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.


Blogger Danny Barer said...

Another great story. I always find tales of the homefront during WWII fascinating. (Although with the Iraq war dragging on, and other military conflicts brewing, we may yet encounter rationing and the like in the near future.)

10:53 PM  
Blogger Mike Barer said...

It was much easier to control news sources back then so it was easy to rally the troops behind Uncle Sam. World War II gave birth to some of the best journalists of all time.

10:35 PM  

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