188 – Gas for Longview, a Planned City

Here’s the story of another big deal in 1930. In October, a celebration was planned for the grand opening of the gas system in the city of Longview, Washington.

This was a high-profile utility for the Public Utility Investment Company, and the company was going all out for the grand opening.

Western Gas Company of Washington

In 1928, the Public Utility Investment Company had gotten franchises to provide gas for Longview and Kelso, Washington. Naturally, Nathan Jones set up a new operating company, Western Gas Company of Washington.

They set about building the gas plant and installing gas mains throughout the towns. Now, late in 1930, the system was ready.

The gas plant

The company had contracted with American Gas Construction Company to build the most modern gas plant available.

Plant of the Western Gas Company of Washington at Longview

And infrastructure

A gas plant was great, but how do you get the gas to every house and business? Gas lines. A huge part of this project was the installation of gas mains throughout the town of Longview. The same mains were needed in Kelso.

Laying mains for the Western Gas Company of Washington at Longview and Kelso

To get gas across the Cowlitz River, between Longview and Kelso, the company installed gas mains 16 feet below the river bed.

The dotted line in the picture above shows the route that our gas main took in crossing the Cowlitz River. Kelso will be served with gas from the Longview plant by means of this main, which was run sixteen feet under the river bed.

And retail store

Once the residents had gas, they would need gas appliances. Western opened a fancy new showroom and store in downtown Longview.

Western Gas Company of Washington – retail store

A business and pleasure trip

Ralph Jarvis was to be a keynote speaker at the grand opening ceremonies in Longview, Washington. He and Chleo and the boys would drive to Longview, taking an extended vacation trip.

Jesse and Lizzie Benton and their son and daughter would travel with the Jarvises. Jesse was the attorney from Danville, Virginia, who had been working with Ralph on the campaign for the Danville power plant.

The Bentons drove from Virginia to Salina. From there, they took Ralph’s Lincoln. Bill Benton was age 9, the same age as Mel Jarvis.  Daughter Frances Benton was age 4.  Donnie Jarvis was 7.

Their first vacation stop was in Estes Park, Colorado. Then on through Utah, Idaho, and Oregon.

Trip to Longview, Washington – Jarvis and Benton families – October 1930
Mel and Don, Bill and Frances Benton, Ralph and Jesse Benton, group at Oregon haystack rocks, Chleo at Oregon coast – 1930

Grand opening

On October 30 and 31, Western Gas hosted a grand opening and open house.

It was a gala affair. Ken Evans, Director of Publicity, had spent months planning the opening events and news coverage.

Many department heads were involved, and some Salina employees transferred to the new Washington office.

J.C. Penney, a friend of Nathan Jones, was one of the keynote speakers. Ralph Jarvis was a keynote speaker too.

Employee breakfast

Ralph and Chleo hosted a breakfast for the employees at the Hotel Monticello.

Washington Gas employees – Oct 31, 1930
Washington Gas – employees breakfast – October 31, 1930

The trip home

After the grand opening in Longview, the traveling party took the southern route home, through Utah and Arizona.

Bill and Frances Benton, Chleo and Don and Mel, sheep on road, Lizzie Benton at gas station – 1930

Four adults and four children in one car for 4,000 miles. I recall my grandmother Chleo telling how glad she was when the trip was over. She said, “one of the kids was a brat.” And one of the adults got on her nerves too. I won’t say who.

Back Home

In November 1930, the trip was over. The Western Gas grand opening had gone well. Some of the year’s big deals had closed. 1930 had been a busy and eventful year.

On the home front, the Jarvises were planning some changes. By the time they rang in the new year, they would be living in a different home. Even more surprising, there would be a big change at work.

Read The Parade

The November 1930 issue of The Parade has the full story of the Longview grand opening celebration.

Read The Parade – November 1930.

Here’s a teaser article. See how the company sold over 17,000 lamps in one month.

Nibbles Extra Credit – Longview, the planned city

How did it happen that Public Utility Investment Company would be building and installing gas infrastructure in Longview, Washington? The answer may have begun at the American Royal horse show in Kansas City.

Loula Long Combs

The Kansas City Star – September 25, 1929

Nathan Jones’ horses competed in shows around the Midwest. If his horses weren’t in the winner’s circle, the blue ribbon was likely won by Loula Long Combs. Over her lifetime, Combs won the most blue ribbons at the American Royal horse shows. Nathan Jones knew her well.

Loula Long Combs

Loula was the daughter of R.A. Long, one of Kansas City’s most prominent businessmen.

R.A. Long

Robert Alexander Long was born in Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1850.

In 1873, at age 23, Long left Kentucky and went west to Kansas City. He bought a butcher shop with his savings of $700, but the shop failed. He ended up in Columbus, in southeast Kansas, running a one-man lumberyard. He was the lumber handler, yard man, and bookkeeper. He lived in a small house at the lumberyard.

Long married Ella Wilson in Columbus in 1875. They lived in the house at the lumberyard. A daughter Sallie was born in the lumberyard house in 1879, and then a daughter Loula in 1881.

Long-Bell Lumber Company

R.A. Long Building – Kansas City

Business was good, and Robert Long and his partner Victor Bell opened lumberyards in a few surrounding towns. In 1884, they incorporated as the Long-Bell Lumber Company. They expanded quickly, and by 1885 they had 19 lumberyards.

In 1891, the company moved the headquarters to Kansas City. It continued to grow over the next decades. In 1907, the company built the R.A. Long building at 10th and Grand in Kansas City. The 16-story building had 600 offices and was the first all-steel frame skyscraper in Kansas City.

By 1918, Long-Bell had sales over $50 million per year.

A mansion and a farm

R.A. built a mansion on Gladstone Boulevard. It later became the Kansas City Museum.

The Longs developed a farm in Lee’s Summit – Longview Farm. It encompassed 2,000 acres and had a mansion and beautiful horse stables.

A lumber shortage

By 1918, Long-Bell’s supply of Southern pine timber for its mills in Louisiana and Texas was fast running out. The mills wouldn’t have raw timber to mill into finished lumber.

R.A. Long, age 68, could decide to abandon the milling, and just keep the chain of retail lumberyards. Or he could seek new timber land and build new mills elsewhere.

Long decided to acquire new timber lands in the Pacific Northwest and build a new mill. Thus began the story of Longview, the planned city.

A huge tract of timber

After an extensive search, in 1923 Long-Bell bought a 24,000 acre tract north of the Columbia River from Weyerhaeuser. Over the ensuing years, Long-Bell acquired adjoining tracts totaling 70,000 acres. Much of it was bought on contract – pay as you cut.

Longview, a planned city

Long-Bell had acquired timber land. Now it planned to build the largest lumber mill in the world. It would be located on the deep-water Columbia River, with access to the Pacific Ocean and export markets. It was also near three trans-continental railroads necessary for domestic markets.

And to provide for the new mill’s workers, a new city would be built. It would be designed from scratch, with housing and commercial area and parks and boulevards.

The design

R.A. Long called on three Kansas Citians to plan the design for the new city. They would set the stage for a town of 25,000 residents

J.C. Nichols had done a revolutionary suburban development in Kansas City. He would head the planners. George Kessler had designed parks and boulevards in Kansas City. Herb Hare was a landscape architect and urban planner in KC.

The mill and town are built

From 1923 through the rest of the decade, the mill and town of Longview were built. Many people and companies participated, building infrastructure, roads, houses, commercial buildings, and of course the lumber mill.

Longview, Washington – postcards – c 1930

Long-Bell would spend upwards of $40 million on this endeavor. By 1930, Long-Bell would employ over 3,000 people here.


Electricity and water were put in by Long-Bell in 1923, then sold to Western Gas and Electric (not a Nathan Jones company).

Later, in 1928, when the gas franchise was planned, Long-Bell didn’t want to invest the up-front cost of the gas plant and infrastructure. Nathan Jones relationship with Long and Loula Long Combs proved fruitful. Jones would get the franchise for Longview, and Jones companies would build the system. The neighboring town of Kelso also gave a franchise.


By 1927, Long-Bell was debt-free, after dumping lots of money into the Longview plant and city. It paid a dividend of $1 per share that year.

But the economy was showing signs of stress. Lumber sales were slowing. Nothing was wrong with the company. It just couldn’t sell lumber. No one else could either.

By October 1930, when Ralph Jarvis was speaking at the grand opening of Western Gas, Long-Bell had borrowed $5 million for working capital. But the economy didn’t improve.

Long-Bell began selling assets to fund operations. That wasn’t sustainable.

By 1932, Long-Bell’s current liabilities exceeded current assets by $32 million. Bad. There was no money to pay the interest due on their bonds. Bondholders sued to force the company into bankruptcy, so they could sell assets and recover their bond principal. But the judge in Kansas City allowed Long-Bell to reorganize and try to survive.

As the nation sank deeper into recession, lumber sales dropped even further. From 1932 to 1935, the company went through several reorganizations, and bond holders and stockholders lost most of their money. Long-Bell barely escaped bankruptcy and closure.

During this time of hardship for the company, R.A. Long was in his 80s, and he had some health problems. It was a difficult time for him, the first time he couldn’t steer the company through troubles. R.A. Long died on March 15, 1934.

What was left of Long-Bell was merged into International Paper Company in 1956.

Loula Long Combs lived at Longview Farm until she died in 1971 at the age of 90.


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