1952 / 1959
My working life began with Economy Forms Corp. of Des Moines, IA, founded by W.A. Jennings a graduate of Iowa State College, Ames, IA. Jennings had been an employee of the Metaform Co. This was a Wisconsin company that held patents on a 24”x 24” metal concrete form that useable on both straight and radius configurations. The ability to form segmented circles made this product very adaptable to the construction of storage silos in the dairyland of Wisconsin. Jennings returned to the Des Moines, IA area and patented an improved version of metal form that was 30”x30” with a tie system that had a failure point above 1000 pounds. The basic 30” form was supplemented with smaller widths from 2” to 16” which facilitated the forming of an almost unlimited variety of shapes and dimensions. A private corporation was formed to finance the company reputed to be local contractors from the Des Moines area which made the forms available to the construction industry on a per project lease basis only. The standard lease provided for a supervising foreman referred by EFCO to be employed by the lesser for the duration of the project. Other employees were referred to the projects on an “as needed” basis. The company growth benefited from the expansion of military facilities in the pre World War II era and political connections. Jennings, EFCO founder and Henry Wallace, Vice President, 1936-40, were both Iowa State College graduates thus political patronage was literally only a phone call away. Probably the most prominent projects that the EFCO equipment was used on was the Pentagon building in ruralWashington, DC, but there were many others. The down side of the military contracts, most of which were on a cost plus a fixed percentage overhead and profit was a common “purchase “ clause which provided that when a certain percentage amount had been reached for leased (rented) equipment, the government contracting agency became the owner. By the end of the war the government had gained ownership of a substantial amount of Economy Forms Company (EFCO) equipment, most of which was recovered at post war surplus sales. The second generation form design and corresponding patent extensions were phased in 1950, followed by still other design changes in 1958, the phase out of all the original leased equipment in the 1960’s.
A major conversion to custom design equipment was facilitated by the cold war ICBM facilities. Of the six major minuteman missile sites construction EFCO form equipment was used on all but the one inMissouri. Very insignificant design changes from one site to the next obviated the reuse of forms from site to site. As a result the Minuteman Missile Program was a very lucrative period resulting in the company expansion to the facilities that exist today.
For the entire time that I did field work with EFCO equipment the Des Moines district Field Supervisor was Robert Harlow who was the EFCO foreman for Dad when he built Sunnyslope TB sanitarium in Ottumwa IA in 1946-47. Bob was the person responsible for all my assignments 1952 thru 1959. Thus my start in the world was not left entirely to the erratic directions of the fickle finger of fate.
There was supposed to be five work days training assembling various configurations of mock form set-ups. Assembling this equipment was not unlike putting tinker-toys together. The key to all this was the understanding that the internal pressure against the forms increases cumulatively by 150 pounds per square foot for each vertical foot of liquid concrete. Omission or misplacement of even the smallest component could result in an expensive failure of the system. The important lesson was not to allow the repetitive simplicity of the system to result in costly careless errors. The in-house training was out of the way in two days. Next I was sent to a small town in theOttumwaIowaarea, which had its own Carpenters Local Union. Here I deposited $50.00 for initiation fee, plus an additional $10.00 for the first months dues, signed a written statement attesting to the fact that I was not now or had ever been a member of or affiliated with the Communist party, and in turn received my Journeyman’s Card in the in the Carpenters & Joiners Union of the USA.
Dad was now in the same position at Brooklyn, Iowa building an REA head quarters building. There was EFC equipment on the project and I was referred there for employment. My first work day was eleven days after graduation fromLorasAcademy.
While here, I lived at home, commuted to Des Moines for my monthly Naval Reserve meeting and dates withFrances. All of us participated in one family meeting in which the primary topic of discussion was Frances and I being married. It was negative from beginning to end. My parents were not going to consent now and there was no need to speculate about the future. At the time, inIowa, parental consent was required for any person under the age of 21 and they had signed consent forms for two of my older brothers, Ed and Dennis. For me the response was two fold--no and end of conversation.
Seemingly to enhance the negative atmosphere Dad got a call from his home office wanting to know why I was being paid carpenters’ scale. In response I contacted EFCO to requested work elsewhere and was told immediately that I could go to Hastings, NE. and report to work at the Naval Ammunition Storage Depot where there was expansion program underway utilizing EFCO equipment. To facilitate this move it was necessary to obtain a change of status with the Navy Reserve obligation. This was worked out by changing to a V-6 status which relieved me of the obligation of attending monthly meetings but made me eligible for call to active duty with a minimum of two weeks notice. Then I called Francesto let her know what was happening and bought a bus Ticket to Clay Center, NE.
Things fell into place easily in Clay Center. Found an upstairs room in a house that was less than two blocks from Main Street and a local restaurant that fixed my lunch to carry to work. I could take a local bus to the entrance gate to work, but soon was riding with other fellows that I worked with. It was a new job in another place with different people but I was in no way alone in the cold cruel world. Indeed just the opposite was true. Everybody, from my land lady, to the people at the restaurant, to the fellows I worked with, including the EFCO foremen and the Contractors office personnel seemed to go out of their way to assure me that my world was a world of helping hands if one were ever needed. Take Gene Fullerton, for instance, whose first comment upon learning that I might soon be married was “shack up, it’s cheaper”, but who also saw that we had a car each time Frances came to Nebraska, who upon learning that we could not buy a car until after we were married, responded by having the car, and mortgage, put in his name until after the wedding. Gene was a big bluff man with an eye patch over his right eye and the muscle and skin on the right side of his face hanging limp over the bony framework. He was a stroke survivor who relished every day of life. His wife, Jean, was a very attractive lady with a gemstone personality and it was outwardly obvious that their relationship was a very deep love affair. Only by looking deep in Jeans’ eyes could one see the burden of Genes’ health imposed on this family. In a very different way there was the Pastor at St. Cecillias’ who listened quietly as we related the refusal of my parents to permit our marriage. He suggested that we discuss the matter with once again and if they still persisted he would perform the ceremony if we wished and reminded us that this would require birth and baptism paperwork.
Then there was Chuck and Babe Hakey from Chicago, Chuck was the EFC foreman for the project. Both of these beautiful people were from undiluted Italian stock and raised in the ethnic street environs ofChicago. Only the blind could not see that core of both was a composite of durable and compassionate stuff. Chucks’ supervisory style with was unique to the construction industry in that he viewed his position as that of a leader of men which set him completely apart from dullards which was usually found in these positions in the 1950’s. No matter what the reason for an encounter with an employee, be it a pat on the back or a reprimand, it never ended without a smile from both parties. He just never lost sight of the fact that the dignity of every person deserved respect. The lessons of my association with Chuck were filed away for use in the future. His wife Babe was a perfect partner for Chucks’ outgoing personality. Shapely, with dark brunette hair and naturally very attractive she was not a delicate personality and was not one who needed the veneer of cosmetics.
This was a Union controlled project I attended a couple of meetings to “clear in” my union registration book, get acquainted with the local business agent ant to use up an evening. The surprise of the night came when the business agent, observing that there should be spot checks on the newcomer’s qualifications and asked if I would sit on a review board. Me? My union card was less than six months old and my experience was totally devoid of anything beyond the handling of anything other than EFCO form equipment. What would I do if someone asked me a question? I found several excuses why I could not accommodate his request.
It was the effect of Frances personality on everyone she met that left me in awe. She was a stranger for perhaps the first couple of sentences but then with a combination of natural charm and the ability to build a word relationship around almost any topic, there grew, in a matter of minutes a lasting friendship. Indeed as the circle of friends widened there was the inner feeling that people might begin to ask themselves who the fellow with Frances was. In little more than a month and especially after Frances first visit I had settled into a routine of my work and comfortable relationships on a hometown basis. Over the coming years we would learn that the Midwest heartland was full of similar beautiful people.
The time had finally arrived for the trip home for my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary which was the weekend of August 23, 1952. I left Hastings by bus on Friday, stopped in Des Moines to meet Frances, and then went on to Brooklyn, Iowa. She would follow tomorrow for the celebration and our discussion with them. Frances arrived early and we got them alone before the expected guests arrived. There seemed to be a tinge of irritation that we would intrude on the celebration with this topic again so I laid out the options we were considering in as few words as possible and no ambiguity. I had the feeling that biggest surprise from their view was that we had the ability to take our future into our own hands and the affirmative answer on giving us the required permission for a wedding in Iowa came much faster than I had anticipated. Frances was more than elated and we lost the gathering crowd to be alone for a brief celebration of our own. We spent the day with the other guests and Frances went back to Des Moines to give her family the good news. Since I was flying back to Nebraska we would meet tomorrow at the Des Moines airport. We had several hours, discussing possible dates for the wedding, and set a tentative date of Saturday, October 11, which became the firm date after Frances reviewed all the details.
Then, it was good by again, and I was on my way to Grand Island NE about 45 minutes North of Hastings by bus where I would connect with another bus to Clay Center. I was at the bus stop in front of the Grand Island terminal when a very large Lincoln stopped in front of me. The rear window slid down and a voice asked where I was going. Clay Center, I replied before I even saw a face. “We can get you to Hastings“, came the response from a middle age face in the open window,” get in “. With that the driver got out, put my bag in the trunk and quietly told me to slide in the front seat with him and we were on the way. Since Lincolns are faster than buses we were in Hastings in about a half hour. In brief conversation during the trip I learned they owned a cattle ranch in the Red Cloud NE. area and were returning from a trip to Europe to which I responded with an outline of my trip to Iowa which related our wedding plans. They stopped at an intersection convenient to my bus, the driver recovered my bag and with a wave they were gone. In a matter of minutes I was on my bus and began to collect my wits enough to reflect on the day especially my transport from Grand Island. The names have long since been forgotten but not the completely unselfishness of the gesture. It seemed to be a perfect end to what had been accomplished over the week end.
Frances made one more flight to Hastings to bring me up to date on the progress in Des Moines and help me with things on my end. We rented a furnished apartment and bought a 1950 Chevy coupe from the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer. As previously arranged Gene Fullerton signed all the purchase, mortgage and licensing documents. It was a busy three or four days but when she left everything was ready for us in Hastings and I had wheels. Two weeks before the wedding I drove to Des Moines to go over the final arrangements and returned to Hastings Sunday evening. In retrospect this couple of kids accomplished quite a bit in the month before the wedding.
Home for the wedding. Friday night rehearsal, up early Saturday morning for the ceremony, the following reception and the formalities were over. Others had their imagined anxieties and misgivings but Frances and I were relaxed, happy and perfectly at peace with whatever lay ahead. There was never a backward glance or even a hint of misgiving. Those who wait for the “sure thing” in this life wait in vain.
The memories of our fine wine and classical music are only for the two who became one and shall always remain so.
Our return to Hastings was a day earlier than we had planned and was a disappointment to a batch of fellows from work who had planned to remove the furniture from our apartment. I have always felt the early return was a stroke of luck for these clowns. We has an eagle eyed landlady who never missed a coming or going to our door who would have had the whole crowd in jail if she saw her furniture going down the street.
Topping the list of things to do after returning to Hastings was to get all the paperwork for the car in Frances’ name. Under Nebraska law, when two minors were married the wife was automatically considered an adult. The practical effect of this was that Frances owned the car and was personally responsible for the mortgage obligations. It mattered not that she was not gainfully employed and could not have qualified for the mortgage not to mention that she had no driver’s license and did not know how to drive. This was the senseless requirements of our marriage in Nebraska.
The “Permission” statute of Iowa that we agreed to comply with was no less odious and the following is recounted for the reader whose sympathies might lie with efforts directed statute control of emotional issues. It was never any secret in Iowa that minors denied “permission” to marry could “run away” and get married. Those runaways traveling through Decatur County, in southern Iowa, were on their way to Missouri, which had no comparable restrictions and no residency requirements. Thus it was on one Saturday night that a Chevy coupe with the “runaways” in the front seat their best man and bridesmaid in the rumble seat arrived at the railroad crossing of U.S. highway 69 at the same time as the train. Two of my brothers were drafted by the local undertaker in a flashlight search for the pieces of the bodies which had been ground up by a hundred train wheels. Those parents who could not “give their permission” always had their children close by in the family cemetery and were never bothered by grandchildren.
In reality this is the time when the real people start getting acquainted develop the basics of the relationship of a lifetime. There were no surprises with Frances. My girl friend and my wife were the same person for a lifetime. She was not as lucky but with an understanding patience she began to polish the rough surfaces of social interaction. Getting the starch and stiffness out of my personality came first.
Most, important of all, however, was the mutual approach to each other and the encounters of each succeeding day with common and sincere courtesy. Courtesy is the fuel that powers love and gives voice to respect. Courtesy is the vaccine that insulates against the debilitating cancer of me syndrome and the artistry that transforms the blank canvas of life to a landscape of mutual love. One of the outward signs of this was the simple act of holding Frances’ car door. Many will wait 10 or 25 or even 50 years to repeat the marriage vows for a collection of family and friends. We did the same each time I opened her car door. One of the unspoken, but firm, agreements was that there was no place for off color humor. More often than not these products of a septic intellect were directed at the denigration of the dignity, radiance and beauty of the feminine person which we both found repugnant.
Frances was blessed with a natural ability and temperament to take one day at a time completely at peace with herself and the world whether the outlook was sunny or bleak. There was never room for worry about what might happen or could happen. An example came about the second week back in Hastings when I remarked that we had everything paid and plenty of groceries and had 67 cents left to which she replied “that’s nice”.
A month of work and fun that varied from walks together to hunting pheasants ended with the contractors decision to gamble delayed project costs against winter heat costs and closed the Hastings job down. We said our good bys to our new old friends, packed everything in the car and returned to Des Moines. We were in Des Moines a very short time when an envelope arrived from my mother. It contained a ten dollar bill which was her way of saying we told you so and was returned without comment. Frances had a job the second week we were back but by the end of the same week I was sent back to Stratton NE. to work on a school foundation. The foreman was Forest Nystedt from Princeton MN, an easy going Norwegian, that seemed to have a hidden, nagging sadness in his make up. There was another couple who came to Stratton from somewhere in Wyoming, but whose origins were in the bayou country of Louisiana. This group stayed in the same motel in very comfortable two room units with kitchenettes.
On with the learning process. The Louisiana couple was a man in his mid thirties with a sixteen year old wife who could neither read nor write and who had been married three years. Frances became her older sister writing letters for her to the family and reading mail that she received to her and at the same time using the correspondence as a teaching exercise. The arrangement worked out well as her husband was happy with the friendship. When word came that the contractor, a local firm, was going to close the project down for a week at Christmas everybody was happy that they would have time to be home.
Forest asked if he could ride to Des Moines with us where he could catch a plane to Minneapolis. This worked out well as it made for another person for Frances to visit with. Certainly it turned out to be long conversation. The first hour or so was rather quiet then in response to Frances’ inquiry as to children in the family Forest replied that they had one child that had drowned in a river near their home and then his voice broke. Frances nudged me to look in the rear view mirror where I saw Forest fighting to compose himself. He took up the conversation again explaining that his wife had never been able to talk about the tragedy which meant that with only the two of them left in the family he had never talked about the incident. Frances responded eliciting questions about his family and continued the conversation and every point possible told him why he must gently take the initiative in these conversations , It was obvious however that the conversation was a healing process for him. This went on for most of the eight hour trip, except for the times his voice would trail away and he would be alone with his thoughts. Frances would wait patiently until he was ready to resume and take up where they left off. We never tried to speak to one another in order not to interrupt the rapport that had developed between them. He seemed to be an entirely different man when we left him at the airport.
It was a quiet Christmas with Frances’ family, our first together but, in retrospect, Frances shared the Holiday with a family in the snows of central Minnesota and another in the bayou country of Louisiana really, not a bad beginning.
The return trip to Nebraska across old highway #6 was uneventful. Snowfall and wind since we came home had left drifts in many places but the road had been plowed clean leaving cuts several feet higher than the car. Then with work complete in Stratton we were on the way home in late January.
When I noticed that the car was overheating. We stopped at an all night gas station East of Hastings and asked the attendant to see if he could locate the cause of the problem. He drove the car inside and in a few minutes told us that the head gasket was leaking and should be replaced adding that he had all the necessary parts and could start work immediately if we wanted him to do the work. He was finished in less than three hours, charged us $70.00+ and we were on our way. 1953 was a different time with different people and different attitudes.
The first week back in Des Moines Frances began to feel ill and continued to go down hill until near the end of the week it was apparent that she should go to a hospital. We called an ambulance at about 8 PM.
The day had been a weather freak for mid winter in Des Moines first warming up, then rain turning to sleet and finally to snow as the temperature returned to winter normal. The ambulance arrived and the driver stepped out and had started toward the rear door when his feet went up in the air and he landed flat on his back on the icy street. I and his attendant picked him up and they proceeded with a bit more caution to get Frances loaded on a gurney and into the ambulance. She was transported to Mercy Hospital. Due to the road conditions I did not get to there until the following morning. She had miscarried and the first of our future was gone. There was nothing that could be said that would not have made the hurt worse and we shared the loss in our own speechless language of love for one another. Each yesterday is gone forever and tomorrow beckons impatiently with all its unknowns. She was discharged from the hospital late the same day and in less than a week had regained her strength and vitality.
EFC then teamed me up with my older brother, Dennis. First on a telephone building foundation in Maquoketa IA, then a school foundation in Savannah IL, then an industrial building at the John Deere Tractor Works in Ottumwa, IA and finally to another school in Council Bluffs IA. Dennis maintained a home south of Leon IA and was home only on week ends. Frances and I traveled together to each of the work sites. During the work in Council Bluffs Dennis caught a cold which rapidly turned to pneumonia and he was hospitalized. Work on the school was complete and I was told to ship the EFCO equipment to a clinic construction site also in Council Bluffs. Upon arrival at the school the following morning I found entrance to the site blocked by Labor Union pickets. This Union had walked off and began picketing all construction sites in the Council Bluffs area. I located the Business Agent for the Union and arranged for an escort through the pickets to oil all EFC equipment and returned to our apartment to let Frances know what had happened. EFC told me to return to Des Moines, which cost us a months rent which had been paid three days earlier
Everything in Des Moines was also shut down by a construction Trades Union strike but work on a wastewater treatment plant in Indianola IA, fifteen miles south, was continuing under a special arrangement with an out of state contractor . EFC’s foreman at this site, to which I was sent, was Chuck Hakey, an old friend from Hastings NE. I was here through the summer and most of the Fall so Frances was able renew old friendship and be with family in her home town area.
Late Fall and early Winter were in Cedar Rapids IA in a foundation for a new Masonic Museum but was also a time of learning all about stretch marks. Primarily because of the difference between boys and girls we were expecting apparently sometime in January 1954.
We returned to Des Moines to finish out the year at a school building in West Des Moines and sure enough on January 14th Paul was born at Mercy Hospital. Now I really knew why there was a difference between boys and girls because I know I couldn’t have done all this by myself.
On February 3rd, sitting alone in St. Anthony’s Church, I made the conscious judgment that the important thing, for me, was not to know how to do the work but how to get it done. Some people are happy being a tradesman and working with their hands. Not for me. I felt more comfortable with mental challenge. Further I was convinced that using coercion and intimidation to motivate people was the pinnacle of dumb. I was already convinced that a person would contribute more if he were convinced that he was as important to success as I was.
EFCO sent me to Newton IA to work on a foundation at the Maytag Complex which was close enough to commute daily from Des Moines. This was the first project with Kenny Surls, a six foot plus barrel chested fellow whose day was appropriated nearly in equal thirds of laughing at profane humor, yelling at someone in the crew with equally off color language and finally doing what he was paid to do, supervising the work. It became obvious as we became better acquainted that Kenny had a very large ego and that he liked to hob knob with the project management if he could find someone to lead the crew in his absence. This would be important at a later time and different place. Otherwise the frost melt together with late winter rain turned the clay site into one day of mud after another until we were done.
Then to Carlisle IA, thirty miles closer to home, and the head house foundations for a very large grain storage facility. Same General Contractor and Kenny Surls as foreman again. There was a lot of work accomplished but at times the place was not unlike a looney bin. We worked forty feet in the air on two inch by six inch scaffold plank with a crazy Iron Worker Forman tossing fire crackers and laughing his head off every time he managed to frighten someone
On April 21 we were awakened by a phone call between 11 and midnight telling me that aunt Elizabeth Plude had passed away. I couldn’t believe, I didn’t want to believe it. Elizabeth was Mothers’ younger sister who lived on East 29th Street in Des Moines. She and her husband Walter (Bunk) both worked for the Des Moines Health Department and had no children consequently they were very generous to the Schmidt boys especially at Christmas time All the overnight trips to meet Frances before we were married was to their home and she was nothing but supportive upon learning we were going to be married. “So you are going to join the club of two heads on one pillow” she said “you’ll like it”. She made a strawberry pie that you can’t believe and we walked by half of one of them leaving the house following the call that night. She and Walter had been to a gathering of some sort with others from their office and upon returning home Elizabeth had brushed her teeth and gotten into bed, Walter did the same but by the time he got to the bedroom she was gone. Frances and I had lost one of our first and best friends and it hurt.
Then to downtown Des Moines to an insurance building foundation. I was about two weeks into this project when Frances and I returned home from a visit with her folks and found a large EFCO manila envelope between the screen and the door. Inside were the drawings and other data for an addition to Mercy Hospital in Omaha NE. with a handwritten note that I was to be there the following Monday morning. I had just become a foreman.
With Paul to care for and a short duration for the project Frances stayed in Des Moines and I got a room at the Omaha Y. With the hospital complete I moved to a Finance Company building also in Omaha.
I returned to Des Moines for the Memorial Day weekend. We already knew the next project would be a head house foundation for a grain storage facility in South Sioux City NE. Memorial Day was on a weekend so the following Monday was not a work day. Accordingly we decided to go to Sioux City on Monday morning and use the balance of the day locating a place to live. This could not have worked out better as we found a very nice one bedroom apartment on the third floor of an Apartment Hotel who also provided a crib for Paul and a freight elevator which allowed me to access the apartment in work clothes rather than through the lobby. My project was about a ten mile commute across the Missouri river to South Sioux City NE
The first day at work was hot there wasn’t much breeze in the thirty five foot deep excavation, but I had been in deeper holes on hotter days. That evening was relaxing with dinner, time with Paul and we were in bed by shortly after nine. In no time Frances was asleep but there was a stack of Life magazines which I stayed with till after eleven then slid down flat, turned out the light and was asleep almost immediately.
I awoke very briefly and was facing a Priest who was giving me the Last Sacraments. Frances was to my left holding Paul in her arms. In a matter of minutes I drifted away and was awakened again very briefly as I was loaded into an ambulance. Consciousness returned at what I guessed to be near noon the following day . My Mother and Dad were in the room with Frances along with my aunt Julia, Mothers’ sister who was the head nurse at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. In a very short time we were joined by a Doctor whose first words were “it looks like we’ve got a brain tumor--now we just have to find out if it’s cancerous”. Frances squeezed my hand and I looked up to see tears in her eyes for the first time. Again, I drifted away not to wake again for two days in Mercy Hospital, in Des Moines. There is no recollection of when or how I was moved to Des Moines and what , if any, procedures were performed in Sioux City and will never know as all hospital records there precedent to 1970 have been destroyed. When I did come to doctor Walter Abbot, a neurosurgeon was standing beside the bed and as soon as I was conscious enough to understand he explained that they had started a procedure that required removal of the spinal fluid from around the brain but had stopped when the fluid was found to be clouded with blood. He would try again in two days.
Again I have no memory of what took place in the intervening two days or the day of the procedure. I do know that when I woke again it was with a condition that made the slightest movement of my head incredibly painful and again Doctor Abbott was at my bedside explaining that there were more tests that they would like to do. After he left I came to the conclusion that enough was enough. Frances came in a short time later and with all the strength I could muster I asked her to get me out the hospital as soon as possible explaining that I didn’t care where she wanted to take me as long as it was away from here and she should not let doctor’s objections stand in the way. My next memory is of being in our car on the way to McCook NE, a trip of some 425 miles, where Mother and Dad were living. What never dawned on me until this writing was that she had no Drivers License from anywhere and to my knowledge had never driven a car before.
Keeping the car pointed west was the least problem facing Frances with a five month old son and a husband both of whom were equally dependent on her judgment, skill and energy for everything. She knew the recommended minimums for the medication that was keeping me unconscious and began reducing them as soon as we were in McCook. In the previous ten days I had been awake little more than eight hours total. Within three days I was awake at least four hours a day and on my feet most of the time as the painful side effects of the absence of spinal fluid diminished. Frances instinctively realized that recovery was dependent on activity and was determined to return me to a normal level of activity as soon as possible. Within ten days the medications were at the minimums and I was on my feet and active for a near normal full day. At this point I could begin to identify the damaged areas which included all of my right side in one way or another. This was not severe enough to be crippling and was handled as a work in progress that continues. Speech, in particular, the coordination of thought and spoken word needed to be addressed as verbal communication was essential to all normal activities. The immediate therapy was to slow everything down so as to avoid having thought completely outrunning the ability to verbalize. Frances was also in touch with EFC in Des Moines who generously offered me a job in the drafting room if it was found that I could not return to field work. By the third week I was visiting Dad’s school project , visiting with his employees and spent one whole day helping with a concrete pour, at the end of which I finally gave Frances the good news--it’s time for me to go back to work. It was mid week the week before the 4th and I called Des Moines to ask where they wanted me to go and was told the following day to be in Albert Lea MN to start a project at the Queen Stove Works on the 6th of July. All that followed owes its beginnings to these thirty days in June and July of 1954 and to Frances, who was with me from beginning to end with an iron will, loving care and the patience of a saint
Back to work and it was one hot trip all the way from McCook NE to Albert Lea MN with only the window cranks to regulate the air conditioning. Paul was cranky and I could understand why. Everybody soaked up their share of real air conditioning after we arrived and found a room. Then to dinner and a well deserved good nights sleep. Went to Mass Sunday morning then to breakfast followed by a swim in Albert Lea Lake. Was just a good day of nothing but rest and relaxation after the tiring trip. Monday we found the jobsite and found the forms had been shipped from a project in the Twin Cities without being cleaned. That was a tomorrow problem and we toured the area and had another quiet day relaxing. It was wonderful to be alone and together again. I called Des Moines first thing in the morning Tuesday to advise of the dirty form problem and to set up the mechanics of accounting for the time to be back charged to the Twin Cities Contractor. Then to work on a project that presented no challenge other than eight hours a day for a couple of weeks. I was told that any of my crew who wished could find work at the Badger Ordnance Works project in Baraboo WI. As for me it would be a sub-foreman position at either the Mt. St. Bernard’s Seminary in Dubuque IA. With Chuck Hakey or the same position in Baraboo with Ken Surls. This was not surprising as there had to be the question of my health in the back of the minds of the people in Des Moines. Word finally came that it would be Baraboo to run a small crew for various and sundry miscellaneous structures.
Upon arrival, in Baraboo, we located a half house apartment that was very tastefully decorated and appointed. Frances loved it but the landlady said she felt that Paul would be “creeping” more and more as he grew and would begin to damage things. There was disappointment all over Frances face as felt the lady was not going to let us have the place so I asked if she thought an additional five dollars a month would cover any “creeping” damage. A big smile came over her face and she allowed as how that might work out just fine and we had our apartment.
At work my first project was six powder storage buildings one of which was half complete in such a way as to indicate that labor money grew on trees. I just had to bite the bullet and eat the extra man hours to finish the first on in the crazy manner that it was begun. Afterward I began to show my people that smart work went much faster and easier than dumb hard work and we finished the powder buildings at a one a day clip. I was getting back to a routine of having literally every move for every man fixed in my mind for the following day before I went to sleep. The following day each person knew before work started exactly what I was looking to accomplish and I went out of the way to let them know that their contribution was as important as mine. The result was a crew that was happy and producing at a rate that surprised even me. All this did not go unnoticed. This project was comprised of some sixty five structures ranging from guard shack foundations to the shaker building which was nearly as large as a Wal-Mart and tall enough for a three deep stack. My first break came when Kenny found that I had no problem reading plans. Two summers as a timekeeper with dad hadn’t been wasted. When I got down to nothing to do I leafed through the plans and in so doing found that, like most everything else, there is a method. I didn’t have plans down quite as good as newspapers but it was good enough to impress Kenny and things got rearranged so as to make me available to all the form crews which brought me out of the miscellaneous structures and into the work on the main powder production buildings and tripled the size of my crew. An altercation between Kenny and his brother resulted in my manpower numbers being instantly doubled when Kenny made me responsible for the supervision of his brother’s crew. After Ken left I calmed his brother down and assured him that he would continue as before with the primary change being that he would be doing it my way.
I was getting to bed later and later but the more my mind worked the more enjoyable life became. An acceleration order from the Corps of Engineers turned the project into a six day a week job and would eventually make every day a “Daylight to Dark” work day with lights added to finish what needed to be done after dark
Down to one day a week off Frances, Paul and I made the most of every Sunday. The usual drill always included early Mass followed by a trip to the Dells for breakfast, a ride down the river in a DUK or whatever else that could be found to make a full day. I was almost unbelievable how fast things turned around. The car and all the miscellaneous medical bills were paid in full before the end of September. I had no problem keeping up the overtime pace and life was really worthwhile again. We even had a short visit from Frances’ sister Lillie and her husband Glen.
By mid October another crew had been added to my overall supervision and Kenny Surls was around only as required to point the general direction for the form crews. He was with the project management arrangement acting in what could best described as an assistant superintendent which he did well and which served his ego demands. Our working relationship couldn’t have been better and I tried to see that the problems needing his attention were kept to an absolute minimum. All of the supervisory people that I inherited were happy to let me have what they considered the onerous job of filing the EFCO daily report forms. Kenny was equally happy with this arrangement and thus it was that reports covering 65%+ of all the EFCO work on the project carried my signature. It was an additional burden but I felt that it would not go unnoticed by the people who reviewed them in Des Moines. At the time as well as in retrospect it is difficult to believe that the disastrous conditions of June had been so completely reversed nor have I ever forgotten that it was Frances that made it possible.
It was sometime in the Fall that Frances told me that she wanted to get a drivers license and that I should help her with what she would need to know to take the test. We went to a nearby state park, which had closed for the season, to let her practice. Paul and I got out and she spent the afternoon driving around the parking lot doing stops, starts, backing and parking until she stopped to pick us up to go home. There was a hill between the practice parking lot and the highway and when we were near the top I told her to stop and turn the car off, then told her restart the car and go on home, which she did without any problems. She gave me an irritated look, called me a dummy and we went home. She passed the written test the same week and the driving test a week later. Forty six years later I learned that she had already had more than enough practice to pass the driving test.
The long work days continued into Winter with just the three of us together for Thanksgiving and then on to Christmas. After getting cleared to take a couple of extra days at Christmas we decided to go back to McCook for Christmas with my family. Certainly, returning was a much different experience than leaving there in July not only because of the weather, but because of the completely changed circumstances. We took a train from Baraboo to Chicago that was almost as cold inside the coach as the weather outside. Chicago to McCook was on the California Zephyr and a very relaxing trip. The two days McCook was pleasant but gone all too soon. We switched from coach to a sleeping car for the return trip; boarded at ten PM and got good nights sleep then had breakfast between Davenport and Chicago. Then back on the freezer car for the last leg into Baraboo.
Back to work again for a week and celebrated New Years Eve at a party arranged by several of the local construction employees. It was a wonderful evening except that we both had to face the inescapable fact that we were getting on in years. My birthday the day before the party left us both twenty one years old.
The Corps acceleration Order and refusal to acknowledge the additional expense of overtime costs had taken its toll. Originally all of the EFCO work was by a subcontractor which lasted only thirty one days before he left the project broke. Harris Construction Co. of the Twin Cities, the General Contractor for the entire job picked up the form rental and payroll costs to keep things moving. Ultimately. However, they too went broke and the bonding company completed the project keeping Harris in place for supervision and administration. It is my understanding that the roofing subcontractor was the only contractor that did not go broke as a result of the overtime related to the acceleration of the work schedule.
There was no slacking of the pace until early in February when the crew sizes began to be reduced and I was told that I would be leaving at the end of the third week. This was not at all surprising. The need for Kenny’s presence at the superintendents level had ended and it was completely understandable that he would want to keep the people together that had come to Baraboo with him and would go with him to the next project. He would take my place.
Having completed my last day I was in the office taking care of the necessary items when one of the crew opened the door and told me that there were some fellows outside who wanted to see me. I went out to a line of eight or ten carpenters, each one of which was old enough to be my father, who shook my hand and wished me the best for the future. In the context of the mid-fifties construction industry this was a most exceptional and moving gesture. All that I had accomplished was due to men like these who were motivated by my respect for their dignity and call for help to achieve a common goal. In nearly seven months it was never necessary to raise my voice.
The following morning Frances said good by to the land lady who had become a very good friend, loaded Paul into the car and we were on our way to Des Moines. We were home before sundown and I was looking forward to at least a week, or possibly two, of rest. This was not to be.
There was a freezer building foundation for Morton Frozen Foods that needed to start the following Monday. This was a fairly long commute from Des Moines but for only about two weeks. During that Time Buick advertised a special on the 1955 Special two door sedans. We went to Guy Hornady Buick in Indianola IA where Frances dad bought his farm machinery and ordered our first new car. The only additions to the special price were the color. (A fire engine red body with a black top and a radio). Total cost after the trade allowance for the Chevy was about $1500.00. Delivery in two to three weeks
A grain storage facility for Quaker Oats, in St Joseph Missouri, was waiting when Webster City was completed and we moved there, returning to Indianola in an evening round trip to pick up the new car. Fegles Construction Co., from Minneapolis was the general contractor. Initially I had no responsibility other than the form work and the anchor bolts for the steel tanks above. There was an engineer who shot all the grades and who supervised the crew building the wheel barrow /Georgia buggy runway construction for pouring the concrete. The loading hopper for the concrete was set some two feet lower than the level of forms which left the people pushing the concrete buggies going uphill for the first thirty feet. This became important as the first pour with this method took twenty three hours of continuous pushing for the concrete crew. In the last six hours it took two men on each load on the uphill section of the ramp. The following Monday the Engineer was gone and I inherited all of his work. A method of shooting the concrete from the trucks to the forms from a road above the job was worked out and the pouring time for the next base was ten hours and eight for the final two. A conveyor tunnel completed the work.
Next, it was back to McCook NE for two projects, where Dad was still working on the school. Staying with them allowed us to put a playpen for Paul in the back yard and after dinner we all went to one of the surrounding sand pits to fish for walleyes. My first project was a foundation for a commercial building downtown which was fairly straight forward. The contractor, Buzzell Brothers Inc. knew very little about concrete, made the materials I needed available and let me do my thing. The next project were several long battered retaining walls at the new National Guard Armory. These two projects took most of the summer and more of our family was together than at any time since 1950. Jim, out of the Navy was enrolled at McCook Junior College during the school year and was laying brick at the armory this summer. Younger brother Bill was still in high school and working for Dad during this summer. It was the excavator on Dads project that was the key to a wonderful summer. He provided the boat for the weekend bug out to Lake McConaughy, at Ogallala NE, for walleye fishing. Five of us would troll across this lake dragging red and black Flatfish with worms on the back hook. We took fifty five fish, all between seven and nine pounds before the fourth of July. After the fourth with the walleyes not biting we went over to Lake Ogallala for trout fishing from the shore. It was a summer crowded with work and great recreation which came to an end for us when we left for Ames IA and a grade school foundation. Leaving McCook now was an entirely different experience from a year ago when everything was a question mark. This time we left with absolute confidence that there was no challenge we could not master.
Ames, IA is the home of Iowa State College and livable rental units are a scarce commodity during the school year, hence the best we could do was a motel with a kitchenette in Boone 20+ miles west. There is some good in every difficulty and it was this daily commute that was the motivator to begin looking for a mobile home. The Ames project was nearly complete when an ad appeared in the Des Moines stating simply “Mobile Home for sale--take over payments” with a phone number. We called, went to see the unit and committed to buy it all in one trip that evening. It was less than four months old, had never been towed on the road and had only been occupied by the young couple who were selling it. They had borrowed the down payment for a car and financed it, then borrowed the down payment for the trailer and financed it also. In less than three months the realized that the trailer payments were an impossibility. Frances took care of providing the finance company with the information needed for a credit check and after work on the second day the unit was transferred to our name. As it worked out the payments plus parking fees worked out to be substantially less than rental of fixed units. We moved into our new home at about the same time as the start of a new project on the west edge of Des Moines and it was not necessary to move it to a new location
The church foundation that came next was complete before Spring and the balance of the winter was spent building a swimming pool in the basement of the old Ford Motor Company factory on the edge of downtown Des Moines. The Des Moines School District had bought the building and was remodeling it into a High School; hence an Olympic size swimming pool was added.
The next project was two school foundations in Beatrice NE which would be the first move for us with the trailer. A load equalizing hitch was installed on the car which had a four inch square tube that extended to the front seat area of the car and was welded to the auto frame at the front end. To stiffen the rear coil springs heavy inflatable tubes were inserted inside the spring. With these in place and inflated and forty five pounds of air in the tires without the trailer attached one could feel a tooth pick on the road. To avoid the traffic through Omaha on the first trip we took #6 west but went up to #30 to cross at Blair NE then south on the west side of Omaha to #6 again to Lincoln to #77 on south into Beatrice. We were within twenty miles of the border and had just completed a gravel shoulder bypass of some highway work when the trailer hitch connection went down and the front of the car pitched upward accompanied by the screech of metal sliding along the pavement. I managed to get the entire car/trailer unit onto the shoulder and clear of the highway traffic and was looking under the car to try to determine what had happened when an Iowa Highway Patrolman stopped behind the trailer.
By the time he got to me I could see that the weld clip on the front of the equalizer tube from the hitch had fractured and my first question to him was the whereabouts of a welding shop. He said there was one in the small town straight ahead and waited while I disconnected the trailer and wired the front of the tube back to the car then guided me to the front door of the shop. I described my problem to the owner and he laid his work aside and began work on my car. The original installer had used too much heat and the weld clip had become crystallized and brittle. Fortunately it had failed with the unit moving at a very slow speed. The shop owner removed the entire hitch unit to check all the connections , installed a new weld clip and properly replaced everything taking nearly three hours in the process. The total bill was less than $75.00. Then it was back to the trailer, reconnect and on our way again. We kept everything in the cautious zone until we were south of Omaha where we picked up a section of newly paved interstate that had been opened to traffic and then began to pick up speed and then more and more until we were just a little above ninety mph. The ease with which the whole unit carried itself along at this speed was incredible. The running gear under the trailer had to be in near perfect alignment and balance to run so vibration free. To maintain this speed required only not letting the trailer speed exceed the car, or in other words just keep ahead of the trailer. Eight to ten miles of this was enough and we backed off to sixty mph with very, very light touches of the electric trailer brake lever with the index finger of my left hand which was resting on my knee. At Lincoln we were back on a two lane road but everything went fine into Beatrice and a parking space. Reaction to the trip by I and Frances differed with our outlook on the world. I felt that an airhead who didn’t know how to weld could very easily have cost us our lives and was upset that things didn’t go according to plan. Frances knew that God made airheads also and patiently took everything in stride.
Beatrice was a straightforward and uncomplicated pair of foundations that used up the Summer and part of the Fall. Next was a trip to Loup City NE to inspect a water reservoir roof that the contractor was doing himself after firing the EFCO foreman. Des Moines didn’t really know what was going on and wanted assurances that the forms weren’t going to come down on somebody when the concrete was placed. Assuming the stay wouldn’t be more than a week we took a room at the local downtown hotel. The concern about the instability of the form work was not unfounded. Even the carpenters that put the work in place were concerned but were only following instructions. After inspecting the supporting framing I understood their concern . The basic problem was that the beams which represented the greatest load had the lightest support. This was corrected and the entrance manhole forms were put in place and the deck was ready for concrete. An easy three days as I came to the hotel at noon to lunch with Frances and Paul and we toured the countryside in the evenings. I advised Des Moines that everything was ready but that the Superintendent wanted a day that was above freezing at six AM before he started to pour concrete which might not happen till Spring and was told to call them after returning to Beatrice for the next project
Our trip from Loup City to Beatrice the following day was an unforgettably beautiful Fall day made even better by the music of the day. Yellow Rose of Texas was being introduced and played nearly every half hour. Every once in a while Frances and I would join in the singing together and Paul would look at us like we were losing it and maybe we were but we were losing it together. Together, that’s what would always count this would be our last trip to Nebraska to work but the people of this wonderful state would always have a place in our hearts. I had been at eight projects in Nebraska from Omaha to McCook and we would never encounter such an accepting, unselfish group of people again our marriage started here with good wishes from everyone we came to know, indeed we could truthfully say there are no bad memories of this wonderful place. So, it was east on highway #92 and south on #77 and back to the trailer in Beatrice where I learned that Cedar Rapids IA would be the next stop.
An addition to the Case Tractor Works would end 1955 and begin the new year. Nothing out of the ordinary except perhaps the first Winter in our new home which passed without any adverse incident.
Spring took us to Beloit Kansas for an addition to the Girls State Reformatory and six weeks of nightly tornado warnings. Would you believe we arrived in Beloit right behind the elephants which were last in a circus parade that was about to end.
If that weren’t enough of an attention getter one of the front wheel bearings was screeching so loud one could hear it for a block. As soon as I could disengage from the parade we pulled into a gas station to get directions to the nearest mobile home park. I had no sooner stepped out of the car when a man walked up and introduced himself as the service manager of the local Buick Dealership, gave me directions to the only mobile home park in town and told me to bring the car down to the shop as soon as I disconnected the trailer. They weren’t open but he would be there to change the bearing so something else wouldn’t get damaged . I has hardly opened my mouth during this just standing and looking at him in disbelief. I did just as instructed, leaving the trailer, Frances and Paul to get things arranged for living and returned to the garage where my man was waiting . He replaced the bearing, told me to bring the car back as soon as I could and he would check the other bearing. The new car warranty would cover the cost. I assured him I would return at the first opportunity and left still bewildered at the incredible good fortune of the whole encounter. When the auto was returned they replaced the other bearing and inspected a “dark’ circle on the left rear fender that appeared to be a damage repair after the car had left the assembly line with the finish coat of paint too thin leaving the black primer below showing. This had been looked at the Buick dealers every place we had been since buying the auto but we had always departed before a Buick rep could inspect the car and approve the repair. We lucked out in Beloit as the rep from Omaha was expected the following week. Approval was given to repaint the entire red area of the car adding three coats of paint and then three more when a “run” was found in the repaint job.
Contractor for this project was the same as Beatrice NE the year before and wile I was not acquainted with this superintendent the general superintendent that visited the site once a week was the man I had worked with in Beatrice and I was more or less left to myself to set the work schedule. We needed additional labor for my crew so I “imported” two of Frances’ cousins from the Des Moines area to keep my schedule on time. This couple of familiar faces gave us company after hours. In addition we had a visit from Dad and Mother who rode down for a week end with my brother Jim. He was a little bent out of shape upon arrival as I had told him that Beloit was “just west of St. Joseph MO” which was not incorrect as it was truly about 125 miles west. This gave us one weekend of company but there was always the tornadoes to keep us on our toes, There was a warning sounded every night we were in Beloit and some evenings we could see one or more from the trailer court but none ever got close enough to leave the house. Evening entertainment was almost entirely limited to the drive in theatre and we attended when anything showing interested Frances. Unfortunately a girl friend of one of the laborers from the job came over to the car one evening and became a bit too familiar. Indeed, I believe that if the window hadn’t been partially rolled up she would have had her arms inside the car. I finally asked Frances if she wanted to go home, to which she replied “No I (with emphasis on the, I) came to watch the movie”. The only thing left for me to do was roll the window all the way up and suffer from the heat both from inside and outside.
A story about a work release program at the facility was circulating which related the inmates could be released for half day periods to work in local homes doing miscellaneous cleaning chores. The program was suspended when two inmates failed to return at the end of the day and two husbands came up missing. Completion here took us back to Cedar Rapids IA once again
There was no foundation work here when we arrived as the three projects with our equipment on site were shut down by a Building Trades strike. In the interim I worked on a building already in place for about a week when I received a call from Des Moines asking me to go to Ames the same evening, if possible, and report to the Linden Hall Girls Dormitory construction project the following day. The work had been underway for some time and our foreman had been fired the previous day.
I could understand why after a cursory look at the completed work. There were basement walls so misaligned that the contractor had them covered with a tarp. With the existing crew working I used my initial rounds getting acquainted with the people but allowing them to continue their own thing until I had a picture in my mind of abilities and attitudes. Two of the existing carpenter made no bones about their dissatisfaction about a foreign contractor being in Ames and allowed as the previous foreman got what was coming. My suggestion to the superintendent was that we exchange the existing crew for a crew of experienced form carpenters that could be on site tomorrow or the day after at the latest and let two carpenters he had go this evening. His response was “why wait till tonight--their checks will be ready at noon.” and so they were. When I handed the two their checks at noon one indicated they were happy to go commenting “you were a son-of-a-bitch to work for anyway”. The new people arrived the following day. They were all experienced which provided a smooth transition to an efficient operation that understood what was expected in the way of quality. Nobody would have to cover up the work.
In addition to the work at Linden Hall we were soon going to have to deal with that big difference between boys and girls with an addition to our family expected in October. Age was outrunning us before the year’s end we would both be twenty four and we didn’t want to be the only people on the old folks home with children to raise.
The Linden Hall contractor was from St. Joseph MO and didn’t want to discard hometown habits just because they had to be in Iowa. At that time all hard liquor in Iowa was sold in State Liquor stores with a state liquor “book” required for any purchase. Each purchase recorded in the book and as I understood the system only a limited amount could be purchased per month. With this limiting factor the superintendent acquired his book but then had the timekeeper also get a book to ensure that plenty of booze was available for the daily after work party. The superintendent and labor foreman were ordinary straightforward drinkers usually mixing with coke and down the hatch. Not so the brick foreman who would have a straight shot then make a trip to the water barrel for a chaser and then again and again and again. It just never occurred to him to bring a half gallon of water to the office. During working hours if one of the survey instruments was missing from the office the labor foreman could usually be found with it surveying the surrounding girl’s dormitories for whatever.
Next stop was Sturgis SD for the foundations under a new VA hospital at the site of the Fort Meade Cavalry Post three miles east of Sturgis. Getting to Sturgis with the trailer proved to be a very uneventful experience until we got to the southeast edge of the Black Hills. There we began to encounter the rises and dips of the foot hills. Coming to the crest of one rise we encountered a left curve that immediately told us we were going far too fast. The safety valve for this surprise was a farm road downhill into an alfalfa field which were fortunately able to take advantage of. We were able bring everything to a safe stop in about one hundred yards with another fifty yards to a spot where we could do a roundabout one hundred eighty degree turn and back to the road. Frances took the whole exercise in stride with only the suggestion that I top the hills a little slower. It was on by the edge of Rapid City and north to Sturgis to a Park on the west side of town.
Work at the hospital site got underway without a hitch but the first of several delaying problems surfaced early on. Reinforcing steel for the walls being formed was coming from Kansas City MO by rail and was needed before the end of the first week. Without the steel the only option to keep progressing was to erect as many forms for the first side as possible. This was only a temporary solution, however, and we were soon at a standstill and at almost the same time were advised by the shipper of why our steel had not been delivered. It had been mistakenly shipped to Fort Meade MD which left us staring at a delay of six weeks minimun.
By mid July the first of the steel was delivered and productive work was underway first on the incinerator, Boiler Building then on the two wings of the main hospital building. Excavation of the front wing area of the building exposed another delay to the work. There was an underground river that came to the surface near the middle of the building. Construction of the main exterior walls was completed but all miscellaneous work on the interior was halted pending completion of a waterproofing design for the bottom of the structure. At this point it was evident that we would be in Sturgis into next Spring.
A social group had appeared composed entirely of those at the site from elsewhere. There was Adolph and Marie Stroh, the project manager and his wife, the two labor foremen from Lincoln NE where the Contractor; Olson Construction Company was based. Also included was the owner/operator of the concrete batch plant from northern IA plus Frances and I. The Superintendent was from Milwaukee but was a reformed alcoholic and preferred to keep to him or with his AA Chapter friends. For Saturday evening dinner we would find a club and have dinner together and just enjoy the evening. We had found a Native American babysitter to be at home while we were away and found her to be both competent and reliable.
While the redesign work was going on the Contractor continued working where possible but only on days which were above zero degrees F. otherwise the salaried personnel were inside on nothing more than make work projects interrupted by coffee breaks. This existence continued through the last week of November and most of December. Probably the only positive effect of this arrangement was that there was no objection to us leaving for a week at Christmas time. Fortunately the weather cooperated and we had no problems traveling. This trip gave Frances an opportunity to visit with all of her family and for them to get to see Joe.
There was a surprising call one evening from Dad who said he was looking for a job as a result of a disagreement with the Langer Construction management regarding some unsafe bricklayer scaffolding I still don’t know whether he quit or was fired over the issue. It was about the same time that the superintendent on the Fort Meade project missed a couple of days work. When his buddies from the AA group got to his room he was stoned to the gills with five empty fifths in the room and he mumbled that his bootlegger was after another. They hauled him to the Deadwood hospital to start drying him out. The following day Adolph Stroh asked if I might know where they might find a superintendent to replace him. I gave him Dads’ name and phone number, explaining what his background was, with the disclaimer that Adolph would have to talk with him to see if they could come to some agreement. Dad was hired and was on the job the following week.
We had a visit from the engineer and vice president of Olson Construction who traveled by train from Lincoln to Newcastle WY then by car to Sturgis. It was my first meeting with the vice president but the engineer had been a high school class mate of my brother Jim. Had attended Iowa State College at Ames and had first worked for Olson on a campus construction project. I have no idea what productive work he did for the company but the obsequious performance that I watched in Sturgis was disgusting. He followed the president around like a little puppy. Opened doors, ordered his food from the menu and made all introductions to strangers before a conversation. It was an unbelievable performance.
Expecting to be in Sturgis four months when we left Ames last Summer we were finally ready to go back to Des Moines in February, a full nine months later. It was a foggy, rather chilly morning when we started, but was clear by the time we reached Chamberlin, SD where we had dinner at a truck stop. What we stopped for in northern IA has been forgotten but I certainly remember finding one of the trailer steps still in the down and out position. This could have caused all kinds of fun if it hooked a bridge rail.
Next project was a Clearwater Tank at the Des Moines Water works which was a fairly straightforward affair being rectangular in shape but a little over twenty feet deep. Not much of a thing time wise but Frances had time to visit the folks and the sisters who were still in Des Moines and the got to see Joe for the first time. With this out of the way it was on to Davenport IA for three projects for the same contractor.
General contractor here was Priester Construction and the largest of the projects was a new Catholic High School. Also to build was a National Guard Armory building in Davenport and a round tank foundation across the river in Moline IL. work on the Armory and tank started before the school was complete which required me to be at three different sites some days
Back at the trailer, meanwhile, more important things were happening as a result of the difference between boys and girls--again. The target date again was October and Frances wanted to be back in Des
19-86 Moines for the delivery and it looked like we might be complete in Davenport in time but if not the back up plan was to go to her folks place for the last week.
Everything in Davenport went in lock step fashion. Priester was great people to work with and there were just no hang ups or surprises. With one week to go on my work Frances thought it best to go to Des Moines to be close to the hospital. We went to Des Moines Friday night and I returned to Davenport Sunday afternoon. Because I wanted to be able to leave on a moments notice I had made arrangements with a commercial trailer mover to bring the trailer from Davenport. My final weeks schedule was to ship our equipment out of Davenport Friday before noon, return with the car, with the trailer to be picked early Friday morning and parked in place in Des Moines by the time I arrived in the PM. Gathering all my dirty laundry Thursday evening I went to the Laundromat which took two hours tops. Upon returning, surprise, no house. I would learn later that the mover was running a day ahead of schedule and when he found our trailer locked and empty hooked up and did what he was hired to do. After getting myself calmed down I went to the YMCA for the night, got up the next morning , did what was left to do at the school site and left for Des Moines finding the trailer exactly where it was supposed to be and ready to move into on the fourth and Frank was delivered on the ninth.
I would start work on the foundations for the new YMCA building on Monday the sixth in downtown Des Moines. In a visit to the EFCO Home Office on the previous Saturday I had learned that Babe Hakey had been diagnosed with cancer and she and Chuck had returned to the Chicago area. This news struck me very acutely for it was in working with and watching Chuck at Hastings in 1952 and later at Indianola IA that I became irrevocably convinced of my approach to the supervision of those who would later work for me which demanded that each mans human dignity be respected . It was Church that showed me how to do it. I also knew that Babe was as precious to him as Frances was to me. To many in the rural Midwest these two “foreigners” from the big city were “different”. To Frances and I they were and remain among our first and best friends.
With the three boys we began thinking about a permanent home. Paul used the top bunk, Joe the bottom and Frank was still in the crib which was in the living/dining room but 260 square feet would serve for only so long and we started looking around the Des Moines area.
Knowing that we would be here through the winter allowed us to enjoy weekends and holidays with Frances’ family and to renew old friendships. Certainly Frances deserved this after the six years we had behind us. We finally found a home in Norwalk, about 10 miles southwest of Des Moines. It was a three bedroom model home with a full basement and a carport in a new development. It took some three weeks to sell the trailer, find furniture and get moved in. What was unexpected was the ensuing visitor parade by my family culminating in the eight day Christmas celebration that reached a maximum of twenty two.
General Contractor for the YMCA building was Wietz Construction of Des Moines who, according to Frances father, Barney, was the best of the major Des Moines contractors. Their site management arrangement was different in that the Superintendent was an accountant with construction activities supervised by an elevated carpenter foreman. My position required that I coordinate with him and account to the superintendent for my costs. It was different but very easy to adapt to. One of the new things they wanted to try was insulating the concrete forms in cold weather instead of enclosing and heating them. I worked out a method which was accepted by the Architect provided we keep temperature records which was no problem. Everything went very smoothly through the winter and into the spring as far as the work was concerned but it was early spring that I had my second problem.
I was walking from back to front of the project when, without warning, I fell forward unconscious for probably for a minute or two. Several people were around me who had seen me fall all of whom I recognized. They were asking which hospital I wanted to be taken to and I understood every word they said but I was unable to respond. Apparently temporarily paralyzed I could neither speak or move a muscle. This lasted another two or three minutes until mustering what seemed to be all the energy left in me I finally uttered “Mercy” which was the hospital name they wanted. By the following day I was up and around and was discharged with a chewing out by the doctor for not taking my medicine with no inquiry as to what had taken place with me physically.
In the Spring of 1958 I went on to the new Meredith Publishing Plant in West Des Moines. We had entered an entirely new way of life with Frances at home in a real house, caring for the children, visiting with her hometown friends and her family on a regular basis, normal for most families but new for us. She took care of all the finances save for my personal spending leaving me to concentrate on my work. We had long since established mutual trust such that there were no questions regarding what was happening. If I brought a problem home from work she would listen politely then assure me that I could build anything and we would go on to family fun or concerns. There were just no problems.
It was time for a new car. The 1955 Buick had given us good service. One hundred thousand miles was usually the limit for 1950’s vintage engines which could be overhauled for additional service but the bodies of that period had very little anti rust treatment so I felt to try to go beyond the century mileage mar was a losing proposition. This one had also towed the trailer a good many miles. So it was back to Hornaday Motors in Indianola IA where it had been purchased to get a new 1959 LeSabre sedan. Black with the wide wings on the back fenders. Low with the appearance of being a half mile long.
And finally I moved on to what would be my final field project for EFCO which was an expansion of the filtration and softening plant at the Des Moines Waterworks for the A.H. Neumann Co. of Des Moines. Frances’ father had educated me as to this company’s reputation regarding labor relations stating simply that they had fired every carpenter in Des Moines at least twice. This may have been true but I did not find it necessary to let anybody go in the year of this project. This was a one of a kind project in that all the EFCO equipment was new and of a different design from that used on all previous rental projects and this would be the only project that the newly designed and patented equipment would be used on a leased basis. The old equipment would be phased out and the standard rental contract would be replaced with a purchase with the option to return contract. Eventually there would be no field organization. I had arrived at the top of this organization just in time to see the beginning of the end. Eventually the last of the old forms would be sold for use overseas with the stipulation than they never be returned to the U. S. Without any substantiation it has always been my feeling that Arthur Neumann was one of the original investors in EFCO in the early thirties and this new equipment lease arrangement was in deference to the individual and his past association with EFCO.
I would witness one of the worst accidents of my entire career on this project when Fred Robbins, Frances cousin fell from a temporary heat enclosure and was impaled on three rebar dowels protruding from the concrete below. His cry for help is still with me. The iron worker foreman made an immediate U turn to get a torch to cut the dowels but before he could return three men lifted him off the rods and laid him on a sheet of plywood where I stayed with him, except for a call to his wife, until the ambulance came. Frances and I went to the hospital that evening and found him in a two bed ward, which was mandatory under workman’s comp regulations, but with a party in progress by visitors of the other ward patient. It seemed to matter not one whit to these people that Fred might not survive the night. I pointed this situation to the evening floor nurse who could only remind me of the regulations which created the situation. When we returned home I called Art Neumann at home ant told him what we had found and he also reminded me of the treatment regulations. By this time I was sick of hearing about regulations that were killing the patient and told Neumann that he and I both knew that one call from him to the hospital would move the patient to a private room. I hat touched the right button of an old man who wasn’t as indifferent as many thought him to be. He made the call and Fred was moved to a private room Fred returned to work some thirty days later with his left arm functional with the help of a prosthesis which enabled vertical movement of the limb.
During the summer of 1959 we made our first trip to the Detroit lakes area. Jim had bought a lot on Lake Eunice and wanted to build a home. Ed was in the Marine Corps and Dennis had moved to MA, but the balance of the family was there to start the foundations. We excavated the footings by hand then mixed water and cement with the excavated gravel for the concrete needed for the footings. The exterior walls and roof framing was done on subsequent trips. The siding is cedar shingles on both the walls and roof, all of which were creosoted in a soaking tank by Frances.
With the completion of the waterworks project at the end of 1959 came the end of my field work for EFC. On my last day at this project Bob Harlowe, Field Supervisor for EFC and I were talking with Arthur Neumann Owner of the company that was my employer when without warning Neumann, who was old enough to be my grandfather, put his arm around my shoulder and told Harlowe that “this was the best man you ever sent us”. Coming from one who had been using EFC equipment since the inception of the company and who was very likely a major stockholder I was left speechless. Bob Harlowe just looked at me with a big grin on his face. We shook hands with each other and the first career of my married life ended. I was there for compliments for the accomplishments but Frances, who literally made everything that I did possible was at home with our three boys and quietly listened to my recitation of what had taken place. At every low point and each self doubt her quiet assurance was always the same. “You can build anything”. It was an atmosphere that made failure impossible. By this time, however, I felt the connotation “dreamer” was a misnomer. I had come to believe that what had guided us was a dimension of the mind that admitted to no definable limits that were not achievable when pursued with a temper of the will that allowed for no failure. If we needed to do the impossible, as defined by others, we made it happen. Perhaps the most important practical aspect of this was that the next generation was now beginning to watch this happen. Indeed, I believe more character formation takes place through the silent medium of a child’s eyes than we ever imagine.
The patents on the concrete forms that the field organization was built around were very close to expiring. A new form would be replacing them which was available on a sale basis only. It wouldn’t happen immediately but the end was inevitable. The immediate future was colored by the current ongoing recession which would not run its course until mid 1961. It was obvious that there had to be a new beginning. That became a reality in January 1960 when I became a sales engineer with EFC.
The training for the new position came between thanksgiving and Christmas, 1959 during which time I found myself going to a private office to make phone calls in order to accommodate my self consciousness, got acquainted with the other salesmen at the company wide sales convention and made a trip to Mexico MO. To talk with a fellow who was contemplating a development of round houses. The benefit of a circle versus a square or rectangle are obvious in that more space can be enclosed in a circle with less material. That being said the obvious question becomes: Is the space equally useable? More important but less obvious was the acceptability from a marketing standpoint. The person I visited with had a very positive attitude and I offered no opinion. Finally, during the training period I got an unintended glimpse into the relationship of the various people in company management. Most of these types lived in the West Des Moines area . Thus it was there was a fairly heavy snow fall and come time to go home Mr. Jennings suggested they all go in his car, a sizeable Lincoln sedan which would easily accommodate six. The rest of the story came the next morning with stories from more than one of the lucky passengers about having to push the Lincoln all over West Des Moines.
Frances, meanwhile, had made arrangements with Mother to bring Paul back to Des Moines where he would be taken to Prophetstown IL, where Dad was building a school, and stay with them until after the new arrival. We already knew she would have to go to Deadwood, which was the nearest hospital, for the delivery. This round trip was completed successfully and on October 5th Joe was delivered with no complications and three days later were home in Sturgis. Satisfied that she was sufficiently recovered Frances and Joe left about two weeks later for Prophetstown to pick up Paul. Things got a bit ugly on the Prophetstown/Des Moines leg of the return trip due to freezing rain which left the roads covered with a sheet of ice. Things were about back to normal with a two day stay in Des Moines and the balance of the return trip was uneventful. We were all back together again by the first week in November.