I had no choice but to fire “Harry” on the spot – and then have him carefully escorted off the property so he wouldn’t steal the silverware – but that left me with no one to run Nemacolin and four muckety-mucks arriving in a few days. “Don,” the weird private eye I’d hired, promptly offered to “take command.”
Of all the people on the face of the earth, Don was probably the last one I’d want to put in charge of Nemacolin, but I had little choice, so Don it was.
Almost immediately, Don and I got into a heated argument. As we walked through the final preparations for the meetings, Don was aghast that Harry hadn’t planned any special security arrangements. “Security?” I blurted. “Are you nuts? We’re out here in the middle of nowhere! We’ve never had any serious problems at all. A little vandalism, some game poaching, that’s it. Forget security!”
But Don was adamant. He pointed out that he’d been a career FBI agent and that Bill Ruckelshaus had been the FBI Director. Whether I liked it or not, Don wasn’t going to embarrass himself in front of a former Director by hosting a high-level meeting that featured sloppy security arrangements.
The argument swayed this way and that, and I was about to give in when I decided I’d given in to Don too many times already. So I told him, “No extra security and that’s final. Notify the county sheriffs and the state cops and if anything comes up they’ll be standing by.”
Don was furious, but I ignored him, climbed into my car and drove back to Pittsburgh. Although it was well after hours I stopped by the office to pick up my messages. Right there on top was a note from my secretary saying that the Chief of Security for the Williams Companies had called – he wanted to be briefed about security arrangements for the meeting.
The long and short of it was that Don hired a private firm to supply eight – eight! – armed guards to patrol Nemacolin during our meetings. They marched up and down the hallways while we met, they drove all around the property in Jeeps looking for trouble. They creeped everybody out. The cost was staggering.
When the meetings ended and the muckety-mucks had boarded their private jets to fly home, I headed wearily to my car – the meetings hadn’t gone well – but Don intercepted me. “This is urgent,” he said. He insisted that I get into his Jeep – the one with the illegal logo on the sides – and off we went, over hill and dale, way, way out to the far northwest corner of the property, where I’d never been before.
We finally arrived at the top of a low hill – there was no road, we’d just gone across country – and Don stopped the Jeep. We climbed out and Don stared fiercely off to the west, beyond our property line, hands on his hips, then back east, to where we could just see the top of the lodge.
“You see the problem?” he said.
“No,” I said, “I don’t.”
Don shook his head in exasperation and pointed to a slightly higher hill just west of our property. “We don’t control that hill,” he said. “We need to acquire it immediately. Bad guys could set up a mortar position over there and….”
I fired Don and drove back to Pittsburgh.
Of course, I now had no one to run the place, but I was fine with that. I mothballed it and put it on the market for only slightly more than the family’d paid for it years earlier. In my heart-of-hearts I knew I’d actually pay somebody to take the place off my hands, but I hoped for a better outcome.
To my astonishment, the property sold fairly quickly, although it’s true we had to agree to “covenant lite” provisions in the sales agreement. I celebrated, pointed out to my employers what a smart fellow they had running their family office, and moved on to other things.
But I’d celebrated too soon – a few years later the buyer defaulted.
The last thing in the world I wanted was to get Nemacolin back, so instead of foreclosing, we forced the place into bankruptcy. A complicated bankruptcy sale would be held in August of that year, with parcels being sold off in mostly small chunks, or “lots.” We would establish a reserve price for each lot, but of course we hoped the reserve would be exceeded.
As the date of the bankruptcy sale approached, I got more and more nervous. A small handful of people had requested information about the property, but according to my lawyer they were mostly local farmers looking to add a few acres to their holdings – if they could get them cheap.
I got an odd bit of news one day when my lawyer called to tell me the Society of Brothers had asked for information. I knew vaguely that the Society (now called Bruderhof) had a religious community across the road from Nemacolin, called New Meadow Run, and that they operated something called Community Playthings that made nursery school furniture.
But why would the Society be interested in Nemacolin? Maybe, I thought, they wanted to tear the place down and turn it into children’s furniture.
Then everything changed. Only a few weeks before the bankruptcy sale my lawyer called, but I was out of town. When I got back to Pittsburgh I returned the call but he was out of town. When we finally connected, he told me he had good news. One final party had requested information about the property and had then followed up with detailed questions and seemed genuinely interested. Had I ever heard of Joe Hardy?
Next up: Joe Hardy, Nemacolin and Me, Part 4
[To subscribe or unsubscribe, drop me a note at GregoryCurtisBlog@gmail.com.]
Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and other matters and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.