A psychologist would have termed Alden P. Ricks an individualist, but his associates in the wholesale lumber and shipping trade of the Pacific Coast proclaimed him a character.
In his youth he had made one voyage round Cape Horn as a cabin boy, his subsequent nautical experience having been confined to the presidency of the Blue Star Navigation Company and occasional voyages as a first-cabin passenger. Notwithstanding this apparent lack of salt-water wisdom, however, his intimate knowledge of ships and the men who go down to the sea in them, together with his very distinct personality, had conduced to provide him with a courtesy title in his old age.
It is more than probable that, had Alden P. Ricks been a large, commanding person possessed of the dignity the average citizen associates with men of equal financial rating, the Street would have called him Captain Ricks. Had he lacked these characteristics, but borne nevertheless even a remote resemblance to a retired mariner, his world would have hailed him as Old Cap Ricks; but since he was what he was—a dapper, precise, shrewd, lovable little old man with mild, paternal blue eyes, a keen sense of humor and a Henry Clay collar, which latter, together with a silk top hat, had distinguished him on ’Change for forty years—it was inevitable that along the Embarcadero and up California Street he should bear the distinguishing appellation of Cappy. In any other line of human endeavor he would have been called Pappy—he was that type of man.
Cappy Ricks had so much money, amassed in the wholesale lumber and shipping business, that he had to engage some very expensive men to take care of it for him. He owned the majority of the stock of the Ricks Lumber and Logging Company, with sawmills and timberlands in California, Oregon and Washington; his young men had to sell a million feet of lumber daily in order to keep pace with the output, while the vessels of the Blue Star Navigation Company, also controlled by Cappy, freighted it. There were thirty-odd vessels in the Blue Star fleet—windjammers and steam schooners; and Cappy was registered as managing owner of every one.
Following that point in his career when the young fellows on the Street, discovering that he was a true-blue sport, had commenced to fraternize with him and call him Cappy, the old gentleman ceased to devote his attention to the details of his business. He was just beginning to enjoy life; so he shifted the real work of his multifarious interests to the capable shoulders of a Mr. John P. Skinner, who fitted into his niche in the business as naturally as the kernel of a healthy walnut fits its shell. Mr. Skinner was a man still on the sunny side of middle life, smart, capable, cold-blooded, a little bumptious, and, like the late Julius Caesar, ambitious.