A true story about my going in the army and how I found out about the crooked dealing going on.
Written 01/2010 and rewritten 01/07/2016 Unedited
In 1961, I joined the Army Reserves in New Haven Connecticut.
I was ordered to Fort Dix New Jersey to do my eight weeks of basic training, and the Army’s travel orders were as follows.
I was to leave New Haven by bus, and go to Penn Station in New York City, where I was to again transfer to another bus going to the reception center at Fort Dix in New Jersey
I decided to leave a day earlier, and stay overnight in New York City, I wanted to be sure that I had plenty of time to catch the bus to Fort Dix. God knows I should be late for my induction into the Army.
Before I left my home town of New Haven, I decided to stop by and see my cousin Allen.
My cousin Allen was renting an apartment with one of his friends that we called Bobby Orange, it was located just off State Street in New Haven.
At the time, I was twenty two years old and my cousin Allen was about a year younger. We were both working part time at the same gas station on Whalley Avenue in Westville Connecticut.
Allen and I were both good buddies, as we both liked to fool around with hotrods together but Allen was a bit more of a liberal free spirit than I was, he was more into what we called the hippie movement, and I was the more of the conservative type.
As I remember, when I walked into his third floor apartment, my cousin Allen was fully in his “Hippy Mode”, he had dimmed lights and a psychedelic light machine going with some sort of a strobe light set up. In the dim light of the apartment, the contraption splayed moving rays of colored dots all over the apartment walls and ceiling.
We spent an hour or so talking before I left for the bus station, that’s when my cousin Allen offered me a hit on a marijuana cigarette that he had. This is a subject which he denies to this very day.
Because I had never smoked marijuana before I was kind of hesitant to try it but I was pretty sure marijuana was all a bunch of nonsense and nothing was really going to happen if I did try it, so I took a puff or two.
When I eventually woke up, I was sitting on a bus in Penn Station and had just arrived in New York City, please don’t ask me what happened in between, but I can only assume my cousin must have dropped me off at the bus station in New Haven.
It was about ten in the evening when I awoke, it was just as the bus arrived at the station in New York.
I double checked my travel voucher to verify my bus ride to Fort Dix New Jersey, but that bus didn’t leave until eight on the following morning. I knew I would need to find a hotel somewhere near the bus station for the evening.
As I left the Bus Station, I was carrying my small suitcase, and I found myself walking up a dark street with few neon lights, at first it didn’t bother me as I was so sure I could easily find a hotel along the way. But that street was pretty dark, and I thought of how stupid I must have looked, I was sort of like a country hayseed walking along carrying my little suitcase.
Everyone, including my mother had always warned me about walking around New York City at night, plus my own common sense told me that I didn’t want to attract any muggers. So once I got to thinking about it, I started walking faster, I walked as fast as I could, almost running past all the dark alleys along the way. My hope was that I could see bright neon signs that were coming up far ahead of me, but now beads of sweat were now forming on my forehead, and that’s when I first heard it, it was a loud “Meow”, just like a cat, but it was coming from someone walking fast, and right behind me. So I walked faster towards the neon lights up ahead and finally, thank god, there it was, a big white neon sign that said “Hotel”.
At that point I couldn’t have been happier, so I made a sharp turn into the open doorway under the hotel sign and walked up a long flight of stairs to a set of swinging doors that had the bright red word “Hotel” painted on them, and no one was following me.
Inside, the lobby it was pretty smoky and dingy, but there was a young desk clerk and he asked me how many nights I wouldbestaying. I told him it would be only be one night, so he asked for two dollars cash in advance. At first I was hesitant, but then I reasoned he didn’t know me, so why should he trust me so I gave him the two bucks. Then I got to thinking, the price sounded too cheap, even for 1961. But I was happy to pay him, and that’s when I think my heart rate started to slow down.
The lobby of the hotel was dark and the air was thick with cigarette and cigar smoke, the whole place had the smell of stale beer. I think that’s when I realized I had checked into a flop house. As I looked around, no question about it, some guys were sleeping in chairs, I was in a hotel for bums.
I was given a room key and the desk clerk pointed to a concrete stairway to get to the next floor where my room was located, he said.
Once I found my room, I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find the light switch.
Fortunately the bright light in the hallway showed through the big holes in the room’s door and I saw a pull cord hanging from a bulb on the ceiling, there was no wall switch.
At first I was concerned, and a little scared by the lack of privacy due to the holes in room’s door. I thought someone could easily be looking in, so I tried to plug the holes with bits of rolled up paper that I ripped from my hotel receipt. As I did this, I got to thinking, what was I possibly afraid of, if someone wanted to peek in let them do it. I was only going to be in the room a few hours until morning, and I had no intentions of even taking my clothes off.
The next morning, when I woke up, there was sun light coming in from under the window shade, and that’s when I up to see what a real dump I had slept in. I went into the bathroom only to find an old scratched up porcelain sink, and a toilet that appeared to be a style from the turn of the century, it had its water tank hanging up on the wall with a pull chain.
I left the hotel, went back to the bus station and caught the bus to the Fort Dix reception center, along with about sixty other new recruits who were also waiting there, they were all carrying their suitcases and bags of their belongings just like me.
At Fort Dix, we were all ushered into an empty barracks with long rows of unused bunk beds, with its mattress rolled up.
As we all waited for someone to tell us something, we all were sitting on the edges of the steel bunks smoking.
As I looked around everybody seemed a little nervous, and I think that even guys that never had smoked were smoking.
I sat alone and tried to listen to some of the conversations. That’s when I realized what a real mix of odd ball people I was there with, some said that they were army reservists like me, some were enlisted guys and some were guys that had been drafted against their will. I even overheard some older guys that had been in the Army before and were now re enlisting.
I studied their faces and there appeared to be quite a few guys that just looked like they were trouble makers. It was no secret that in the 1960’s, rather than put young criminals in jail, the judges made them join the army, so I knew that some of the guys there must have been sent here by the courts. But after thinking about it awhile, I was sure that some of the others guys that were looking around might have thought the same about me.
As we all sat there, some still sitting, some now standing, no one knew exactly what to do, so eventually small groups started to gather together.
I was sitting on the edge of a bunk smoking a cigarette, when two fellows walked over and sat across from me and asked to bum one. They both spoke with heavy Brooklyn accents, I was actually expecting them to start trouble with me at any minute.
One of them was about my size and had dark hair and a dark complexion, I thought he looked to be Lebanese or Egyptian. The other guy was smaller and had wavy blond hair and an angular face and his upper lip was curled like he was angry and looking for a fight. As we talked, it turned out that both guys were best friends from Brooklyn New York, and they had both been drafted together. They said they had never met a foreign person from Connecticut before, and they had never ever been fishing, hunting or even in the woods. But it turned out both guys were really friendly, and we talked and talked trying to find something that we all had in common. The more we talked the more I liked them, so I suggested we get together after our tour of army duty was over. I said I would come and visit them in Brooklyn. Both of them looked at me in a f funny way, and then one of them said he didn’t think the army was for them. I had no idea of what he meant, but I was to find out later exactly what they meant.
Eventually, after we all took lots of written tests, we were then loaded on buses, and taken to a supply warehouse where everyone was given a hand full of loose fitting military clothing, a hat, a duffle bag, and a pair of boots. Then carrying all our junk we were bused to our new home, it was at one of the basic training company areas at Fort Dix.
In our basic training camp at Fort Dix there were over three hundred of us. We were placed in the five barracks by alphabetical order. Each barrack was an old two story wooden building that had upper and lower bunks for sleeping about eighty guys, forty on each floor. I knew which barracks my new friends from Brooklyn were in, but we were always so busy training, we rarely ever saw each other again.
After a couple of weeks, as my squad marched by one of the barracks, I saw my dark complexioned Brooklyn friend in a second floor window, he was sitting there watching us, and he had dyed his hair purple, after that, I never saw him again.
They said his blond Puerto Rican friend was found down in the bathroom fishing with a string in one of the toilets. They were both dismissed from military duty as “Unfit for active duty” and I never saw either of them again. But in a way, I had to admire how they both play acted their way out of the army, and I now knew just what they meant when they said the army wasn’t for them. They were already planning to get out of the army long before I ever met them.
After eight weeks of basic training and taking lots of tests, I was hoping to become a military truck mechanic, so I was excited when one morning our drill Sargent asked if anyone knew how to drive a big truck, we thought it was our big chance and they needed a driver, so several of us raised our hands, and we were all given brooms, to sweep down the company area.
Eventually they really did send us to be tested and I obtained my military driver’s license. I didn’t know it then, but being a truck driver in the military was one of the best things to have ever happened to me.
After eight weeks of training, all my new friends were assigned to various military bases all over the world, except me, I received orders to return to Fort Dix New Jersey for six months of active duty, I was assigned to a motor pool as a truck driver.
Now back home in New Haven, where I came from, being a truck driver was not exactly considered a lofty position, however, in the army, I didn’t know it at the time, but you couldn’t find a better job.
It seemed like everyone wanted to make friends with a truck driver, because riding in the back of a truck was a lot better than marching all day.
As far as I was concerned, I found working in a motor pool to be loads of fun, I got to know how to drive a whole assortment of military vehicles, I drove everything from one quarter ton Jeeps up to five ton cargo trucks.
As an official driver for a motor pool, you were assigned daily to drive for whoever on Fort Dix needed the use of a truck that day, and because Fort Dix is run like a big city, everything has to be moved or delivered somewhere by truck.
One day my motor pool Sargent said his regular driver for the bakery detail was going on leave for two weeks, so he assigned me to fill in on his job.
I was expected to be at the Fort Dix bakery at five in the morning and pick up loaves of white bread to deliver to four different mess halls, which included my own mess hall.
Upon my arrival at the bakery I found five other truck drivers already sitting there drinking coffee and waiting for their breakfast, and sure enough, soon a baker came with a tray of unsliced hot bread right out of the oven. The loaves were so hot we had to bobble it from one hand to the other to hold it until it cooled down. I watched the other drivers, as they opened a refrigerator that was full of quarter pound sticks of butter.
I asked the other truck drivers where all the butter came from, and they said that one of the drivers, who was on the butter detail, he had brought it. Where did he get it I asked, and they said it was simple, the driver was delivering butter to several mess halls and he shorted each mess hall by keeping aside twenty sticks of butter from each, then he brought it here for us to use.
Wow I thought, that sounded easy, there must have been way over a hundred sticks of butter in the refrigerator and no one had ever missed them.
I knew each army mess hall had to feed a certain amount of troops, but they also needed a lot of extra food for soldiers that showed up for temporary duty, and they needed extra food to be able to serve seconds to the troops. So I reasoned no one knew accurately how much of any kind of food was being delivered or eaten. I reasoned that you would need a whole team of food counters installed at every mess hall to keep track of everything, now that was an interesting thought, so I decided to put it to a test.
At Fort Dix, I was housed was a large barrack that had about twenty small, two man living quarters in it, my head mess hall cooks also lived in the same building as I did. But for some reason all the head cooks who were always dressed in white kitchen uniforms, didn’t ever want to talk to us. They always acted like they were better than we were, and whenever we would pass each other on a staircase, they walked by without so much as a hello. Everyone I spoke to said, the cooks had a racket going, and they didn’t like regular soldiers nosing around too much. At the time I had no idea of what kind of racket the cooks were involved in.
The next morning the bakery, they loaded up my truck with bread to deliver to four mess halls, and as I made my deliveries to the various mess halls, I put aside a separate pile of twenty loaves off to one side, and I did it at each delivery that I made.
At the end of my delivery run I had about eighty loaves of bread left over.
Now that I had all this bread, I started to wonder what I would do with it all. Who the hell needs eighty loaves of fresh baked bread, and that’s when I started to think I had made a big mistake.
So I backed my truck up to the loading dock at my mess hall where I ate, and I boldly walked into the kitchen. The big burly head cook didn’t even appear to acknowledge that I was there, so I said, I have some bread for you, and then without even looking at me he had four soldiers go in my truck and unload all the bread.
I was afraid to ask him what he was going to do with it, and I never did ask him, but I did this same routine every day for the whole two weeks that I was detailed to delivering bread.
On the last day of my assignment, I told the other truck drivers at the bakery what I had done. To my surprise they all said they were doing it also, and they said truck drivers all over the base were doing the very same thing. So it appeared that removing cargo off their trucks was being done by all the truck drivers.
My motor pool at Fort Dix, was run by a tall black Staff Sargent named Sargent Kimbrough.
And my job was to arrive at the motor pool after breakfast, and then sit in the driver’s lounge waiting, it was right outside Sargent Kimbrough’s office.
As soon as there was a need for a vehicle somewhere on the Post, Sargent Kimbrough would dispatch us drivers, one by one.
Now Sargent Kimbrough was a pretty savvy Staff Sargent, and he knew everything. One day he crooked his finger and called me into his office. He said that because I was doing a good job he was going to assign me to a section called “Condiments”. He said it was a cushy job with little work involved, he said it was run by a buddy of his.
I found out that Condiment’s was just a small wooden warehouse building, with three soldiers working as laborers to load and unload trucks. The Condiments building had a small tiny office with one Staff Sargent in charge.
The job of Condiments was to deliver specialty meats like bacon and liver, and also all kinds of real condiments like salt, pepper, sugar and lots of other things. But most of the time, I could see that everyone just hung around a pot belly stove doing nothing.
Every morning the Staff Sargent would ride up front with me, in my truck, but once we were all loaded up with meat, he would get in the back of the truck, staying there, as I drove to all the Fort Dix mess halls unloading the meat. At first, I assumed he was counting and checking his paperwork to make sure we were delivering the right quantities to the right places. But after several weeks my curiosity got the best of me.
There was a canvas window in the cab of the truck, if I rolled it up a little, I could see what was going on with the Sargent in the back of the truck.
So the next morning we were going to pick up a load of sliced liver, and as usual the Sargent rode in front with me until we loaded up, and then he got in the back of the truck for the ride back to the mess halls. When we stopped for a red light, I looked in the roll up canvas window.
There was the Sargent, he had every mess halls shipment opened up and he was removing sliced liver from each of them. He was making up a separate load of liver, and just as I watched him, he looked up and saw me looking, but he didn’t say anything.
The following day was Sunday, and after breakfast I returned to my barracks for a nap. I was napping on a lower bunk on the second floor of the barracks, when I was startled to wake up with a soldier sitting on the floor next to me. I immediately recognized him as one of the gay soldiers working as a laborer in the Condiments warehouse. He said, “Sorry to wake you, but the Sargent sent me over with a present for you”. I looked and he had sitting next to him two big number ten cans of sugared fruit pieces used for baking minced meat pies. The soldier said, “The Sargent wants you to have them and he wants you to know if you need any steaks to let him know”. Steaks, what the hell was I going to do with steaks, I was living in a barrack and at my mess hall I could eat all the steaks I wanted, so I told the fellow, please tell the Sargent I don’t need anything, but thanks anyway. When I woke up again the cans of candied fruit were still there, so I brought them to my mess hall head chef and gave them to him, he took them but never said a word to me.
In the morning the Sargent at the Condiments building called me into his tiny office. He said that if there was anything I wanted to just let him know. He said he always made separate packages of meat every trip we made to the base butcher. He said that he gave the packages of meat to his wife, and she sold it to other soldier’s wives. He said all the Staff Sargent’s running the various base warehouses were doing the same thing. He said, he thought the military knew all about it, but just sort of overlooked it. That’s when I realized that there was a whole secret economy going on and it was going on at every Army base, and no one ever talked about it, and now I was part of it.
One day, as I was going up the stairs, to my room, the head chef was coming down, he looked at my name tag and he asked me if I was going home on leave. I was shocked, it was the first time a chief cook had ever spoken to me.
I told him I was leaving Friday night and heading for New Haven Connecticut. He said, “Stop by the kitchen before you leave”.
I did go to the kitchen on Friday afternoon, and the head chef ushered me into a back storage room. He said, “Help yourself to anything you want here, it’s all extra stuff”, and then he left me.
On the shelves were every kind of canned military food you can imagine, it was all the stuff the truck drivers had been stealing and bringing them. I realized that these cooks must have been running a side business selling food at the government’s expense. They even had my two cans of candied fruit on the shelf there.
I saw big number ten cans of lard, coffee, grape, strawberry and apple jam, There was so much canned food that it was mind boggling, and I couldn’t even imagine if I took any, what my mother would do with it, the cans were so big.
I think the cooks and everyone else on the base were selling the food to stores or restaurants in the local towns around Fort Dix, and I’m pretty sure it’s going on every military base in the world.
How I beat the scrap yard crooks at their own game
Written 1/2014 rewritten 7/2015 unedited
By the end of 1963, my good friend Lou Gladstein had closed down his auto wrecking business on
NW 46 St. in Miami, and that also closed down my job in Florida.
Helping Lou by managing the auto wrecking business had been the primary reason I came to Florida in the first place.
At the time, I had just gotten married in Connecticut, and Lou had convinced me that coming to Florida to manage his business would be like having a Florida honeymoon for me and my new wife.
It just happens, that at the same time, my mother had just leased a tiny hotel on Collins Avenue on Miami Beach, and that was another good incentive for my coming to Miami.
My good friend Lou Gladstein, was in the used car business (Which I learned later was possibly also a stolen car business) and he was working out of Stamford Connecticut. Lou as he had promised, had given me a nice 1959 Plymouth to make the driving trip to Florida. Lou said that he suspected that manager of his auto wrecking business in Miami, was stealing most of the company’s money and by doing this, had put the place heavily in debt. So Lou wanted me to go there and try to find out what the hell was going on, and possibly save the business for him.
Upon our arrival in Miami, my wife and I stayed for a while in my mother’s hotel on Collins Avenue on the Beach, but after a few weeks, we rented a house trailer located in a trailer park on NW 79th Street in Miami, The trailer park was much closer to the auto wrecking yard that I had come to
Miami to manage.
As soon as I got to Lou’s Auto Wrecking business, I tried to get things in order, but every day a new and unknown debt appeared, and I soon realized the full extent of what the manager was embezzling. He was stealing everything, he had even failed to pay the wrecking yard rent for more than six months.
In a way it was fascinating to see how bold the manager was. He had even lied to the landlord, telling them that I was coming down from Connecticut to pay all of the back rent.
Once I found out the extent of his embezzlement, I knew that straightening out all the problems was almost an impossible task, so my recommendation to Lou, was that he close the yard down, and that was exactly what he did.
Once the yard was closed, I had to make a decision about staying in Florida or returning back to Connecticut. It was a difficult decision to make, because if we did stay in Florida, how would I earn a living?
Being in Miami back in 1963, was an extremely novel place for me, having come from the colder climate and the snowy winters of Connecticut, so everything in Miami was just so nice, and tropical. It was before the coconut palm blight and there were tons of coconut palms everywhere. The sun was shining every day, and best of all there was no snow to shovel. It was really like living in heaven compared to the New Haven climate where I came from, so now all I had to do was find something to do, to make a living.
Our living expenses were small, and we found living in a trailer park was a big novelty, it was more of an adventure for us. We met people I never would have otherwise met in Florida, as it seemed like most of our neighbors were either just going to jail or had just been released from jail.
As I remember it, we were only paying twenty dollars a week rent for the semi furnished trailer, so to make our life more comfortable for us, I bought a good used television for only fifty dollars. It was a nineteen inch black and white television that still had the holes drilled in it for a coin box that had originally been attached. I assumed that it had formerly been a pay TV from some bankrupt motel.
I was still driving Lou’s 1959 Plymouth automobile, it was the same one Lou had given me to make the trip to Florida, and the Plymouth still had one Connecticut “Junk Dealer” license plate on it, from the set Lou had given me.
That license plate that always created quite a bit of conversation in Miami from anyone who saw it. Everyone that ever saw it wanted to know what it was all about, as I don’t think anyone in Miami had ever seen a Connecticut junk dealer’s license plate before.
Once Lou’s Business in Miami was closed, I did what I knew best. I started driving around looking for used auto parts, and I bought things like used engine crankshafts, and old starters and generators. I would buy them and then re-sell them to Miami auto parts rebuilders. To do this, I was using Lou’s 1959 Plymouth. I used it every day, until the Police confiscated it.
I was stopped in traffic, and the Police noticed the Connecticut junk dealer license plate, and then he questioned me, and found I also had no registration papers, and I also had a Connecticut driver’s license as well. He said that since I was obviously working in Florida, everything I was doing was illegal and he impounded the 1959 Plymouth on the spot.
When I tried to recover the car, the Police told me they thought it was a stolen car. They said it appeared someone had ground off the engine serial numbers, can you believe that.
When I called Lou up in Stamford Connecticut to tell him what the Police said, he simply said the cops in Miami were crazy and not to worry.
Lou told me where he had parked another car, a 1958 Ford station wagon and I could use it. Lou said the car was parked at his boat dock on the Miami River. I suspected it was probably also another of his stolen cars he had brought down from up north.
Lou, then calmly told me to find out where the Police had parked the 1959 Plymouth, and he said that I should go there and remove the junk dealer license plate from the car. Lou said I should be very careful as the license plate on the 1959 Plymouth had the same numbers as the plate I was using on the Ford station wagon.
I did just as Lou told me, and I never heard another word from the Police about the so called stolen 1959 Plymouth, I guess the Miami police didn’t have computers back then.
While I had been managing Lou’s auto wrecking yard, I had met a Cuban fellow named Renato Cepero, Renato was a sharp Cuban who owned an auto parts store on 27th Avenue in Miami. He was buying used automotive engine crankshafts, and rebuilding them for export.
I loved Renato, because he needed a steady supply of used engine crankshafts, and he paid me $15.00 for each good one that I brought him.
Now, finding good crankshafts for Renato wasn’t as easy as it sounds. (See the Crankshaft Story). The crankshafts, all had to be the certain models that were, popular in Cuba, because that’s where he was smuggling them into.
So now, I was using Lou’s 1958 Ford station wagon just like it was a truck, and once I found that the rear seats were folded down, I filled up the back of the car with lots of used parts just like a truck.
I was really surprised at how much space I had in the back of that car as well as how much weight the Ford station wagon could carry. I could have done an advertisement for Ford.
The only complaint I had with the station wagon was that it was obviously a stolen from New England and that meant it had no air conditioning, which was not a good thing in the Miami heat.
One day while I was driving around Miami looking for crankshafts, I saw a sign in front of a building, it was called National Motor Exchange Company. The sign said that they were an engine rebuilding and installation company.
The business was located just off NW 27 Avenue near 71st Street in Miami. So as soon as I saw the sign, I stopped to see if they had any good used crankshafts to sell.
While I was in the front office, I met the owner of the company, his name was Irving, and after talking to Irving for a few minutes, I realized that he was no engine rebuilder, He was too well dressed. Turns out my assessment was correct, Irving was a money man, an investor, who had put in money in the failing engine rebuilding business, and then ended up owning it when the original owner ran away.
I was amazed at watching how well Irving ran the company, which was not an easy thing to do.
I told Irving that I was in the market for buying used crankshafts, and he told me to walk around inside his building to see if there was anything I could buy from him, he seemed happy to meet me.
Irving’s building was pretty big, and he had over thirty employee’s all working there rebuilding engines.
But, everywhere I went, the building was loaded with a lot of scrap engine parts that had accumulated there over the years. Most of the junk had been there from long before Irving had taken over the company.
The next day, I asked Irving what he was doing with all the scrap metal in the building, and he told me that a junk man came by every now and then and picked up some of the scrap. So I asked Irving how that worked out, and he told me how the scrap man did it. Irving said, “The junk dealer had a scale on the back of his truck, and he paid for the scrap he picked up in cash”.
I was pretty familiar as to how junk dealers worked, and I knew right away that the junk man was stealing as much as he could from Irving, but Irving didn’t know it.
So I sat down and called three of the largest scrap yards in Miami, I asked them how much they would pay me for scrap cast iron if I delivered it right to their yard. I already had a pretty good idea of what the Miami scrap prices were, but I wanted to confirm it before I said anything to Irving.
All the scrap companies I called said they were paying around $23.00 dollars a ton for automotive cast iron if it was delivered to them.
I had already calculated that all the scrap yards were located about four miles from where we were, and that meant that hauling the scrap to them could be done using my 1958 Ford station wagon.
That having been done, next, I sat down with Irving and offered him a proposition, I said that I would pay him eighteen dollars a ton for all the cast iron he had in his building. I told him that would give me five dollars a ton profit.
Now, five dollars a ton wasn’t much profit considering all the work involved, but I needed to be fair to Irving and show him that I was honest.
But when I first made the proposition, Irving looked at me and laughed, so I said, what is it you think is so funny? Irving said, “You must think I'm a pretty dumb guy, I'm already getting $28.00 a ton from the local junk dealer that comes here with his truck.”
I said, look Irving, the junk dealer can't pay you $28.00 a ton because he is only selling it for $23.00 a ton. He is lying to you, and is probably stealing a few extra tons from you each time he comes here.
I told him that all I want to do was make $5.00 per ton profit, and I will do all the work. I will load all the cast iron junk in my station wagon and take it to the scrap yard myself, and then I will show you the receipts from the scale when they weigh the car, I will show you exactly how much money they give me.
I remember Irving tapping a pencil on his desk while debating with himself if I was lying to him or not, so I picked up the phone book and found the yellow page with all the scrap dealer phone numbers on it, and I told Irving to call one or more of the big Miami scrap dealers and find out if $23.00 per ton was the top price they will pay for scrap cast iron.
Irving called two scrap yards, and they both said they paid exactly $23.00 dollars a ton for scrap cast iron delivered to them, so now, Irving knew I wasn’t lying to him. Irving then hung up the phone, and told me to start hauling all his scrap cast iron any time I wanted to.
I spent the next several weeks hauling Irving’s cast iron to the scrap yards, and eventually I cleaned up his whole building of all iron scrap.
Once the building was clean, of the cast iron, I saw that there were about 30 or 40 large barrels full of old used aluminum engine pistons.
Now I knew that scrap aluminum was worth good money, probably around 12 cents a lb.
The problem was, all the aluminum pistons Irving had, still had the old piston rings on them, and
That made them contaminated aluminum, worth much less than clean aluminum.
I studied the situation carefully, and I found that if I removed the piston rings myself buy hand, the aluminum piston scrap would be a higher quality of aluminum and worth more money.
I took a dirty piston out of the barrel, and with a little practice, I found that I could remove the steel piston rings, so then I started cleaning all the pistons by hand.
I found that taking the piston rings off was labor intensive job and really hard on my hands, but I could do it.
Next, I took a sample of one cleaned piston, and went to one of the largest scrap yards in Miami called Metro Iron and metal Company, I chose them because I knew they had an aluminum melting furnace, and they would pay the highest aluminum price. Also I chose them because I had met the two fellows that were running the place, and I felt they would treat me fairly.
I took my sample aluminum piston, and caught the attention of one of the managers. I knew him, his name was Arthur Pepper, and he was the quieter of the two managers.
I told Arthur that I could bring him about five thousand pounds of clean aluminum pistons, the same as the sample that I had brought him.
Arthur was as friendly as can be, and said he would pay me 12 cents a pound for the clean automotive pistons as per the sample.
I went back to National Engine Exchange and told Irving that I could sell the aluminum pistons for 12 cents a pound, so I could pay him 9 ½ cents a pound, leaving me with a 2 ½ cent a pound profit, Irving agreed to it, and I started to remove all the steel piston rings off the pistons in the barrels.
By late afternoon, I had filled up the back of the Ford station wagon, and I headed to the scrap yard to sell the load.
When I got to the scrap yard, I pulled the Ford wagon onto the weighing scale, and got out of the car to get my weight receipt. As I did that, I was approached by another one of the partners, his name was Nordy, Nordy, walked out of the scale house office, reached into the back of my car and took out one of the cleaned pistons. He said, “We are only paying you 8 cents a pound for these pistons.” My heart nearly stopped, hold on, I said. Your partner Arthur told me he would pay 12 cents a pound yesterday, and I have 9 ½ cents invested in them, I can’t sell them to you for only 8 cents a pound, I would lose money. I didn't mention that I also spent the whole day cleaning the pistons and cutting my hands to shreds while I was doing it.
Nordy Blum knew he had me, and he gave me a nasty look and said, “8 cents a pound is all I will pay, and I don't care what Arthur told you, you can take it or leave it.”
Needless to say, I was shocked, Nordy knew that I couldn't drive the car away, because it was late in the day and I was so overloaded. Even if I did drive off, where would I go? Nordy knew he had me over a barrel, and he was determined to take advantage of me.
So, here I was, broken hearted, with tears in my eyes, and I reluctantly agreed to let them pay me the 8 cents a pound. It was pretty obvious to everyone there that Nordy Blum was cheating me.
They instructed me to drive over to their aluminum smelter to unload the pistons.
I drove the station wagon off the scale and backed up to where their aluminum smelting furnace was, and I unloaded all the pistons out of the car, piling them off to the side in between two large metal drums. Needless to say, I was very depressed, I had lost money that I could not afford to lose, and I felt cheated by this guy Nordy, who I thought was a friend.
When I returned to National Motor Exchange, I saw Irving, and told him what happened. Irving looked at my receipt and saw that I had received 8 cents a lb. He said he felt bad that they had cheated me, so Irving told me to lower the price I was paying him, he didn’t want me to lose any money.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night, I didn't understand how I could have been cheated so badly.
The following day, I started to clean more pistons, but now I had an idea.
Near the barrels of pistons, were neatly stacked, several piles of giant, and very heavy Mack truck engine flywheels. Those flywheels were solid steel and very heavy, some of them must have weighed over two hundred pounds apiece, and they were only worth about 1 cent, a lb. in scrap.
So with super human strength, and some help from Irving’s men, I put six of the flywheels, on the floor inside of the station wagon. I think that they must have weighed way over twelve hundred pounds, then I covered them all up with the clean aluminum pistons that I had prepared.
I went right to the scrap yard and drove onto the scale, and after weighing up the car, I backed up to the secluded area where the aluminum smelter was, and there I unloaded all my pistons.
Once the pistons were out of the car, I then I unloaded all the heavy steel flywheels. I couldn’t lift them, so I rolled them out of the station wagon and onto the ground. I then drove the station wagon back on the scale, and got my weight receipt, and payment for 8 cents a lb.
I did the same thing on two more loads, until the aluminum pistons were all gone, and so were all the heavy Mack truck flywheels.
The heavy flywheels were now leaning against some metal barrels, right near the aluminum smelter. The row of steel flywheels was about five feet long. I counted them twice with great pride and satisfaction, there were eighteen flywheels there.
I estimated that they weighed about thirty six hundred pounds in total, which I had been paid 8 cents per lb.
Scrap yards are notorious for cheating their customers, they all do it all the time, so it gave me great satisfaction to beat them at their own game, and when I told Irving what I had done, we both had a good laugh. Then I gave him the full 9 ½ cents per lb. as I had promised him. He was so happy he sent out for pizza for everyone.
About fifteen years later, when I had reason to visit Metro Iron and Metals Company. I heard that the managers, Nordy and Arthur had been fired. So I took a nostalgic stroll down to the old aluminum smelting area, which, by then, it was no longer being operated, and there they were, my thirty six hundred pounds of steel flywheels, still leaning against metal barrels, just as I had left them so many years before.