1960 / 1964
Certainly a new beginning was appropriate for the new decade of the 1960s. From Iowa , to Pennsylvania and finally Minnesota we would see first hand affluence, poverty, politics, another beginning white collar theft and deceit, temptation, educational ineptitude, another boy, then a girl in the family, natural catastrophe and the Beau Arts Ball. The potter’s wheel of destiny had begun to turn on the vessel of our future which would overflow with broad horizons, change, challenge and choices.
The move to Pennsylvania is indicative of how smoothly a major move came off once there was a firm date for leavingIowa. We had about two weeks notice that I would get the EFCO Pittsburgh office. The Des Moines District sales manager and I would make the trip together in our car with arrival at the office inMt.Lebanon, a south suburb ofPittsburgh, on the morning of the third day of the trip. We sold the house the week before I was to leave with a one month occupancy window for the new owners. In that time I needed to find our new home which could be occupied within the one month window. I found the home in less than a week. Frances made arrangements for the movers to pick up the furniture and with their expected delivery date in hand made airline reservations for her and the boys. She and the boys rode to the airport with her father and arrived a day ahead of the furniture, had a one night motel stay, and was at the house to supervise placement of the furniture. The following day Paul was enrolled in school and arrangements made for his bus transportation to and from school. Total time lapse from the morning I leftIowawas approximately ten days.
The house was different to say the least. Driving into the garage from the rear of the house you exiteted the garage to the left into a small basement area then up a short stairway to the kitchen from where, in five step intervals you went to the dining room, living room and finally a seven step rise to three bedrooms and a bath. It was on the very edge of Mt. Lebanon which further south had some incredibly beautiful and expensive homes. Indeed, I would come to learn that realtors and real estate marketing were about the only industry in town. It was not uncommon for people, in an apartment, to buy a home early in the Spring, live there until late Fall, sell it and move back to an apartment. To facilitate this activity there was one major association of realtors and several independent offices. The association and the independents had absolutely no love for one another. Bad as that was there was still the owner who tried to sell his own home who at the top of the toilet paper list with both groups. My office was in the Wagner Real Estate building (the friendliest office in town). Wagner came to work one morning and related how he had called a party who were selling their own home at five a.m. telling them that he had just arrived at the airport and wanted to come right out to see the house. His standard introduction at coffee for me was “this is Schmidt--he is fromIowa--he sticks his head out the door at 5 a.m. and wonders where all the traffic went”.
Our first social event was a Republican Party event where I was more than surprised to hear of people who were leaning toward Kennedy. These were people of extreme affluence as was most of Mt. Lebanon and was in no way representative of 1960 Pennsylvaniawhich was in the throes of steel mill closings exacerbated by the recession. One could get a graphic picture of the other side of the coin by driving through a city like Uniontown which was experiencing 25% unemployment. My lasting memory of my trip there is of the eerie quiet and almost total absence of movement on a major street through town in the middle of the day.
Fortunately we were not completely without relatives in the area. My uncle Paul had lived in East Liberty, a suburb of Pittsburgh, most of his life being employed as a tinner by the H.J. Heinz Co. Paul was my father’s oldest brother. When my paternal grandmother passed away dad, in his teens, was sent from the family home in Portsmouth, Iowa to Pittsburgh to live with Uncle Paul and Aunt Helen where he worked days and attended Carnegie Tech, then a two year technical school, nights. I had seen Uncle Paul only once in 1948. He had been hospitalized and when Aunt Helen could get no satisfactory answers as to the illness or prognosis she had called dad for help. In response to the call dad, mother, two of my brothers and I made an all day, all night drive fromIowatoPittsburgh. This trip was indicative of the special relationship between dad and Uncle Paul. Uncle Paul, in this person’s opinion, was an entirely different person than his siblings. Even on what was to be his death bed he exhibited a unique sense of humor and warmth. The cheerful impressions of the brief hospital meetings locked into the memory bank of a fifteen year old and have never left. Dad helped Aunt Helen get his things in order and we returned home. Uncle Paul passed away about ten days later. Aunt Helen was an Irish immigrant and her brogue in 1960 was the same as the day she stepped off the boat. They had one child, Peggy Ann. Helen, Peggy Ann and her husband still lived in the same home we had come to in 1948 and our whole family was welcomed as long lost friends on each of our visits.
Frances settled in this radically different environment with remarkable ease. Paul was in school for his first year and Joe & Frank were three and two respectively. Grocery shopping was a walk across the alley back of the house andWashington Street (Main Street for Mt. Labanon) was only a four to five block walk. This was still in the “Blue Law” days when all retail stores were required to be closed on Sunday. The boys made good use of the empty parking lot across the alley as a playground and the sloping areas behind the surrounding retaining wall as a race track for the trike and wagon. Joe claims to have a fractured skull from a dive off the top of the retaining wall to the parking lot surface in the wagon. He had been born “knock kneed” and was at this time wearing his shoes on the wrong feet which was the doctor’s prescription for straightening his legs. It worked and mercifully was complete before he started school.
My district sales area included Southwest PA, the north one third of West VA and the southeast edge of Ohio. It was steel mill country and the north edge ofAppalachiawith the steel industry in flux from mill closings and all economic activity depressed from the current recession . All these conditions were reflected in thePittsburghsales office activity. All returns, however, are not measured in dollars. About mid summer I received a call from the U.S. Steel Engineering Department asking if I could take time for a discussion of the form requirements for a hydroelectric dam in British Guiana,South America. I kept this appointment the following day and reviewed the use of cantilevered forms for the project. This meeting will forever remain the confirming recognition of all that had come before. Here was a kid eight years removed from the poor hill country of southern IA standing among a group of the most competent practicing construction engineers in the country accepted for my expertise in the heavy construction industry. The meeting lasted the better part of an hour and I departed with the drawings that would be needed by our special forms engineers. Back at the office I completed the paperwork needed by the Des Moines office, put the material in the mail and sat down for a short time out of my own. I had no illusions about our chances of turning this into a sale. Our primary competition in this field had their shops less than three hours from the Galveston TX docks while ours were in Des Moines. There was just no way we could overcome the added shipping costs.
The entire encounter was related that evening to Frances who listened patiently to the whole story and then inquired why this was so special with the comment that this was just part of my job. With my ego thus punctured we sat down to dinner.
An interesting side to my trips to West Virginia was local comments on the Democratic Primary race between Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota and John Kennedy of Massachusetts. The Humphrey campaign was a bus tour which included a guitar toting folk singer while the comments heard about the Kennedy effort as often as not was about the “people from Chicago“ who were “spreading money around“. The message was that Joe Kennedy was buying the election for son Jack. The overall impression was that Humphrey never had a chance.
By the time the Pirates won the series it was more than apparent that there was going to be another addition to the family early next year. Thus the year of 1960 ran its course with the holidays in Pennsylvania amid the dirty winter snow. It still only took about a week for the mill fall out to turn the snow to dark gray.Francesdoctor said he expected new mothers to stay in the hospital a full five days simply because they deserved the rest. This ultimately was shortened by one day due to a call from Des Moines telling me to close the Pittsburgh office down as rapidly as possible and to plan to be in the Minneapolis office as soon as possible with a brief stop in Des Moinesen route. Save for the leaving thePittsburghodyssey was ended. Certainly it had been no economic success but we were introduced to another world of people. From afar we watched the traffic in the fast lanes of the auto bahn of the affluent and indifferent but great lessons were to be learned in this melting pot of ethnic groups from south, east and central Europe if you could allow yourself to be guided by the twin companions of compassion and understanding. The relationships with the people of metropolitan Pittsburgh, the mills to the north, the poverty of East liberty and Uniontown, the misperceived northern Appalachia, in Clarksburg, Wierton and Steubenville whether for minutes or months was added to the previous years across the Midwest to mold our character and fix the attitudes and values that would guide our family life in the critical formative years of the next generation.
I scheduled the moving van the same day that Frances came home from the hospital and left the following morning arriving in Des Moines before noon on the second day. The meeting in the Des Moines office was brief and could just as well been done over the phone. I was told that the Minneapolis Field Service man was still in the office and that his primary function was to guide me around the metropolitan area as needed until I was familiar enough with the Twin Cities to get by on my own. As I traveled north from Des Moines my mind was preoccupied with one question, namely “why had the Minneapolis office suddenly become vacant, save for the Service man?” The subject was not even mentioned in Des Moines.
This put me in Minneapolis late Friday afternoon. I found a room in the Lake Calhoun area on Saturday, rested on Sunday, with my first day in the office Monday morning and to the airport to meet the family in the afternoon.
I was in the office in the Miracle Mile Shopping Center of St. Louis Park Monday and got acquainted with the waiting service man, whose name is presently lost to me. He was a shaky fellow; chain smoked and for whatever reason was initially very defensive, in particular regarding the departed sales people. I let him say what he had to say but did not probe. My interest was in the potential customer pool and how he could help me in becoming familiar with them and review of the accumulated mail. Phone contacts were intentionally delayed until I could prioritize my time. It was off to the airport in the afternoon, met the family with about two hours to visit before they were off to Bemidji to stay with my folks until I found a house and got the furniture delivery scheduled. This move would not be complete for nearly a month but it was Monday, February 13th that the family came together for the first time in Minnesota.
The following day a fellow named Lyzum Cota presented himself at the office and was introduced by the service man as the owner of Republic Forming Co. who owned a very large inventory of EFCO equipment. Both Cota and our service man seemed to go out of the way to try to impress me with how important this company was to EFCO operations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I couldn’t quite understand where this encounter was going or why it was necessary. Cota was obviously a hand’s on hard working individual. He was dressed in work clothes and seemed in a hurry to get on with his own business . Indeed the question in my mind was why he felt it necessary to be here at all. As the conversation went on it became obvious that Cota’s presence had been arranged by our service man. I listened to what they had to say but was becoming very convinced that they were anxious for me to learn their version of the relationships with the previous sales people. Again I indicated little interest in the subject. My mind was just elsewhere as I had mentally scheduled the EFCO work I needed to get at as soon as possible. In my mind talk about yesterdays sales force was along the order of gossip . I just didn’t have the time to waste. After this meeting I was able to begin organizing myself and made a few phone calls.
The Minneapolis economy was far different than Pittsburgh .The phone work arranging appointments was very productive and it was soon necessary to find clerical help. My service man made contact with the secretary who had previously been a full time employee and I made arrangements with her to work on an “as needed” basis after six in the evening. As needed soon became every night with me driving her home between nine and ten each night which made for rather long days This young lady was barely over five feet had genuine blond hair, overdid the red lip gloss and dressed well, but with nothing accented. While the packaging and decoration could have been upgraded there appeared to be nothing unfortunate about what had happened naturally. Most memorable was the incredibly small feet. When I opened her car door each night the under dash light illuminated two feet that were barely larger than two side by side hot dog buns encased in black suede flats that came to abrupt sharp points in the center of each foot.
However she could dispose of a mountain of work in three hours and since she was intimately familiar with the file system and all of EFCO forms it all found its way to the proper place. She took time to give me a coherent explanation to the demise of the previous sales staff . While I accepted her version as being sympathetic to the departed, there seemed to still be a gap in the story. According to her the first man to leave had departed, of his own volition, to establish his own company that marketed a patented check writing system. She explained that his father was in the banking business and would be involved in the new venture. John Greenfield, the second salesman, she explained had worked all Fall and early Winter on a large batch of special forms needed for the Oahe Reservoir Dam in South Dakota and had sent a signed contract for the equipment to Des Moines which was turned down because the special forms fabrication facilities could not handle additional work. They were apparently completely occupied with the fabrication of forms for the first Minuteman Missile sight which had been sold by Ralph Jennings, eldest son of the founder and CEO of EFCO and the manager of the special forms department. According to the secretary John had started to lunch about a week after his contract had been turned down, had returned before leaving the building and dictated his resignation. In short one left to start a new business and the other in a pique.
My service man and guide, however, was turning out to be one convoluted piece work. His shaking and smoking seemed to get worse by the day with the addition of a story nearly every morning of the previous evening’s imaginary escapade with a different woman each night. I finally came to the conclusion the he was a confirmed alcoholic which was of considerable concern since he was doing almost all of the driving. His general conversation, however, gradually became less and less guarded and there began to be off the cuff comments regarding the departed salesmen and Republic Forming Co. .
The success with company business only made it more difficult to find time to devote to finding a house with most of the searching delayed until Saturday and up to Bemidji Sunday to be with the family. Consequently it was nearly a month before we moved into a house near the intersection of Osseo Road and 69th Avenue. While this was a rental we ultimately bought a house less than a block away. Paul got back to school right away and Frances began to take the necessary steps to ensure that Joe would not be a year late in starting school due to his birth date being in October.
Thus by March we were in our new home, an insurance adjusting firm had leased the suite of offices formerly used only by EFCO and we had sub-let one office from them with our secretarial work hourly by their girl, the service man went to Kansas City and oblivion and my “as needed” girl went on to a March wedding----almost but not quite like a happily ever after story.
We lived the second house from the corner of 69th with Frank and Karen Bublitz in the third. They were a very friendly and pleasant couple easy to visit with, probably three to four years younger than we were but as I remember with no children. Frank worked as a book keeper, and driver when necessary, for a bulk oil dealer located in Brooklyn Center on Highway 100. Frances and Karen became fast friends who made for a diversion, when time allowed, from the day in, day out routine of the four boys who by the Fall saw two in school and two still at home. When I began the mental review to begin 1961 it was as if my mind had gone almost blank after we got settled in the house. I just could not come to reconciliation with this blank interval until I came to the realization of how our lives had changed with our move to Minnesota. Quite simply we had become just an ordinary family in an ordinary community with four children to get ready for their place in the world. Not really exciting stuff that one tracks on a regular basis but on the other hand far and away the most important work of our lives. There had always been the unspoken determination by both of us that any children that came our way would be prepared for a different world than that which we had left behind. The sum total of the knowledge accumulated across the Midwest prairie and the Appalachian foothills would contribute in a priceless way to this work of preparing these children for their world. The humdrum life of discipline and love is not the stuff of exciting reading.
While the Bublitz family were almost perfect neighbors those on the other side were something else again. The names are forgotten Mother and the children were good people but dad was one different piece of work. On summer weekends he would parade around the yard in a tight bathing suit and sandals. When this failed to elicit whatever comment he expected he began to pass along complaints about how we used our property. First came the complaint about the location of the garbage can which was the same location used by the previous owner of our property. I moved the can. Then there was the limb from a tree on our property that extended across the fence. I cut the limb. Then there was the apples from a tree across the street. When I asked our kids how they were getting into our yard I learned that there were apple throwing sessions with the neighbors kids throwing at our kids and our boys returning fire. I put a stop to the boys return fire with the apples telling them that the apples thrown into our yard by the neighbors children were to be were to be tossed across the fence into their yard but never at anybody. Thus a pile of apples accumulated on the neighbors side of the dividing fence. Apparently when Adonis learned how they got there he went ballistic, hired an attorney, filed a disturbing the peace complaint which required my appearance in court and then failed to appear himself when the time came. I assumed that He got an education from the court regarding frivolous suits as that was the end of the apple business and he did his bathing suit thing on the far side of his house out of our sight. Frances and his wife got on well when he was at work and the kids continued to play together and their father continued to be his own worst enemy.
My new territory covered all of Minnesota, all of North Dakota and the western third of Wisconsin. While there were short trips to Wisconsin these never extended to the North. I do however recall one trip that took me to Spring Valley WI in the morning and Spring Valley MN in the afternoon. Most of my time was spent in the Metro area of Minnesota with an occasional trip to the western edge of North Dakota, a five to six day journey through Fargo, Bismarck, Dickinson, Williston, Minot, Grand Forks, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls and finally home. I never did really adjust to this time away from home.
I was never a baseball fan but there was some remodel work at the Twins stadium, at that time in Bloomington, which I visited from time to time and on game days I tended to stay overly long.
In the office I was getting an education on the Republic Forming Corporation, the largest single owner of our equipment in Minnesota. With the new office arrangement I did my own filing and I was finding filings for this company scattered amongst totally unrelated files. On an “as found” basis I began to move these to a single chronological file. Since this company had the largest past due payables account they were put on a COD basis. With this I learned that the “owner” of the company could not write a check. Each purchase required a trip home to get a check written by his wife which he endorsed and delivered to me. Finally I was beginning to get an education from people at companies who at one time had been year in year out repeat customers of EFCO rental equipment. What I was hearing was that the contacts by my predecessors was relative to purchase only and if there was no interest in purchase then were referred to Republic Forming who offered to subcontract the form work involved. Some even expressed surprise that we were still in the equipment rental business. Milton Mays, chief estimator for the Krause-Anderson Company, largest general contractor in Minnesota reacted with genuine anger on my first phone call saying they had the impression that we were no longer interested in their work. This required an hour long exchange at his office which became rather heated in both directions but which ended with the account restored. With this encounter in particular I became determined to find out why these valuable customers had been cast aside
The horrible truth about Republic Forming was finally exposed when the” Owner” voluntarily gave me the background of the company. He was actually buying the company from the two salesmen who I had replaced. They had started the company intentionally after calculating that the commissions from equipment sold to it would exceed those from the rental business that it would replace, while the cost of the purchased equipment would be covered by the company proceeds. I just listened to this recitation from beginning to end without comment or question and tried to leave the impression that I appreciated his honesty.
After he departed I started to digest the implications of what all this meant. This was something new for me. I always assumed that everybody was honest, happy to have a job and did what they could to get ahead. Assuming what I had just heard was true, my predecessors had set up a company to compete with EFCO, used the company goodwill, office and clerical personnel to expand, promote and manage it and even took advantage EFCO financial services to buy the equipment. Most disturbing to me was that their contract with EFCO, the same as mine, was reduced to a piece of waste paper. This was my first encounter with anything of this sort and it was a shock.
All things considered there had to have been a good deal of thought and planning in both making the company a reality and in concealing what was being done. A lot of time, trouble, and risk for what? My mental arithmetic said the operation was probably profitable in itself, but the rental commissions that went down the drain in exchange left a question mark at the bottom line. Finally, what should I do? The answer was firm and immediate. Nothing. To try to become the good guy with a “see what I found alarm” all control would be taken out of my hands. What the two dumbbells that created this situation failed to consider was simply that nobody lives in a vacuum. They had families, then there had to be a third person in Des Moines office who was aware and probably culpable, also with an innocent family. As for me, my protection was in the dates on the hidden files. To me it was piece of dirt that was not going to soil me or the family. As for the man who stood to lose the most, the current “owner” of Republic Forming was just a hard working person who just wanted to get ahead. Perhaps, if I could put some discipline in his cash flow he might one day realize a dream.
At home there were no memorable problems and before the end of 1961we bought most of a houseful of new furniture which was an entirely new experience. It was in the house in time for Thanksgiving.--Thanksgiving nine years and four children later ---then Christmas and 1961 was gone.
The New Year got off to a good start when I signed a rental agreement for the formwork on the new Worthington Wastewater facility. I s pent February 2, 1962 in a restaurant in Golden Valley with the principals of the contractor for this project watching John Glenn orbit the earth. The purpose of this meeting was to gather details of their construction schedule. We managed to get this done while Glenn was on the far side of the earth. Worthington was an entirely new facility, as opposed to being an expansion of those existing, exceeding 150,000 square feet of formwork. The foreman was assigned by the Des Moines field service office but the name is lost to me. The project was barely underway when I received a call from Des Moines asking if there I would approach the contractor regarding the employment of the youngest of the Jennings boys as a form carpenter. I did and there was no objection whatever and the subsequent introductions and arrangements with the job superintendent were made by the field service people from Des Moines. The only surprise to me in all this was learning that there was a third son. I knew Ralph, the oldest who was manager of the Special Forms Division. Ralph was, in my opinion the brightest star in the family, a brilliant engineer with a golden personality who would be killed by brain cancer before he was forty five years of age. I met Al at Iowa State College where he was a student at the time I was working on Linden Hall. He would come by from time to time on a bicycle and we discussed various aspects of the work. Al would one day follow in his father’s footsteps as CEO of EFCO. His major was accounting. The youngest was Don who stayed at Worthington until it was nearly complete. I was subsequently told that he remained with EFCO only a short time before opening a camera store in downtown Des Moines.
If memory serves this was the year of the tornado that went up the far side of the Mississippi. We spent most of the evening watching it rise and fall as it moved from North Memorial Hospital northward.
Paul had a bus trip to school from Brooklyn Center to North Minneapolis. Joe was in the grade school about a half block north of the house.
Later in the spring, with good road conditions assured, I started another of the North Dakota, but got only as far as Fargo. In a call back to the office I learned that Jan Schultz, the Lincoln, NE salesman wanted me to call ASAP, which I did. He made me aware of another Wastewater Treatment Facility being built in Sioux City IA. The reason he wanted me was that there were two contractors listed for the project both from my area. The names of both are lost, but one was from Minneapolis, the other from Minot ND. I returned to my office and a phone call to the Minneapolis firm told me that the project was a joint venture with the Minneapolis firm supplying bonding and purchasing power where necessary and the Minot people providing supervision, manpower, plant and equipment. I was also told that the purchasing was being done at the jobsite.
With this information I again contacted Schultz, in Lincoln, and arrangements were made to meet at the in Sioux City the following day. We met with the project manager, a native of North Carolina who had been employed by the Minot firm especially for this project. In the course of our conversation he tried to come across as just the middleman in the project purchasing and telling us that the “home office” had already decided to use Universal Forms, one of our major competitors. I knew this to be nothing more than a “go away” story from what I had been told in Minneapolis. The man on the site had the authority to purchase what he thought was best. In comparing notes after leaving the site Shultz and I were in agreement that The Universal dealer from Bismarck had gotten to him with deal that he couldn’t refuse probably including personal considerations.
I stewed over this clown’s apologetic rejection for a couple of days after returning to Minneapolis finally deciding to try the back door. All the people I had come in contact with the Minneapolis had always dealt with me fairly and in a straightforward manner. In my opinion, if they were providing bonding and funding for the project and there was anything funny going on they would want to know it.
So, I got my man on the phone and putting a little chagrin in my voice, I told him that we were trying to give away forms for the Sioux City project an we just couldn’t find anybody interested in what we had to say. That got his interest and I went on to explain that I could put as many forms on the site as they needed for a fixed price of five cents per square foot of concrete surface formed. The five cents was more than a good price but the fact that it was guaranteed made it irresistible to anybody buying out materials for a construction project. It was a business that just didn’t pass up competitive fixed prices. His response was simply a promise to call me back.
The call was two days in coming but was short and to the point. He told me to get somebody to the site to pick up a set of plans to get form drawings started and to bring a contract over for his signature. I called Lincoln and asked Shultz if he could pick up the plans suggesting that it might not be a bad idea to be prepared from a self defense point of view because it was my feeling that our project manager friend was going to be pissed, no end. Shultz was nothing, if not perceptive, commenting that I probably got this done without leaving the office. He was right and happy at the same time. Sioux City was half again larger than Worthington and because of the circumstances of site and contractors the commission was split down the middle.
When he called back to tell me he had driven the plans to Des Moines for detailing , Shultz told me how right I was about our friend’s temper and when he asked for guidance on the foreman that would be on the project , He was told simply to send somebody who had an ulcer that was eating him alive. He got Dave St. Claire, from Coal Valley IL. Who had worked for me both in Ames and Baraboo, who would get the job done and give as good as he got verbally This would be one of the last projects for Dave. I believe it was his next job that he picked up a power brush to clean a form while standing in a puddle. The grinder shorted, jolting him hard enough that his heart stopped. He left behind a wife and daughter both beautiful people inside and out.
I got to know the people at both Northern Improvement and Moorhead Construction often joining the Northern Improvement group for lunch in Fargo. All of the office staff and all of the supervisory personal working in the Fargo area would gather for lunch. For one interested in contrasting personalities it made for an informative and often humorous hour. The management people were usually in conservative business suits, around two tables of their own with discussion that was relative to current business activities. The field personnel was another crowd altogether with conversations ranging all over the intellectual map. With one superintendent in particular it was always the same preface to the dinner order when asked what he wanted. In response he always, in coarser language, indicated, to the waitress, that he was both thirsty and lonely.
Moorhead was altogether different operation. They specialized in Civil-Sanitary facility construction and were actually a subsidiary operation of Abbot, Arne & Schwindt General Contractors of Fargo. Entering there offices you would find two desks facing and abutting. If both were in the office you would find the general manager whose name is lost and Milton Schwindt telling jokes and laughing there heads off. The question inevitably was when did any work get done? With Moorhead and many other small contractors office days were passed with necessary phone communications to the field activities, routine calls to subcontractors and suppliers coffee breaks and idle conversation. More often than not the serious business of estimating was done in the undisturbed quiet of the night.. Daytime interruptions of this type of work were the origins of errors and omissions in bid numbers that cannot be tolerated.
Fastened to my memory is Milton Schwindts comment regarding a small statue on the dashboard which he inevitably referred to as my “Oscar” for running down Protestants.
Thus a couple of examples of the organizations with whom I did business. But organizations are a collection of people. People are everything. Indeed, what I am and what I was then is simply the sum total of what I was able to take away from each encounter with each person. At intermittent times I would visit projects in progress and inevitably would find myself mentally re-arranging the flow of activity of what I saw.
After Christmas 1962 I got a call from my brother Ed telling me that he was being assigned to the St. Paul MN Marine Corps Recruiting Office and the family would be moving to our area after the first of the year. In the interim he was shipping a box to my home that I should store until his arrival I never bothered to inquire as to the contents and nothing in that regard was volunteered. When it arrived the truck driver lowered it to the ground with the hydraulic lift on the rear of the truck, I sighed the bill and he was off. I intended to carry it to the garage, but found I couldn’t even raise it off the driveway. I had to be moved out of the drive so I got the necessary tools and pried it open to find the entire shipment to be lead shot, gunpowder and primers for reloading shotgun shells. The show was in bags which I was able to carry to the garage one by one. Easiest to carry, but most disturbing was the powder and primers in the same container. There was enough powder to blow up the house and primers have only one function namely to ignite gunpowder. It disturbed me and I let Ed know it and learned in the same conversation that the whole family would arrive from Twenty Nine Palms CA about the middle of January. The winter on 1962-63 was turning out record low temperatures. I was about to become a different winter.
When Ed and his family arrived the temperature was below zero and would stay there for more than the next thirty days. And it would be a different month. First, we rearranged the house to provide accommodations for thirteen in lieu of only the six regulars. Ed had to be in St Paul to work every week day and I continued my regular commute to Golden Valley. Except at a later time. Ed Had brought two cars with him that refused to function in the cold of MN. For all of the first week it was an hour of grinding away on the Pontiac and finally calling a service station to send a truck with a starter system. I have forgotten what make the other car was but while intended as a second car the service people were able to get it so it would start and function in the sub zero weather. Having got Ed’s transportation functional allowed the two of us who had to be at work to escape the crowd of humanity reaming at the house. Three of our four ultimately left for school during the week, but without going into more detail the balance of the month can be summarized as a trial for everybody. After the second family moved to their own home the balance of the winter was not unlike a vacation.
Bid opening for the Minot Minuteman missile sit were opened in the Spring, Moorehead Construction started a new sewage plant in SD and Northern Improvement started an expansion of the Fargo sewage plant.
It was a nothing project at the Federal Cartridge Co in Anoka that remains with me with warm satisfaction. It amounted to only two parallel eight foot high walls on a slab of the same width. When the top slab was in place and covered with dirt the subsequent tunnel would be an underground pistol range. The contractor was not a specialist in concrete and relied on my suggestions for the forming of the walls. He would have been perfectly happy to have our foreman take the estimated fifteen work days to erect and strip the forms piece by piece.
I suggested that the forms could paneled and moved by crane and the preliminary details were worked out to do this. My thoughts were forty foot long panels, pouring forty feet of walls each day for ten work days. When the trench was excavated the material was cast on the crane side of the trench to a height such that the crane operator could not see the trench thus the advantages of crane handled panels was basically obviated by the need to “signal“ all the form movements.
The next suggestion was to hang the panels from a rolling scaffold with both outside panels carried in one move and the inside in a second move with eighty feet of wall poured every two days giving the contractor the same rate of progress as was expected with the crane. The EFCO foreman on the Friday before the forms were delivered which gave me a chance to brief him on what we thought possible. With this I got out of his way.
The following Friday, with camera in hand I returned to the site to take pictures of this unique operation. I was too late. The foreman had improved on my ideas and moved the inside and outside forms in one move complete by two PM and poured both walls the same day. By the time I arrived the tunnel wall pours were complete and dismantling of the rolling scaffold was underway, A three week projected had been completed in one, and I had to go without any pictures.
I thought it was time to start looking for another auto and the people around the Minneapolis area that I had talked to seemed to be a bit greedy. so with a “why not” I picked up the phone and called Guy Hornaday in Indianola IA where we had bought the last two cars. He said the only thing other than new was his demonstrator with a little less than twenty thousand miles. He gave me a number that he said should be close for the difference after the trade and I bought a car. I told him that I would be down Saturday to pick it up. He responded that if he wasn’t at the store he would be across the street at the motel. I had cradled the phone and started to turn to other work when I ask myself “why is Guy Hornaday staying in town at a motel?” Guy owned one of the largest and best farms in the county and was on the board of Simpson College in Indianola. But I put it aside mentally and went on about my day.
Leaving early Friday afternoon we drove to Frances’ sister Darlene’s where we strayed overnight. I was in Indianola before ten AM and sure enough the salesman on duty called to the motel across the street and guy walked over and took care of the transfer paperwork. We talked for a while about the “good old days” and I was on my way back to Des Moines in our near new car. I asked Darlene if she might know why Guy Hornaday might be living in a motel and got a direct and specific response. Darlene was a good friend of Hornaday’s secretary and had got the story from the “horses mouth” so to speak.
She related that Guy had fallen in love with his secretary and the affair had progressed to the point where Guy asked his wife for a divorce. According to Darlene the wife went directly to the bedroom and returned with every intention doing away with him. Guy fled the premises with only what he was wearing and his car. Hence the residence at the motel. In a community no larger than Indianola this must have been grist for everybody’s’ gossip mill.
Later on I had reason to make a trip to Minot ND and stopped in Fesenden to call back to the office. I stopped at a gas station that had a Bell sign indicating there was a phone which was in front of a huge barn and the phone was about ten feet inside a man door in the barn. I dialed my number and while waiting for the connection turned and was stunned as my eyes took in the hangings that covered nearly every square foot of the interior of the building. I nearly forgot the phone call, recovering my wits only upon hearing the repeated hellos of the girl in the office. Finishing the call, I returned to the barn. This was a two story structure which had nearly every kind of rural collectible item that could be imagined hanging on the walls and ceiling, It might well be said that from today’s perspective that the barn was worth its weight in gold.
On November 22nd the news flash regarding the Kennedy shooting came over the radio in the outer office. Relating the unbelievable is as difficult today as comprehension was at the time. There are a thousand words that could be written about the days and years that followed as this life came into historical focus, but at the time this news first broke for a time, time stopped. I closed the office and went home.
Given the cold war and the political divisions of the country at the time there were and still are all manner of conspiracy theories and still are. Indeed I have my own which has evolved from having lived through the time but also from traveling the by roads of history and gathering together seemingly unrelated events and people. To relate this in whole would be out of place in this venue in that most of it was still future work.
I make no secret of the fact that I had little use for Lyndon Johnson. I considered him to be a political opportunist. He did not disappoint me in his use of the Kennedy emotion to promote his great society legislation. Utopia is a great homeland if you can afford it, thrilling for the beneficiaries, diminishing for those who cannot afford to pay for it and a great ego trip for the affluent liberal types who designed it. It would take the body counting lunacy of Vietnam and 58,000 dead Americans to put President Johnson behind us. In intellect and vision he is best judged by the Texas standard of “all hat and no cattle.”
This period became a time of change for the family as well. The travel and time away from home was necessary for the work I was doing but I was coming to the point of personal frustration. It is one thing to earn a living, there could be no complaint on that point, but there was, for me, almost a yearning for mental and intellectual challenge. The product of life should be more than the accumulation of money. As if in response I had been offered an alternative to return to field work with a fairly new company in St. Paul. Any change would be a family decision and was not resolved until we were on the far side of winter.
I made a call on a company whose offices were at Holman Field in St. Paul and in the course of our conversation the Badger Ordnance Plant on Baraboo WI was mentioned. As it turned out the man I was talking to had been a principal in the Harris Construction company that had been the general contractor and who had become bankrupt as a result of the additional overtime costs resulting from the Corps of Engineers acceleration order. He had been trying to get a review by the Corps for nearly eight years and opened the door to a storage room, stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of contractor’s records from the project. Every submission for review had been rejected on the basis that none showed original bid number contrasted with actual cost numbers for corresponding items. With no promises as to what might still be in my office I assured my new friend that I would research the records for our “Completed Project Summary” which might be helpful. The project had been sold by the Minneapolis office and should have this record on file if it had not removed in a general clean up of old files.
Sure enough I was able to locate the Summary which was compiled from the estimated costs of the salesman who sold the project and the actual costs derived from the daily reports from the project site. Both the daily report form and the Summary form provided for reporting overtime costs.
To say that my friend was tickled pink would be an understatement. The material handed to him documented that for the forming labor costs, at least, there had been no overtime included in the original estimated costs while the actual costs developed from compliance with the Corps Acceleration Order resulted in nearly five hours per day overtime, six days per week for nearly seven months for about fifty men. In round numbers the copies of the Summary handed to him identified 42,000 hours +/- of overtime costs never included in the original bid for the project.
I was to learn later that this material resulted in the Corps of Engineers agreement to review and consider a claim for additional costs. I never learned the results. There was, however, a certain satisfaction in my part in all this. The Summary provided was compiled from daily reports , most of which, I had prepared at the project site
A post script to the Republic Forming saga. Lyzum Cota ultimately became the sole owner of the company (as far as I knew) and was actively sub contracting concrete formwork in the twin city area trying to supervise and schedule multiple projects by himself. During one of these periods , on a project at the U of M he arrived at the site to be told by the project resident engineer that he could not pour concrete in a section of forms that he thought ready until the footings were cleaned of accumulated debris and mud . This meant that one side of the wall forms would have to be dismantled and then replaced after the cleaning was completed. To Cota this was totally unfair as it would cause him a days delay and the wasted time and costs of doing the work over. He protested, argued and finally overwhelmed emotionally by this and other accumulated problems he seemed first to implode upon himself the exploded in an uncontrollable fit of anger at everybody about him to the point of foaming at the mouth. After being physically subdued he was taken to a hospital and subsequently to a rest home for, I believe, a period of six months. His son gathered up the pieces of the company and continued on a reduced basis.