Saturday, August 19, 2006


Mack was actually his first name.

At one time I was fan of John Steinbeck. I read most of his work.

My favorite was Cannery Row. I think my favorite character was Doc's drinking buddy who was the scion of a wealthy San Francisco family. The estate lawyers knowing their client could probably blow most of his fortune in alcoholic binges set up a foundation in his name. From time to time a limousine would cruise up and down Cannery Row until they found their quarry usually passed out in in an alley with a bottle of jug wine at his side.

Whisked to a mansion on Pacific Heights there would be a sequence of scalding showers, shaves, haircuts, manicures, etc. plus a couple of nights to sleep it off. Then Mr. Money would be driven to Berkeley where he would ascending to a platform along with the governor and other notables. He would read a short prepared speech dedicating the building that had been donated to the U. in his name by the foundation.

After the formalities, he would be spirited back to the limousine, plied with wine and dumped back at the alley on cannery row.

Mack was different from the average worker I met. He was intelligent and articulate. As we worked side by side loading trucks we had long conversations.

Mack was a student at the University of Montana in the early 1940's. He had already developed his fondness for alcoholic beverages but was able to maintain a sufficient grade average to be invited to join an air corps program leading to pilot training.

After a few months the army realized they had chosen a drunk and at a time when draft boards were taking anyone and everyone to fight, they gave Mack a bad conduct discharge and told him not to come back.

Mack's father, owner of an empire of grain warehouses and flour mills summoned Mack back to the family mansion occupying a full city block on the edge of downtown Great Falls. There he told his wastrel son never to darken the family door again.

Mack drifted from place to place working enough to keep himself in booze.

He eventually settled in Walla Walla. Working for B. Barer & Sons he would from time to time check in at the office to report that he had a binge coming on and he would disappear into the local bars for awhile finally returning to reclaim his job.

How Mack met the lovely lady who worked in the billing department at the railroad station, I can't report. She not only weaned him from his years long alcohol habit but was also able to arrange an audience with his estranged father who rejoiced in seeing his newly sober son welcomed him home.

Not too long after Mack's father passed away and his lady was named administrator of the estate.

The couple settled down in Walla Walla to live a quiet but comfortable life.

This was not to be.

One of our other casual employees, "Shorty", unknown to us had a fragile bone condition. One day he was standing in the doorway of a railcar. I heard a snap and saw him fall to the ground. A major bone in his thigh had broken. His recovery took many months. He drank a lot to ease the pain.

I remember that I was driving South through California listening to the car radio when I heard the report datelined Walla Walla. 47 year old Mack _____ had been bludgeoned with a hammer while he slept.

Mack's good hearted other had taken in Shorty offering him a cot in the basement.

Shorty evidently had a few too my drinks and was being attacked by some unknown demons. He grabbed a hammer and padded upstairs where he began pounding on Mack's skull.

The beating would have done in a lesser man but Mack was able to survive. Several sections of bone were removed from his head and after healing you could see the indentation's. While he looked like a refugee from a Hollywood horror movie, his laid back personality soon put people at ease.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


My father's passport when he came to America said he was 14. Actually he was 16, but apparently at that age he would have been eligible for draft into the Russian army-25 years service for Jews, the Russian version of the "Final Solution".

He was never able to wrap his tongue around some American words. We had a stream of casual workers and some who stayed awhile whose names he found dificult to pronounce. Everyone was Shorty, Slim, Red, Mac or Hey You.

The exception was Alexander K. Henderson. He was "Ken" to his friends such as Sam the shoeshine man who doubled as an after hours bootlegger, but to all others he was "Mr. Henderson".

Niether my father nor my uncle would put up with this formal relationship. After repeatedly pressing him for a first name they commenced calling him just "Henderson" which infuriated his Canadian sense of propriety. Many times he commented to me about not getting any respect..

Mr. Henderson was foreman when I started sweeping floors at the shop in the early 1940's until his retirement in 1959, I believe his tenure went farther back as he alluded to working for my grandfather who left the firm in 1939.

Mr. H drove to work in an old Dodge bread delivery van which he parked a block away on a side street. There he he took his lunch and napped during the noon hour. He also tooke a break at midafternoon at the Silver Cafe. After pie and coffee he would usually go into the backroom and continue his interupted nap.

If a late delivery came up, I would be dispatched to find Mr. H wherever he was enjoying his extended siesta. He would grab his fedora and plod back to the office. Upon receiving the delivery order he would invariably say, "I'll get Shorty!". WE had several Shortys but the longest employed on e was Everett T-- who was quite docile and willing to do the lifting and carrying while Mr. Henderson shouted instructions at him.

Mr. Henderson was to be repected. At a time when casual laborers were paid 75 cents an hour, Mr H made $1.10 an hour to boss Shorty.

Shorty was so self effacing that I was surprised when he was jailed for assault. At the time we subleased part of our building to the Anchor Tavern. Shorty went into th tavern after work and downed a few beers. Someone made the mistake of razzing him. He went to our pile of used steel pipe remnents, slected one and went back to the tavern and began thrashing his tormentor.

Later we had another Shorty . He also became belligerent with a few beers. He bragged he could take care of himself because he had trained in high scool as a boxer. One day I was returning from a walk to the bank. Approaching Lutcher's pool room I heard the smashing of plate glass and sailing out of Lutcher's Pool Room to the sidewalk among shards of glass was Shorty. Apparently he had exagerated his ability to defend himself.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The great Auburn sedan-

In 1935 Uncle Dave met the girl of his dreams at a family wedding in Spokane.

How was he to court her from 135 miles away? The old Dodge Senior was on its last legs and was not a fit image for an up and coming young merchant.

Times were tough. Wheat was pennies a bushel. Many who had lived high in the twenties lost their farms and businesses in the depression of the early thirties. Grandfather B had rented part of the store building to the Salvation Army. Daily, clients would arrive seeking food and clothing handouts. Many in Cadillacs, Packards, and Pierce Arrows.

People who had money were wary. Banks went broke as loans were not met and collateral sank in value. Banks that remained solvent were closed by government order. Contrary to rumor, Baker Boyer Bank did close but was allowed to cash paychecks of public safety workers through an alley entrance accessed by a buzzer.

In this environment grandfather B went shopping for a new car. I personally remember sitting in a 1934 Chrysler "Airflow". The car that was too radical in design for its time but was the design inspiration for generations of future cars.

The auto purchased was a 1935 Auburn. Asking price started at $1800.00 the car was purchased for about $800. List on a Ford was about $500. The price doesn't indicate the heritage of that car. It was designed by members of the team that designed the Dusenberg luxury sedan. "It's a Dusy!" was a phrase that meant exceptional in anything.

The gearing and powerful Continental engine made the Auburn a speedster. In an era when "Going 60 miles an hour" was an expression meaning throwing caution to the wind, Uncle Dave was able to coax speeds of up to 90 miles an hour along the narrow twisting roads leading to Spokane and back.

And the car was a beauty. A styling standout even today. A featured vehicle at classic car shows.

Uncle Dave won his bride and brought her to Walla Walla. Now on their own, the new couple was allowed the personal use of a 1936 Dodge pickup whose daytime mission was transporting wool and preserved or fresh killed animal skins.

In 1941 Grandfather B. now retired was enjoying his two favorite passtimes, playing pinochle and fishing.

As to fishing, it went like this - Grandfather would be up at dawn cooking himself an omelete to be rolled in waxpaper and taken as a lunch with a thermos of coffee. Driving far out on a sandbar at the mouth of the Walla Walla River he would reach the banks of the Columbia and his favorite fishing hole. (Before McNary Dam flooded the area) He would drag on his hiphigh waders and set a wooden chair in the shallow water to sit on till a fish cared to bite.

A man of quick flareups of temper he had infinnte patience in hooking and landing a fish.

One day he returned home from a tranquil morning of fishing. Grandmother Risa seeing the car covered with schmutz from the river and sandbar and grandfather getting out of the car with a smelly sack of fish lost it. She yelled "How can you treat our lovely family car like that?
That is a job for a truck."

Grandfather disappeared back into the the driver's seat. At Becker Motors he was granted a trade in value of $175 for the Auburn on the purchase of a brand new 1941 Dodge pickup truck.

I don't know if that preserved domestic tranquility but as we have seen the collector price of that model move to over $200,000 we have wondered about the economic rationale.