Dad had many “On the Road” stories as he traveled extensively, demonstrating and installing machines all over the country. Here are just a few that I remember.
Shine or “The Good Stuff”
Dad used to smoke, use Copenhagen brand snuff and of course he could drink with the best of them. One day while traveling through Gary Indiana, way before expressways or the interstate, he ran out of cigarettes. He stopped at the next general store which was the traditional type for the time. Wooden counter, pickle barrel and hard candy with a wood stove in the corner.
After he bought his smokes he struck up a conversation with the proprietor, being the friendly, “hail fellow well met” type of guy that he was. One thing led to another and the fellow soon asked, “Would you take a drink?” Those of you who remember Dad from the old days know that he seldom if ever turned that offer down. So the store keeper reached under the counter, brought up a jug and poured two water glasses full of clear moonshine. Dad knew right away that this stuff was going to be so powerful that if he didn’t get that glass of shine down in one go he wouldn’t be able to. So they touched glasses and down it went. Dad said that he licked his lips and savored the flavor of that rotgut for quite a while. Not because it was so good, but because he couldn’t breath. He always kept a bottle of hundred proof Johnny Walker Black in the car just in case he needed a present for a client. Not to be outdone or rude, he went out and got the bottle, poured two more tumblers full of booze and down they went. Well now it was the old guys turn to smack his lips. When he finished he said to Dad, “Nice and smooth but a might weak ain’t it?”
One time he was running off a machine at the Remington Arms plant. The machine had to run for a week and of course it was running like a top so he had nothing to do but stock it up, touch up the tools once in awhile and kill some time.
The foreman had been having some trouble with a job on a turret lathe down the aisle and he asked Earl to look at it to see if he could fix the problem. “No problem” Dad said. “Tools are tools. Let’s take a look.” In that week of runoff he straightened out the entire automatics department. The foreman and the department manager were so grateful that they wanted to give Dad a rifle. He said no of course because that was against the rules of the company. (Still is for that matter) But he did say that when they ran the next batch of match 22 caliber match rifles that he would like to buy the one that shot the best test pattern of the lot.
A few months later a rifle showed up at the plant with an invoice and the test target. Dad used that gun to shoot woodchucks at incredible distance for many years. It’s now in my gun cabinet.
Chasing Night Shift Skullduggery
While on another runoff at an auto plant the foreman told Dad about what fantastic life he was getting out of these new thread chasers. Almost five times the life of the old supplier he said. Dad immediately smelled a rat because he was up on all the latest tooling developments and had never heard of this company performing any better that the others.
So he and the foreman changed the chasers every day before the night shift came in. They never said anything to anyone but they did mark the chasers. Next morning the mark was gone. So they changed the chasers again and marked them again. Same thing the next day, no mark. The chaser salesman had made a deal with the night operator to change the chasers every night. He didn’t get the business and the operator got fired.
City of Milwaukee Close Call
Dad frequently traveled by train during his early days on the road for the company. He would take the New York Central RR to Cleveland, Toledo or Chicago and eventually end up in Milwaukee to call on the Allen Bradley Company among others. He would then take an overnight car and railroad ferry named the S.S. City of Milwaukee to Detroit.
This was 1929. On this particular trip the lake was so rough that he couldn’t sleep. The ship was shuddering with every wave as the 12 foot diameter propellers were coming out of the water. He went on deck for a cigarette and ran into a deck hand doing the same thing. He said,” It’s a little rough isn’t it?” To which the sailor replied, “Yea, but this is one of the largest ferries on the great lakes. Don’t worry.” When Dad got to Detroit the next morning he made his usual stops before ending up at his sister Mary’s house in Grosse Pointe.
When he walked in that night Mary said, “Earl, when did you get here?” Dad replied that he had taken the ferry overnight from Milwaukee. She gasped and showed him the afternoon edition of the Detroit newspaper which read, “City of Milwaukee sinks on return trip, all hands lost”. One of many close calls he had on the road for Davenport.