My father had his own small business where he worked with his brother and their father. They repaired electric motors. The motors they repaired were about the size of footballs and generally came from appliances like washing machines or refrigerators. That was of course a doomed business as over time the motors became cheaper to produce than to repair and hence disposable. But in the 50’s we didn’t know that.
My dad didn’t go out and fix people’s washing machines or fridges, he worked for the repairmen. So your fridge breaks down, you call the repairman, he comes, indentifies the motor as the problem and takes it away. The motor goes to my father’s shop where it sits for maybe a week, gets repaired, picked up by the repairman who then brings it back and installs it. The whole process could have been same day, rather than leaving the customer with no fridge for a week, but that’s not how things worked.
My dad’s customers were usually small independent guys like him, though he had an occasional big customer like GE Service. The way these guys worked explains why you had no fridge for a week if your motor died.
I know about this because my father would bring me to work with him on Saturdays, on school holidays and during the summer. It wasn’t particularly helpful for him. And it wasn’t either enlightening or fun for me. So the main beneficiary of this arrangement, and probably the driving force behind it, was my mother. She not only got a morning or a day to herself but also felt that my presence would keep dad from going to the bar for lunch and start knocking them back by noon.
What did I do in the shop? I would sweep. Sometimes I would put the fan belts hanging in the front room in correct size order and I would strip burnt out motors of old wiring, insulation and various other shit so the carriage could be sold as scrap. In the later task I worked side-by-side with my grandfather. Grandpa apparently was at the same skill level that I was so he got assigned the same tasks. But he was a funny man and I always enjoyed his company. Grandpa really wanted to be a musician, not a stripper of burnt wire from dead electric motor carcasses.
That doesn’t sound like much, but after 3 p.m. I might have been the most productive guy in the shop. Because at that point some of the customers came to visit. For example, one of my father’s favorite customers was a guy who owned some laundromats. Once in a while he’d bring a motor in to fix but on a far more regular basis, like just about everyday, he showed up with a six pack or two at which point there as a lot more customer relations going on in the shop than there was motor fixing.
Laundromats by the way were apparently good businesses in the 50’s because Pete, the aforementioned laundromat guy, was the first person we knew to get a color TV.
One of the highlights of the day for me was the appearance of George. George was the guy who came around mid-morning in what passed for a food truck in the 50’s. This is not to be confused with the sort of trendy gourmet food trucks that are now popular. This was more what you would call a coffee wagon set up for guys steeling themselves for a day of beer drinking by starting with a bacon and egg sandwich that was probably cooked four hours earlier and carried around on George’s truck ever since.
George called everyone George, so everyone called him by that name. So each morning I would be treated to a fascinating dialogue that went something like this.
Dad: Hey George, little late today huh.
George: Lot of traffic out there George. What can I get you today George.
Dad: Give me a coffee with milk and sugar and a buttered roll, George.
George: Sure thing George.
(followed by some gathering of food from the truck)
George: Here you go George.
Dad: What do I owe you George.
George: $1.50 George.
Dad: Okay George, see you tomorrow.
George: Thanks George, see you tomorrow.
Apparently this guy kept this up all day as he did his route from one shop or worksite to another. Did he bring his work home with him? Did he call his wife and kids George? Was George his real name? Or was it just branding, 50’s style, in a working class neighborhood?
The 50’s were the best decade for any kid to grow up in; I have so many great memories I truly wouldn’t know where to begin!
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