Ross Floyd Martin

(1888-1983)

A biography as remembered by his son, Robert D. Martin, Sr.

written November 1994

 

ROSS FLOYD MARTIN was born a twin with Bliss on November 6, 1888, in Sycamore, IL. (Bliss died in infancy on June 7, 1889.) Harry, an older brother was 15 months old at the time. The family of Charles F. Martin and Anna Martin lived in a small white clapboard house on Main St. close to center of Sycamore. When Ross' grandfather, Harry Martin, died in 1895, Charles was the assistant postmaster of the town.

Ross remembered much of his childhood and readily told stories to his children and grandchildren. Some of those recalled are:

Graduation from high school came in 1906 and for the next three years Ross made two or three trips to the northwest trying to decide on a vacation and make a few dollars at the same time. It is known he worked in the orchards near Medford, OR, for the best part of a year during this period.

By 1909 Ross had a position with P.L. Pratt in the Central Building in downtown Seattle. It is believed that P.L. Pratt had some connection with the shipping business. Several times Ross commented on how much he enjoyed going to the 1909 AlaskaYukon Pacific exposition in Seattle. The exposition was on the site where the University of Washington campus now stands. Around 1910 Ross began work at the Pacific Coast Steamship Co. offices at 923 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma, WA. Ross lived with other bachelors in a boarding house on the northwest corner of No. 6th and Broadway. He was an average tennis player but greatly enjoyed the game with friends. In 1916, the Pacific Coast Steamship Co. transferred Ross to their Seattle offices where he held the position of cashier.

On June 19, 1917, he joined the U.S. Army in Seattle and reported to Fort Lawton in that city. He was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, as part of the "Seattle Contingent Company A & B" and was later posted to the base hospital at Camp Dodge, Iowa, where he assisted the ear, eye and throat doctors. As a sergeant first class he was honorably discharged at Camp Lewis, WA, on April 8, 1919, and returned to civilian life.

There is not much known about Ross' employment immediately after W.W.I. His social life is much more visible as he courted and married Geneva "Neva" Helene Doud on November 9, 1921. The marriage took place at the home of Leslie and Flora Doud, the bride's parents, at 393 No. Mason Street in Tacoma. Ross' brother, Harry, had met and married Neva's younger sister, Gladys, in 1915 and the two couples enjoyed playing tennis and socializing. Their strong bond continued through the entire adult lives.

In early 1921, Harry and Ross were awarded a timber cutting contract on Fort Lewis land. They bought a small sawmill and installed it just off Highway 99 above the Nisqually Valley. Remains of the installation were visible from the highway through the 1950s. Ross and Neva moved from Tacoma to Olympia, WA, around 1922. The timber contract ran out in 1923 and Harry and Ross built a log buying mill east of Olympia at Fir Tree, WA. The mill apparently was not economically viable and despite infusions of cash by Neva and Gladys' father, Leslie C. Doud, was forced to fold up in 1927. The depression of 1925 probably hastened the closure.

Neva and Ross were never to have children of their own, presumably because of Ross' male twin syndrome. Consequently, in June of 1925, they adopted a baby boy and named him Robert Doud Martin. The adoption was made through the family physician, a Dr. Hess. Dr. Hess' nurse was also instrumental in the arrangement.

In 1927, Ross was employed as a log grader and scaler in the Elbe, WA, area. The family had moved back to Tacoma and bought a small bungalow on No. 36th Street. Ross stayed at the hotel in Elbe and came home on weekends. In 1928 Ross went to work for his fatherinlaw at his sawmill on the Tacoma waterfront near the Tacoma Smelter. The Defiance Lumber Co. mill was one of the largest in the northwest and had been very profitable. However, the depression of 1929 rocked the worldwide lumber consumption and Defiance fell on hard times. For many years the Defiance had counted on good volume sales in southern California to take substantial production volume. In fact, Leslie Doud owned interests in several steamships over the years to insure transportation availability for Defiance's product. Sales in California were made on a commission basis through Tacoma Lumber Sales Co., owned by Arthur Pemberthy, and supported by several Tacoma sawmills. To increase sales, Leslie Doud sent Ross to California to work in Pemberthy's Los Angeles office, but to sell only Defiance Lumber. The family moved in to a small auto court in Hollywood, CA, in 1930. They later moved in to a rented house in Glendale, CA. With the decline in the housing market there was no equity left in the Tacoma house so it was turned over to the bank. Ross and Neva were further hurt financially when their California bank closed its doors and they lost whatever checking and savings account funds they had deposited. The lumber market was so depressed that Ross couldn't pay his way and Leslie's health was fading; he needed help at the Defiance and so in 1932 the family returned to Tacoma. Neva's mother, Flora, had died in 1931 so Leslie sold his big house on Mason St. and bought a house with Ross and Neva at 3812 No. Proctor Street. Soon after, Leslie's health problems were diagnosed as ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and he passed away in 1934. The major good news during this period was when Ross and Neva adopted a baby girl in late 1932. She was named Anne Doud Martin and again arrangements were through Dr. Hess.

With Leslie Doud's death, ownership of the Defiance Lumber Co. passed to son Lee (51%), to son Donald (12.25 %) and the rest divided equally between daughters Neva, Lola and Gladys (12.25% each). During the 1934/1939 period, ownership meant very little as there had been and were no profits to share. Lee Doud was president of the Defiance and was in charge of finances and log procurement. Donald Doud was sales manager and Ross was the mill operating manager. Of the 27 sawmills operating in Tacoma in 1928 only 8 survived to be operating in 1940. And of those, only the Defiance never shut down in the 12 year period. Hindsight says they probably should have but their decision at the time kept Defiance in an operating mode.

The mill provided summer jobs for cousins, Lee, David and Robert but no other relative had permanent employment. Ross' salary during the depression was $75 per month, which was very adequate for the period. Summers were spent in a rented cabin at Burton Beach on Vashon Island. Ross commuted to work by ferry almost every day in his 1930 Ford Model "A" coupe that he had bought to sell lumber in California. The Model "A" provided good transportation until 1940 when he bought a used 1937 Buick sedan. Leslie Doud's 1932 Buick 2 door was kept and driven by Neva so the Martins were an unusual two car family. As war broke out in Europe in 1939, the lumber demand and prices began to increase and profits returned to the Defiance.

During W.W.II, Ross' duties at the Defiance (now the Defiance Mill Co., a partnership) were expanded to include the operation of the wooden steamship "Whitney Olson" (purchased in 1941) and company logging operations in the Morton, WA, area. Times were good for the industry and the change to a partnership reduced the heavy taxation imposed on wartime industry.

In 1947, Ross and Neva sold the Proctor St. house for $17,000 (having paid $2,700 in 1932) and bought a house on 3 1/2 acres of undeveloped land with 165 ft. of waterfront on Gravely Lake in Lakewood, WA. They paid $30,000 for the house and property and Ross, with strong memories of the depression, was not overjoyed with taking on such a large mortgage. The 12401 Gravely Lake drive address was next door to the old H.F. Alexander summer estate. Alexander is remembered as being the giant in Pacific Coast shipping. The property in 1947 was owned and occupied full time by Mr. and Mrs. Corydon Wagner and their 3 children.

The Defiance mill ceased production in 1950 and was completely liquidated by the end of 1951. The lack of logs was the "official" reason for closure, however, it is known there was little will to continue and the prospects of distribution of proceeds hastened the decision. Ross was 63 and had visions of retiring to his house on the lake. However, after 8 or 9 months it was readily apparent that both Ross and Neva were happier with Ross out of the house and working. He went to his friend of 30 years, Ralph Dickman, who owned one of the few remaining lumber mills on the Tacoma waterfront, to seek employment. Ralph found a place for him but it was much tougher maintaining a working relationship than it had been with their social contacts. When Don Buchanan asked Ross to help him out for a few months at his sawmill in Olympia, Ross jumped at the chance. It was a good move because the "few months" turned into 12 years and probably contributed to a great deal of Ross' longevity. The long drive from Lakewood to Olympia in the winter, with rain and fog frequent, finally got to him and at age 75 he retired for good. Neva had plans for him and until her death in 1969, Ross spent full time working for her to change the 3 1/2 acres into a flowering show place.

Charles Martin, Ross' father died in Tacoma in 1923. His mother, Anna, lived on in Tacoma for several years and then moved back to Sycamore to be with her family. Anna had not wanted Ross to marry and took out her bitterness on Neva. Anna would not attend the wedding and never spoke to Neva the rest of her life. As the operating manager of the Defiance, Ross had the responsibility of routing the transcontinental rail car shipments leaving the mill. The Northern Pacific Railroad was the originating carrier and also ran their passenger trains through Sycamore on the way from Tacoma to Chicago. No Northern Pacific passenger trains stopped in Sycamore, IL, except one eastbound and one westbound train every year. Those stops were to let off and pick up Ross on his annual visit to his mother, family and friends. Even though Anna died in 1948 and the Defiance stopped production in 1950, Ross' arrangement with the Northern Pacific and his visits to Sycamore continued every year until the Northern Pacific went out of the passenger business in the late 1950s. After that Ross' visits were on the Milwaukee Road to Chicago and a bus back to Sycamore.

The post war years (1945-1969) were good to Ross; he had not lost a relative to combat in W.W.II and his great affection for family and friends was reciprocated and gave him many happy moments. During this time he:

Neva's death in 1969 from ALS changed Ross' world forever. He sold the lake home in 1970 and moved to Robert's farm on the Gig Harbor peninsula. With Robert's divorce and move in to Gig Harbor, Ross followed along and took an apartment where he lived until he died there in 1983 at the age of 94.

His children and grandchildren were his total delight in his later years. It was sad to watch all his generation pass away in front of his eyes until he was the only one left. He ate every dinner at Robert and Pam's (Robert's new wife) which gave him the opportunity to react to current events and express various points of view. It was always a challenge to make sure he didn't inflict some of his late 19th century biases on late 20th century offspring. Ross' near 100 years saw changes that must have been extremely difficult to adjust to. Take the speed of man for instance. When Ross was born a man could go 100 mph on a steam locomotive, that was as fast as man could go. When Ross died man was going 18,000 mph in space vehicles. How well did Ross adjust? Probably the best way to answer that is to relate that the State of Washington requires all drivers, once they reach 90 years of age, to take the entire written and driving test over again, and to do it every two years thereafter. Ross had his driver's license renewed when he was 90 and again when he was 92. He passed all the tests.

 

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