Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The distribution point in Spokane for Waitsburg Welding was Charles Black Co., a service station supply purveyor. They covered territories into Idaho, Western Montana, and Brittish Columbia so it might be possible even today to find venerable storage tanks made in the plant even to this day in any of these locations.

WWW tanks under Gil's supervision had earned the right to sport the Underwriter's label. This designation seen on many electrical appliances was very difficult to get because it implied a strict adherence to standards meant to minumize the risk to the insurers at the premises where they were employed.

The interesting thing about the U.L. program was that once you were on their good list you were turned over to their sales department whose only interest was how many U.L. Aproved labels they could sell you for the coming year.

At one time there was a demand for UL labeled home oil storage tanks in the Portland,Oregon, area. No one locally had thought to apply for this category so we would load Johnny Tocco up with a load a couple of times per year for that market.

Mainly our market was through our Spokane consignee so our green GMC with its long trailer trundled from Waitsburg to Spokane and back except occaisionally when our driver who turned out to be a roving romeo would spot someone of the opposite sex with equal desires in a bar along the way in which case the truck would be parked on the main drag of some village for several days.

Our painter, swamper, and general roustabout used a vacation to travel to his roots in rural Arkansas. On his return he showed off a new wife. He was about forty and perpetually dappled with remnants of the paints he sprayed on the tanks. She was about seventeen or eighteen still sporting a small amount of baby fat and wonderous of her new station in life.

A little insight into the personality of the driver. He brooked no dispute. It is small wonder that within a few months he had the roustabout's wife on his arm and she looked pretty world wise and sophisticated.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The new manager at WWW was Cliff Peters. For people of my generation imagine Gary Cooper in coveralls.

Soft spoken but self assured Cliff was a natural born leader. His hobby was building and reparing muzzle loading rifles. He drilled barrels from solid steel stock. I can't resist the pun because it was so apt, he was a sraight shooter in every way.

While some tanks were sold at the plant distribution was accomplished principaly at consignment points in almost every crossroads within 150 miles. A local oil dealer would volunteer to keep an assortment of the products avaiable in his storage yard.
Other dealers in the area could draw from his stock. There was a constant effort to both acquire new home oil and gasoline customers and to upgrade the storage capacities of existing customers by the dealers.

For home heating oil customers the dealer kept what was called a heating degrees/days chart that allowed him to refill the tank when a certain percent of the contents had been used. The bigger the tank the less refill trips made. The stocking dealer had first claim on popular size tanks plus he got a small fee for transmitting the sales data back to Waitsburg.

As mentioned in an earlier post, large tanks were custom built and delivered via the company truck.

The large tanks were engineered by Gil to fit under most bridge stuctures in the delivery area but the tank that I accompanied to Craigmont, Idaho, was a little fat so it requied a flag vehicle fore and aft and a route that took us on gravel roads high into the upper back country of the Idaho panhandle.

On arrival, we drove into the yard of a bulk storage plant. There next to the existing tanks was a fresh concrete pad slightly larger than the base of the 8'11" by 20'tall steel cylinder resting on its side on the semi bed. Imagine a tin can on steroids. While there would be tons of liquid bearing down on the tank bottom, the sides were relatively flimsey.

I asked what my duties would be and Art, the truckdriver, replied, "just keep out of the way!"

Art and John, the follow truck driver, busied themselves paying cables off the winches on their riggs. Slowly the tank rolled off the truck bed. A little more positioning and the winches began drawing in cable, a pulley relocated, steadily the tank creeped to the base and then began to rise. Within an hour of the time we arrived, a ten ton addition looked like it had always been there nestled among the other tanks.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jones was gone but his memory lingered on. One of Gil's reasons for locating in Waitsburg was the fact that he could recruit a crew who worked several months each year in farm work and then were available in the fall and winter to build inventory during the busy season. Welding tanks required the most minimum level of welding skills.

Jones ignored this tradition and when the crew thinned he called the union hiring hall in the Tri Cities to stay at full operating level. This led to a union contract.

When BB&S took over WWW had over twenty steel workers many of whom were paid mileage from and to the Tri Cities hiring hall.

A new building was built allowing the workers to work indoors and such inovations as a break room and indoor plumbing were installed.

Uncle Dave hit the ceiling when a union inspector sent a report deploring the horrible working conditions and inadequate compensation. Not used to the usual ploys, he called the men together and told them his opinion of that particular union.

The response from the union was a lawsuit including a request for a new contract plus a request for a $25,000.00 fine for ignoring the Taft-Hartley Act by talking directly to employees rather than through the union.

An arbitration hearing was arranged. Our case was DOA when it was noticed that the "ïmpartial" Federal Labor Board man had hitched a ride from the coast in the car of the union reps.

The case went to trial this time before a judge in the farming community of Pomeroy, Washington. The decision was quick. A $2500.00 fine was assessed on the Taft-Hartley violation. I don't remember the logic but the judge gave WWW the right to boot the union.

The employee roster went down to twelve and production increased.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

When Gil met Amy it was a match. Gil was a talented mechanic and Amy was a graduate engineer.

They met in France during World War I. Just to remind you that was "The War to End All Wars".

Actually, it became the parent and grandparent of many more wars. But that is not my story.

Gil and Amy married and settled in the hamlet of Waitsburg in the state of Washington. There they put their respective expertises to work establishing the Waitsburg Welding Works.

Automobiles were proliferating in the 1920's and a network of service stations and bulk supply stations were needed to supply the gasoline to fuel the internal combustion engines. They designed and self manufactured the complex equipment to form the storage tanks that would eventually dot the fringes of communities within a 150 mile radius.

Along with tarred tanks to go underground at the service stations, they manufactured steel cylinders for a variety of uses including the then ubiquitus oil storage tanks seen behind almost every house as the area switched from wood and coal to oil for winter heat.

I believe I have already mentioned the B. Barer & Sons segue into steel and welding supplies and Waitsburg Weldling Works was an early and faithful customer. As a young boy in the mid 1940's, I would spend a Sunday about once a month riding from Walla Walla the 18 miles to Waitsburg with my uncle to deliver a load of supplies.

Uncle Dave would cross the street to the American Legion Club where Gil would drink, play cards, and swap war stories with his buddies. Gil would unlock the office. The load was dropped on the sidewalk fror the crew to put away the next day. I would wander around Waitsburg as Uncle Dave spent an hour or so schmoozing with Gil.

About 1945 0r 6 Gil passed away, Amy took over the operations of the plant. While she was a smart engineer, many of her inovations were only adopted commercially a generation after she pioneered their use, she was not really effective as a business person.

An example, Amy lived in an apartment over the plant office. There was an intercom setup to contact her if needed. The crew became aware that she was leaving the switch open while they were at lunch break so they would take turns praising her and massaging her ego all the while laughing behind their hands.

But even worse, the operation was loosing money at a time when they had a virtual monopoly on sales.

Rather than loose a prime customer, B. Barer & Sons purchased the Waitsburg Welding Works in 1947. It was a brave venture for two guys who had never graduated grade school.

Uncle Dave was to be the managing partner. His education began with the office manager who could barely spell her own name hit him for a raise. He felt he needed her experience and granted it only to find she had received a similar raise from the departing Amy a few days before.

The plant manager was a Mr. Jones. Aside from the fact that Mr. Jones had an ex-wife in Lewiston, Idaho, who kept him at her beck and call causing him to disapear often at just the time a manager was needed.

Mr. Jones further incurred Uncle Dave's wrath by accepting an order for several extremely large tanks to be delivered to Southern Oregon. This not only required permits and negotiation with a variety of civic entities to be transversed but also tied up the capacity of the plant for several weeks causing the loss of astream of orders for more profitable business.

Uncle Dave kept Mr. Jones on because Amy assured him that Jones was the only employee who had the arcane knowledge to design and price tanks.

One day in the course of a conversation with a steel salesman, the problem of designing tanks came up. The salesman asked if there was an A. M. Castle Co. catalog in the office. Uncle Dave produced one from his desk drawer.

Turn to the section marked common tables for welders. There was all the information needed to design most of the tanks WWW manufactured.

Mr. Jones was gone the next day.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

My mother loved to entertain. She was involved at various times with many organizations and she usually ended up as president or board member or both. Those were the days when social occasions involved a lot of smoking by the participants.

My father on the other hand suffered from asthma and was very effected by tobacco smoke.
When my mother would have parties at the house my dad would play host during dinner but as the evening wore on and the smoke haze would thicken he would slip out the back door and drive downtown to the Roxy Theatre where he could sit in air conditioned comfort through a double feature of private eye, "Boston Blackie" plus a Leon Errol or Three Stooges short timing it just right to be on hand to say good night to the departing guests who deeply involved in their card games probably hadn't noticed he had left.

It was a tribute to his love for my mother that each summer in the days before air conditioned cars that he would join her on the drive through sweltering California valleys to attend the District Four convention of B'Nai B'Rith. Mother was active in the local auxillary but she said her real interests were in "the above chapter" level. She was awarded the synecure of historian by the overwhelmingly high powered California group and when a Northwest subdistrict was established she was the first elected president and was reelected to a second term.

Meanwhile, my dad did his part by sitting through the long boring meetings in the smoke filled hot ballrooms.

He did come away with this story which evolved into a family laugh line.

The year the convention was held in Sacremento the organization was able secure the popular governor of the state as a speaker for the final banquet of the session.

As a courtesy they invited the local Rabbi to introduce him.

The Rabbi apparently never having a captive audience of this size before launched into what became a protracted sermon.

Little by little independent conversations began. As the Rabbi droned on, the din began to swell.
The MC started by putting a finger to his lips but this did nothing to help.

Finally he stood up and grabbed his gavel to regain order. In swinging back the gavel he hit the governor square in the forehead knocking him out.

The MC was beside himself. He quickly dipped a napkin in water and started cooling the poor man's brow. As the governor began to come around he beseeched him as to what he could do to make amends.

"Please hit me again. I can still hear him talking."