James Thomas (Tom) McAllister (1899–1990)

James Thomas (Tom) McAllister Sr., a longtime resident of Gurdon (Clark County), was an early twentieth-century southern Arkansas lumberman. In addition to selling lumber, he was a Knight Templar, a 33rd Degree Mason, a Shriner, a member of the Gurdon Chamber of Commerce, president of two Rotary Clubs, and the 1951 winner of the District Scouter Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

Tom McAllister was born on May 28, 1899, near Diehlstadt, Missouri, to Alexander Jackson McAllister and Addie Caroline Reynolds McAllister. His mother died shortly after his birth, so he was raised by his grandparents, who were tenant farmers in southeastern Missouri.

McAllister attended school through the tenth grade. His first job was working in Arkansas for the B. I. Graves Sawmill in Emon (Columbia County), a few miles south of what is now McNeil (Columbia County). McAllister soon entered Texarkana Business College to learn typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping. His next job was as a steno clerk for the D. C. Goff Company in De Queen (Sevier County). During this time, he took some correspondence business courses in salesmanship and accounting. As World War I had broken out, he made two efforts to enlist but was turned away because of his short stature.

On May 21, 1918, McAllister’s father, a locomotive engineer for the Cotton Belt Railroad, was killed in a train derailment while pulling a troop train (619th Aerial Squadron) near Garland (Miller County); seventeen others were injured, twelve of them soldiers.

McAllister accepted a position in the clerical department of the Cotton Belt on his nineteenth birthday. He remained there for four years and then accepted a position as secretary to the general manager of the Arkansas Short Leaf Lumber Company at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), a subsidiary of Long-Bell Lumber Company of Kansas City, Missouri. This company was the first Long-Bell company organized for the purpose of cutting hardwood. After five years in the office, he was transferred to operations in the oak flooring department as shipping clerk and assistant superintendent.

In 1928, the entire operation was closed down. Liquidation began under McAllister, who took over for W. H. Harrison, who was transferred to the Quitman Mill in Mississippi. At that time, Long-Bell Lumber Company owned around 100,000 acres of cut-over timberland in the state as well as a similar amount of renewable timber right deeds in southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana. McAllister inherited the responsibility of overseeing these properties. In late 1933 or early 1934, the Kansas City office turned over to McAllister the management of the lumber operations in addition to tax matters and other responsibilities of general management. During 1934, he added some 4,000 acres to their holdings through purchases of land and timber. McAllister was appointed general manager of the Helena (Phillips County) Oak Flooring Plant. Soon thereafter, this plant ceased operations, and McAllister’s responsibility was to liquidate the inventory, machinery, equipment, and real estate of that property, which was completed in 1937.

Long-Bell grew into one of the largest conglomerates of wood products of the era, with holdings in many states and under many subsidiary names. The company had a tract of about 19,000 acres of land well covered with a growing mixture of pine and hardwoods. In the early 1940s, McAllister was assigned to obtain orders for various items of these woods for production contract mills and reach a determination about harvesting the tract. However, no agreement was reached over development of that tract, and it was granted to the International Paper and Power Corporation. McAllister was soon called upon to assume joint management of the Sheridan (Grant County) and Doucette, Texas, (Fidelity Lumber Company) operations. The latter mill was closed after fifteen months, and McAllister was charged to liquidate the properties.

For health reasons, McAllister did not accept any other position he was offered by the Long-Bell Lumber Company (which was eventually sold to International Paper), and his services were terminated on December 31, 1945. In April 1948, McAllister became general manager of McKinney Lumber Company. McAllister developed this flooring plant into what was later called the Superb Oak Flooring Company, nationally known for its quality.

After McAllister left this company, he and his son-in-law, James V. Rippy Sr., formed the McAllister and Rippy Lumber Sales Company. After Rippy was killed in an auto accident with a log truck on June 19, 1959, in Sheridan, McAllister carried on with the business. After McAllister lost the ability to drive, his grandson James V. Rippy Jr. served as his driver for a few months until McAllister retired around 1977.

McAllister and his wife, Clara Leigh Hicks McAllister, were married for sixty-four years, until her death in 1984, and they had four children together. McAllister died from heart failure in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on May 25, 1990, and is buried alongside his wife in Graceland Cemetery in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).

For additional information:
Annual Reports. The Long-Bell Lumber Corporation. Kansas City, Missouri. Dec.1933; Dec. 1935.

Brown, Nelson C. The American Lumber Industry. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1923.

Chapman, Herman W. Forest Management. Albany, NY: J. B. Lyon Company, 1931.

Defebaugh, James. “History of the Lumber Industry of America.” American Lumberman 2 (1906).

Plan of Reorganization. The Long-Bell Lumber Company. Kansas City, Missouri, 1935.

Smith, Kenneth L. Sawmill: The Story of Cutting the Last Great Virgin Forest East of the Rockies. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1986.

“What the Lumbermen West of the Mississippi Are Doing.” Lumber Trade Journal 69 (April 1, 1916).

“Who’s in the Southern Pine Association.” National Lumberman 56 (July 1, 1915): 39.

Zon, Raphael, and W. M. Sparhawk. Forest Resources of the World. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1933.

Chris T. McAllister
Eastern Oklahoma State College 

James V. Rippy Jr.
Conway, Arkansas

Last Updated: 12/11/2018

Entry