Volume XXVI · Spring 1971 · Number 3
"A Different Sort of World"
--FRANCIS S. MACOMBER (1867-1956), Rochester Attorney
Many persons knew George Eastman better than I, but I have been repeatedly asked what sort of man he was outside of business by those to whom he was merely a name. Though I had, of course, known George Eastman casually, it was in the late fall of 1903 that our real acquaintance began. He was then fifty years of age, and had just begun to show a yearning to embark upon out-of-doors recreational activities. He developed an enthusiasm--a real passion, one might say--for shooting and camping.
My reminiscences of George Eastman are based upon, but not limited to, three trips to British Columbia, three to Wyoming, one to the Higher Sierras in California (all of which were pack-train trips), one to North Dakota, one by yacht to the West Indies and South America, and probably a dozen to his plantation in North Carolina. If I did not assimilate some veritable notions about George Eastman's character during those hundreds of days of more or less close communion, my time was wastefully spent. At least my impressions are not hearsay.
He had just bought the North Carolina place of some 2,000 acres and had it stocked with quail. They were plentiful, so the daily bags of our catch were reasonably substantial. There is no question that the new experience gave him great enjoyment; and I am certain he loved the place more than any other possession he ever had. The lodge was centered in a beautiful pine forest--a place far from the whirling world of business meetings, telephones, railroads, and all of the type of things that encumbered and complicated his life in Rochester. Buying the property in North Carolina was probably a tangible expression of his recognition of a different sort of world--a simpler, more rugged sort, one worthy of investigation. This was a first step, a natural one, which led to the journeys he took to far-away places in the mountains of the Northwest and to Africa.
At the very beginning of the series of our travels together I discovered he was an ideal host, one who made his companions feel it was their party as much as his. Of course, he fixed our ultimate destination; but enroute, or in camp, the enjoyment of his guests seemed paramount to him. For instance, on a trip to North Dakota where we were to spend time shooting elk and then prairie chickens, G.E. developed a painful abscess which halted all of his activities with us. To our insistence that we abandon chicken shooting and return home, he refused: He lay for a week in bed while the rest of us roamed the Dakota prairie without him. Each time as we returned to the car he greeted us with interested inquiries about our day, without engendering in us a feeling that he was making a sacrifice for our entertainment.
In California, he climbed Mt. Whitney (14,000 feet, the highest peak in the U.S.)--a feat, certainly, worthy of a much younger man. To make the ascent, we had ridden to an elevation of 10,000 feet; but from then, until we reached the summit, the climb was made under our own power over broken rocks and boulders. He had become an excellent shot, particularly with the rifle; and, greatly due to his prowess, we seldom lacked fresh meat. However, I may have contributed the most edible of the meat items by managing to shoot a mountain goat who, not provided with proverbial tin cans, was fat and tender. Under G. E.'s expert ministration, we ate that goat under many disguises. It finally ended its career in a stew with dumplings, the latter through the medium of the coffee pot as a steamer. Before its ultimate disappearance, the goatee which I had started at G.E.'s suggestion in commemoration of the event, had assumed quite respectable, if not artistic, proportions.
Neither "The Lodge" in North Carolina nor any of the numerous plantation buildings, had a drop of paint on them. He insisted that time and the weather must do their own embellishment. There was no automobile on the place, except those owned by some of his tenants. Transportation to and from Enfield, twelve miles distant, was by buckboard and a pair of horses. His male guests, in order to eat, had to work. Indeed, their life there was far from idle. We all followed G.E.'s example and exhortation. He, however, was not the typical boss, standing by and assisting only by words of encouragement; he was an active boss-carpenter, plumber, and mason, with the artful ingenuity of being able to provide work at all times for idle hands. We put on new roofs, installed sanitary conveniences and plumbing fixtures. We mixed cement. G.E.'s greatest achievement, perhaps, was the construction of an abattoir for hogs, built upon such an efficient and artistic scale that he gleefully informed us that it was currently rumored there was not a hog in the county that would not esteem it an honor to be slaughtered in and by it!
His nearly burglar-proof tool chest at the lodge, which he invented and constructed, consisted solely of a bare white wall of a passage-way where all tools were hung. Each item had its outline drawn in blue chalk. A blank space instantly struck the eye and precipitated an inquiry. Woe to the culprit who had neglected to replace a tool!
We were true novices--or, in the jargon of the guides who had us earmarked by our new and shiny equipment, "dudes"--when we first went out camping and hunted in the West. Although we never fully rose above that state, gradually it was admitted that our camp conduct was fair and that our equipment to be of more than passing interest. G.E. had no intention of going half-way in his pursuit of this new type of life, however, and he made some real contributions to this rough, outdoor existence. Considering that until those Western trips G.E. had seldom, if ever, slept out of doors, it was amazing how he thought of such a thing as cutting off the projecting ends of the pack saddles to prevent damage to the packs. A small item, yes, but revolutionary; a violation of the traditions of the trade, starting from Lewis and Clark--but G.E.'s new method was adopted. To organize the movement of equipment every piece of it was numbered from one to ten, with each load weighing 150 pounds--the accepted weight. With all of the pieces of the same number ready at hand, each horse carried its allotted load, and no longer were there packs or horses left over. One has to admit that G.E.'s contribution to camping cannot be disdained.
We always made our own camp and did all of our own cooking. We were organized as chef, cook, steward, and general utility man. Needless to say that G.E. was the chef, elected by acclamation on his claim that he was the only one who could qualify for that high office. I was only the cook, and it was thoroughly impressed upon me that in the order of beings, the abyss separating my job from the chef's was bottomless! I did not mind, for the chef was a superior type of the real article, successfully baking three-layer cakes, bread (with a yeast of his own concoction), fried cakes, and even Hollandaise sauce for fish. Obviously, on none of the trips did any of us come near to starving.
I also recall that under the chef's personal control were two contrivances, known respectively as the pantry and the kitchen. The kitchen, normally containing assortments of food for immediate use, was also, when its demountable legs were attached, the kitchen table and mixing board. The pantry, containing pots, pans, and other utensils, was more than difficult to pack; in fact, it was impossible unless one knew the combination (no one but G.E. did, and he held the secret inviolate). Our various attempts to pack it proved futile, for we always found that when we had completely filled it there were items left out. We tried to get the chef to change his first name to Houdini. Alas, he did not; but he was tremendously pleased at the implication--and he fully admitted he merited it.
Our equipment, through constant improving as the result of experience, became a model of efficiency and utility. The credit for this belongs almost entirely to G.E. The same ingenuity and attention to detail he had given to business served him well here. Take the matter of eggs, for instance: They were packed in boxes of a dozen in the springy husks of buckwheat. Then the boxes were put into a stiff container, which in turn fitted exactly into a heavy canvas pannier. Not an egg was ever broken, due to this careful packing, prior to the cracking necessary for dropping them into the fry-pan. The butter, wrapped in cellophane, was packed in small canvas bags and then the bags were fitted into a larger, heavy canvas container. This latter one was then placed in an insulated wooden frame. Though the days were often quite warm, the butter kept in perfect condition because its container had been hung up during the previous night for freezing in the sub-zero temperature. Air mattresses, on which our bed rolls were placed, were certainly inadequate protection against the cold ground. This frigid situation was remedied by placing full length sheepskins on the mattresses. The sheepskins served dually, for they were also put on the horses for protecting the tents and other items we wanted to guard more carefully. I could go on ad infinitem. But all of this illustrates how G.E. applied his business techniques, those relating to efficiency, to the task of minimizing the difficulties of camp life.
Our camping trips revealed one side of G.E.'s character many may not have known about--his total fearlessness. This was demonstrated in many ways: During the yachting trip we normally slept on cots on the lower after-deck when we reached the warmer climes. One night we ran into the edge of a West Indian hurricane. When the storm hit, and water began coming aboard, all but G.E. went to the staterooms. Another time--in North Carolina--a spirited horse G.E. was riding ran away with him. (He had been warned repeatedly of this horse's uncertain habits, but this didn't seem to worry him.) By this time, G.E. was a good rider, so he wasn't thrown; but he couldn't stop the beast. Therefore, he headed the frenzied animal straight down the road towards the closed stable doors. Naturally, the horse stopped when he reached them. When the rest of us caught up with the runaway horse and G.E., he did not seem to understand why we had been so excited and upset.
This lack of fear, coupled with a bit of stubbornness, did not always leave him unscathed; and twice he got himself into trouble and some injury. Both occasions were while crossing bad places on side-hill trails where, due to slide-rock, the rest of us (including the guides) preferred to walk and lead our horses. G.E., however, scoffed at this idea and solemnly asserted the theory that, inasmuch as his horse had four points of contact to his two the chance of slipping or falling was reduced one-half. While the results did not substantiate the theory, he always insisted that the theory was sound. Perhaps it was--but his sore leg certainly was not.
Closely coupled with that absence of fear was G.E.'s apparent refusal to worry. Once, when we were leaving the Gros-Ventre mountains in Wyoming, we made camp close to the Snake River. That night, a violent wind, along with sleet and hail, assaulted us so vehemently that we feared every possession would be swept into the river. Struggling hard and swiftly against the elements, wet through and through, we finally got everything moored together to prevent any further loss. We breathed a sigh of relief. Then we discovered G.E. still abed, albeit wet, and inquired of him if he hadn't been worried about his property. He replied, in substance, he had worried so much in years gone by that there was none left to expend on a little thing like saving a few of his possessions. Besides, he added, we seemed to be making a good job of it.
An interesting sidelight, revealed during the course of one of our trips, was the following: We were cruising along the northern coast of Haiti, examining the water charts with the captain, and he mentioned we were near one of the finest harbours of the western Atlantic, known as Samana Bay. G.E. became interested immediately and said, for personal reasons, he would like to see it. Turning to me, he told me he had not thought of Samana Bay for many years; that we would probably not be on this cruise had he gone to it in the manner he had proposed forty years before. Amplifying this astonishing statement he said that during Grant's administration it was proposed to make Samana Bay a great naval station. The government had advertised for young men, and the idea had appealed to him. He made his preparations to go, and someone advised him to take a camera to record this interesting venture. G.E.'s efforts to gather the necessary equipment made him intrigued with the art of photography. But he also discovered that it involved many pounds of glass and no end of chemicals, for dry plates had not come into commercial use. He would also need a light-proof tent and many other items. As he continued with these preparations he became more and more convinced that something--he knew not what--was wrong with the whole idea. He abandoned the quest for adventure in a new land; and, remaining at home, the inspirational seed for his vast business was planted. Yet, forty years later he was to see that land which was not to be his fortune. How fateful, I thought!
These numerous trips I made with G.E. during the course of many years gave me a unique opportunity to observe a great man at his ease. G.E. was a man misunderstood by many, a man whom the world, in its limited knowledge, passed such varying judgements. My memory of him, recollected from events which occurred under all conditions, evokes warmth; for I came to know him not only as a royal host and companion, but as a friend.