9 Oct 2000Bob Perdue email@example.com
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 North Carolina.
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 Ingram.)
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 required".
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 the factory.
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", he said.
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 cortisone operation.
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 apart."
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 range.
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 beautiful person."
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 foot.
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 -
Joe Terlizzi, American Petroleum Institute, who located the key references in Oil & Gas Journal.
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