In 1935 I got a job as coal loader in Powellton, West Virginia. At the time this was called Death Valley, West Virginia by Lowell Thomas. This was because death or loss of leg or arm was frequent in mine accidents. To get this job I must have a full set of tools, about $35. Now $35 represented a week’s average earnings. Ax, picks, shovel, dynamite, sledge hammer, caps and fuse were an extra cost.
I was on the night shift. Room and board was $1 a day. This was mid-summer and real hot. There were no fans and air conditioning had not been invented yet. Sleeping in the daytime was misery. At 3pm, we boarded a train and rode 14 miles up the hollow. Then walked two miles up and around the mountain to the mine entrance.
Then it was another 1½ miles into my work place. Once my place was blocked by slate fall. I cleaned this up by breaking it with the sledge hammer, then loading it into the cars also piling it on the sides. For this I earned 65 cents for nine hours of hard labor.
Another time my place was flooded out. Water had accumulated about knee deep, with no pump available for me. So I had to walk home fourteen miles or sleep in the mine until train time at 7:30am.
Keeping tools was a number one problem. We would try to hide them or chain them. There seemed to always be something missing, stolen that is. Mostly by new men quitting and taking out more tools than what they brought in.
Nobody checked this and after a couple of months of this total helplessness I quit, owing a $23 board bill. I got a job at Beards Fork, another mine about 20 miles away, the same coal company. This was not too bad.
I paid the $23 cause the company took it out of my pay. My memories of this job and town were mostly pleasant. I took vocational courses in coal mining and passed tests and received my Foreman’s Certificate #9088 which was a great pride for me. Only three of our class of 25 men passed, me and two others. This included the other mine foremen.
During this time I also met, loved and married a nice young lady named Alma. We had two sons, James C. and R. Kenny. I was very proud, of course.
Although we had long hours in the coal mine, I always found time for other things. There was not much to fish for in that part of West Virginia, so I raised a garden. Mike was a neighbor across the road from me. He would sit in his porch swing and make fun of me and my garden. He said I could buy everything in there for 40 cents at the market.
So I remembered this when the lettuce and the green onions came in. He wanted some, so I obliged but charged him each time. My other neighbor, Sam Sweaney, I furnished lettuce and green onions to for free. When the summer was over I showed Mike my work. My record of his purchases. It was $ 3.40 – he was amazed.
In the mid to late 30’s, I worked in the coal mine, but I always found time for hunting. This consisted of rabbit, squirrel and ruff grouse. In West Virginia we call them pheasants. They were fun to hunt and very cunning. When flushed they made such a noise with flying that it gave them an edge of getting away.
Also, if there was a tree or bush nearby, they would put it between you and them. As for rabbits, it was tough. If you didn’t own a dog you must kick every clump of weeds and shake every brush pile. I enjoyed getting out with nature. If I found game I considered it a bonus.
At Christmas, I would cross over my many mountains trying to find the perfect tree. It would look so good from afar off but up close it would look straggly. One Christmas while tree hunting, there was a nice snow on the ground. I spotted rabbit tracks in the snow, and I followed them quite a ways. Suddenly the tracks went from a hippity hop to a fast run.
I followed, and fox tracks joined the rabbit tracks. I followed a short way and came to an area under a tree where the snow seemed to explode in all directions. It was easy to picture what happened. There was a nest in the snow where a pheasant had been sleeping and a rabbit had jumped on or very near the bird, causing the surprised bird and rabbit to react. It put a picture in my mind that I will never forget.
It was the Depression Era, 1936. I was still the proud owner of a 1929 Buick Sedan. I bought a land lot for $35. We lived across a creek from where we were living with my mother-in-law. I decided to build a house for Alma and myself. Money was real tight, but I had a fair income from coal mining at the time.
Alma’s brother Orlen worked for a Mr. Warden, who was in the process of wrecking and remodeling a large building in town about 1½ miles from us. Mr. Warden promised that for $150 he would furnish me with all the lumber needed to build a house. The hitch was that I must haul it away, pull out the nails, etc. This I agreed to.
There were some problems though. Number one, I had no truck. Number two, I had no bridge to cross the creek. So I cut the Buick body off behind the front seat, and mounted a truck bed. Then I hauled in 3 x 12 timbers. I hauled in large flat stones to shore up the creek bank, then made a bridge across the creek to my property. My coal mine job called for me to be at work at 3pm to midnight. So I had from 7am until 2:30pm to build my dream house.
Now, I hauled in lumber for about two weeks, doors, footers and a chimney base. Then I would pull nails for many hours a day to start building the house. Now I had not the foggiest notion of how to do this except that I knew that I would do it. I had a friend named Harless who was an excellent carpenter. He would give me advice, but would not touch anything to help me out.
In a very short time I had completed a one bedroom, large living room, with inside plumbing. A bathroom with carpets and a septic tank. We also had a full length front porch and also a back porch. The only thing that I could not finish was the chimney from the fireplace through the roof. I had to hire an expert to do this.
Eckels, West Virginia: Eckels was what we called a hot mine, a lot of gas. Around 1937, I got a job in Eckels mine as shot fireman. This was a pretty good job. This mine had an explosion a few years before, killing 133 men. My job was to carry a safety lamp. A safety lamp is a lantern about 3 inches in diameter and one foot high. It burns gas, and was carried by me on my belt on a hook.
It burns gas and has a small round flame inside the quarter inch thick globe. It is not for seeing. I had an electric head lamp for that. The safety lamp is for testing for methane gas before shooting down the coal to be loaded on cars. Methane gas is lighter that air. So I must find the highest place near the coal that was to be shot down.
I would hold a lamp up, and if the gas was present, the small yellow flame in the lamp would take another blue flame and grow rapidly, so, I would pull down the lamp quickly or there would be an explosion inside the lamp which was designed for this purpose. If I found no gas problem I would hook up an electric cable to the car docks. This is a steel tube with carbon dioxide. It is about an inch and half in diameter and about 3 1/2 feet long. It’s loaded with compressed carbon dioxide.
It has a backward four holes in the front and an electric exploding device in the back end. To this I attached the cable about one hundred feet long. Enough for me to get around a corner, then I would attach it to my magneto and yell “Fire in the hole!” and blast down the coal.
The car dock was sent out after use to be refilled and reused. It could be very dangerous if not properly used. On one occasion the car docks back fired and slammed through the tailgate of a car sitting in the place to be loaded. The reason this happened is because the hole was drilled too deep, and into the solid main beyond where the machine had under cut. This caused the car docks to have no where to go but back. That’s what it did.
The Bottom Hooved: Another mine that I worked at for a short while at Stanford West Virginia. The vein of coal was only 39 inches. The mine cars were very low of course. In my place that I was to work, it was not possible to get the cars up to where I could load them.
The situation was that the top, or roof, was hard sandstone and the bottom was soft slate, so as the mountain began to settle due to the pillars being robbed, caused the bottom to move up. So in order for me to get a car up near enough to shovel coal, I must take my pick and dig out a trench under the rails so the car would not jam against the top, and the car be taken back out when the mountain was on the move. The only way to earn money was to load the cars. Some nights I earned nothing due to slate falls or water in my place.
Around 1940 another miner and myself were robbing pillars. As the rooms in the work place (as they are called) are being driven through the mountain, in the vein of coal. They leave blocks of coal untouched. These blocks are called pillars and are 100 square feet, because they hold up the mountain. After the work places are driven all the way through the mountain, the work method is reversed and the blocks are now mined out. This is called robbing pillars.
As the coal is removed, timbers are sent to hold up the roof. These timbers are about 5 to 10 inches in diameter. The mountain begins to settle on the timbers and they begin to pop and crack. The coal being squeezed starts to shoot off and timber. Of course, no pillar can hold up a mountain for long. So we load the coal in the car and get it out as fast as possible. Finally we know from the breaking of timbers high up above, (some sounds like sonic booms), how much time we have left.
Now we must, in all haste, tear up the tracks and get all of our equipment back to the safety of the next set of untouched pillars. In comes a big whoosh and the top falls in about 5 to 50 feet. Then we start on the next one etc., until all of the coal is mined out.
An efficiency expert hired by our company got the bright idea to save money on all of the timbers that we were using, so they sent steel replacements for the wood and it would be reusable. They were five inches in diameters with plates welded on top, and the bottom about one foot square, but, with a tripping device, we were supposed to trip with a 10 foot – half inch rod, and then use a similar rod to drag out the posts.
This was supposed to let them out and fall in whenever we wanted them to. But the mountain did not cooperate. When enough weight settled on the steel post the trip mechanism was not tripable. We lost all of the steel on the first try.
My uncle George Meade in his later life (1940’s) would pick his banjo for the local barn dances. He would drink right along with whoever. He had more than a few fights in which he always banged someone with his banjo. It was a wicked weapon and it sometimes got broken in the fight.
Law and Order. In Charleston West Virginia in the late 40’s and early 50’s, I noticed a trend of the break down of law and order. At the time, several young men carried a pistol, but there was very little violence or murders. It was considered to be for protection only.
But in Charleston (this is in the rural country), I would travel great distances to attend high school football games. At those events, the teenagers began to taunt the police before the crowd. They would yell, “Please officer, don’t hit me with that club!” or, “please Mr. Policeman, don’t hit me again, I’ll be good!” What could the police do? They had not hit anyone. In my opinion it was the beginning of what teenagers do today.
In July of 1941, I was a victim of a hit and run accident. I received a compound ankle fracture. At the time I worked with my brother-in-law Danny Absher and Bud Price, a nice black guy. We operated a coal cutting machine.
Each of us would work 16 hour shifts. This was staggered so one of us was always home, and two always working, six days a week. Danny and I worked 8 p.m. to 4 p.m. Danny and Bud, 4:00 p.m. to midnight. Bud and I, midnight to 8:00 p.m. etc., Then at home for a fast rest and be back to work in 8 hours. We were making real good money, being paid piece work prices for the places we cut. After two months rest and healing for my ankle I was anxious to get back to work. My ankle became very swollen and sore but I needed the money. This forcing myself had a lot to do with my other accident. I almost lost a leg and arm. In that incident my arm was fractured in the coal mine. It was never a surprise to hear of a miner losing a leg, an arm or getting a broken back or even killed from slate falling. That’s when I decided to get out of the coal mining business. It happened pretty regular. My brother-in-law Danny Absher had his back broken after I left the mines.
In my accident my leg was run over with one wheel of a 4 1/2 ton cutting machine. The next day after I was in the hospital, my wife asked Dr. Stallard if my leg would be removed. It was so badly mangled that it could not be put in a cast. He said “Lady I just don’t know, but if you come back tomorrow it will either be off or I will be trying to save it” and save it he did. He was a wonderful doctor.
While recuperating I enrolled in vocational school machine shop. I needed another occupation besides sailor and coal miner. After about two months they gave me a good reference so I went to Charleston to work in General Machine Ordinance as a machinist. I like this work, and after doing many other sales jobs I came back to my machinists work. For the last 25 years, (now at age 82) I am still doing this.
In January of 1943 I received a draft notice to appear in Huntington, West Virginia for an exam. I was still using a cane to help me walk. I still had to go back to the hospital if my leg would swell too much. They would put on what they call Hot Saline Packs. This was very hot steaming towels.
After a few hours of this my leg would look like it had no meat on it only a bone. Anyhow, before the draft board pulled off the patch on my thigh it was still very much draining. After the physical, I was sent to another doctor, a psychologist I guess, (a head shrinker). He asked a lot of questions. One of which was “Do you want to be in the Army?” I should have said yes but instead I said no because I felt that I could not hold up my part because of my being crippled. Besides I had a job in a defense plant which was important to the war effort. His answer: “You’re in”.
I was sent to Fort Thomas, Kentucky and the next day I was on my way to Paso Robles, California. After being there for two months in what they called “Limited Service” we were all lined up (my platoon) and ordered that all men with a bad arm, form a line to the right. So I grabbed my duffle bag and got into that line. Then he called out all men with a bad leg go to the left.
Well I started over to that line and was stopped and asked how come I was changing sides. I said I also have a bad leg. Two weeks later, I, along with some other misfits, were discharged and sent home. Back home in Charleston, West Virginia I went back to my old job as a machinist until the shop closed. There, we made guns, torpedo tubes and Tiny Tim Rockets.
One operation being done by me on the torpedo tubes was way behind in production. We worked 3 eight hour shifts, each shift was supposed to produce 1½ tubes. The supervisor was asking us to step it up to 2. I talked to the other two shifts on my machine, but they would not go along with my idea. Meanwhile the tubes were stacked up to the ceiling waiting for my machine. My shift was 4 to 12 p.m.
I tried high speed machining instead of the lowest possible RPMs that were being used. If any operator scrapped or deviated a torpedo tube for any reason, he and his supervisor were both fired on the spot. But I was so confident that my boss gave me the okay. So the next day at four p.m., I told him to have the overhead crane ready when I needed a change. He said “you got it”. I turned out one every hour and at 11:00 p.m. they set in another tube.
I had completed 7 tubes. My boss came out and said “Don’t touch another one. Let’s quit while we are ahead”. Well that cleared up the bottleneck and the other shifts started doing two tubes each shift. My name was up on all the bathroom walls and I was ridiculed and called nasty names but I felt good knowing that I had done the right thing. Our ships were waiting for the finished product.
Tiny Hall. Around 1943 I met Tiny Hall, what a character. Tiny was so much fun and we became very good friends and still are. I went to the 50th wedding anniversary of him and his wife Mary a few years ago. They are a swell couple. Tiny and I would go to wrestling matches at Charleston Armory on our off duty job. We would booze it up a bit.
One night we were in my apartment. We would drink a while, then wrestle using some of the holds we had seen at the armory. Sit there with two fingers pulling the other guy’s nose while holding around his head or neck. Nobody got hurt it was just fun.
Another time, we were in my apartment having drinks as usual. Good liquor was not always available, due to rationing, so we did the best we could. We were drinking gin and chasing it with water. Tiny took a big swig, and was holding it in his mouth (pure gin). He reached across the table for me to hand him the water jug. Instead, I grabbed his hand and proceeded to give him a big handshake.
Another time, we were drinking dark colored rum. Me, being color blind, the rum was the same color as the Coca Cola we were chasing it with. We had poured each of us a glass of rum which we would drink straight, then follow it and wash it down with Coke. I had just taken a large gulp of rum, still holding it in my mouth, reaching across the table for Tiny to hand me the glass of Coke. Instead, he handed me the glass that was full of Rum. I took a big swig from the glass of Rum, and was washing it down with Rum. He thought it was very funny.
He was getting kind of bald and always wore a hat. I would sometimes take my two hands and pull his hat down over his eyes. Once I did this while he was driving along at a pretty good clip. Before he could recover he was into the rear end of a truck. That was real stupid of me, but we were always doing stupid things to one another.
I don’t know how we survived that crazy year. We were heading down through South Charleston and had been drinking as usual. The berm on the median strip was beveled about six inches high, on a 45 degree angle. Tiny was doing 85 miles per hour, he would hit the berm on purpose. He would run up on it and back down again. We were both laughing like idiots. We had a passenger in the back who started praying.
To avoid the infantry Tiny joined the Navy as a lot of men did in those days. I had been in and out of the army due to my leg and arm injuries that I received in the coal mine. I stayed on at the machine shop till the war was over in 1945. Tiny came home and went to work as a drummer.
They were called drummers then. Dry goods and notions, sales to country stores. I tried this for awhile. Tiny went to work for Schlitz Breweries as a field representative. He got me a job as sales manager for G. G. Smith. I told Mr. Smith that I didn’t know anything about beer. He said don’t worry you don’t have to these guys at the bar will tell you all about it as soon as you get in there. I said okay. Mr. Smith was a distributor in Charleston.
Tiny and I have grown a little older and maybe a little smarter. We have been friends many years and still see each other. I seem him occasionally. Many times I reflect back on those early years when we had a lot of fun and somehow survived. Tiny had a sister named Dora, she was called Doddie. Her husband was Dan Snyder.
Dan and Roy Hall (Tiny’s brother) and Eddie Snyder and usually one or two of their friends would go up the duck run about fifty miles away, in order to get past Mr. Ramsey at the mouth of the hollow. We would give him a box of shotgun shells and a case of beer, then proceed up the hollow about ten miles to a beautiful campsite. A nice cool stream was there. When I say campsite, I mean out in the woods. There was nobody there, it was just a nice place to camp. A nice cool stream was there and we would buy a week’s supply from Mr. Hall at the mouth of the hollow. We would settle with him when leaving. He would give us credit for any of the groceries not used.
This trip was for squirrel hunting and grouse hunting. We would stay one week every year for three of my years. Most enjoyable it was. A couple of guys would go ahead a day or so before season opened. Also to build a road or repair it where it had washed out or grown over in the previous year. We would drink some at night and play poker. We would be hunting at daylight. No one ever went there except our party. It was pristine. If we heard a gunshot we knew it was one of our party because no one could get past Mr. Ramsey.
One evening a man came to our camp and was real shook up, he said when he first started up, some crazy guy started shooting at him and he ran like hell and hid in a ditch. He crawled in the ditch to get out of the way. We told him it was Mr. Ramsey. He would not tolerate a stranger on his property.
We had tents and a lot of convenience. We would sometimes sit around the campfire tell stories and call back to the Hootie owls.
As for Tiny, I remember his dad Billy Hall also his mother Flora. Tiny played a dirty trick on his mom while she was living with him. Flora would have none of the new fangled margarine that was new on the market at that time. She would only have real county butter. What Tiny did was to buy the margarine and color (it was sold separate at that time) he would go down into the basement, mix it up, color it real good, and do a mold like form with finger prints all over it and tell his mom it was country butter he had bought. She liked it just fine.
General Machinery Ordinance Corporation: It never bothered me in the least to work long hours, so long as it paid off financially. In part, this was because I had put in such long hours, for so little return, while working in the coal mines. Now in the machine shop, in Charleston, West Virginia, the pay was okay.
When I first came to this job, I was far from being over the accidents that I had suffered the previous year. As I said, my trade school instructor had written me a nice letter of recommendation. But when I arrived, they put me to work lapping a six inch gun. This was done by four men, and I was one of them. There were two on each end of the gun. The gun was mounted on horses with heavy steel racks. We would pull this gadget back and the other two men would pull it back the other way through the gun. I guess the gun was about 20 feet long.
This gadget’s job, (I don’t know the proper name for it.) was to smooth out the rifling inside the bore of the gun. With my bad leg this was too much for me. So on the second night of this, I spotted the general foreman Phil Lowe, standing by the exit door. I picked up my lunch box and walked up to him and said “I have a bad leg and I must quit this job because, I did not come here for that kind of work. I want to be a machinist”. He said, “have you any experience?” I showed him my letter. He took me back in the shop and assigned me as a helper on a lathe. That was finish processing of the six inch guns. The operator was Johnny Artis.
My job was to take care of his needs or be a gopher. After a half hour I noticed that the gun was slowly crawling out of its chuck, and it was being done very slowly. I called Johnny’s attention to this. He called in the foreman, and the crane came and corrected this problem. Johnny was so happy that I had noticed because I had saved his skin.
The rule was that anybody who damaged one of those big guns or torpedo tubes is automatically fired, and so is his lead man. Johnny bought me a bottle and told everybody about it. After that I soon had my own machine. I stayed there until I was drafted into the Army. I often worked two eight hour shifts in a row and sometimes I would even work three shifts because my relief operator did not come in to work. In other words I would work 24 hours without ever punching out on the time clock. When the shop closed after the war, I was foreman.
After my divorce from Alma, I was a bachelor for nine years in Charleston, West Virginia. After the machine shop closed I worked for Singer Sewing Machine Company again for one year.
I then became Sales Manager for Schlitz Distributing Company. This was a fun job. It consisted of a small salary, a station wagon to drive and keep, and an unlimited expense account. So you know I had lots of friends. At times I would walk into a bar and someone would yell “Hey Bob, over here! Sit at our table”. Some of them were real friends and some were looking for a free beer.
I was told by Mr. G.G. Smith, the owner, that my job was to ride with the drivers, talk to the bartenders, put up advertising and promote sales. We had four routes, four drivers and four helpers. All were union. They had to be back in the warehouse by 4pm. After a few weeks I told G.G. that if he wanted beer promoted I could do it better by starting my work day at 4pm by meeting with the drivers, getting their stories and problems. They could also provide a list of weak customers.
Then I started work at night when working folks went out, instead of the usual drunks, alcoholic and winos that hung around the bars during the day. He agreed to try it. So my day started at around 4pm. Many nights I didn’t quit until 3 or 4am. Sales soared and I was able to set up Christmas bonuses for employees and also a nice one for myself. I was five years at this job.
I was undone by a horse’s ass that I had hired as warehouse manager. In less than a year he became jealous of my lifestyle, and made trouble by lying to G.G. about my work and style. I told G.G. I would leave because I couldn’t work with this snake in the grass. I couldn’t convince G.G. that Harry Connely was lying. G.G. said “Stay here, Bob. You and Harry work it out.” But I left. Harry became the sales manager, but didn’t get along with the customers or crew. Harry was fired and G.G. sent word for me to come back, after Harry harassed G.G. and all concerned. I refused to go back because I had another very good job in Beckley, West Virginia.
Two Front Teeth: In 1944 I met a navy sailor. It was about 10am. We went to a few bars and had few beers, and then he told me that he had been in a fight last night and had two front teeth knocked out. I kept looking at him and thought he was lying. I could see no evidence of two missing front teeth. Finally I said, “You don’t have any missing teeth – you’re lying.” Whereupon he reached in and pulled out two middle lower teeth he had carved from a toothbrush and held in place by chewing gum. It was so unbelievable, the toothbrush teeth and the carving were a perfect match for his own teeth.
Casa Loma. I spent many years in Charleston West Virginia. These were the big band days. They came to town quite frequently. Names like Les Brown, Tommy Dorsey, my favorite was Ray McKinley. He came to Casa Loma three times while I was there. My favorite tune was “The Red Silk Stockings and the Green Perfume”. Sid Morgan was a special buddy of mine then. We would take our dates and have a grand time. The Casa Loma for the most part was out under the stars with the dance floor under a roof, along with a part of the seating capacity. But most people stayed outside on nice evenings.
One night came a downpour, and there were eight of us in my party. Being in West Virginia, whiskey was not sold by the drink except in clubs. But it was okay to bring your own bottle, and be served set ups and ice. So when the downpour came, there was a mad scramble to get under the roof, or to get to a different table. In the scramble, we left some of our bottles back at the table. But at closing time, we took inventory of our hooch. We had three brands that none in our party had bought. We were also shy of four bottles we had brought, and had left behind at our original table. So we evened out okay, I guess.
Another popular night spot was John Pauley South Ruffner Coffee Shop. It had great food and a dance floor in the middle of the large area. But the seating all around the dance floor was on a saw dust floor. All saw dust except the dance floor. Of course, we drank Schlitz because I was sales manager for the beer.
My friend had a date one night, who refused to drink Schlitz. I asked why. She said it was bitter and she couldn’t stand it. At our table we had quart bottles, three Schlitz and one Bud for Sid’s date. After awhile I emptied her Bud while she was up dancing. It was a little more than half full. I emptied it into the saw dust and filled it back to where it was with Schlitz beer. After she had consumed all of it, I said, “I think your Bud is bitter not Schlitz”. She angrily disagreed. She was really angered when she was told that she had been drinking Schlitz and denying it was bitter.
At a favorite eating place of ours one night, my date complained that the hot rolls were cold. I said, “no problem”. They were in a basket that was lined with wax paper which extended into a fancy flower affair over the rolls. I lit them with my cigarette lighter just to make them warm. I didn’t know that it would be that big of a fire. We were evicted.
Another time at the same place. We had our bottle of hooch and were served ice and 7-up which was standard procedure in West Virginia. We always had been served small bottles of 7-Up – about six ounce size.
I would pour drinks for all, and the desired amount of ice, and I would shake the 7-up bottle with my thumb over the top, and it made a nice fizz mix for the drinks. But on this night, they brought us the quart bottle instead of the little ones. I knew better, but Sid put his thumb over the top and shook it up. He could not hold down the pressure, and he proceeded to spray us and the people in the next booth. We were again evicted.
Beer Sales, 1946: As a beer salesman in Charleston West Virginia, I had a problem right away. This was 1946 and beer had been rationed to wholesalers like us. It then had to be rationed to the customers. It was rationed to us by the brewery to then ration it to their outlets by class (A,B,C). The “A” being the very elite such as Daniel Boone Hotel and classy restaurant. “B” was like classy pool halls and bowling alleys.
“C” was where the blue collar workers go after work and consumed large quantities of beer. The plan backfired on Schlitz. They were after prestige, which they got as long as beer was short. But now we needed volume.
My job was to end ration and get new customers like the “C” which had been refused beer during rationing. This was a very bad feeling against G.G. Smith, my boss for this reason, I worked very hard on a fellow named Cat Walker, who sold Fort Pitt beer but would not buy Schlitz.
Cat Walker’s place was a busy one. You could have beer by the pitcher and there was a nice dance floor. I was friendly with the waitress named June and eventually became good friends with Cat Walker. I kept bugging him to buy our Schiltz beer. He hated G.G. Smith with a passion. Finally, he agreed to put in our draft beer, but said don’t tell that G.G. S.O.B. I’m buying it or I will throw it out. I agreed of course, but could not keep my promise. I am sure that Cat knew this but wanted to make a point. When I left this job, Cat said “I will throw all this damn beer out if you say so.” I said no, please don’t.
One place that was called a package dealer and sold beer only in cases or cartons to go. He was doing big business but would have none of our products, he was mad at G.G. also.
Our driver would stop by once a week and try to sell him with no results. My driver, Bill Branham said to me “Bob I am going to stop calling on him, its useless”. I said let me try. You keep stopping. I called on him but as a customer not as a salesman. I asked to buy a case of Fort Pitt. He said “We don’t have that Fort Pitt but we have”, and then he names off a half dozen other beers. I asked him why he didn’t have Fort Pitt. He said “We never get a call for it.” I said I asked for it because it’s the only beer I like. So instead of a case of beer I took a six pack of another brand. This made me look legitimate.
A couple of weeks later I sent two of my buddies there with rehearsed instructions. They asked for two cases of Fort Pitt. They each had a twenty dollar bill in their hand and were bickering that each one would pay. Meanwhile the owner is looking for the Fort Pitt. No, he doesn’t have any, he says – and then he names off other beers.
One of my buddies says OK. But the other said no way, go look again, it’s the beer that my friend likes. The guy looks again and says sorry but this brand is a good beer just like Fort Pitt. My friend says let’s go somewhere else. They walked out. On Bill’s next trip out, the man bought four cases and Bill was eventually able to get our other beer in because he was a good salesman.
There was this very nice restaurant that also sold a lot of carry out beer. He refused to buy our beer and our driver had quit trying to sell to him long before. On a weekend my friends Tiny and Mary Hall helped me get in this restaurant with beer. On a Saturday afternoon they ordered each a steak from the top price on the menu. The waiter asked if they wanted something to drink. They said yes, we’ll each have a bottle of Schlitz. The waiter came back and said “We don’t have Schlitz”, and offered many other brands. Tiny said “Surely you must have Schlitz, go look again”. Now the owner is digging in the cooler, knowing he won’t find it.
The waiter comes back and is very sorry but would they accept another beer? Tiny said “OK, we’ll have a Miller”. But Mary said “No, I like only Schlitz and should not have to accept this substitute.” So they canceled the steak dinners which are by now ready to be served and they walked out.
The following week, on a Friday night, I sent two of my friends to the same restaurant with two bags of empty bottles, which was normal because all bottles were deposited at that time. At the carry out beer counter they set down the bags of empty bottles.
The owner said; “How much beer do you want?” My buddy said: “Let’s see how many empties we have. Then we’ll get exchanges.” which was pretty normal for that time. They took out the bottles from the bag and set them on the counter all with the Fort Pitt label shining. The count was 18. The owner said “Now what kind of beer do you want?” They acted surprised and said “Fort Pitt of course”. Again the owner pretends to spend some time looking for it. He then says “I am sorry, we are all out of Fort Pitt, but we have”….. and then he repeats his other brands. My one buddy said maybe we should get Ducane which was a big competitor of ours. My other buddy says “No, let’s go find Fort Pitt. If we take something else back to the party, those guys will kill us.” Out they go after putting the empty bottles back into the bag.
On Monday morning when I opened our warehouse door at 7 am, the phone rang. It was this Greek owner giving his name and address of his business and said “please have your driver bring me five cases of Fort Pitt and five cases of Schlitz”. The moral of this true story…. If a customer will take a substitute as far as the owner is concerned he never got a call for it. But if he lost a sale, he knew damn well he had a call for the product.
I would even go back in areas 20 or 30 miles away, where competition had us completely blocked out. The owner would say “Your beer will not sell here.” I said, “Of course not, if you don’t have it! If you will buy 5 cases, I will personally guarantee that it will be gone or at least half of it in two weeks, or I will buy it all back at double your regular price”. They would go for the deal. I would slip back a few nights later, when it was crowded and set up the house.
I did this 2 or 3 times and by the time our driver called on him in two weeks, the beer was gone, or almost gone, and the owner reluctantly bought only two or three cases again, figuring I would not be back. But I would come back, and meanwhile I had made a few friends there, and had converted them to our beer. Then I would stay away for a month or so, then visit again, and set them up.
By now our product was established. In clubs such as Eagles, AmVets or Legions, I drank bourbon, but I would sometimes set up beer for others. On one occasion a customer said to me after I had bought him a beer “How come you are not drinking beer?”. I said, “I don’t like the damn stuff”. “I’ll buy you a drink if you would like or another beer”. He said, “Well, I like beer”. I said, “then you are the one that I am after”. I gave him another beer and we were friends. When I told this to G.G. he flipped. He said, “you told him that?” I said, “I sure did, and it was no problem”.
I had a couple of strange encounters. At one tavern that we served, there was an elderly German man. Who would sit at a table and order four bottles of Schlitz all opened. In about an hour he had drank the four beers and would order four more, or would get up and leave. Never one or two bottles, always four, and another four. Sometimes he ordered the second four and drank them.
Another strange one was, I was contacted by a man who said his uncle was coming to town for a 10 day visit. He weighed 350 pounds and drank a case of Schlitz beer a day. He wanted 10 cases wholesale. I obliged. The story was that this man sat in an easy chair and read with a case of beer at his right side and an opener handy. He would remove the bottle top, drink the beer, put the empty back, put the top back on, and open another until the case was empty by bedtime. The next day was a repeat until he left 10 days later, all the beer was gone, and the visit was over.