unopened in their hands.

"Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling. Calling for you and for me."

The little congregation in the schoolhouse was gripped in the spell of emotional fervor, it was religion beautiful in simplicity. No pealing organ, no vaulted nave, no gold and purple windows, no velvety aisles. The men and women in the cheap, common clothes worn by backwoods country folk, coarse boots and shoes muddy from the March roads,-singing hymns after Rev. Hicks' strong revival sermon that night in Beaver Valley among the great, shadowy woods of Forest County.

"Just as I am! without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me, And that thou bidst me come to Thee, 4 lamb of God! I come 11 come !"

The mourner's bench was filling up, men and women knelt side by side, some were old members of the church, others were "seeking." Between the hymns, whispered prayers, a deep "Amen" from some broad-shouldered, kneeling man. As Rev. Hicks moved back and forth among the mourners, bent over them and spoke low words, his shadow played on walls and ceilings, sometimes darkened the blue and white chalked words on the blackboard, "Jesus Saves." When silence fell for a moment, there was the soft crackle of flames in the big wood stove. The hymns kept coming, raised by any sitter in the congregation.

"I hear Thy welcome voice, That calls me, Lord, to Thee, For cleansing in Thy precious blood That flowed on Calvary.

"I am coming Lord, Coming now to Thee! Wash me, cleanse me in the blood That flowed on Calvary."

Teddy Collins sitting on an aisle seat in the midst of the singing congregation arose and walked forward to the mourner's bench, knelt there among the hard-handed woodsmen who worked for him. Next evening he joined the Methodist church, became one of the regular congregation of Rev. Hicks. It is not to be inferred that this was Collins' first contact with religion. As a boy he had been much influenced by a Presbyterian minister. But he joined a church for the first time this night at Beaver Valley. As for Rev. Hicks, the preacher who had been sent to the backwoods, "The stone which the builders refused has become the headstone of the corner."

While the revival meetings in the little log schoolhouse at Beaver Valley continued, the hot sun beat down on African jungles, on the heated plains of India. Nor did the naked ones in these untutored lands on t'other side the world, guess that something had happened in Forest County, Pennsylvania, that would affect their lives, bring to them white missionaries from a far country, who would build churches and schools, bring medicines, and alter, for many, the whole course of their lives. But it was even so.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 219-228: Old Time Tales of Warren County; Meadville, Pa.: Press of Tribune Pub. Co., 1932


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