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 –
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. . .