Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Fork in the Road: Four

The fork taken when the Kaiser was loaded and headed east took us in reality back to the Midwest.  The child had just turned two, and Jeanie was seven months pregnant.  (The expression "we are pregnant" was decades in the future.  Some expressions can stay in the future.)

I am so easily distracted.  Were that not so, I might have become a writer.

Two principal orders of business pressed in upon us.  One, I needed employment to provide a means of livelihood for the family; and two, we needed a place to live.  Camping with the parents should never last longer than would a visit during a vacation.  So I started looking for work.

I interviewed with Marhoefer.  They were looking for a young man for the office, with, as they put it "opportunity to move up the corporate ladder."  Pete Marhoefer was all business, but considerate, and  he listened as well as he spoke.  He showed me the entire operation, and of course concluded with the saw, "We use every part of the pig but the squeal."

Chrysler was seeking a management trainee, young, recent college graduate.  I qualified on both counts and was offered the job.  I was also offered a job teaching sixth grade in a small community fifteen miles to the west.  The road wyes, and

I accepted the position at Chrysler and we started at once looking for a house in New Castle.  We found a very nice little home less than three miles from the office.  The rent was a rather steep, I thought, $225 per month.  But the six hundred dollar starting salary was nearly one hundred more than I had been making on the West Coast.  We would manage quite nicely, and there was that promising "opportunity for advancement."

Of course a member of Chrysler management couldn't be driving a Kaiser, so right away we found ourselves with a car payment.  The Dodge Polara was a step up from the more affordable Plymouth Belvedere, but I was in management, you see.

And so our lives progressed for the next few years.  There was always one more thing we "had to have" and it was always important that we choose a "step up," for I was climbing the corporate ladder.  The mandatory new car every two years, as well as a second car became standard features of living.  During the sixties and  early seventies, the New Castle plant was rapidly growing, production facilities were increased in size and employees were added.  As I was in management, I imagined that I was an important cog in the development of this manufacturing facility.  The new home we had constructed southwest of town on the Big Blue River stretched the budget, but I was still upward mobile!

Then came the Carter Years.  Inflation soared, gasoline was increasingly difficult to obtain due to the oil embargoes, and the expense of doing so was outrageous.  The automotive industry was headed down a steep slope.  Chrysler, along with everyone else, was switching over to front-wheel drive vehicles.  Between the mid-seventies and 1985, employment at the New Castle plant plummeted from 3000 workers to fewer than 600.*  Management was not immune to these cuts.  My job with the company was eliminated in 1984.  I was out the door on June 30.  Five days later, unemployed and in debt up to my eyeballs, I observed my fiftieth birthday.  And wondered.

*New Castle Plant is a Flagship for Henry County, indianahistory.org


Shelly said...

Wow- well thought out and followed. The teaching job may not be glamorous, but it is generally recession proof and there will always be kids who need teaching.

Secondary Roads said...

I don't believe that I've seen a picture of a Kaiser station wagon before. That's a cool looking vehicle.

I used to drive my Volkswagen beetle into the Oldsmobile plant in Lansing, MI to service some IBM equipment that they had.

vanilla said...

Shelly, while I have wondered what might have been my lot had I taken the Chrysler job, I have never regretted having chosen teaching.

Chuck, the vehicle pictured here is a 1960 Dodge Polara. In spite of the "We drive what we build" stickers, I have seen some VWs and such like on Chrysler parking lots.

Anonymous said...

So glad you didn't take this particular fork - I don't think it would have suited you at all - it just doesn't sound like you...I say a bullet well dodged...a road not taken - wisely.

vanilla said...

Grace, I think I made the right choice. The expression "I dodged a bullet" is one I have been known to use on occasion.

Lin said...

Amazing how quickly your world can change.

That is one beauty of a station wagon!

vanilla said...

Lin, there were certainly some creative designers working in the car industry in the 50s and 60s!