Sarah and the Mileage Log

Sarah Steinhoff w mileage log book 06-27-2014I’ve written before about how Dad was the consummate record keeper who would produce handmade pocket journals where he would jot down notes of the day’s happenings and document every penny he spent.

I got an email from Son Matt asking if I had a blank mileage log book because Wife Sarah had filled her’s up. I usually keep a couple in the bottom of my sock drawer for such an emergency. When she came by to pick it up, I expressed some degree of surprise because right after they got married, Matt tried to get her to keep car records, but she resisted.

Finally, she admitted, they bought her a new car and she gave up. “Steinhoff me,” she told Matt. She wasn’t sure if this her third or fourth book in 14 years.

Click on the photos to make them larger.

Dad rubbed off on me

Gastonia Gazette story on KLS auto expenses 01-09-1972I’m not sure at what age I started keeping a mileage and expense log in my car, but I know I was doing it by the time I moved to Athens, Ohio. I definitely was doing it by the time we moved to Gastonia, N.C.

Gastonia Gazette reporter Joel Groves must have been sucking air for a story in the doldrums right after the holidays because he interviewed me for a piece on driving expenses. I notice in the photo that I not only kept records like Dad, but I was beginning to emulate his hairstyle. That’s a serious comb-over starting to happen. I didn’t realize until just now that my part had slipped to just above my ear.

Sure would like those prices today

Gastonia Gazette story on KLS auto expenses 01-09-1972The story pointed out that I used my car for business, so I had to keep careful records for tax time. When the story was published on Jan. 9, 1972, I was driving about 30,000 miles a year, most of it chasing photos. Here are some of my expenses:

  • New wiper blades and a headlight – $9.10.
  • Quart of oil – 85 cents per quart (40 cents if bought by the case)
  • Generator – $39.61
  • Typical maintenance – oil filter, $2.95; four spark plugs, $5.40; points, $2.90; air filter, $2.85; new belt, $3.10; labor, $18.
  • Four radial tires – $150
  • Two snow tires and two tire rims for them (for ease in swapping tires) – $95.83 plus $32.40.
  • Fuel – $998.90 (24 mpg with AC, 28 without AC)
  • All told, including car payment, insurance, tag and expenses, I spent about $249.24 a month on my car.


Vice Raids and a Skeptical Editor

I guess it’s safe to tell this story now. On my way back home, I passed through Gastonia, N.C., where I worked in the early 70s. One of my favorite SBI (State Bureau of Investigation) officers, sadly, is no longer with us, I found. To keep him from haunting me, I’ll just refer to him as “Vance.”

Bill, the Gazette cop reporter, and I supplemented our meager newspaper incomes by freelancing stories and photos to crime magazines. Gaston County folks had unique and imaginative ways of eliminating each other. I had lots of tasteless pictures and Bill had a knack for lurid prose, so we could sell something every couple of months to turn fifty or seventy-five bucks each.

“You’re making this stuff up”

One of the editors we dealt with in Chicago called and said, “I think you guys are making this stuff up. I have to pass through there and I want to meet you.”

He happened to pick a day when there was a major bootlegging and gambling raid going on, so we took him with us. My SBI buddy, Vance, said, “We know there is gambling going on in that bar, but they know all of us. We need a stranger to go in and observe the gambling so we can get a warrant. Hey, you, Chicago. Go knock on the door and tell ’em ‘Charlie sent me.’ Look around and come back out.”

He was a frail little thing who was obviously more comfortable editing crime than seeing it, but he went in, saw skullduggery and reported back. They got the warrant and busted the place for gambling and bootlegging. The cops were standing around the card table counting the cash they had seized when one of them asked, “Anybody here got a rubber band to wrap this up?” One of the gamblers reached into his pocket, pulled out a roll of cash bigger than what was on the table, slid a rubber band off it and handed it to the cop.

Later that evening, we were over at Bill’s house rehashing the day’s events when the phone rang. It was Vance looking for me.

“I need a favor”

“I’ve got a favor to ask. It’s totally off the record. Can you help me out?”

“Let’s talk.”

“An old woman who had been confined to a state mental hospital died and her body was shipped down here to a funeral home. The family, who hadn’t seen her in years is insisting that the woman in the casket isn’t ‘Aunt Nellie.’ We KNOW it’s Aunt Nellie because the institution’s records say that Aunt Nellie has a club foot. They want someone to go to the funeral home to take a photo of Aunt Nellie and her foot so they can confirm her identity.”

I went with him to the funeral home, shot the photos and handed him a roll of film. “This never happened,” I told him. (Not that the newspaper would have cared anyway.)

“Can I pay you for your time?”

“Nah, I’d rather have you owe me.”

“Well, we took down all those joints today. I have a trunk full of booze. Want some?


“How ’bout some pot?”

“That’s OK.” I was afraid to see what else he would offer me.

I just “happened” to have a screwdriver

During the raid, I spotted this cool slot machine being carried out. It had a brass Indian head on it that had been polished shiny by hundreds of hands rubbing it for luck. When the courts were through with the case, all of the gambling equipment was consigned to the local landfill where it was to be destroyed by pulverizing it with a bulldozer.

I saw my slot machine sitting waiting for its turn and just “happened” to have a screwdriver with me. I took the Indian off and sidled up to my buddy Vance. “I’d really like for this to follow me home.”

“Sorry, Ken, I have to swear to the judge that I saw the pieces scattered all over the landfill,” he said, tossing it about 10 feet and turning his back.

The Indian head is in a place of honor on my bookshelf. R.I.P Vance.

Oh, and, by the way, the Chicago editor never questioned any of our stories after that.

P.S. Mother has a slot machine story of her own. (It’s at the bottom of the post.)


Funny how you look at things without seeing them. I was in the back yard when I asked Mother, “Aren’t those the same chairs we had in Advance?”

“Two of them were,” she confirmed.

Brother Mark in contemplation

I was pretty sure I have photos of those chairs in my grandparents’ yard when I was only a couple of years old. I couldn’t find them right away, but I did spot them in the Kingsway back yard in the summer of 1960.That means they’ve survived nearly three-quarters’ of a century of rain, snow, heat and cold with only the application of a little paint every decade or so.

We expect every season to be the last for the redbud tree in the right center of the photo, but it keeps coming back every spring.

Brother Mark, stretched out on a bench in contemplation, is trying to figure out what color he’s going to paint those chairs half a century later.

Maple is all grown up

That little maple tree sapling at the left side of the two photos is about 18 inches across now. I keep waiting for it to fall over and hit the house. That’s Brother David, Mother and my Grandmother Elsie Welch in the picture.

Funeral home chairs

I shifted my weight while typing this and was reminded that I’m sitting on what we call the “funeral home chairs.” It’s a set of wooden folding chairs that Mother said was used in a teen hangout in the basement of my grandfather’s liquor store in the Prather Building in Advance. There are five of them around the table I use as a work area in the basement when I’m in Cape. I have three or four in West Palm Beach.

If Mother is 90, that would make those chairs at least that old, because I can’t imagine my grandfather buying new chairs for a bunch of teenagers. I’d creak too, if I was that old.

In fact, now that I think of it, when I shifted my weight, I’m not sure if the sound was coming from the old chair or from me.

Travel update

Made it from Cape to Kentucky Lake to get Mother’s trailer set up for her to stay a few days. Tuesday night found me in Newport, TN. I got to see some beautiful mountain scenery going through the Smokies to the Winston-Salem area Wednesday to visit Don Gordon, a guy I worked with at The Missourian.

After a couple of hours of gabbing, I took off to see my old paper, The Gastonia Gazette. The first thing I discovered is that it’s been rebranded The Gaston Gazette. Then, I went to the corner where it should have been (and where the GPS said it was) and couldn’t find it. The shopping mall that used to be across the street was still there (but much larger), but no newspaper. The GPS gave me an alternative location. I pulled up to the building and thought it looked vaguely familiar, but the location felt wrong. It turns out there’s a Walgreens where my old paper was and this is a new joint. I’m not holding out much hope of finding much I can remember here.

2012 Was Going to be Big Deal

After working for papers in Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina, I got a job offer from the one newspaper I had been admiring for years – The Palm Beach Post. When I moved out of the Midwest into Gastonia, N.C., I became part of the National Press Photographers Association’ Region Six, which encompasses the southeastern part of the country. Because I slept with a police scanner and worked 18-hour days, I did pretty well in photo contests that were normally swept by the Florida papers, which ran photos well and had some of the best color reproduction in the country. They took notice of this nobody at a nothing newspaper who had suddenly popped up on their radar screen.

I had the chance to meet some of the West Palm Beach staffers at a couple of conferences, and we hit it off. The next thing I knew I was offered a job without even submitting a portfolio. I figured I’d be in a better negotiating position if I actually met the boss in person, so Wife Lila and I made arrangements to drive down to West Palm Beach for the interview. They put us up in a beachfront hotel – nothing fancy, but it WAS on the beach.

I finally agreed to take the job at the same money I was making in North Carolina – $180 a week. (I found out a couple of years later when I became director of photography that was the highest salary on the staff at the time.) Nobody bothered to mention that Florida ain’t as cheap as North Carolina. Our rent in Gastonia was 90 bucks a month. In West Palm Beach, it was double that.

They didn’t exactly pay moving expenses, either: they put you on the payroll two weeks before you actually started working to help defray your costs. As it turned out, my official hire date was 12/31/72, which turned out in my favor. By being hired in 1972, I was elegible for two-week vacation in ’73. If I had been hired one day later, I wouldn’t have had a paid vacation until 1974.

(You can click on any photo to make it larger if you want to see my waistline expand and my hair recede.)

“You have to fill out an application”

The boss caught me when I was coming back from an assignment. “I need you to fill out an employment application,” he said.

“You’re kidding me, right? I’ve been working here for two weeks.” Yep, I had to fill it out.

Still not sure he wasn’t pulling my leg, I sat down and worked my way through the four-page application where I filled in such answers as

  • Type of position – Photographer
  • Married or single – Married
  • Father’s occupation (why they needed to know that, I can’t fathom) – general contractor
  • Are you available to work nights, weekends or any other hours requested – yes
  • Do you use a typewriter – Yes  If so, how fast – Adequate
  • Three persons not related to you to whom reference can be made to your character, habits and ability – the editor and publisher at The Gastonia Gazette and John Blue of The Southeast Missourian.
  • (I left blank the miscellaneous references that might include my minister.)
  • Selective Service Classification – 4F (Thank you, Draft Lottery)

Then, finally, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant, “I turned over the piece of paper, and there, there on the other side, in the middle of the other side, away from everything else on the other side, in parentheses, capital letters, quotated, read the following words: “State experience, talents or training which cause you to feel you are qualified for work sought:”

I typed, “i’m a damn good photographer” and handed the application back to my boss, who, I assumed, would stuff it somewhere in a desk drawer to be forgotten.

There really IS a permanent record

One day I was helping a friend in HR with a computer problem when I asked her if I could see my employee file. “You can’t add anything, change anything or remove anything,” she warned.

“That’s OK. I just want to see if something is in there.” Yes, it was. My original job application was there, carefully cradled between two sheets of manila folder. She turned her back while I made a copy of it.

So, why was 2012 going to be a big deal?

After turning in my employment application, I had to listen to an orientation speech by a nice woman in Personnel (later buzzworded to Human Relations). She explained that I’d be vested in the pension plan after 10 years and she started to explain how this was going to be important to me in 2012, the year I could retire. I held up my hand and said, “Lady, I’ve never lasted at any newspaper longer than three years. I’m NEVER going to see 2012.”

As the years went by, I kept making more and more references to 2012. “I’ll sign a contract with you in 2013,” I’d tell a vendor. When The Voice Report, a trade magazine, asked me on a bio form, for a “Prediction on the Future of Telecom & Telecom Managers,” I responded, “Please, please, please have a future that lasts until at least 2012 or the first Saturday when I can guess more than three lousy numbers right on the Florida Lottery.”

When rumors of buyouts started floating at the paper, my boss told me that I shouldn’t worry: I was “essential” personnel and wouldn’t be offered a buyout. “I WANT the offer,” I told him. “I’m looking to retire as soon as I hit 62; I’ve been here 35 years; I’m making too much money because of my longevity, and I’ve been grooming my replacement for the past two years. Please, get me the deal.” He worked some magic, and I ended up with a year’s pay (and a huge tax hit), a pension, a health package and early retirement.

So, instead of being a Big Deal, New Year’s Day 2012, is going to be just another wonderful day of retirement.