Archive for March, 2009

Time for another Job story.

March 30, 2009

Let me think, we have mentioned that I worked at a place called Northern Truck Stop – that is where I met Bill with the Hemi powered Dodge R/T.  My first job was at Gary Webb Service and then it was Northern Truck Stop.  After that, I found a opening at a Shell service station on the corner of 9th Avenue East and 4th Street. If you go by there now, it is gone, they filled the whole corner in and built an apartment building there –

Site of third job right on corner.

Site of third job right on corner.

Now the station was two stalls on the left both with hoists and an office on the right with two wash rooms behind and  a small storage room behind the office off stall one.  The station had one island with two gas pumps and we got a lot of local gas traffic.  Al ran the business and Al was from Chicago.  He had a lot of stories to tell and some of them made you kind of wonder if you want to work there or not.  He claimed he had got started in Chicago installing booze tanks for Mr. Capone and other “businessmen” in the greater Chicago area. I must say a few times some very expensive cars with “suits” pulled into the station and Al would go out to them and talk – sometimes they bought gas sometimes they just talked. The cars all had Illinois plates and looked “Important”.

Anyway, I never had a problem at Gary Webb Services – there it was pretty laid back and Dick Odberg never put pressure on any customer or tried anything “dirty” or “dishonest”, it was not his way.  At Northern Truck Stop, we dealt with a lot of truckers and working men who knew enough to ask questions and while the management there always tried to make as much as possible, they would never resort to anything that I would call “questionable.”

Then there was story telling Al.  He loved to talk!  He also had a regular bunch of guys that “hung out” at the station.  Most of these guys would stop by on a Saturday morning and maybe say something about their car acting a bit strange and Al would take them back in the store room where he kept a bottle of Christian Brothers Brandy and they would share a snort.  Then Al would go in the office and tell me  to sandblast the plugs and file the points and he would “take care” of the rest.  So I did exactly what he told me to do and I was not even aware at first that he was telling the customer I was going to change them with new.  After I finished, he would bring the guy back in to the storage area for another “snort’ and show them the plugs and points I had just “replaced” – he kept an old set on the shelf for this purpose – he then tossed them in the trash can and the guy paid for something he never got.  I caught on real quick to that when I saw him fishing the old plugs and points out of the garbage can and put them back in the hiding place in the storage room.

Al also told me to check the fan belts on all cars, that would amount to looking for the style of belt that had notches on the bottom and showing me how if you flexed that type of belt real hard, it would look cracked.  He also told me to actually cut belts that didn’t show cracks and handed me a small box cutter for the purpose, I said I would not do that and he seemed okay with that but that must have been my first stupid employee offense to him.

He also told that when I had a car on the hoist to change the motor oil that I should overfill the differential.  Well, he really did not tell me that in so many words but the first time I changed oil in a customer’s car, he watched me as I pulled the plug in the differential and stuck my little finger in to the first bend like I was taught by my father and again the same method Dick Odberg told me to use.  If there was oil on the tip of your little finger after bending it at the first bend, the differential was full.  This is about 3/8 inch below the filler plug.  Al told me I was doing it wrong, he showed me how to stick the pressure filler in and give it a pound or two of heavy oil  and then jam the filler plug in fast so it would not run out.  I said “but Al that will over-fill the differential and the oil will work it’s way out in the axles and through the dust seals and then damage the brake lining!”  Al just smiled and said “Yep!”  “Then we get the brake job too!”

Well I started working there in the spring of 1969 and after about three months, I was getting very tired of the same old lies and dishonest practices of this guy.  On one Friday afternoon in July, an older retired doctor who stopped by often was in the office and Al was trying to sell him a set of tires for his 1957 Packard.  Now Al had him almost sold on a set of Goodyear Double Eagles.  Those were about $100 per tire then which was a lot of money.  They were the top of the line tires.  The old doctor came over to me and asked me what I thought, I asked him how many miles he drove a year and did he every leave town?  He said about 1500 miles a year and the farthest he traveled was about twenty five miles up the shore to Two Harbors.  I told him he probably could get by with the cheapest tires or even good re-caps which were re-manufactured tires with new tread.  You probably could have fried an egg on Al’s forehead about then.  The doctor bought a mid-line tire for about $45 each and later after Al went home, I found out from another employee that I should quit that night because Al was going to fire me in the morning if I didn’t.  So to avoid getting fired, I quit.

I don’t regret almost getting fired one bit, and I have to say, Al did not really hold any grudge or say anything bad about me, he just could not have someone working for him who was not “with the program” of screwing the customer over.

I don’t have any trust of service stations as a result of the experience and my wife could not understand when her father would tell me about some service station that treated him so good and knew everything about fixing his car etc. etc. I just went, he is probably getting screwed because every customer of Al would probably have said the same thing about Al.  He knew how to make people feel comfortable about paying for something they did not need or even get in some cases.

I can’t say for sure but I am convinced that many service stations of the 50’s and 60’s were run by guys like Al.  They did have to make money and the most money to be made was from TBA = Tire Batteries and Accesories.  Sell someone a wiper blade for $9 and they made $5 profit, sell them a gallon of gas for $.30 and they made $.03 cents – you had to sell a lot of gas to equal one wiper blade.

I was not cut out for making money in the Auto Service business so from there I found out that Target Foods was always hiring and just stop in and ask Jack!  That will be the next story – coming soon. . .

My first real job.

March 23, 2009

Well thinking back again!  I was talking to an old friend last Friday and we had went to school together in the early 70’s and worked together at Target Foods (Applebaum’s used to have food stores in Target.)  That got me thinking back to the day!  Target will be the subject of a following blog entry but for this one, Gary Webb is the subject.

I was still in High School and was old enough to get a Social Security number and a job, we used to do it that way, we waited till we needed one (SS#) to apply.  Some High School teachers compelled their charges to get them in the 10th grade – now we give them to our kids at birth.

Anyway, I could drive and had a license and was old enough to work, so I went out to Gary (about three miles from Morgan Park where I lived) to a place called Gary Webb Service.  I am not sure of much of the history of Gary Webb Service – a search of the Web finds a lawsuit against them by a former employee – actually the insurance company as the Gary Webb Service went out of business a long time ago.  When I was working there in the mid-60’s, Richard Odberg was running the place.  They used to have a full block long used car lot.  I believe they sold the cars one of the other Odberg brother’s did not want to keep at his Lincoln Mercury dealership.  Actually Odberg & Ryan was the name of the other new car place.

Anyway, Richard had to take over the operation when his older brother dissapeared during a fishing trip in the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota.  His body was never found and while Richard (Dick) knew a lot about servicing cars and truck and body work, he was not a real manager.  He could not sell the business as it was partnered with his now not-legally-dead brother.  Until a body was produced or seven years went by, Dick had to keep the place going with the idea that his brother might show up.

I want to say that while Dick was a very interesting person  to work for and he did teach me quite a few things about 1950 vintage Mack trucks, Body work and other service station things, he really did not seem to like being a boss or had the organizational skills to keep a “neat ship.”  I will try to paint a picture with words of the place as I do not have any photos (if anyone reading this does, I would like to see them.)

GWS (Gary Webb Service) was based in large building on the South East corner of Commonwealth Ave. and Gary St. (not House St. as I thought before my friend John B. corrected me) and ran for about 2/3 block up to within one lot of the A & E Service station which was on the South end of that same block. The used car lot was between them. Gary (the area in Duluth) was named for Elbert H. Gary, a Chairman of U. S. Steel corp.  As a matter of fact almost all the streets in Gary proper were named after various U. S. Steel Board Members: House St was named after W. D. House, Mr. McGonagle, Mr. Reis, etc. This having been a result of Gary being established by the Congdon interests upon them learning of the new U. S. Steel Plant being planned for construction in Morgan Park. (By the way, Morgan Park where I lived was named for John Pierpoint Morgan, the founder of U. S. Steel. Also, New Duluth (located just South of Gary) was established some 50 years prior to Gary.) CLICK HERE OR ON PHOTO BELOW FOR LARGER IMAGE.

Site of former Gary Webb Service

Site of former Gary Webb Service

GWS was one of those white enamel panel covered buildings that many service stations of the 40’s and 50’s had.  It had an area to the left of the pumps and front door that was about 65 feet deep and had a hydraulic lift in the front and a paint booth in the rear.  The paint booth had a permanent resident of a 1961 Chevrolet Bel Air that was always in the process of collecting dust – it was an almost new car then but had been damaged early in life and Dick’s brother started fixing it and never finished. Behind the front office/washroom/private office area was another large space that had the Paint Booth to the left as you entered and a two cars – the first was a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria with transmission problems – that was on blocks and covered with dust behind that was a Black (very dusty) 1960 Mercury Park Lane Crusier.  The Mercury was in an accident when it was only about a month old, it had been repaired but the title was in Dick’s brother’s name – so it sat and collected dust the 55 Ford was also a victum of probate.

Around the Mercury and Ford were shelves full of interesting old auto parts from the 40’s an 50’s – odd things like a Magic Eye that told you how much oil you had left in the engine, some funky bug deflectors and other strange things like that. To the right of the Mercury was the main shop area – this had a door big enough to get a dump truck in or bigger – GWS worked on the Freight Transfers Mack B series tractors a lot – they were a local freight handler and contracted Dick for most of their work.  Dick would tear one of the engines down and then call me or one of the other guys on a Sunday afternoon and tell us he needed us to put it together for Monday – I did not like that a bit.

Dick had two very large wreckers – they were big enough to haul the Mack B series trucks without a problem.  They were built on older Ford Chasis with Lincoln Flathead V12 engines.  They were fun to drive and one of the most fun times I have ever had working was when one day Dick told me that he needed to clean up some of the junk cars in the lot.  There were about twenty junkers – from the late 50’s and early 60’s scattered along with various truck and auto parts over the block to the West of the station.  This is where the used car lot was originally but now had become patchy blacktop with weeds and junk.  Anyway, Dick told me to “make a few of the cars in the back row small!” I said “Huh?” – not that I was deaf then, maybe a little but I just did not know what he meant.  He proceeded to show me the back of the biggest wrecker and how it had a very thick steel plate across the back from just above the ground to about chest height.

To make the cars small, pull them into the alley and smash the back of the wrecker into them from both directions till they are a kind of ball of junk.  Then he would take and lift the ball of junk with the wrecker and haul it to the scrap yard.  I would have paid to do that, if he had only known!  Let’s just say, I had a blast!  Pull the old Rambler out into the alley, drive forward about 50 feet – reverse – Wham! Drive around the block – back down the alley from the other end – Wham! I loved it!

I also learned some very important stuff about carburetors – this would serve me time and again as I work on cars. What I learned is the parts that come out of a carb should go back in, ball point pen springs are NOT the same. A regular customer came in complaining about rough idle, lack of power and it was determined that his carb needed to be rebuilt.  This was me standing there with a broom in my hand as Dick talked to the guy.  Then Dick says to me, rebuild his carb, I will order the kit and have it here this afternoon.

I had watched Dick rebuild a carb and my dad had taken a few apart with me watching so what the heck, if Dick trusts me, I can do it! Getting the carb off was a snap, then back to the workbench to disassemble it.  Careful now, I know there are springs and little ball bearing valves in there.  I dump the disassembled carb into the basket that goes into the big five gallon can of carb cleaner (note this is a real bad chemical and we did not need any stinkin gloves, face shields or other protection, we were young and stupid!) That stuff burns if you get it on your skin.

Leave the carb parts in the soup till the kit shows up that afternoon. Now I even have instructions with the kit – yay! I get to where I need to put the metering valve back in, I really did not know what it did but it was supposed to have a spring under it – the spring was not to be found.  It must have fallen through one of the holes in the basket and lost in the goop at the bottom of the five gallon can of dangerous cleaner stuff.  Oh well, I remembered it looked just like a ball point pen spring (we had a lot of those around as give-aways) so what the heck, it fit and the rest of the carb went together like a charm.

Next day, the customer come back with a very smelly cloud around the car.  He is just a tiny bit mad!  The car runs but is sucking so much gas, it is belching black smoke and dripping un-burnt gas out the tail pipe. Guess how I found out how much that cleaner burns – I had to fish through the sludge in the bottom and find that spring – I did and about an hour later got the guy back on the road, Dick was not too happy but he did not fire me, I don’t know if he knew how to do that.  Like I said, Dick was a real nice guy, just not a manager.

I worked there at Gary Webb Service two and a half years – mostly in the Summer on break and weekends other times.  The place closed for good when the Park State Bank wanted a branch office and bought the property a few years later, now all that is there is an ATM.  Dick died in the  80”s after he retired to his family farm South of Duluth. There is still a car that shows up at shows around Duluth that has a Gary Webb Service metal tag on the back, he bought it at the estate sale for Dick.  I wish I had kept some of those, there were boxes of them in the back with the other junk. I guess that estate sale was huge, Dick was not one to throw anything useful out, so he kept just about everything.

Thanks Dick (Richard Odberg) for memories and a job when I needed the experience and spending money.  By the way gas prices when I worked there were between 25 cents and 32 cents a gallon – oh those were the days!

See the man walking on the moon!

March 17, 2009

July 20th, 1969

It is 9:56pm.  Location = Superior Wisconsin. Place = The Stardusk Drive-In theater.  Movie showing – I can’t remember but it had just started.  Who? = Barb, Wayne, Sandee, Little Bob, Dave and me.

Ok we were all at this movie – it is dusk, the movie is begining and what are we doing? Watching the first man in history walk on the moon!

When I was about 14, I asked (begged and pleaded) for my own TV set.  I got my parents to purchase a SONY Model 5-307UW portable TV.

This is a recent photo of the Sony - I still have it after more than 45 years.

This is a recent photo of the Sony - I still have it after more than 45 years.

I used that set in my bedroom for many years and when my wife and I got married in the early 70’s we used it for about three months – we got tired of squinting and bought our first color TV about the same time we moved into the house we still live in.

Back to the drive-in.  I stuck the Sony on the dash of the car we were in (it was Barb’s family tank Dodge) and turned it on about 9:00pm.  The broadcast of the Apollo 11 moonwalk was in progress – as the night progressed people in cars all around us realized we had a TV and by the time the actual walk took place, we had about twenty people standing around outside watching the whole thing with us.

If I remember right, that little TV cost my folks about $125.00 back in 1963 or 1964.  In today’s money that would be over $700.00. I base that on a web site that says a 1963 dollar is like $5.96 today.

The drive in is now a housing development.