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.


Blogger Mike Barer said...

I remember the trips where we went to the WWW. I was really excited because when I was little, a trip to Waitsburg was like a trip to Portland.

12:29 PM  

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