The Abe Zion Story
Some of the lessons I learned from the smartest person I ever met.
Written 2011 and rewritten 1/2016 unedited
When I look back at all of the interesting and smart people that I have been involved with, I have to put Abe Zion at the top of the list. I now realize that we can all learn by observing others, we can then copy what we see they have done correctly and utilize that knowledge in our own lives, or we can also watch what others have done incorrectly and we can do the exact opposite.
The story of my experience with Abe Zion is a perfect example of exactly that type of learning experience. I had the good fortune to meet Abe Zion in the 1960’s, and I was able to work with him for several years. During that time, I was able to closely observe him, and see the way he operated. I saw both the good and the bad, and I was able learn some valuable lessons. In 1960, I was operating a small auto wrecking yard in Stamford Connecticut, It was a business that I had leased from my former employer, named Lenny. Lenny ran Milford Auto Wrecking in Milford Connecticut where I worked part time during my college days. The yard Lenny leased me in Stamford Connecticut, was called West Side Auto Trading, and it was located right off of Stamford’s West Main Street. After attending New Haven College, I thought that I could make that small Stamford auto wrecking yard into a successful business. The reason I thought that was because I had, for a short time run a small auto wrecking company in New Haven Connecticut with my good friend Tommy Letis, and also I had learned quite a bit working for Lenny at Milford Auto Wrecking, while I was attending college.
I had started out at Milford Auto Wrecking, cutting car chassis with a cutting torch, I was cutting the chassis into three foot pieces for scrap iron. I thought that cutting steel with an oxygen acetylene torch was a fun part time job, but it didn’t last long, as I was soon promoted into managing their used parts recovery operation, and then later I ran their starter and generator rebuilding shop.
I always had thought Milford Auto Wrecking was a pretty well organized business, and I learned a lot from them. Before I quit, I learned how they were stealing cars and that’s how I found out about the small yard they had used in Stamford, they called the yard West Side Auto Trading, and they used it to drop off stolen cars that were destined to be delivered to auto wreckers in New York. I knew this because they used me, to haul in, or pick up stolen cars there.
I have to admit, that was also a fun job for me, until I realized all the cars I was hauling were stolen. I would unlock the junk yard gate and find a spot to let the car down that I was towing. Then I would attach my tow truck to another car that had been brought there from New York. That car was going to the Milford yard, so I would tow it to Connecticut. I didn’t know it then, but that kind of stolen car monkey business was pretty common practice among lots of auto wreckers, and they had been doing it a long time before I came along. If an auto wrecker in New York needed a certain engine or a other major expensive car part, he would phone a friendly Connecticut wrecker like Milford Auto Wrecking and they could trade parts. In looking back, I think most of the cars and parts they traded back and forth were probably all stolen. It became easy to see how the stolen car parts scam worked once I was unintentionally involved in it.
A wrecker in New York needed a late model Cadillac front end, they would place an order with Lenny at Milford Auto Wrecking and, Milford would steal the exact car that was needed in Connecticut and ship it to New York by way of the Stamford yard, and in New York, it was taken apart and the car disappeared in one or two days. The same procedure was done in reverse, if Milford Auto Wrecking ever needed any expensive car parts. I found out that Milford Auto Wrecking had a whole team of guys stealing cars from shopping centers. The team was headed up by my friend who believe it or not was a midget that climbed under the dashboard and hotwired the cars in two minutes.
So after I graduated College, in 1960, I was looking for something to do, and I remembered West Side Auto Trading, the small automobile wrecking and storage yard Milford Auto wrecking had used in Stamford Connecticut, and as I already had a bit of experience running a junk yard, I thought I could do the same thing with that small yard in Stamford, Connecticut.
I contacted Lenny, who was my former boss at Milford Auto Wrecking, and who I thought owned the Stamford yard, I asked him if I could lease it. Lenny agreed to lease it to me for $1200.00, and a rent of $200.00 a month, naturally he wanted it all in cash. At the time there was several things I didn’t know about leasing junkyards. I didn’t realize that it was illegal to lease a junk yard license, and I didn’t know that Lenny really didn’t own the property in the first place. So I ran the business in Stamford for over a year, and it proved to be a disaster for me. First of all, I didn’t have the knowledge, or the finances, to run the operation, and then I found out that most of the potential parts customers in Stamford were smarter than I was. They would climb over the fence and steal whatever parts they needed on Saturday and Sunday, when I wasn’t there. Then, to compound all of my problems, the Connecticut Junk Yard Inspector, came by and threatened me that I was running the yard illegally, and he was going to put a stop to it. So after hearing that, I was getting pretty disgusted with the whole thing, and I was thinking about looking for something else to do, and that’s when a lucky thing happened, I met Abe Zion.
One day while I was working in the lower part of the yard, I was approached by a short, mid-eastern looking fellow, who came jauntily walking down the concrete ramp from West Main Street. He was about five foot seven inches, with a slight build. He was wearing a dark pin striped suit, long sleeved white dress shirt, with a conservatively striped red necktie, and he also had on shiny, pointy black dress shoes. The fellow looked to be between forty and fifty years old, and he had dark kin, with sort of an Arabic looking face, his hair was jet black and combed back slick. If it wasn’t for the fact that he looked somewhat like a mid-eastern Arab, I would have thought him to be an executive from some office on Wall Street.
It was a hot day, and his suite jacket was open, he rapidly walked down the concrete ramp towards me with an out stretched hand, and a big smile. He greeted me as if he had known me all his life.
“You are Howard he asked?” Yes, I replied. “My name is Abe Zion, he said, and what are you doing in my junk yard?” I really didn't know who owned the West Side Auto Trading land, all I knew was, that I was not legally the owner of anything, and now there was this guy, who was about twenty years older than me telling me it was his. I had no idea if this guy Abe Zion, was telling me the truth or not. So after we shook hands, we both walked back up the concrete ramp, to West Main Street, where there was a small office building. This guy Abe Zion seemed to know the way so I followed right behind him.
I saw that the door to the office was wide open. That meant that Abe had a key, so at that point I decided not to say anything, or to argue with him as to who owned what.
The small office building up on West Main Street was only about ten feet wide and twenty five feet deep, and was divided into two rooms. A front room with an old scratched wood desk and three old chairs, and the back room, that was filled with a hundred or more crates of box nails that someone had bought and stored there. As we walked inside the front office, I saw an elderly gentleman sitting in a chair, his hands folded together on his lap. He looked to be around 80 years old and he was looking forlornly at the floor, with a pensive, expression on his face. He had a kind of paunchy build, and I could see he had his pants pulled way up too high, like old people do. He had a pleasant cherubic face with very thin yellowing hair now turning white. Abe Zion introduced me to Eichel Blumenstock who he said was his partner. Eichel stood up, and with a big smile, he shook my hand with both of his.
Well, here I was, I was already in a funny position, of not knowing if I was going to be kicked off the property or what, so I shook Eichel’s hand and gave him a big smile back.
As I really had nothing better to do, I thought it best to listen to what these fellows had to say. In a way, I think I was kind of excited that something interesting might happen, as it was already pretty clear in my mind that the auto wrecking business in Stamford was not for me.
That’s when it crossed my mind as too how the hell Abe Zion knew my name? I thought about it awhile and then I surmised that Abe had talked to Lenny of Milford Auto Wrecking, which meant he obviously knew Lenny, the guy who had illegally leased me the junk yard in the first place.
At the time I was twenty one years old, and my Stamford experience, had now shown me that I needed to learn a whole lot more about doing business. So at that very moment, I decided that any association with these two guys couldn't possibly hurt me, and as long as they didn’t ask me to do something illegal, perhaps I could learn something from them.
Abe turned out to be a very competent talker and salesman, he sat behind that old desk in the small office like he was the CEO of a major corporation, and he ended his first conversation with me, by saying, “Let’s make some money Howard”, now, I thought that was a pretty motivational statement. It was all very exciting, it was about time that I made some money.
So, over the next several months, we all met every day at the Stamford junk yard office, with Abe laying out plans for doing all types of future business ventures. Then, one day we started traveling, we drove everywhere with Abe doing the driving in his brand new Ford automobile. We drove with me sitting next to him in the passenger seat and Eichel dozing in the back seat. I soon learned that Abe really was an idea man, as well as a teacher, and Eichel was the perfect “Yes” man for Abe.
Abe said that I was going to be the leg man, the person that would make all of Abe’s idea’s happen. It was exciting, and as we drove everywhere, the first thing I noticed, was that while we were on the road, Abe never stopped to take time to sit and eat. He always bought take-out food, and we ate in the car, with Abe driving with one hand, eating with the other, and while eating, he never stopped talking and teaching me.
As we drove along, Abe suggested all kinds of new business ventures, or experiments we needed to try, each idea he laid out was mixed with history lessons, and lectures. To me, Abe was the ultimate teacher and entrepreneur, and I was now his student. Abe said that every two years he bought a new Ford, and he quickly sold cars tires for cash, replacing them with good used junk yard tires. He also said that he never changed the oil in the engine, why waste my money, I trade in the car every two years anyway, let the next stupid guy pay for changing the oil.” Sometimes, I didn’t know if I was listening to a brilliant person or a crazy person.
Abe was constantly throwing out new ideas, and he always wanted my feedback, and I gave it to him, as best, and as fast as I could. Eichel, always sat quietly in the back seat, only speaking when he was asked a question by Abe, and the answer from Eichel, was always the very one Abe was waiting for, Eichel was an absolute perfect “Yes Man”, for Abe. Before that, I had heard of, but never seen a “Yes Man” before, but I soon found that I could always anticipate Eichel’s answer to any question that Abe gave him. I knew it was always the exact answer Abe wanted to hear.
One of the first things Abe proposed was that we utilize West Side Auto Trading upper office, to sell used cars. Abe said this was a good business for me to learn, he said all I had to do was listen to him, and I did. We drove into White Plains New York and we all walked into a car dealership. I could see that Abe was on a mission, and I listened as he quickly purchased all the back row cars on their used car lot, he only paid $50.00 apiece. These were all the cars that didn’t start and would have cost the dealerships money to tow to the junk yards or auction house. I saw that it was just that easy, in one morning we owned twenty cars. Abe said that it was my job was to get them all running and drive them back to the Stamford yard, so I did it. Abe and Eichel made “For Sale” signs to put in the cars windows. We sold all the cars for between $99.00 to $125.00 each, and if a car didn't have a title, we looked through the hundreds of old titles from cars that had been scrapped by the Stamford junk yard over the years, we looked until we found one that was close in year and appearance. I used to thumb through a stack of a hundred titles that had been saved in a desk drawer, I looked until I found one the same year, make and sometimes the same color, and that became the cars new title.
When Abe and I were on the road, Eichel was always left in the little office to catch any customers, and make bills of sale, and collect money. But after six months, I sat down to do the books and I noticed 6 or 7 cars were missing. I mentioned it to Abe and he became really disturbed, and he asked me how many cars were missing. I told him there were at least 6 that I couldn’t account for. So Abe called in Eichel and sat him down. “Eichel, Howard says there are six cars missing, where are the cars.” Eichel looked up with blurry eyes and said, Abe, “They are on the highway in the Bronx.”
It appears that Eichel was a devote Jew, and when driving home to the Bronx on Friday evening, sometimes he got stuck in traffic. A devote Jew couldn’t do anything mechanical after sundown on Friday, so if he was stuck in traffic, Eichel would take the license plate off the car and walk home even if it took him all night, so he simply abandoned all our cars on the highway. Abe looked at me, and he said that it appeared that God was on Eichel’s side, so we were now out of the car business.
Next, Abe offered me a deal, he and Eichel had purchased a load of electroplating tanks at an auction in Naugatuck Connecticut. They had participated in this auction a long time before I had met them, and they had stored the equipment behind another plating company and now needed to clean up the mess. He said I could earn 10% of what was sold, if I helped them clean it up. I was eager to help Abe, and I thought that ten percent would end up being a lot of money for me, but I soon realized that Abe kind of suckered me into doing a lot of labor for him, with little financial reward, however, on the positive side, I had nothing better to do, and I learned a lot about the plating business, and also learned how Abe used psychology to get me and others, to get things done.
Abe told me that when the Chase Brass and Copper Company, in Naugatuck Connecticut, went bankrupt, he and Eichel bought the entire electroplating operation at an auction. Most all the items were located on the second floor of an old New England style brick factory building in Naugatuck. Abe then told me the following story about how after the auction, several buyers approached him to buy some of the equipment. He said one of the items they had was a very long electroplating tank that held hundreds of gallons of a nickel plating solution. The tank was located on the second floor of a big building, and it was impossible to move while full of liquid. Abe said, he didn’t know how to empty the tank, except to let the plating solution run down the sewer when no one was looking, back then there was no EPA to worry about. But luckily Abe was approached by an electroplating company that offered him fifty cents a gallon for all the nickel plating solution in the tank. Abe and Eichel were ecstatic, the offer was like a gift from God. The plating company returned with a pump on a tanker truck to start draining the nickel plating solution out. They were unaware that Eichel had placed the fire hose in the far end of the tank, constantly filling it with water. The company buying the solution, made trip after trip hauling away the never ending solution.
Then Abe said he then sold a lot of plating equipment to a company in Waterbury Connecticut named Southern New England Electroplating Co. His deal with them, allowed Abe to store all the unsold plating equipment in the back of their property in Waterbury. I was to learn that This company, Southern New England Plating, and its manager Joe was later to play a big part in Abe's various schemes, with me involved.
One additional story Abe told to me about the auction at Naugatuck, was regarding a giant forging press that was owned by Chase Brass and Copper Company. The forging press had been assembled to build tank turrets during WW2. The forging press was so big, it was set in concrete and its building was built around it, after the press was assembled.
Abe said he paid one thousand dollars for the forging press, and another company bid and bought the building that housed the press. Abe said the company spent many thousands of dollars for the building with the intentions of using it. Then, after the auction, the people that bought the building approached Abe, and asked him as to when he would remove the forging press, they needed to use the building immediately. Abe told them he had no intention of removing the forging press and they could take legal action to evict him if they wanted. Abe knew that in Connecticut, to evict someone, you needed to remove their belongings off the property, and the forging press was so big that couldn’t be moved.
I was told by several people that Abe got eighty five thousand dollars from the company that bought the building, and they ended up removing the machine at their own expense, not Abe’s. The press was so big and its concrete foundation was so massive they had to use dynamite to break it apart. Abe had made a big profit and never did anything.
One day, while sitting in our little office in Stamford, Abe suggested to me, that we should try and melt the lead out of junk car batteries, I didn’t know, much about doing it, so we went out and bought a load of junk car batteries. I wish I knew then what I know today, because we melted the lead in the batteries and we collected less money for the lead than we paid for the batteries. I learned that there was much more to learn about melting car batteries than meets the eye, but that became another good lesson that I learned while working with Abe, and there were many more of them to come. Abe took our losing money in stride he was already thinking of the next project for us to experiment with. Whenever we had time, we would go back to the plating company in Waterbury and clean up some more of the used plating equipment Abe had stored there, and I must relate the next lesson I learned there.
One of the plating tanks was about 6 foot square, and 4 foot deep, it had a foot of thick of red mud inside it, the red mud was mixed with pieces of old tree branches and leaves. Abe told me to put some in a five gallon plastic pail, and I did. That afternoon he tried to offering it to the plating company. They looked at it and said it was just old Chromate plating residue and Abe should throw it in the dump, they said it was worthless, but Abe didn’t do that. Several months later Abe had me dry the stuff in the sun and sift it through an old window screen. The end product was a nice orange powder. Abe plastic bagged it and sold it all for three dollars and fifty cents a pound, and his customer was the plating company that had seen it before and had said the stuff was worthless. It was a good lesson learned, I now knew that presentation is everything.
Every Monday that we were able to, we would all sit in that small office in Stamford and read the New York newspapers. Those newspapers listed all the interesting auctions going on in New York City and New Jersey. Abe said that the object was to find something going on that we could buy and sell fairly quickly. I could see that Abe seemed to be pretty familiar with this auction business and since I knew nothing about it, I became an anxious learner, and I followed his every move.
One day we were in New York, at a big Auction, and Abe introduced me to a whole bunch of Mafia guys, he said that they controlled all the big auctions in New York, and were called “The Band of 40 Thieves”. Abe introduced me to them saying that I was “A good kid from New Haven.” By the end of the day the head of the 40 Thieves was my friend, and I felt like I was number 41 in their group. That’s how I learned the auction business, and the Mafia had taught me how make money. I watched how they paid off the auctioneers and how they strong armed all the customers. Don’t ask me how Abe had befriended this group of mobsters, I will never know, they were all a bunch of tough Italians, and here was Abe, a short Arab looking Jew from god knows where. But after that auction all the Mafioso’s in the New York auction circles started calling me the “The Kid from New Haven”. Abe said that I was now number 41 in the band of 40 thieves.
Abe never ceased to amaze me, and I always was anxious to learn more from him. As he drove us from place to place, Abe told me the story of his childhood. He said he was born to poor parents in Palestine, which at the time, was under control of the British. He said that at a young age went to work in a British recycled rubber factory, he said he was lucky to find a job. He said that at the time, the British were reprocessing used tires and tubes making them into shoes. Abe said that he worked twenty hours a day on a machine that molded the rubber into shoe soles. They were all crooked, so he invented a wooden fixture to do the job quicker and better, but his jealous foreman took the fixture from him to claim the credit himself, then someone slipped a contraband bar of soap into Abe’s pocket. Abe was then arrested and fired from the job. Luckily his parents had heard about a newly arrived German Jew that was looking for a man servant, and they urged Abe to apply for the job, and that's how he met, Eichel Blumenstock.
Eichel Blumenstock, came from an extremely wealthy family in Germany, they were the franchise holders of Michelin tires, for all of Germany. When the Nazi's took over Germany, one of the Blumenstock family's maids, saw them drinking wine, so she testified that the family killed young German girls and drank their blood. Because Eichel was Jewish, he and his Family were arrested immediately, and imprisoned. But because they were very wealthy they were able to bribe the Nazi guards who let them escape, and they all were smuggled to Palestine, and once they were in Palestine Eichel, started buying and selling real estate, it was real estate that was soon to become Israel.
So as a youth, and as Eichel’s servant, Abe Zion carried Eichel's brief case, opened doors for him, and attended to Eichel’s every need, but Abe always watched and listened to how Eichel did his business, and as time went by, Eichel began to trust Abe, and he began to send him on financial errands alone, and little by little as Eichel got older, Abe was doing most of their business, and Eichel began treating Abe as a partner. It was said that Eichel would come to Abe's parent’s house, and leave a bag of gold sheckels, saying be sure to give to Abe, it is his share of a property sale. Eichel, later told me basically the same tale, so I believe Abe’s story was a true one. However, now that they were in America, Abe had become the business man and Eichel carried Abe’s briefcase.
One day Abe came and said he had met a customer that was recapping tires and needed a lot of good used tire casings, to recap. I knew very little about the inner workings of the recapping business, so off we went to a big tire recapping factory located in Waterbury, Connecticut. Abe had arranged for a top level meeting with the owners. At the meeting, Abe promised to sell to them, thousands of prime, number 1 tire casings which at the time, were almost impossible to get. I learned that a number 1 casing was a good used tire that was in perfect, but worn out condition and could be used to easily vulcanize a new tread on it. But finding good number 1 casings at an economical price just was not possible, as they were in high demand by every recapping company in the country.
I did know a little about the used tire business, but almost nothing about the recap casing business, so all I could do was listen, as Abe made his sales pitch.
Later when I asked Abe where he intended to get the number 1 casings, he told me not to worry, he said he had someone that would teach me how to do it. We drove to the outskirts of New Haven Connecticut, where there was a very large scrap tire company, it was one of the largest in New England, and they bought used tires from the junk yards all over the country, they took the tires off the wheels, and sorted them all according to their condition.
The number 1 good casings were immediately sold, and what was left were number 2 casings, they were tires that had nail holes or other minor problems. Believe me it was a very complex sorting process. Abe must have had something up his sleeve, as he wanted me to learn to grade tires that had already been rejected at least one time. I was to learn to pick the tires that could accidentally be considered prime number 1 casings, but were really not. It was going to be quite a trick, if it could be done at all, and the burden of doing it all fell on me to do what Abe wanted. So Abe said I had to inspect thousands of rejected tires and pick out the best ones. It was a very interesting problem, and I did it the best I could. My teacher was the owner of the scrap tire company, and he said that I got so good at inspecting tires that he told me to quit working with Abe and come work with him.
Now Abe had promised the recapping company in Waterbury that he would deliver thousands of the number 1 casings, which, I now found was a nearly impossible task. I had already checked tens of thousands of tires and I was running out of rejected tires to inspect.
Soon after we delivered several truckloads of the tires that I had handpicked, the recapping company again inspected them and kept about 50 percent. I thought that in itself it was a miracle that they even kept fifty percent, as the tires were already rejects before I had even looked at them. The re-capper wasn’t happy with a 50% recovery and they physically ejected Abe from their building, calling him a crook, and Eichel and I followed right behind him.
I knew that Abe hadn’t told them the truth, and I didn’t like what he did, but in the meantime, I became a pretty good tire inspector, and I had learned the recapping and tire casing business. Not only had I learned the tire inspection business, but I had learned the science of how to load a truck with hundreds of tires, it was a science in itself, lacing tires, one inside the other. I found that how to correctly load a truck with tires was quite a science in itself.
Undaunted with the tire fiasco, Abe announced that he had just had a meeting with a trailer manufacturer in New York, and they needed hundreds of good used tires mounted on Ford wheels. Abe said that, as the new trailers moved through the factory and were being welded, the welders would accidentally burn the rubber on new tires, so Abe convinced them to put used tires on the trailer, and at the end of the production line replace them with new tires. The story from Abe sounded more than a little strange to me, but Abe had the order and he was determined to fill it.
I knew we could buy good used Ford wheels, and I knew we could buy used inner tubes, but where do you find lots of good used tires cheap, well the truth is you can’t find them, and I thought Abe would get us in trouble again, by promising what he couldn’t deliver. But Abe had a solution, he said that we could buy tires that were worn out on one side only, and he would teach me how to re-groove them to look like good used tires. We bought a re-grooving tool that heated up and when used properly cut new grooves into a tire. I was amazed to see how it was done, and I learned to cut the tires so they looked beautiful. I had always heard about re-grooving a tire, but never seen it done before, and now due to Abe, I had become an expert re-groover.
One day, we were having a meeting in the office at Stamford and Abe asked me to come up with a catchy name for the company. But I had no Idea as to how to invent a name for a corporation as I had never done it before. At the time we were doing several projects at the electroplating company in Waterbury Connecticut, which was named “Southern New England Electroplating”, so, I suggested that we call our selves “Southern New England Automotive Rebuilders”. Abe liked the idea, and off he goes to the printer with the name. Two days later, a red faced Abe Zion, was ready to kill me. He said he had the cards printed and gave them out at a meeting with the board of directors of a large company in New York. When he passed out the business cards everyone began laughing at him. He said the abbreviation of our company, “Southern New England Automotive Rebuilders,” was “SNEAR”, and he was embarrassed. Abe was right I had made a mistake, and I accepted the responsibility. I had learned to watch what the letters spelled when you invent a company name.
A few weeks later, Abe announced that he had just received a big order to supply good used automobile transmission parts to Israel. He said the order was for hundreds of kits which would be used to make small farm tractors. I thought Abe was absolutely brilliant in the way he had obtained the order, he had quoted it as refurbished. I knew that in the United States, Junk yards were full of Chrysler, Plymouth and Dodge used automobile manual transmissions. It was because they never broke, or rarely wore out, and we could buy them for only $3.50 each from the junkyards.
We purchased a 1-1/2 ton stake body GMC truck, and Abe sent me to all the big auto wreckers in New York City to buy tons of good used transmissions. We then rented a warehouse in Waterbury Connecticut, near the electroplating company, and Abe hired several local men to disassemble and wash each load of transmissions that I brought in. Most all the parts looked perfectly good, however some had a little wear, and should have been thrown away, but that didn’t matter to Abe. He sent everything to the electroplater, who dipped them in different plating solutions and made all the parts look like new, and the finished plated and oiled transmission kits were packaged and shipped to Israel, where they all were used by a company making the small farm tractors. Abe said they were thrilled with the parts, but I'm glad I never met any of the people in Israel that were assembling the kits, as they probably would have strangled me. But Abe, he didn't worry about little things like worn out gears or bad shafts and things like that. Again, I certainly didn’t like the slipshod methods Abe used, nor did I like his ethics. but I found that talking to Abe regarding quality, or ethics just didn’t work, Talking to him regarding quality was just like talking to a wall, and I could see that trying to get Abe do things the right way, would just create animosity between us. I was starting to get a bit disillusioned about Abe’s methods of operation.
The electroplating work done by Southern New England Electro Platers was beautiful, but they never seemed to have sufficient customers, so they wanted more business from us. Their Manager, Joe, was constantly talking to us about finding more business for them, and that's when Abe began asking me what I thought about rebuilding automobile wheels, I thought it was a brilliant idea.
The scrap tire and junk yard people were just loaded with huge piles of used wheels that could be bought for scrap metal prices, so we discussed the idea, over and over, and finely tuned it, we were then ready to start the rebuilt wheel business.
Abe went to several big automotive parts buying agencies in New York and he came back with orders for over a thousand rebuilt wheels. Our first customers were the chain tire stores that were selling snow tires. Abe told them all that we could supply any wheels they wanted, which was not exactly true. We could buy wheels that came off cars that were in the auto junk yards, but those wheels were from cars at least ten years old and this meant they had the older size, 15 inch tires and wheels. All the late model cars had 14 inch wheels, which we couldn’t supply.
I took our truck to several of the big tire junk yards in New York City, and there I hand picked and bought tons of good used automobile wheels. I looked for as many later model wheels as I could find, but to do this I had to pick up and move thousands of older model wheels. So I spent days, sorting and inspecting thousands of wheels in the New York junk yards. Then I hauled them all to the Waterbury electroplater. There I again closely inspected them and removed all the minor dents and dings. Once a wheel had passed my inspection the electroplating company cleaned electroplated and painted them.
So all summer, my days were spent, removing the dents and dings from used wheels, and then spending time learning what wheels fit what. It was a really turning out to be a good business, and out of necessity I invented a variety of tools and fixtures to remove the dents and dings in the used wheels. While I did this, Abe had Eichel working in the Waterbury warehouse boxing the wheels. I think that at the time we were probably the only company in the world, with a good inexpensive rebuilt wheel, and the orders were coming in faster than we could supply. So eventually we started running out of all the popular part numbers, but that didn’t stop Abe and Eichel, Abe kept selling more wheels and Eichel just kept changing the labels on the boxes and sending everyone the wrong wheels.
The complaint phone calls started coming in, and they all said the same thing, they wanted more wheels, but they wanted the right ones. They all said I should stop working with Abe and open another company doing business the right way, and I soon became pretty disgusted with the way Abe was doing business, but our wheels were selling so fast, I couldn’t believe it.
On one cold winter evening, before I left the Waterbury warehouse, an automotive chain store called, they said they were out of wheels, and could I make an emergency delivery, on my way home to New Haven. So I filled a big delivery van with eighty rebuilt Chevrolet wheels, and on my way home to New Haven, I stopped at the chain store and unloaded the wheels outside their tire department. It was a freezing cold that night so I got a large coffee and parked the van where I could see what was happening to the wheels, and within 2 hours all the wheels were gone. They were running a special, 2 free wheels if you bought snow tires from them. It was a perfect sales gimmick, now snow tires could be mounted on the wheels and kept in the garage until needed in the winter, it saved mounting and dismounting the tires, and everyone just loved the idea, and our rebuilt wheels became a hot item. It was Abe, and the way he did business that all the customers didn’t like.
One summer day three very big boxes arrived at our little office in Stamford. Abe carefully unpacked them as Eichel and I watched. Inside the crates were twelve pieces of hand cut lead crystal glass, some were ornate decanters, and some were cut glass bowls as well as several other things. The entire shipment was just a beautiful assortment of cut lead crystal glass items.
Abe said, “Tomorrow I would like you and Eichel to go call on a few jewelry stores in the Stamford area, and see if they are interested in buying this lead crystal from Israel.
So, the next day, I dressed in my best clean clothes, and dragging Eichel along with me, we made the rounds of several jewelry stores and gift shops in and around the Stamford area. We received positive responses from everyone, but I’m sure the jewelry stores must have wondered who the hell we were, as we must have looked like a young guy with his grandfather.
The next day, we told our findings to Abe, and he said the Israeli’s wanted to enter the U.S. market, and we would have the first chance to do something with it. Later that same day, after Abe and Eichel had left the office, I saw what looked like a thick and very old report laying on the office desk, so I opened and read it. It was a proposal to the Government of Israel, written a just a few years after Israel became an independent country. The proposal written by a group of men of which Abe Zion was one, and another name I recognized was Moshe Dyan, who was once the Defense Minister of Israel.
The report was titled “Making Lead Glass, using the Sands of the Negev Desert”. It was so interesting, that I sat down and read the entire proposal. Besides from using the sand from the Negev desert, it proposed to train Israeli women in the art of cutting lead glass in their homes, then their children would learn the art of glass cutting by watching them, thus developing a new and big home industry for Israel. It was fascinating, Abe Zion and others had made the proposal to Israel years ago, and I had seen the results now, beautiful lead crystal from Israel
In January of 1961, my father unexpectedly died, and my entire life was about to change as well. I was engaged at the time, with plans to get married. So while my education with Abe, had been extremely rewarding in many ways, I realized that he was still a “Con Man” of sorts, and I was always left with the burden of straightening out the problems he left behind in his wake. I was working day and night with all of his different ventures and, I was just getting worn out, I was just too honest to keep doing it, so finally in frustration, I drew up an official letter of resignation, and I sent it to Abe.
I have to admit I enjoyed craziness of working with him, and I had learned a lot from him, both positive and negative, and my mother once said to me, you could never get an education like that in any university, and she was right.