One day our oil warehouses and refinery burned to the ground in a few hours—they were absolutely annihilated. Though they were insured for many hundred thousands of dollars, of course, we were apprehensive about collecting such a large amount of insurance, and feared it might take some time to arrange. That plant had to be rebuilt right away, and it was necessary to lay the financial plans. Mr. Harkness was interested with us in the business, and I said to him:
“I may want to call upon you for the use of some money. I don’t know that we shall need it, but I thought I’d speak to you in advance about it.”
He took in the situation without much explaining on my part. He simply heard what I had to say and he was a man of very few words.
“All right, J.D., I’ll give you all I’ve got.” This was all he said, but I went home that night relieved of anxiety. As it turned out, we received the check of the Liverpool, London & Globe Insurance Company for the full amount before the builders required the payments; and while we didn’t need his money, I never shall forget the whole-souled way in which he offered it.
And this sort of experience was not, I am grateful to say, rare with me. I was always a great borrower in my early days; the business was active and growing fast, and the banks seemed very willing to loan me the money. About this time, when our great fire had brought up some new conditions, I was studying the situation to see what our cash requirements would be. We were accustomed to prepare for financial emergencies long before we needed the funds.
Another incident occurred at this time which showed again the kind of real friends we had in those days, but I did not hear the full story of it until long years after the event.
There was one bank where we had done a great deal of business, and a friend of mine, Mr. Stillman Witt, who was a rich man, was one of the directors. At a meeting, the question came up as to what the bank would do in case we wanted more money. In order that no one might doubt his own position on the subject, Mr. Witt called for his strong-box, and said:
“Here, gentlemen, these young men are all O.K., and if they want to borrow more money I want to see this bank advance it without hesitation, and if you want more security, here it is; take what you want.”
We were then shipping a large quantity of oil by lake and canal, to save in transportation, and it took additional capital to carry these shipments; and we required to borrow a large amount of money. We had already made extensive loans from another bank, whose president informed me that his board of directors had been making inquiries respecting our large line of discounts, and had stated that they would probably want to talk with me on the subject. I answered that I would be very glad of the opportunity to meet the board, as we would require a great deal more money from the bank. Suffice it to say, we got all we wanted, but I was not asked to call for any further explanations.