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#5258: LONNIE DUNN , THIRD OWNER OF THE DAUPHIN PLANTATION (fwd)
From: Perdue and Persinos <email@example.com>
Key Words: Fort Liberte Dauphin Plantation
LONNIE DUNN , THIRD OWNER OF THE DAUPHIN PLANTATION
During the 1950's, the world market price for sisal fiber declined; in
1958 it began to rise and peaked in 1962-63. Then, it declined again to
6 cents per pound in 1966 and hit a new low in 1970 of 4 1/4 cents per
pound, less than half the production cost. Emil Girard, Plantation
Dauphin Comptroller from 1963 to 1966, noted that "the warehouses were
full of sisal and I didn't want to go bankrupt with them." During a
vacation in Canada he gave his CV to another firm and landed a job.
"They were losing money. I had to leave; I had a career." "African
countries began producing sisal and we had trouble selling our
product". And there were corruption problems. The Plantation had
ordered wheels for the rail cars from Germany and the shipping boxes
arrived empty. To gain access to imports there was a telephone number
they had to call to arrange to pay a bribe to obtain the shipment. "They
were looking for money all the time."
Girard went on to say, "Life on the Plantation was becoming
uncomfortable. There were problems with the government because they
thought we were making a profit. Tonton Macoutes replaced our watchmen
at the gates. Lungwitz had radio contact with the American Embassy each
day to assure it that Americans on the Plantation were OK". Tonton
Macoutes were surrounding us. The airport was closed. Barrels were
placed on the runway."
In 1970 the Clark brothers sold the Plantation to Lonnie Dunn, a
wealthy Texas and California entrepreneur, then in his early forties.
Dunn was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1927. In 1948 he started his
first business in Arkansas - manufacturing school furniture. He sold it
in 1953, moved to Orange Co., California, and established another
school-furniture factory. During the next quarter century he formed or
became involved with several other companies and in 1980 established the
Lonnie Dunn Co., which he served as chief executive officer, and which
was involved in real estate in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia and
According to his obituary in the September 26, 1987 Orange County
Register, Dunn, who died at 60, was a member of the Scottish Rite, the
Balboa Bay Club, Big Canyon Country Club, the Pacific Club, the Santa
Ana Country Club and the Royal Order of Jesters.
Some referred to him as "Big Dunn" - he was 6 feet 4 inches tall and
weighed about 250 pounds. He has been described as a high-class
promoter, of keen intelligence and commanding presence, voluble, a
leader and likeable, and, on the whole, was held in high regard.
Tito Howard first met Dunn in 1973. Howard, who had lived on the
Plantation as a boy, had been an Air Force pilot and in that year flew
onto the Plantation, unannounced, in his personal aircraft with his
wife. He wanted to show her where he had been raised. Howard circled
the Plantation airstrip while local people pulled aside debris placed
there to prevent landing by undesirables. Dunn came out to the airstrip
on a motor bike and subsequently offered Howard a job as production
manager, a position he filled for just three months for he became
disillusioned about his future prospects on the Plantation . Howard
described Dunn as a "big man, very intelligent and driven, successful in
his own right and one who enjoyed his position."
According to two people I interviewed, Dunn paid $3M for the
Plantation. Why would an astute, successful businessman, with the Midas
touch, purchase the Plantation when sisal was at such a low ebb on the
world market? Was he clairvoyant that demand and price would increase
(as it soon did to an almost record high)? Did Dunn have something in
mind other than sisal? Indeed he did. While the Clarks saw the
Plantation strictly as a producer of sisal, Dunn wanted to try other
crops and cattle. Thanks to Lou Wankum, there were already about 1000
head on the Plantation. He planted sunflower which grew well, but there
was no equipment for harvest, perhaps because labor was so cheap.
According to one source, an oil press was brought to the Plantation, but
I can find no evidence it was ever used.
People I interviewed are about equally divided as to why Dunn purchased
the Plantation. Some say it was his interest in production of cattle
and sunflowers. Others suggest the big drawing card was the beautiful
Fort Liberte Bay and its potential as a harbor. About this time there
was a boom in U.S. fuel oil and gasoline consumption and demand was
expected to increase dramatically. The 1967 "Six Day War" prompted
Egypt to close the Suez Canal cutting off the main line of crude-oil
transport from the Middle East Political conditions at the eastern
end of the Mediterranean raised cautions as to whether pipelines in this
area would be a dependable means of oil transport.
The most reliable route for future transport of crude oil to the U.S.
would be around the southern tip of Africa - a very expensive route for
the moderate-size tankers then in use. One expert estimated that a
326,000-dwt tanker could move oil along the 24,000-miles from the
Persian Gulf to the US Atlantic coast for about $6.15 per ton, while it
cost about $9.63 for a ship of 65,000-dwt. Another estimate was that
to move oil in tankers of 250,000-dwt or larger could reduce cost to
about 26% of that to move the product in 25,000 dwt tankers.
Clearly, there was a need for "supertankers" that required deep-water
ports which were not readily available along the U.S. east coast - nor
were they welcome. While I have heard different points-of-view on why
Dunn wanted the Plantation, I conclude it was Fort Liberte Bay and its
potential as a deep-water port.
On November 8, 1973, Martha C. Carbone, American Embassy,
Port-au-Prince, sent a letter to the Office of Fuels and Energy,
Department of State, in which she stated that the Government of Haiti
"...had before it proposals from eight different groups to establish a
trans-shipment port for petroleum in one or more of the Haitian deep
water ports. Some of the projects include construction of a
refinery...." She further commented that the Embassy was acquainted with
three firms: Ingram Corporation of New Orleans, Southern California Gas
Company and Williams Chemical Corporation of Florida.. (According to
John Moseley, the New Orleans company was probably "Ingraham", not
In the November 6, 1972 issue of Oil and Gas Journal, Leo B. Aalund
commented in his article "Vast Flight of Refining Capacity from U.S.
Looms",.: "Finally, 'Baby Doc' Duvalier's Haiti is participating with a
group that wants to build a transshipment terminal off Fort Liberte,
Haiti". One of the proposals referred to by Carbone was undoubtedly
submitted by Dunn interests.
I suspect that in this project Dunn was tied in with Southern California
Gas Co. According to Mike Shanks, Dunn was involved with McCollum, a
Texaco V.P. and James Knapp, a V.P. of Pacific Lighting. At that time,
Southern California Gas Co. was a subsidiary of Pacific Lighting (which
became Pacific Enterprises in 1988). (According to John Moseley of the
Brown and Root engineering firm, the associate referred to here by
Shanks as a Texaco V.P. was H. M. McCollum of Conoco.) (According to
Mrs. Eleanor Searle McCollum, her late husband was Leonard F. "Mc"
McCollum, President and CEO of Conoco Oil for 20 years. She added in a
letter: "There is no H.M. McCollum."
To the Carbone letter, George M. Bennsky, Director, Office of Fuels and
Energy, responded: "U.S. Policy heavily favors deep-water ports in our
own waters rather than those in non-U.S. locations. "There is, however,
some doubt whether environmental and other considerations will permit
the construction of domestic refinery capacity on the scale that will be
Dunn planned to straighten and widen the entrance to the bay so that
super tankers could be brought in and the cargo distributed to smaller
tankers for transfer to U.S. and Caribbean ports that could not
accommodate large ships. He further intended to develop a facility to
break down old ships for scrap and repair others. According to Albert
Hill, who came to HASCO as an engineer and ended up as President of that
company, another player in Dunn's harbor scheme was Daniel Ludwig whose
name is also associated with efforts to develop the Amazon Basin.
The sinuous entrance to the bay is about 2.5 kilometers long and 400
meters across at its narrowest; three points jut out from the east bank,
each the site of an ancient French fort. The larger of these, still a
rather spectacular site, is Fort Labouc on the Atlantic Ocean at the
east side of the entrance to the bay.. The 1:50,000 "Phaeton"
topographic map of the area, prepared in 1963, indicates the depth of
the entrance to the bay is at least 10 fathoms throughout; some areas
are much deeper. A substantial area in the center of the bay has a
depth of 12 to 14 fathoms.
An engineering study was conducted by Charley Vaughn, Basil Maxwell and
John Moseley of Brown and Root Co., Marine Division, to provide a cost
estimate for a dredger to widen the entrance to Fort Liberte Bay. They
were flown from Miami to Port-au-Prince in Dunn's King Air turboprop and
after clearing customs were flown to Fort Liberte on a Plantation
aircraft. "With all that sisal it looked like Arizona or northern
Mexico", said Moseley. The plan was to widen the entrance by slicing
away the projections on the east side, which would have destroyed three
of the old French forts. Drill cores indicated the surface layer of
coral was underlain by gravel. To enable a large tanker to turn around,
a "finger pier" would be installed from the south shore to the deeper
center of the bay, about 1000 meters northwest of Fort Saint Joseph..
This long narrow berth for two ships - the project was planned for ships
of 300,000 tons - also provided a trestle for a ship to shore pipeline
and was large enough to drive a truck to the end of the pier..
A logical point for the foot of the pier might have been where Fort
Saint Joseph projects into the bay and this development could have
destroyed that ancient structure. However, according to John Moseley,
there was to be an angle turn in the trestle to land to the southeast of
the Plantation headquarters to a suitable tank farm site and avoid
disturbing the fort.
According to Moseley, the plan was to develop a tank farm where crude
oil could be stored and later transferred to small tankers to serve U.S.
and Caribbean ports. There were no plans for a refinery. According to
Jean Claude Leger, Frederick Snare Co., Chappell Hill, Texas, would
construct the oil transfer facility.
(Moseley indicates the Frederick Snare Co. was probably headquartered in
Chapel Hill, NC, not in Texas.)
Moseley does not recall the time of his visit but it must have been
during the early years of Dunn's ownership of the Plantation because, by
late 1973 the Government of Haiti apparently had the Dunn group's
proposal in hand and it seems likely there would be a considerable time
lapse between the B&R engineering study and submission of the proposal.
Moseley's visit was clearly prior to the time sisal harvest and
decortication was renewed because when I asked,: "What was happening on
the Plantation at the time?", he responded: "There was not much
activity, just grinding poverty and there was only one white on the
Plantation at the time, a young man with a German accent". There were
only about 100 cattle (high-dollar type) with more to be airlifted in.
Dunn's son, Lonnie, Jr., "Ran the cattle end.".
All this came to naught, probably because of the October 1973 Arab oil
embargo following the Yom Kippur War.
Several sources told me the warehouses were full of sisal in 1970 when
Dunn purchased the Plantation and he sold off the stock when the world
market price increased and recovered the purchase price of the
Plantation. Other sources who I consider more reliable because they
were there at the time said there were just 75 tons of tow in the
warehouse when Dunn purchased the Plantation.
But, there is no question that Dunn put the Plantation back into
production. In 1973 or early 1974 he called Mike Shanks and encouraged
him to come to Haiti. Shanks had never heard of Dunn, though they were
from the same area in Texas. As for Haiti, "I didn't even know where it
was." Shanks went to Haiti in December 1974 for about 10 days; he
returned about two months later. His first assignment was to move a
large stock of equipment from Miami for shipment to Haiti. It included
"seven to ten" trucks and 40 trailers built in Lubbock, Texas, to haul
sisal leaves from areas not reached by the rail lines.
According to Shanks, there were 5340 employees when he came to the
Plantation and 300 miles of portable and permanent rail tracks.
Twenty-pound rails were welded to a corrugate rather than attached to
ties to provide portability and these portable tracks were used in areas
where permanent tracks were not installed. Sisal was moved from the
more remote points by truck and trailer to the rail lines en route to
Shanks noted that the factory operated during two eight-hour shifts. By
1970, after no harvest for several years, most sisal must have been full
grown. "There was lots of sisal in the fields and we were replanting",
Shanks told me that when Dunn purchased the Plantation, Don Lungwitz was
manager and Bubi Wittenberg was assistant manager. Lungwitz was
subsequently discharged and replaced by Wittenberg who was later fired
and replaced by Rafael Morales. Lungwitz returned to the Plantation
several times after his dismissal;.he flew in from the U.S. in a
single-engine aircraft. (Among documents given to me by Mark Pedersen,
Lungwitz's son-in-law, is a memo dated October 4, 1972, signed by
Lonnie M. Dunn on behalf of Port Dauphin, S.A., which appears to be
Lungwitz "walking papers." It confirms an agreement reached two days
earlier that Lungwitz's services would not be required by Port Dauphin,
S.A. He would receive $5,000 as payment for advice rendered in
connection with the transition of Plantation Dauphin operations to Port
Dauphin, S.A.. The Lungwitz family would continue to have use of their
company owned facilities free of charge until January 1, 1973.)
Dunn was well connected with the Republican Party in California and some
of the "President's Men" were his guests on the Plantation. One was
Herbert Kalmbach who told me he vacationed on the Plantation "a couple
of times". He first came to know Dunn as a client and considered him a
"great friend". He enjoyed his time there. "It was a great layout."
According to Mike Shanks, H. R. Haldeman and John Erlichman were Dunn
friends but they did not visit the Plantation. Dunn was also a friend
of Texas Governor John Connolly who also visited.
In 1956 during the reign of the Clark brothers, with Haitian sisal no
longer competitive on the world market, the Plantation was in dire
straits and Lungwitz, then General Manager and Vice President, visited
the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince and advised that employees had
been put on notice that the Plantation would be closed down in 30 days.
In response, the embassy requested technical assistance from Washington
and Dr. Monroe Wall, head of the Steroid Unit at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Laboratory near Philadelphia, came to Haiti the following
year to advise how to recover hecogenin from sisal waste, a chemical
which could be used to manufacture cortisone. I can find no evidence
of any effort to exploit sisal waste as a source of hecogenin until
Lonnie Dunn's time.
One process for recovering hecogenin from sisal waste involved
collecting juice produced during decortication and permitting it to
ferment. After about a week, a sediment, rich in hecogenin, settles to
the bottom of the tank. The sediment can be collected and, with
relatively simple processing, yield hecogenin. When I last visited the
Plantation I noticed large, open, concrete tanks to my right as I
entered the gate at Phaeton, just west of the power plant. These must
have been constructed as fermentation tanks for sisal juice.
According to Mike Shanks, sisal juice was first shipped to California
for processing in a "$90,000 to $100,000" pilot plant; following success
the pilot plant was shipped to Phaeton. A larger operation was
subsequently installed at a cost of about $500,000. "They could make
the pilot plant work but they couldn't make the big one work," said
Shanks. Dunn "ran through a lot of chemical engineers, one named
Trammel, whom they called Tram." Dunn was very discouraged by the
No information is available on the value of Haitian sisal on the world
market after 1973 but reliable data are available for Kenya/Tanzanian
(K/T) sisal through 1991 and this serves as a good indicator of trends
in the market price during the Dunn years. When he purchased the
Plantation in 1970, the machinery was idle with K/T sisal at just 20
cents per pound (constant 1980 $). K/T sisal dropped still lower the
following year and then began to rise, soon reaching 87 cents in 1974
after which it declined to 29 cents when Dunn sold the Plantation in
1978. (or 1979). It decreased to 22 cents in 1991, almost as low as
when Dunn purchased the Plantation in 1970.
According to Attorney Jean Claude Leger, who had been associated with
the Plantation since 1948, Dunn was losing money on sisal and was
getting more and more into debt. "He was a very proud man and he did
not like it when I told him he was losing money. Plantation Dauphin had
an excellent credit rating when Dunn took over; it went way down and at
one point he owed $2 million.". Judging from Dunn's obituary, he had
been very successful since his first effort during his early 20's. He
did not like this straight talk from Leger. "We broke up over this; I
was relieved,." said Leger.
So the Plantation ownership went over to Elias Cassis, Port-au-Prince
merchant and businessman.
According to his obituary, Dunn was survived by his mother, his wife, a
son and daughter, and a brother and sister. His son, Lonnie, Jr., in
his 20's during Dunn's ownership of the Plantation, visited there but
had no active role in its management. He would be about 50 and a
potential source of information about the Dunn period. I have made an
exhaustive but unsuccessful effort to locate him.. Dunn's mother died
in Fort Worth in 1991 and his wife, brother, sister and daughter seem to
have dropped out of sight. Dunn is not now remembered at any of the
clubs of which he was a member at the time of his death.
Strangely, Dunn's obituary makes no reference to his ownership of the
Dauphin Plantation. One person I interviewed suggested this might be
because he lost money on this endeavor, something not to be proud of for
a person otherwise so successful in business..
Why did Dunn fail? According to Doug Coath, a twine buyer with Frank W.
Winne & Son in Philadelphia: "Dunn imported a lot of equipment at great
expense; he had a tremendous amount of money in equipment. Much was
sitting idle because there were no replacement parts. He had big visions
but this was too big for him. His machinery and his dreams were falling
According to John Moseley, Dunn owned a ranch near Brenham, TX, around
which was a narrow-gauge rail line. I made many telephone inquiries
to people in the area and E-mail enquiries to several county
agricultural offices in the hope this might lead me to Lonnie Dunn, Jr.
or another relative. One person, a real estate agent, vaguely
remembered a Dunn Ranch that had giraffe, zebra and other exotic animals
and a narrow-gauge rail line around the perimeter, but could tell me no
more. But he referred me to a person who owned a property on the same
farm-to-market road as the Dunn Ranch. I spoke to the gentleman's wife
who was obviously familiar with the Dunn holding but, for whatever
reason, was reluctant to talk to me.
My E-mail enquiries brought a response from Brent Batchelor at the
Austin County Agriculture Office in Bellville who advised that the Dunn
ranch, subsequently purchased by the Melcher family and recently sold by
them, is in Austin County off of F.M. 1371 between Buckhorn and Chappell
Hill. I spoke with Mrs. Leroy Melcher in Brenham who advised that the
narrow-gauge rail line had been taken by one of Dunn's creditors. Mrs.
Melcher mentioned that she had met Dunn through Mac McCollum and that
Mrs. McCollum currently lived "in a condo on Westheimer in Houston".
I could find no telephone listing for Mrs. McCollum but the mention of
that name by Mrs. Melcher reminded me of John Moseley's reference to a
McCollum with Conoco and, from a review of the history of that company,
I leaned that Dunn's Conoco associate had been Leonard F. McCollum, who
came to Conoco from Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) in 1947 and became
President of the company at age 47.
A search on the Internet for "Leonard F. McCollum" provided one "hit", a
press release of the Houston Grand Opera which mentioned Mrs. Leonard F.
McCollum. The press release announced the winner of the "Eleanor
McCollum Competition for Young Singers" and identified the "Public
Contact" as Julie McBeth (with telephone number). Ms. McBeth suggested
that I write or fax her with my questions and she would refer my inquiry
to Mrs. McCollum .
Mrs. McCollum graciously responded to my fax and subsequently spoke with
me by telephone. She and her late husband "...were very close friends
of Lonnie and Mary Dunn. They had a beautiful ranch near our ranch
outside of Houston." "Unfortunately, I know nothing concerning the
Dauphin Plantation." She concluded her letter with "I am very pleased
that you work with the World Christian Relief Fund. I praise God for
what you are doing for His Kingdom on earth."
During our telephone conversation Mrs. McCollum confirmed that Dunn had
suffered a financial disaster and had probably lost millions (of
dollars). She had visited his ranch many times to shoot on his skeet
She doesn't remember the rail line but recalled there were exotic
animals (though she did not recall the species.) She described Dunn as
a "great operator" and "loved him dearly". Dunn's wife, "Mary was a
According to Mrs. McCollum, Dunn was grossly overweight and refused to
diet. He suffered from diabetes and had a foot and leg amputated. She
visited him in California near the end of his life; he was "very
brave". Someone had given him an automobile he could drive with one
Under the circumstances, it is no great surprise that Dunn's obituary
made no reference to the Dauphin Plantation.
Brent Batchelor, Texas
Doug Coath, Pennsylvania
Albert Hill, Florida
Robert L (Tito). Howard, Colorado
Herbert Kalmbach, California
Jean Claude Leger, Petionville. Haiti
Eleanor Searle McCollum, Texas
Mrs. Leroy Melcher, Texas
John Moseley, Texas
Otto Schutt, Cap Haitian, Haiti
Mike Shanks, Cap Haitian, Haiti
Jack Webster; Tennessee
Publications and Correspondence -
Aalund, Leo R. Vast flight of refining capacity from U.S. looms, Oil &
Gas Journal 70(45):23-27 (1972) (USGS S qO15)
Anon. Conoco, The First One Hundred Years. Dell, 1975
Army Map Service. Phaeton, Haiti, 1:50,000 topographic map, 5875 III
E732 Edition 3-DMA. 1963.
Bennsky, George M., Director, Office of Fuels and Energy, U.S.
Department of State. Letter to Martha C. Carbone, American Embassy,
Port-au-Prince, December 19, 1973. (National Archives, OS 14 HAI)
Carbone, Martha C., American Embassy, Port-au-Prince. Letter to George
M. Bennsky, Director, Office of Fuels and Energy, U.S. Department of
State, November 8, 1973. (National Archives, OS 14 HAI).
Commodity Trade and Price Trends, World Bank, 1989-91 ed. ( NAL HF1
Experts call U.S. oil superports vital,. Oil & Gas Journal 70(43):48-49
(1972) (USGS S qO15)
Fatton, Bernard, Elements d'Information sur la Production et la
Commercialisation du Sisal en Haiti. Institute Interamericain des
Sciences Agricoles de l'OEA. 20 LH/75. March 1975. (NAL HD9018.H3153)
Houston Grand Opera, Press Release. Chinese Baritone Chen-Ye Yuan Takes
First Place and the Audience Choice Award at Houston Grand Opera's
Concert of Arias. February 23, 1998. Internet.
Lonnie M. Dunn, 60, Owner of Investment, Building Firms. Obituary, The
Orange County Register, evening edition, September 26, 1987, page b10..
Joe Terlizzi, American Petroleum Institute, who located the key
references in Oil & Gas Journal.