It was early evening when I arrived in Howell, and a fine rain was falling. The gloom was not an encouraging outlook for the town. I checked in at the Livingston Hotel, opposite the courthouse. In the morning I started my evaluation of the town. It was the county seat. Situated at the crossing of the Pere Marquette and the Ann Arbor Railroads, it was on the main road, known as the Grand River, between Detroit and Lansing. Howell was 49 miles from Detroit and 34 miles east of Lansing.
It was the center of the blooded Holstein Cattle Industry, and the metropolitan trade center for 12 or 15 miles in any direction. It fulfilled my specification in the two regards mentioned. One, it had adequate blacksmith facilities. Two, it had 10 rural free delivery routes emanated there from. I had gone no further than these initial observations when I said, as did Brigham Young when he looked over the Salt Lake Valley, This is the place.
Having made my choice, I set to work at once making plans materialize in to action. The hotel I stayed at, fronting the courthouse square, presented an inspiring view across the street. With the numerous maple trees in full leaf, spring was early that year. I found a room in the hotel block. It was going to be for rent soon, as a picture show there had found another location. I looked up the owner, who owned the whole block, a Thomas Gordon Junior, who proved to be mayor of the town, and from him I got 100% cooperation then and there after, in my many business dealings.
I leased the room in question at $25 per month, and in consideration of my paying 6 months in advance, Gordon got a carpenter and, according to my specifications, the two front display show-windows were modernized at no extra charge. The hotel office was on the east and the E. A. Bowman general store on was on the west. They occupied the two other front storerooms in the hotel block respectively. The Bowman store carried a smattering assortment of variety goods in connection with his dry goods.
For our opening a few weeks later, I bought out his stock of variety goods and added it to my own stock of new goods from New York. Bowman was one of my competitors that Crittenden had in mind when he wrote to me the previous month as to prospects in Howell. My other competitor was V.E. Hill, at the other end of Grand River. He and his successor, Tom Martin, remained so my entire business career in Howell. I got along with both on the friendliest terms.
I got a photographer to go out with me to a leading raiser of the Holsteins. I wanted him to get a shot of John Worthington’s herd to add to the collection of local cards I expected to stock. Each night I spent hours writing home my operations so far, in the hotel office, until the night clerk would remind me come midnight that it was time to close.
In the meantime Daisy and the boys were staying with Myra, back in New London. She was waiting for word to come, which I did soon there after. Upon arrival, we rented accommodations at Mrs. Wright’s boarding and rooming house. It was opposite the courthouse, but on another street. We rented there until we found another house to rent. I finally found a newly built house near the store, and rented it for $7 a month. It was a two story Rupert house on South Barnard Street just off of Grand River.
Upon arrival our household goods, which were not many, as we had curtailed shipment, were brought over from the depot in one huge load by a horse drawn dray, and we were once more set up for living.
There being but a slight difference in their ages (6 and 7 years old), we held Winfield back so they could enter school together. Keeping along parallel tracks through the rest of their schooling and further. It was our aim that they might continue with the same pace from the primary grades through to their graduation. Their first primary contact was Goldie Holt, and it was largely through her knowledge in handling small children that the boys were given the initial interest in their schooling. It would carry them through the whole course to their graduation in 1922.
Goldie devoted her whole working life to teaching the primary grades. She has to her credit some 40 years making many successful men and women of today. Upon retirement she moved to California. There she has called on us at our home in Altadena. We feel indebted to all the teachers of the early grades; Ethel Dean and Karen Hansen in particular. They both imparted the urge to learn in their young charges, for they were exceptional teachers, and our heartfelt thanks to all three mentioned, and the appreciation of our boys in acquiring a measure of this world’s success by reason of having been started on the right track.
We opened what I called The Home Goods Store on Friday, May 13, 1910. And despite the weather and alleged bad luck associated with the day and date, the opening was auspicious. The months were reversed, as between April and May, and it snowed in May.
From the Rupert house, our first in Howell, after less than two years, we rented the Shields house on State Street. We held that down for the same length of time, as did the Rupert house. It was here that Winfield and I made a trip to Detroit. We bought a pony, which we named Black Beauty. We also bought a small wicker phaeton with harness and all else that went with it for $150. We drove it home. Most of the way, however, Winfield and I walked, to relieve the little beast. There were no pavements then. It was hard pulling through dust and sand. The trip took us three days, with overnight stops at two towns between. As back yard was enclosed, the Shields place offered good accommodations in the summer season, but, even so, Beauty at times would chew or tear to pieces clothes hung on the line. When passing the store, the little rascal soon learned to not budge another inch until he had been fed his chocolate cream. Come fall, we had no winter stable, so we sold Beauty.
More years went by, and we bought the old homestead, called the Hickey House from Bruce McPherson. It was an oversize house, but old, situated on the northeast corner of State and Monroe, surrounded by maple trees, and far too large for us, but we bought it for a song, so to speak. It was while living here that we bought our first car, a 4 cylinder Buick, as here we had a barn in which to store it. It cost us $555. We ran it 25,000 miles and used it for 5 years. This was in 1916.
Our first family trip was to Mammoth Cave and back, 1140 miles, which we made O.K. discounting taking along a back rack of spare tires, for the best would blow out in less than 2000 miles. I remember that the 12 miles into the park was 6 inches deep with mud, and so impassible that an old couple that we met had turned around and gave up, as afraid they couldn’t make it through such a quagmire. We made it however, and enjoyed the experience. Upon our return home we stopped at the house, and was shown through by the hostess guide across the river from Covington, the historic house in which Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. At another historic spot, an old Southern mansion, we passed and stopped, known as My Old Kentucky Home, where Stephen Foster wrote his never to be forgotten ballads. With our new car, of course it behooved us to take the bit in our teeth and drive into and through the city of Detroit. When we crossed Woodward Avenue from Grand Avenue, I ran into the rear wheel of a peddler’s wagon. A policeman stood on the corner watching, but made no move to challenge or arrest me, inasmuch as no damage was done other than denting my front fender.
Harking back to the late summer of 1910. The year we located in Howell, a 5 & 10 convention was held in Cincinnati, which I attended, and it was then and there the ground work was laid for the later forming of a group of five and ten cent associates into a buying organization to be known as The Consolidated Merchants Syndicate, with buying offices in New York, of which I became a member #314, with an official rubber stamp, C.M.S. The head office issued voluminous weekly bulletins from manufacturers all over the United States, in wanted goods in the trade, all by makers, no jobbers. The service cost $300 a year. From the time I went in, when Allie’s, my brother, New York services (as my purchase agent) began to shade off about 1915, until we sold out to the D. & C. stores in 1942. I continued as a member, with substantial benefits, I thought.
At the convention cited above, we were each furnished with the official badge of 5 and 10-cent merchants, so we looked very impressive. Theodore Roosevelt visited Cincinnati at that time and we got notice that he would de-train at a suburban station to avoid the crush at the Union Station.
So a bunch of us repaired out to that suburban station, but were not allowed on the platform. However, yours truly jumped down a 6-foot wall to make it, and once on the platform and mixed with the official welcoming committee, I was undistinguished from them. Therefore I met and shook hands with the colonel, with his slogan, de-lighted!
The convention lasted three days, with much of interest occurring, but when it broke up, I was loaded with all the samples I could carry from exhibitors who didn’t want to ship same home. I had to change cars at Toledo, and by the time I got home that night, after 11 o’clock, I knew I had been somewhere.
Continuing my main narrative, before the First World War broke, Thomas Gordon proposed to sell me the whole Livingston Hotel block for $11,000, and I took him up, turning in our big house at just what it had cost, as token payment, $3,200. W. D. Adams, dry-goods merchant, who had bought out E. A. Bowman, thereafter paid his $40 store rent to me rather than Gordon. Mrs. Van Keuren operated the hotel, and I raised her rent slightly, from $70 a month, to $1000 a year.
Through the entire hotel regime of 5 years, I never made any visible profit, with so much continual outlay for repairs and replacements, but when war was on and prices inflated I sold the hole outfit to W. D. Adams $16,500, thus cleaning up a tidy profit over-all. Thereafter I paid my rent to Adams instead of him to me. Gordon, by cementing the basement and a new floor, inside toilet, and other improvements over the years, had raised my rent up to $30 a month, and after having acquired ownership, I had started debiting the business with $40 toward the kitty.
As to general merchandising, I had maintained my connection with C. B. Rouss in New York, as in other days, with his super-bargains, which gave me a distinct advantage over my competitors. One time Allie sent me a dozen leather bound large volumes on the Atlanta Exposition, upon receipt of which I was suspicious, with such 25 years or so out of date, and possibly he was also, buying but one dozen, for, with Rouss, it was usually one-shot only, no repeats. These cost only 35¢ each and I sold them right out at 50¢, for, intrinsically, they were worth $5, and published at that price, probably now would be sold for $15. Allie might have gotten 100 and I could have sold them, perhaps for twice the price I did. Another time he bought a dozen Bibles, the neatest and best quality I ever saw. At a price by which we could sell them at $3 and make a good profit, and yet give customers a rare bargain. This item I was able to duplicate. Another item, regular stock in trade with Rouss in factory over-runs, discontinued styles of handles or other legitimate changes, were paring knives, of which we sold immense quantities. Once or twice a year these would be offered at $5 a gross, and I loaded up every time, with as many as 5 gross at a shipment. Never did I price these under 10¢ apiece, and some sold for 25¢. Besides, I had the C.M.S. to draw upon, Butler Brothers, and other sources of supply.
Some time during or after the war years we sold our large Hickey house to W.A. Crum, and rented back the upstairs from them. After selling our house, I fitted up living quarters in the front of our store basement, and with a oil stove and the few kitchen necessities, we got our meals and ate down there, the boys coming in from school. After closing at night, we went home to spend the evening, in the large upper hallway for a sitting room, and adjoining bedrooms, paying $20 a month to W. A. Crum, who had bought the place from us. The price included steam heat. This arrangement continued until we bought the little cottage on West Sibley Street, near our store, which we later remodeled, adding inside toilet and hot water Arcola heating system, another bedroom and enlarging the kitchen. This we occupied for 10 or 12 years.
In the first years of our moving to Howell I was selected president of the Chamber of Commerce and re-elected for several terms thereafter, with A. Riley Crittenden as secretary. It was during my regime in that capacity that Howell was given city mail delivery, and Riley, the inspector, and myself, with the driver, drove over the streets of Howell, mapping out the respective routes of the three original carriers, which still obtain to the present day, with added routes of course. Also, during my incumbency of office on the Board of Commerce, or, Commercial Club, as we called it, I was selected as one of a committee of three, to solicit funds for a site for the Spencer-Smith Machine Co. plant in which we succeeded; and the Spencer-Smith on one side of the Ann Arbor tracks with its sister factory, the Howell Electric Co., on the other side, were then and still are, the leading industrial concerns in the city. Howell, you may infer, was later incorporated as a city by popular vote. I was on that initial committee too.
With the oncoming of the war years and for some time thereafter, sugar was not rationed, but was in short supply. We helped to satisfy that sweet-tooth longing that all Americans seem to have, by supplying wholesome candies at popular prices. We had experimented with it in a small way; enough to recognize that it was a legitimate stock in trade that we should not neglect.
Therefore we went into it in a big way, with the latest in modern showcases, several sets of Toledo scales, glass dividers and everything that goes with a well run and scrupulously clean department catering to the most discriminating patronage. I acquired exclusive sale in the city of E.J. Brach’s products, of Chicago, with exclusive also with independent maker through my C.M.S. connection.
Also, I had a continuing agreement with a peanut processing plant in Toledo, by which, if ordered a day in advance and the goods were on the loading dock in Toledo by 4 o’clock in the afternoon. They would have come through to Howell on the Cannonball freight and be taken out of the car in Howell by my drayman the next morning, of a Saturday, thus being received by us for that day’s sale. Strictly fresh, people came to know that candy or peanuts bought from us, were always fresh, and that slogan was never violated. I don’t remember ever having not gotten our keg or barrel of peanuts on time, each and every Saturday morning. We sold a keg or a barrel each Saturday.
Our candy and peanut output was truly remarkable for a small town. The two combined once in awhile rolled up into a total of $125 for Saturday, which alone constituted ½ the whole weeks sale.
I always had an alert girl on her toes behind the candy counters on Saturday, and sometimes two of them, with occasionally myself taking my stand there, for it is close attention to weighting out candy in 5¢ and 10¢ sales that makes for either profit or loss, and we always had the closest cooperation and attention to those little details, with periodical official inspection of our scales for fine but honest measurement. We handled nothing but quality candies, the hard kinds in great variety selling at 10¢ per pound; and choicest selection of chocolate creams at 40¢ per pound. I remember once in Chicago touring the Brach factory in person, I bought over $700 of chocolate creams without batting an eye, and they, nor any other sorts that we had handled were ever permited to go stale, else they were withdrawn from sale. We had fine cool and dry storage in the basement, and Gordon had fitted it up. The candy department was the most profitable part of our business over the years.
I always thought that older help was more efficient and responsible that the younger, with individual exceptions of course. I had the old standbys, Mrs. Burdick and Mrs.Hight, both about 70, with Fern Pettibone and my wife. I thought I had quite a team for the rush day of Saturday.
Later on, when our sons were at the university in Ann Arbor, I engaged them at $5 apiece to help us and we really needed them desperately. They hitchhiked a ride up on Saturday to help out if they could get away. In visiting a fellow merchant in Iowa, one time that had a bevy of young girls flirting about, I told him my regulars were 70 years old. He threw up his hands in horror. A year or two thereafter he went bankrupt. Draw your own conclusions.
During our early Howell years, when my wife came down of a Saturday to help out, she would bring the little fellows down to the store, and put them to sleep in a clothesbasket under the counter. In the days when we had the pony, they would go off for the day on country roads, with their cousin, Clarence Stevens, knowing they would be safely occupied for hours, while she was at the store. On such occasions customers would come in and say they had seen our boys with their pony on such and such a road. We would reassure them that they had our permission.
Clarence was only 5 years older that Winfield, but that 5 years made a big difference, Clarence was a born horseman. He could control Beauty with no trouble at all. However, when Winfield tried to assume the role of boss, over anything to which Beauty objected, she rebelled, and one time she took a tiny bite out of Winfield’s earlobe. I think the scar still remains. That was one reason we let Black Beauty go, for, without Clarence, when he went home, we were not sure of Beauty’s reactions when in a contrary mood.
While we were still in the Shields house, one Sunday the boys decided to go for a walk down the Pere Marquette Railroad tracks, unbeknown to us, of their intentions, though we had never restricted their reasonable actions in any way. This was in the early forenoon. As dinnertime passed, we became concerned, and by mid-afternoon genuinely worried. We confided in the neighbors and all turned out to hunt, walked around the lake, something that the boys and I had done many times, and investigated all sorts of possibilities, but before I had decided to call up the authorities, in came the pair, somewhat bedraggled and hungry, as they had had nothing to eat since breakfast. Winfield at the time was probably 10 years old and Francis 1-1/4 years younger. It seems they started down the tracks not noting the passage of time, and kept walking, walking, and walking, until they came to the village of Brighton, which they knew was over 10 miles from Howell. Then, they became really frightened, with that 10-1/2 mile walk back, but they buckled to it, and made it, but it was a salutary lesson, better than a whipping. We were so relieved that we made their bed (after stuffing them with a good supper) upstairs beside us, which they thought was silly to treat them as babies.
We saw two total eclipses of the sun in this era, something not seen in a lifetime by many people. The first one, a night drive we made to Ann Arbor, picked up the boys in time to drive to Midland, pick up Myra, then on to Evart, where occurred the eclipse soon after daylight, then reverse back home. The second one was years later, in New England, we drove up there and got a good stance on a hill in New Hampshire for the event, then toured home via Lake Champaign, Ticonderoga, and other historical points.
The milk factory (Borden’s) in Howell burned while we were in the McPherson house from there the fire was spectacular. Daisy and I got up and went over, and how mad the boys were afterward that we didn’t wake them instead of leaving them sleeping. This was a big loss to Howell, but it was bridged for a time by shipping the daily milk to the Lansing factory in glass-lined refrigerator cars.
Two years citizens appointed a fireworks committee the 4th of July, with Ed Garland, Dr. Huntington, and C. S. Line members thereof. We collected several hundred dollars and I contracted with Brown Eager sent a man up to put on the exhibit. We negotiated with Henry Ford for the orator of the day, but his secretary brushed us off.
In the early 1920s I was put up for mayor on the non-political ticket, but beaten by a small majority, 20 votes I think, and so avoided a lot of grief.
It was in the 1920 that a committee got together to create a new banking institution, this to be a national bank. The two already in town were both state banks. The importuned me to join them, which I did. They had already tentatively thought to call the institution, when formed, The Farmers Bank. I demurred, on the ground that it smacked as appealing to a class, whereas we wanted to draw from all segments of the populace, whereupon I suggested the name of First National Bank, as of broader import and, withal a substantial and solid name, and my suggestion was adopted and the bank was formed and so named with Louis Hewlett as president, I as chairman of the board, E. A. Fay as cashier, and Will Reader as an officer. Therefore I put in my $1100, with a like sum from 100 others, making a total capital of $100,000, and it served its clientele well, until the bank closings of 1933, after which a reorganization took place.
It was approximately in this era of 1920 that the boys made a hiking trip out to Wellington, Kansas, to make the Warner’s a few days visit. At about this time a company was formed in Howell to film and produce a moving picture with a so-called expert from Toledo to conduct operations. The star of the play was Mabel Taliaferro, and the name of it was A Fight For A Million or Misal. I went out on a country road during filming and saw a house blown up (?). It really was quite a creditable production. The boys, in their travels in after years, saw it in San Francisco, and claimed they recognized me in the court house riot scene, and so they might have, for I was there. When the old central high school was ready for demolition, it was used as the locale for a dramatic fire scene, with smoke pouring from the windows.
In these years, we made a number of short auto trips to Midland many times and to Northern Michigan two times at least; to Marion, Ohio, to see relatives there; to Ithaca, to call on Mrs. Jacobs; around Lake Superior, and Duluth, and around the Northern Peninsula of Michigan, where we contacted an interesting specimen of a natural bird lover at Blaney Park; to Detroit, and so on and so on.
The boys graduated from Howell High School in 1922. Some two years previously I had been elected to the Board of Education and was made secretary. I was re-elected for a second term, then resigned, as I didn’t think any citizen should sit on the board not represented by children in school attendance.
In 1922 the boys made a hike around the United States, hitting every state, traveling 27,000 miles, riding in over 700 different cars, but having to foot it a lot of the way. During which Francis used up 6 pair of shoes, but Winfield brought home his first beat up pair. The boys worked their way as far as possible in hay fields in the Dakotas, silver mining in Burke, Idaho mines, where they worked 3 months, and never saw the sun in that deep gulch; icing cars at railroad terminals; picking apples in Washington, and so on as they progressed from section to section.
It was during this era that we got our second car, a Nash, that we drove a total of 23,000 miles. The boys, having gotten around the Eastern seaboard, wrote us to meet them at Frederick, Maryland. I forgot to state that we helped them out on the initial leg of their trip, and now we were to pick them up on the last leg. We had first contacted them at haying time, in North Dakota, and convoyed them into and around Yellowstone Park, where we had the parting of the ways.
We drove back home, with Glen Clemet’s as our driver, and the boys continuing on westward and thence around the U.S., to Fredrick, as noted. We picked them up there and convoyed them thence over all the New England states and so on, home. Winfield was plagued by fever and cold at a certain time each day, as mosquitoes in Florida had infected him.
On account of Winfield’s condition, we did not make the latter part of above trip count, as it should have, in passing through Washington, and those historic New England states. In one of those historic graveyards we visited Mary Baker Eddy’s grave; in another cemetery Louise Alcott’s last resting place, and many other noted places. That was the summer of 1923 (see the boys’ diary account of their trip, a volume of 500 pages, and intensely interesting).
It was at about this juncture that Marion Leroy Burton, president of the University of Michigan, came up to our town to deliver an important speech. Accompanying him was Ruth Bryan Owen, daughter of The Great Commoner, who was to make just a few preliminary remarks. Like father, like son, goes the old canard. The same also goes for daughter. Anyhow, Ruth went on and on and on, for an hour or more until the time had long passed for Burton’s appearance, and he was a busy man, and had stolen this time for the special occasion, but he had to make an appointment, and so was forced to get up and leave, without uttering a single word. Of course, Ruth was properly mortified, but any number of apologies would bring back the hour of time. We were reminded of the lengthy oration on a hot night, which her father, William Jennings Bryan had once given in the Howell High School auditorium.
In our early days in Howell, we as a family began to go to Island Lake every Sunday, at first by rail, but latterly with a livery rig, packing in oat rations for the horse, as they spent the day in the shade, while we gave our attention to the lunch that Daisy had prepared, chief of which was the pan of delicious potato salad. On these trips our collie, Jack, scampered alongside the road the whole way of 13-1/2 miles, and, with the boys and the rest of us, swimming and disporting ourselves in the water, even swimming to the nearest of the islands. We loved Jack and he was a faithful companion of the boys during those years, but he acquired the habit of barking at every horse, which made him a dangerous companion, and we couldn’t break him though when we scolded him, he knew he had done wrong, and would cower at our feet, and then go right out and repeat his transgression. Thus we had to get rid of him to our sorrow.
For the benefit of the boys I thought we should have a permanent beach of our own at Island Lake, and so leased a spot of ground, had lumber hauled out from Howell, and we boys spent the better part of a week building a boathouse. We knocked together some planks for tables, and brought empty candy pails for stools, and so was set for real living on the waterfront, and no era in our lives was of more benefit to the boys that the outings we spent at Island Lake. They became good swimmers besides the outdoor healthful environs. I had a boat made in Howell and had a drayman truck in out. We named both the boat and its house Ozonia, with tan letters painted on them.
The boathouse was built above a water channel, so that we could shove a boat under the floor, leaving it for our own activities. In addition to the big lunches that Daisy provided, we brought a crock of pre-mixed lemon juice, to which we had only to add only cold water to make our drink for the day. It took a lot to fill up those youngsters. Francis or Lester Stevens were always along to do the driving, as also the boy and girlfriends of the boys, to make a large and gay party to share the days outing. In building the unit, I will confess that after days of dry lunches, I wanted one square meal, so I deserted the boys to go to town, on some pretext, 3-1/2 miles down the railroad tracks, to Brighton, which I started to hoof but was overtaken by the paddies on their handcar, going home after the days work. I hailed them for a ride, which they accorded, but made me do most of the work of pumping to pay my way. I earned it, for it was hard, mostly up-grade. The boys forgave me.
The business boom of the 1920s began to make itself felt, and unknowingly, speculation and people spending more than they earned was laying the foundations for the worst and longest depression this fair land ever had. Being cash, our business was not particularly affected by economic ups and down, but the current decade embraced the most successful years of our business life. As in our Linesville and New London store, post cards formed a substantial part of our income, which, with candy and peanuts, jointly, were our mainstays, and the two departments I had in the front of the store, at right angles from each other. We devoted ourselves to the business and long hours when the public wanted to spend its money, and had it to spend.
Withall, Sundays, after Sunday school we devoted to recreation and would sally forth with our linen dusters and other sports paraphernalia about the country highways and byways, for day trips. The boys, under the tutorship of their gymnast instructor, attended Sunday school, and as an incentive, the satisfying gym exercises following.
(10) In these years preceding and following 1920, we made several long-distance auto trips. In these days of county touring with not much in the way of pavements other than occasional stretches of gravel; the blue books were in vogue. They were considered the bible of the motorist, but not always reliable. Here is a typical sample of an entry say from here to there: “start with your odometer (speedometer to you) at 30.7; straight ahead to 31.4; turn left at red schoolhouse 32.5; cross bridge (plank) at 35.4; turn right at 36.2; curve at 37.8; left at white barn 38.4; straight ahead to P.O. in Bellflower 39 mi.” One got along fairly well, with one driving and the other reading directions, providing the schoolhouses and barns had not been repainted another color.
During the period from 1920 to 1940 both the boys and I, at different times, were put on the election board, and that was the last political contact I had with Howell.
Soon after we had located in the West Sibley home, a Reverend E.C. Moore with his wife and family, rented the premises next door. His church, the Evangelical, was located just around the next corner, but the church vacant lot was directly across the street. On this lot, with the help of parishioners, Moore in person planned and built a parish house and parsonage, and he and family moved into the latter, shortly.
Our fortunes were largely tied up with the Moore’s for many years, in their various successive moves, for we were with them ever in spirit, with many visits, to Detroit, Jackson, and eventually to Young’s Point, in Ontario, Canada. The latter church parish was some 440 miles from Howell.
We made the trek at least 3 times, crossing the river at Port Huron, and thence via The Kings Highway, to our destination, skipping Toronto by 3 miles. Once we deployed through the province of Quebec, with its quaint customs and religious statues on the cross, at every 4-corners.
Those days with the Moore’s were and are among our happiest recollections. To pay in part for our entertainment we took water trips out of Young’s Point which is the center of a far-flung water-world, we as hosts. I always contrived to bring a roll of Canadian quarters, which we had accepted over the counter at 20% discount, whereas they could use them at par. We helped finance the daughter through college.
For possible use in our numerous auto trips I had bought at wholesale, cost $40, a heavy green canvas tent, with floor, and a very serviceable unit, and easy to set up. Further, I had had the front seat cut down and hinged, to fold back into a bed, whereby we could, on occasions, sleep in the car. For this, Daisy had made curtains to cover the windows. The sleeping car we used only on our first Nash; and the tent domicile only until the motels became so widespread, cheap, and convenient.
It was in 1925 that the boys and we took off on a 3 months vacation, in a trip to the Coast and back, using the first Dodge we had had. For the whole trip, with side trips, we ran it 20,000 miles. When we got home, the dealer, finding it in the good shape that it was, traded us a new machine for our old, same model, for only $150 cash difference, which I thought was a good exchange for us, but not so good from his profit standpoint.
Following this trip before the boys entered their junior year of the University of Michigan, they embarked on their first round the world trip and were gone over a year, visiting 43 countries. Upon their return, they landed at Seattle from Japan on the steamer Kaga Maruo, and we were billed to meet them there, with our car, which we did. Grace, Winfield’s fiancée, accompanying us from Howell made the trip with us; I lodged my passengers in Woodland Park with our tent set up, and took myself then to the wharf, and met the boat just in. The boys invited me on board and before taking off with them; I joined them in eating the last meal on board. Also, I met a friend of theirs, whom they had become acquainted with on the long sea voyage, who was a real character. He had been all over the world collecting signatures of famous men and women from every country, and now going to make his second trip over the U.S. He had a huge leather book, with strap handles, full of names. However, the authorities would not let him land without a sponsor, or in lieu of that, $200. As he had neither and could not furnish them, he was deported, don’t know how he fared thereafter, though the boys heard from him afterward, wherein he complained the way Seattle officials treated him.
Daisy and I made a number of trips to the annual automobile shows in Detroit, and toward the end of the era we drove down to attend a testimonial dinner given in honor of Henry Ford’s 75th birthday. The affair was staged in the huge Masonic Hall, packed full, at $5 per plate and large photos of Ford as place favors. Henry spoke, but briefly, for he never pretended to be a speaker.
The governor of the state was there, along with other notables of state, city, and automobile fame.
I mentioned our Michigan to California family 3-month trip. This might be called on earthquake trip. At a tourist camp in Deer Lodge, Montana, while taking our daily baths after a sweaty days run, we felt the first shock, but not very severe. However, the next day, at and around Twin Falls, Idaho, we found plenty of damage. At one point a river had been dammed up to form a lake. At other points cracks in the highway 3-feet wide were common. In the towns store stocks were tumbled onto the floor from the shelves; and a brick public school building had a wide band of cement or stone just under the roof projection, neatly lifted out of context, so to speak, leaving the main walls intact; and other such freaks of nature. Arriving at Santa Barbara, on the coast, we found them just recovering from a quite severe shake. One hotel I recall had its entire front torn off, leaving a row of bathrooms, tubs etc., exposed, 5 or 6 stories high.
The Dodge was and is a good car, but the electric system was not as perfect as in later years, and every time we ran through a wide waterhole in the pavement, which was quite common after a rain, the car stopped, and would not go for quite a few minutes, until the wires partially dried out. This became so common that we expected it. Crossing a dam spillway over the Gila River, with only an inch or so of water flowing down it, we started across, as that was the only way to cross at that point, when, through an accentuated flow, the depth increased to 3 or 4 inches, that made us wonder what would happen if our machine balked, for the apron was a wide one, 50 or 75 rods I should think. We got across all right, however.
I recall the once we camped on the edge of an Indian reservation and was afraid of possible unwelcome visitors, but were not disturbed, and lying under the starry canopy in those desert clear atmosphere, the boys explained to us the various galaxies and star’s individual names they had learned in their preliminary college years.
Going across those sand deserts between Phoenix and Yuma, at one point we had the old plank road, with turnouts every 50 or 100 rods. That has long been superseded by pavement and alongside lies the discarded remains, half buried, of the old plank road, now only a tourist wonder.
After the foregoing trip, the boys got back on Ann Arbor, to re-enter the University of Michigan but, between their sophomore and junior years, 1925-26, they took time out for 13 months to make a trip around the world, as already noted, we meeting them upon their return in this country through the Port of Seattle, on the Japanese steamer Kago Maru, which they found an improvement over their outgoing passage from Montreal, on a cattle-boat. To clarify, the years noted above were those in which trip was made, re-entering the University of Michigan the fall of 1926 for there Junior year.
They graduated from the University of Michigan in 1928, in honor of which we gave each of the boys a certificate calling for a new Ford car, which they took possession of in time for the marriage festivities to occur later in the year, that of Francis and Helen on May 1st. Helen, originally from California, where Francis first met her, but now in Ann Arbor, came up to stay with us some days in advance, as it was understood that the wedding was to be at our house. Helen Line, a cousin of the boys, and an ordained minister, had been contacted in advance, to perform the ceremony and was on hand on the appointed date, along with Aunt Myra to help with the marriage breakfast. On the bright morning in question, after the ceremony, the united pair departed in their auto for a honeymoon trip to the Mammoth Cave. After their return there from, they took our Sibley cottage, which we had abandoned for their use in setting up house-keeping, and we fitted up living rooms on the second floor of the #2 west end store, temporarily, until other arrangements could be made, with our long-distance trips interspersed.
Moving along apace June 20th came, that being the date arranged for Winfield and Grace’s wedding, in their own home at Lake Chemung. The wife-to-be was Grace Song, a native of Korea, but for many years a student of the University of Michigan, and fellow graduate in the same class as our boys, in 1928.
Reverend Fred A. Line, my bother and pastor of a Universalist Church in the West had been asked to perform the ceremony, and he and his wife arrived in due time, besides there were quite a contingent of friends from Ann Arbor, where both the groom and bride had a wide acquaintance.
After the marriage was performed, the couple departed for the customary honeymoon, and upon return had their house already to receive them. After their departure upon conclusion of the ceremony, Mabel, the new sister-in-law, with Daisy, prepared a tasty lunch for the guests, served on the back porch of the cottage, overlooking the lovely Lake Chemung.
In the intervening years prior to the marriage of the boys, my wife and I made many auto trips, which I can’t separate in my mind, but suffice it to say that though the years alone or, upon occasion, with the boys, we had covered many of the most talked of historical points on interest in the United States, including such outstanding sights as the Black Hills, with the mountain sculpturing there on of the three presidents on Mount Rushmore; a trip underground in the Lead, Dakota mines owned by Hearst; the Deadwood district; Yellowstone Park, and its wonders; Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; a 5000 mile jaunt all over Florida; Grand Canyon; Devil’s Tower; Bad Lands of Dakota; Niagara Falls, both winter and summer; Columbia Highway; Wisconsin Dells; Washington D.C.; the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dam construction on the Columbia River; Alamo, San Antonio, and many more national projects and scenic wonders of our country.
While on the Ford topic, I’ll not forget to mention that wonderful Greenfield Village that he founded in 1933, with the Edison Institute close by covering 8 acres. The museum was so named by Ford in honor of his close friend, Thomas A. Edison. The façade was a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. We visited both places numbers of times and taken guests there.
In the early days of our Howell regime, we had always heretofore in towns we had occupied, observed the formal closing time at 9:00PM. However, in Howell I inaugurated 6:00PM closing of other stores, including our own, to coincide with those in the dry-goods industry. I indented an alarm clock arrangement set to turn off lights at 9:00PM, but we closed at 6:00PM every night except Saturday. The press and Board of Commerce took my idea up and urged all to install the alarm clock gimmick, which they did, and eventually, all stores closed at 6:00PM from them on.
Another early innovation in Howell was the installing of gas cars on the Ann Arbor Railroad, with Howell as a terminal, and sheds therefore overnight storage of the cars, as they ran only in daylight hours. They would stop at and highway crossing in the area, upon notice to the conductor and were quite a convenience. Daisy, the boys, and I of a Saturday or Sunday, would ride out to a predetermined crossing, to gather hickory nuts, or other seasonable rural products.
So the year 1928 neared its close. We had opened another store on Grand River, in Howell, in the Gregory building, known as the West-End Store, to distinguish it from the original store in the East End. The former store was given into Francis’ hands for management, the original one being managed by Winfield. Both jointly, within the next year, opened the Brighton store, after having built the building to house it. All these enterprises were based on my capital, name, and credit, with individual management and responsibility lodged solely in the hands jointly of Winfield and Francis, with a tentative arrangement that all profit, if any should revert to the two boys, 50/50. So the situation stood, the year following their marriage.
It had been my custom in former years, at the close of the December business, including the Christmas harvest, to bring my big safety bank box home for family examination with bonds, stocks, merchandise inventories and other material possessions to evaluate, and that analysis of 1928 net, showed a net worth of some less than $70,000, which represented the peak of material assets of my life, just prior to the 1929 crash. It was time to consider a long vacation.
Along with other buying advantages, I had Brown Eager and Hull for everyday staples and factory merchandise like our own printed tablets, which we ordered and sold by the thousands. J. G. Woodward was my salesman, and the general sales manager; he would later become president of the concern. J. G. always turned over his road samples to me twice a year of their whole line. He kept his samples in top condition and offered them at a discount of 50% from regular wholesale prices, thus permitting us to net a fat extra profit as could readily mix them with our regular stock.
Another concern, The Nathanson Brothers Co., also of Toledo, with Morry Friedlander as head, was also a profitable connection through the years, and Morry was a real salesman, and forced my hand, to my benefit, when a little reluctant. I had $1000 stock in the company and that was the main reason I was always given a more than liberal discount on every purchase. The last time I ever saw Morry was an accidental meeting at the San Diego Fair. Bert Woodard also passed on after my retirement.
In pioneer days, before the state was admitted to the Union in 1837, and agriculture had drained the swamps, the state was not considered a healthy area, and I can even remember when it was shunned as a breeder of fever and ague. In the early days Grand River from Detroit to Howell, was paved (?) with logs and heavy planks to make the trail passable at all, later graduated to sand and mud, but now a 4-lane highway designed as U.S. 16, a main east and west artery.
While in Howell I got a chance to buy up a stock of a defunct druggists stock, who quit business in 1885, and goods been stored all the intervening years and lesser wanted the room. They were stored on the second floor of a present drug store. The man closing the estate came up to see me and sold (rather gave it to me) for $25. For which I was to clean the place out. I didn’t even have to do that, as the lesser got ahead of me, and after I had removed the good merchandise, of which there were hundreds of dollars worth, they hauled the tons of bottles etc. to the dump, which I would have done likewise. I don’t know what ailed the seller to make such a foolish deal, but he wanted to get rid of it and do it quickly, and it did look bad, with everything caked with dust. Daisy and Mrs. Platt spent days cleaning up the fine silverware, moss-rose pattern DeHavilland China, etc., all the very best merchandise, which we turned to good account in store, as well as for gifts and personal use.