Friday, September 29, 2006

A life lesson learned-

World War II was the best of worlds and the worst of worlds for B. Barer & Sons.

My father was deferred from the draft due to his age and family status. Uncle Dave was called to service but failed his physical due to a punctured ear drum. This reulted in some teasing as then teen idol, Frank Sinatra was rejected from service for the same reason.

Scrap metal drives were part of the war effort. Prices were strictly regulated by the Federal Office of Price Administration (OPA). Deliveries were regulated by the War Production Board.

It worked this way. WPB would send an allocation for delivery of six carloads of scrap iron to Bethlehem Steel in Seattle current price would be $7.00 per ton. Call Bethlehem Steel purchasing agent and he would inform the shipper that he was overwhelmed with scrap but to let you fulfill your obligation he would pay $6.00. A real patriot.

Meanwhile local granges and farm bureaus were besieged with letters from the WPB exhorting them to "GET IN THE SCRAP". Since the scrap was donated and the organization were paid by the dealer for the scrap it made for a neat slush fund. Scrap poured in.

Production of farm equipment was stopped. So farmers enjoying good crops and the best markets in ten years had to frequently patch old equipment they had purchased years before in more prosperous times.

Recognizing this, the WPB issued high level certificates of priority for scarce steel supplies. These were prized by dealers on the coast as they could be used to order resupply from steel mills.

WE had no direct mill sources at that time but the farm priorties were great barter items to get steel which promptly sold to farm accounts.

Because of the lack of cheap labor there was a revolution in the way harvested wheat was prepared for market. Historically wheat was stored in 100 lb. burlap sacks that were stacked in long flat wooden wharehouses. The new method was to store the grain loose in tall bins so that loading into railcars could be done largely by gravity

Corrugated steel was needed for the bins and steel sheets were needed to build specialized truckbeds to haul the loose grain to the siding. B. Barer & Sons was able to obtain the needed material for the farmers.

The sons of Grandfather B.'s old buddy Sam Schnitzer had ventured into the welding supply business at that time. The established companies had scooped up some of the lucrative welding gas contracts associated with the war effort and were starving their rural dealers. The Schnitzers, late at the trough, decided to exploit the situation setting up a network of rural dealers. B. Barer & Sons became a dealer. You could sell all you could get.

My father was inside man and Uncle Dave called on accounts often delivering material while soliciting new orders. Uncle Dave also did the bookkeeping.

With millions of men in the army and many others employed in shipyards and airplane plants available labor supplies dried up. There were some overaged or otherwise infirm men around.

One of the employable men was "Red". On a hot July day in the early 1940's Red was taking a lunch break from his job as a scrap iron schlepper. Uncle Dave was sweating away at what passed for an office, a roll top desk at the wall, near the large front windows.

Uncle Dave made a remark about the fact he would rather be out selling. Red said, " I can get out those statements for you." and he did.

Red, it seems was a Whitman College graduate. At graduation he was hired into the retail management training program of a national company. He rose to the position of store manager. Alcohol was his problem. It cost him his job and his marriage.

When sober, Red was a cracker jack office manager. What soured me on Red and the whole substance abuse thing was seeing Red encounter his preteen son selling newspapers and panhandling the kid for his pocket change so that dad could buy a drink.

I vowed never to let myself be in that situation.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wisdom of Grandfather B.---

Early in the twentieth century a man was traveling home on a crowded train car.
Suddenly he cried out, "I've lost my wallet!"

Other passengers gathered around him and the conductor rushed over to be of assistance. The man was frantic and insisted every passenger be searched.

Before this could take place the passenger in the seat behind held up a wallet and asked if it was the missing one. It had been laying in a crease in the seat visible only from the finder.

The loser was ecstatic offering a reward the finder gallantly refused. He also confided that he had sold some property and had ten thousand dollars in cash in the purse.

As the train pulled into the destination, the man began gathering his things. He made a final check on his wallet only to find it missing again.

Again, he summoned the conductor. The conductor began a thorough search ending with an order that each man in the car be subject to a pat down.

The search appeared to be fruitless only the finder of the previous loss remained.

The loser said not to bother him but the conductor insisted and low and behold in the man's pocket was the missing item.

Dumbfounded the question was-why?

I am a professional pickpocket was the answer. When you lost the wallet I did what any good citizen would do but when I found how fat your wallet was I had to ply my trade.

In old Russia a young man was a backpack peddlar. He walked a route of small villages near the larger place where he lived selling notions and household necessities.

In one village he heard his name being called. It was his neighbor, Shmuel. Abe, Abe, your wife has gone into labor. It is a dificult birth and she is calling for you.

The young fellow spied a peasant on a cartload of wood hauled by a donkey The man revealed that he was going to Abe's village to sell the wood in the market. Abe offered him two rubles to ride on the cart with him.

With the donkey's slow plod, plod, plod Abe became anxious.

Can't you make the donkey go faster?

What can you expect from the animal with this heavy load of wood to pull? Without the load he would trot right along.

How much do you think you will get for the wood when you sell it in the market?

If I sell it all, I should get 25 rubles.

Suppose I give you 25 rubles and we dump the wood right here? Then we could hurry in to town.

Are you crazy? I spent all week in the freezing mountains cutting this wood and you want me to dump it beside the road?

Here are your two rubles back. Get off my cart!

My Dad's favorite-

A man was rushing home for Passover. He had been on the road for days and was exhausted.
He stopped at a roadside inn to get a few hours of sleep.

The host advised him there were no rooms available. The man pleaded. The man had to be home the next evening and was not fit to drive any further.

The host relented. The general has the largest room I have. There are two beds. You quietly slip into the second bed. I will wake you before dawn. You can get a few hours sleep and be on your way. Just be careful not to wake the general.

Sure enough in the early morning the traveler was gently shaken awake.

In the darkness he dressed but in his confusion he grabbed the wrong set of clothes.

A few hours down the road the man stopped for a cup of coffee at a diner.

Looking at the mirror he screamed, "Oh my god, the night clerk woke up the general by mistake and I'll be late for Seder.