Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mea Culpa

Uncle Arny pointed to the fact that I made some errors in the case of Barer V Armour but it is a good story anyway. The lawyer's name was Casey and grandfather won at the first level but was reversed on appeal on a technicality.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Grandfather B takes on BIG BUSINESS

Armour Meat Packing was founded in 1864 by Philip Armour who made two million dollars in 90 days selling cattle on the futures market betting that the end of the Civil War would drive down the price of beef allowing him to fill his orders at a much lower price. It did.

Today, Armour is a part of ConAgra Foods along with Hunt's Foods, Hebrew National, Orville Redenbacher, and just about anything you buy in the grocery store. The irony that one of their brands is called Healthy Choice is that at the turn of the 20th century the shoddy practices at Armour plants gave rise to demands for federal meat inspection.

While Philip Armour was hailed in Chicago as a leading philanthropist, a whole genre of writing called "Muckraking" was inspired by the fact that although a living wage at that time was considered to be $15.50 per week, Armour employees were said to average $9.50 per week.

What has this to do with Gandfather B?

In the 1920's Grandfather was driving to Seattle through a duststorm when he discerned the outline of a stalled car at the side of the road. As he drew closer, he saw a young man waving and stopped to render aid.

The man had pulled to the shoulder during the height of the storm and now he was stuck in the soft sand. He had a family in the car.

As Grandfather prepared to help, a car owned by Armour Meat Packing smashed into Grandfather's car causing about three hundred dollars damage.

Grandfather put in claim to Armours. They refused to pay. If they paid a claim, who knows how many claiments would besiege them?

Grandfather sued them. Normally, in the State of Washington if you hit a car from behind you are responsible but Armours sent bright young lawyers who cited the fact that the car was stopped in the roadway and the visibility was limited, etc, etc. and the judge ruled in their favor.

Grandfather was not about to let them get away with this bullying. He knew of a lawyer, I believe named King, whose reputation was that if their were no witnesses to an accident, when the trial started he could produce witnesses to testify in favor of his client.

On appeal, as a precursor to later Good Samaritan laws, the lower court was reversed and Grandfather got his money and struck a blow for "the little guy".

My father told me the story and Arny showed me the record in one of his law books. Barer v Armour

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The sure thing?

Grandfather's asthma flared from time to time becoming unbearable. The only relief available known in the days before steroid inhalers and air conditioning was a trip to the Arizona desert away from molds pollens and many other irritants.

I am not exactly sure of the time on this. Judging from the story my father told me, it must have been in the 1920's.

On a train journey to Arizona Grandfather B wandered into the club car. There were people conversing, reading newspapers and just enjoying the passing scenery. To his delight he saw a group of people around a table playing pinochle. Grandfather was an avid lifelong player. As he approached the table one of the players turned to him and said," Buddy, will you take my chair? I have some reports to finish."

As Grandfather slid into his chair, the departing player leaned back over the table saying, "Don't forget boys that I'm in on the "deal"."

Time passed easily. They were good players and continually bantered among themselves. From time to time the phrase, "The Deal", came up followed by a guilty hush.

The next morning as the train approached Phoenix Grandfather noticed one of the players breakfasting in the dining car. The man smiled and beckoned him to join his table. They spoke for a while and finally Grandfather asked if the man could share something about "the Deal".

The man hesitated and then opened up. Getting a pledge of secrecy he spilled out the story. A jockey in need of money had approached one of them with the news that an upcoming horserace was to be fixed. He was the designated winner but had no money to bet. A pool was to be created to place bets for the jockey and for the participants. The odds would be long and the rewards great. He named one of the leading hotels in Phoenix and invited a visit that afternoon if there was interest. Grandfater B visited the suite where he committed $10,000.00 to the pool.

He imediately returned to Walla Walla to raise the money. He cleaned out his bank account and pressed some of his business accounts for advances. Grandmother was beside herself and my father implored him to investigate further. Grandfather was obsessed. This was a sure thing!

Having wired the money to his new friend in care of the hotel, he again boarded the train for Phoenix. By now the race will have been run and the money collected.

At the front desk of the hotel Grandfather asked for his friend. The clerk replied that there was no John Smith registered. But I was in his room! The clerk replied that they often rented rooms for an afternoon for busines meetings and yes, Mr. Smith had picked up a telegram. This was an accomodation the hotel provided for travelers even though they were not registered guests.

Eventually, there was the realization he had been swindled.

Back in Walla Walla to face the problem of how to support a family and conduct a business now owing money rather than having a bank account. He turned to his mentor, George Kellogh, to draft a letter to his creditors.

George operated an insurance business. He was a shrewd man who has served as world president of IOOF, a benevolent fraternity, in the days when that organization was at its zenith.
He had taken the young immigrant under his wing and developed a client even through my generation.

His counsel was not to write a letter. This would bring the creditors in like vultures. Just go back to work as if nothing happened. He would help out with an imediate loan. As money comes in start paying back little by little and your creditors will not close in on you.

George Kellough lived to be an active 97. Grandfather regained his business and self confidence. In later years he confined his pinochle partners to people he knew and if anyone asked him how business was he always responded that it was great.

Friday, May 19, 2006

An answer

Grandfather B was always a sharp dresser. Even as a child I was aware his Stacey Adams brand hats. They spoke of quality and were always immaculate. I believe the style was called Homberg. It had a crown like a fedora but the brim was round rather than turned down in front and the brim was edged in quality silk tape. His grey on gray stripe suit was from the best level on the stock of Neslin's Menswear.

Aside- Hyman Neslin claimed to have been an officer in the Czar's cavalry. As a Jewish officer he was assigned to a god-forsaken post on the Siberia - China border. One day he mounted his horse to check border patrols turned his horse towards China and didn't stop until he came to a port where he could book passage to the Pacific Northwest. For many years he operated his men's suit store in the old skating rink building next to Mill Creek at First and Main. After a fire wiped out the store, he invested the insurance proceeds in a new store in Spokane that he operated with his son well into his hundredth year.

Mr. N lived just a few blocks from his store. Actually where Mann's House of Brides set up shop was the Neslin home. Mr. Neslin would walk to work but on a hot summer evening he would leave his wife and kids to the heat and go off for a spin his automobile in the cool countryside with his dog "Onions" proudly sitting in the passenger seat.

Oh yes, about grandfather B. I always wondered about the corset he wore. He was trim and the stove pipe pants worn in his generation were designed to show a prosperous belly . Later my father explained that in the early days of auto batteries if one had a problem with his car battery, he made use of a battery repair station where an expert did surgery removing and replacing the non fuctioning cell.

The scrap material composed of lead and antimony was heaved through a hole in the floor.

Grandfather would buy the scrap for recycling. This involved schlepping the lead up steep stairs from the basement. Grandfather B. perfected a technique wherein he would buy the material based on a guess of the total weight. By running up and down the stairs and then sauntering to his truck when the proprietor was in view he would load the truck so fast that the seller would always exclaim. Wow, I guess I didn't have as much as I thought.

Of course grandfather suffered from a bad back and a hernia as a result but he was able to buy a new 1935 Auburn.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Did you ever wonder if your parents in fact were your natural parents?

My mother was a whiz as a piano player. In high school her classmate Mel Blanc creator of Bugs Bunny and many other cartoon voices as well as being a fixture on the Jack Benny Show had his own half hour radio show. Mother played the piano to accompany his zany antics.

Even as a young student mother had perfected the ability to pick out a melody and put a left hand to it and sound like she was playing from sheet music. In later years I remember her being at the center of most parties if a piano was available.

I have no music ability.

I remember as a preschooler walking with Mother from our duplex on seventh and Poplar behind St. Mary's Hospital to Miss Groseclose's kindergarten as she continued her walk to the more upscale section of town to play bridge with some of the future grand dames of the community.

One of the pleasures of her summer pilgrimage to the coast at Seaside, Oregon, was the multiple invitations to the "Pan" games. She would rank the invitations by the skill of the players and angle for the "A" group. She would play once or twice a day in the game requiring quick wits and was a frequent winner.

She also liked to play high stakes poker with the men as opposed to a more genteel women's equivalent. This irritated uncle Dave who thought she should stay in her own precincts.

Boy I wish I had her card skills as I enjoy poker but am usually subsidizing the better players.

But alas, I have a confirmation I am her son. Mother was an avid golfer and of course was president of the ladies club at the city golf course. I was sitting next to her at a club new years eve party when the pro walked over to her having had more then a few drinks he advised her that she was a great club president probably a good wife and mother but would never be a good
golfer. If you have seen me play golf - I rest my case.
Sometimes I am wrong.
Cousin Barbara Points out that the deceased sister appears to be younger than her grandmother Sophie. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


It is hard to imagine the havoc of The Great Depression at this point. A friend of the family managed a shoe store. He was there long before normal morning openng and often worked on his bookkeeping and inventory late into the night. He had to protect his job. As a manager he was paid $15.00 per week.

Dad and mother were feeling the tough times too. Scrap metals that today sell for dollars a pound at that time were valued in pennies.

Dad had one stroke of luck. There was a fire in nearby Yellowstone Park. Trucks and drivers were needed to haul firefighters to the blaze. The pay was good and in cash.

Part of the money went for new tires for the truck.

In a happy mood Dad loaded the truck for a weekend in Missoula. Sell the scrap to Uncle Ike and spend some time with the family. With Mother in the passenger seat holding me on her lap they drove into the dusk.

Montana main roads in the 1930's would not pass as alleys in slums today. Dad pulled wide to avoid an oncoming car the little truck caught its wheel momentarily in the soft shoulder and then lurched accross the road reeling over onto its side.

Mother at that time weighed far more than she did in later life and was wearing a bulky fur coat. As the truck careened and flipped she slid accross the slick bench seat onto the top of Dad who was pinned in the drivers seat. It took some time to extricate themselves.

They could hear me crying but could not find me in the truck. Finally, crawling out of the truck mother spied me sitting in the middle of the highway screaming my lungs out. Somehow I had been thrown out the door onto the the dark road Obviously this was before car seats and seatbelts and few people were foolhardy enough to drive "roads" of Montana at night.

Well, I was a tough kid. I weighed ten pounds at birth.