You Want a Heater in That?

P21 Chev Pickup 03-20-1964I now know why I’m a pack rat. Mother’s attic was a time capsule, and Dad’s filing cabinets are a treasure trove of business minutia. I’ve found things going back to 1946. The one summer I worked for him, he set me to scooping up every nail, screw and bolt on the floor of the various shops, and then had me carefully put each one in its proper bin.

I thought he was just giving me busy work to do between unloading lumber and concrete forms coming back from jobs, but, no, I see that his year end inventories were down to the nut, bolt and screw level. Not by box, but by item.

Jim Kirkwood got an “economy heater”

Dad and his partners would usually trade pickup trucks every three years to get the most trade-in value out of them.

The invoice above shows that Jim Kirkwood got a new 1964 Chevrolet 1/2-ton pickup for a grand total of $2,240.70. (Click on it to make it easier to read.)

Extras included a wheel carrier for $15.10; an economy heater for $53.80; a manual radio for $47.90, and two-speed windshield wipers for $16.15.

1967’s model was spiffier

P23 1867 Chev pickupKirkwood’s 1967 truck had a few more extras. Maybe Steinhoff, Kirkwood and Joiner had had a good year. The overall cost was $2,754.20, but his old truck was worth$1,423.20 in trade.

Here were his options:

  • Heater – $68.35
  • Radio – $58.65
  • Wheel carrier – $14.00
  • Gauges – 10.80
  • Heavy-duty springs – $6.50
  • Powerglide – $199.10
  • Deluxe rear window – $43.05
  • 2-tone paint – $16.15 (White/Red)
  • Custom molding – $43.05
  • M/S tires (rear) – 6.80

My oil changing experience

Mark Steinhoff Easter 1962Dad was due for a new truck the summer I worked for him. He’d only had it a few weeks when he pulled it into the shop and told me to change the oil.

Now, I had never changed the oil in anything before, but how hard could it be? You unscrew a plug, let all the goop drain out, you put the plug back and you pour in new goop, right?

That’s exactly what I did. I was surprised that it took less oil than I expected, but a check of the dip stick showed the crankcase was full.

(That’s Brother Mark crawling over one of Dad’s trucks. He was partial to green and white, but I think a blue one slipped in from time to time.)

“Something’s wrong with the transmission”

Dad was working a job out in the Missouri Ozarks, so he didn’t get back until late the next afternoon.

“There’s something wrong with the transmission. It kept popping out of gear all the time. I hope I didn’t get a lemon,” he said over dinner.

The next day he discovered that there was zip, zero, zilch transmission fluid in the vehicle.

I got the drain plug part right, I just didn’t know that belly of the beast had TWO drain plugs – one for oil and the other for transmission fluid.

I give Dad credit. He didn’t chew me out. The truck and I both survived the experience.



My Truck Book

2015-08-03 My Truck Book 01For the record, I was meticulous in caring for my books and comics. I normally would blame any damage to printed materials on my destructive younger brothers.

I’m going to have to fall on the sword when it comes to My Truck Book, though. THEY may have torn the cover off and dogeared the pages, but I plead guilty to scrawling on the pages, producing graphic images far superior to anything I did in Art 101 in college.

If I (OK, Google) translated the MCMXLVIII Roman numerals correctly, this book dates back to 1948.

The Milk Truck

2015-08-03 My Truck Book 02Most of the trucks in the book are still with us in some form or another, but they are a lot smaller than today’s behemoths. The “trailer truck” had but 10 wheels instead of 18, for example.

Because of changing life styles, though, some have disappeared forever. When was the last time you saw a guy in a white jacket show up at your house carrying a bunch of glass bottles of milk?

(Any guy who shows up in a white coat at my house is more likely to be hiding a straitjacket behind his back.)

The Coal Truck

2015-08-03 My Truck Book 03How many homes still have active coal bins?

Interestingly enough, the next page shows what we would recognize as a garbage truck today, but “The Ash Trucktakes away ashes and garbage.” If he can’t park his truck close enough to the garbage can,” it continues, “the ashman carries the tub on his shoulder or even on his head.”

I wonder if that’s where the expression “heaping hot coals upon his head” came from? (Yes, I know the phrase shows up in the Bible in Proverbs and Romans, but it’s still something to contemplate.)

The Laundry Truck

2015-08-03 My Truck Book 04This was clearly before the days of washing machines in the home. Trucks like this one would drive all over town picking up dirty laundry and taking them to places like Rigdon’s Laundry.

Note the boy in the foreground putting on his skates. Wonder if he got yelled at by his mother for skating while wearing his good school pants?

Street-Car Emergency Truck

2015-08-03 My Truck Book 05Cape had street cars at one time, but I don’t recall ever seeing anything this fancy to making repairs.

The Heavy Machinery Truck

2015-08-03 My Truck Book 06They call it a “heavy machinery truck.” We always called it a “lowboy.” New ones have more wheels and fancy hydraulic lifts, but look essentially the same.

Dad’s lowboy

Steinhoff, Kirkwood & Joiner dragline and lowboy on broken bridgeDad was pretty proud of his lowboy, but it had a tendency to get into trouble. I’m not sure who was driving the truck this day, but I’m pretty sure he missed a zero or two when he read the weight limit sign on the bridge.

That mishap has photographic proof that it occurred. Dad came home crankier than usual one night, but I’m not sure if the following story is completely true.

Ran out of air

Seems like they were hauling a piece of heavy equipment across the Missouri Ozarks to a job when the air brakes went out on a steep downhill run. Much like the boys going down Wolf Creek Pass in C.W. McCall’s song by the same name, “from there on down it just wasn’t real purdy: it was hairpin county and switchback city. One of ’em looked like a can full’a worms; another one looked like malaria germs.”

In the song, the hapless truck “Went down and around and around and down ’til we run outta ground at the edge of town. Bashed into the side of the feed store… in downtown Pagosa Springs.”

In Dad’s version, told a good 20 years before McCall’s song was written, the driver plowed into the front porch of a general store in some small town. There wasn’t much damage to the truck or the building, but Dad said there was an old man sitting there at the time of the crash who dashed into the store, grabbed a roll of toilet paper and shouted, “Charge it!” before disappearing.


A Summer to Remember

Steinhoff Kirkwood & Joiner offices on S Kingshighway c 1962Jim Kirkwood and L.V. Steinhoff of Steinhoff, Kirkwood and Joiner decided the summer of 1962 was the perfect time to introduce sons Ken and Jim to the construction business. I was 15, stood about 5’9″ tall and weighed all of about 112 pounds if I had rocks in my pockets. Jim was a year older, taller, but but more gangly.

The purpose of our employment as laborers was ostensibly to let us put some money in the bank. I’m pretty sure the REAL purpose was to encourage us NOT to go into the family business.

We did a lot of busy work, but we earned our $30 or so a week when a job was completed and all the concrete forms came back. Dealing with sheets of 3/4″ 4’x8′ cedar plywood that weighed almost as much as I did was bad enough. Unloading truckloads of the finished forms was worse.

When they came in, we had to use wire brushes to scrape off all the concrete still sticking to the plywood. Then we had to cork any holes in the wood. (That was the easiest and most fun part. I still have a big can of corks in my shed.)

Form oil was nasty stuff

SKJ concrete forms c 1962The last step before stacking them was to spray the plywood with form oil that was supposed to keep the concrete from sticking to the wood. It was nasty stuff and it stuck to us better than it stuck to the plywood.

While it was still dripping wet, we had to stack it like in the photo.

In 1962, 2x4s were REALLY 2″ x 4″ and 3/4″ plywood was REALLY 3/4″. Based on that, the forms on the right are stacked almost 9 feet above the gravel floor.

Notice how you can’t see all the way to the other side? That’s because the forms on that side are stacked to the rafters. This was only a part of it, too. The whole lumber shed was about 100 feet long.

I wrote about the night Friend Shari invited me to a pool party at the country club after a day of spraying form oil and wrestling forms.

Newspapering was more appealing

Mission accomplished, Dad. By the next summer, I had landed a cushy newspaper job.

Our buildings are long gone, now part of what used to be called SEMO Stone. The construction company moved down to Dutchtown in the late 60s or early 70s. Dad was in the process of retiring when he died in 1977.

You can click on the photos to make them larger, but I wouldn’t suggest wearing your good clothes if you want to take a closer look at the forms. Oil, you know.

Zippo Lighters

Dad was a smoker until he quit cold turkey one New Year’s Eve without telling any of us. We noticed that he was crankier than usual, but he didn’t tell us what he had done for a couple of weeks, “in case I couldn’t do it,” he said later.

One day he came home with a handful of these Zippos with his company logo on them. As a non-smoker and as an appreciator of something special, I never put lighter fluid in mine nor did I ever spin the flint. I don’t recall him carrying one of these special editions.

Zippo lighters worked

I remember well the Zippo lighter he DID carry. There was something simple and satisfying about this simple, but foolproof device. There was the “click” it made when you opened it, and the “clunk” it made when it was closed. Because of the nearly windproof chimney, it was almost impossible to blow the flame out; the proper way to put it out was to close the top, starving the flame of oxygen.

You filled it by putting lighter fluid on cotton batting inside the base. Dad always carried a couple of spare flints back there.

Zip!…It’s Lit!

One spin of the flint stiking was all it generally took to light. I’ll never forget the slight smell of ozone that came from the flint and the smell of the lighter fluid. Looking at the instruction sheet brought back the memory of those zebra-striped Zippo fluid cans. I’m going to have to look under the basement stairs to see if any of the old cans are still there. The fluid, I’m sure, has long since evaporated, but it would be neat to see a can again.

They weren’t kidding about the life-time warranty, either. Something happened to Dad’s lighter – maybe it was the cam on the left that kept the lid securely open or closed that broke – anyway, he sent it in and they replaced the guts of the lighter and returned it with the original case. (You might have to click on the pictures to get the instruction sheets big enough to read.)

Personalize your Zippo

I’m pretty sure Dad’s everyday Zippo was plain, but you COULD personalize it for as little as a buck. I don’t have any idea what the Steinhoff, Kirkwood & Joiner cases cost, or if they might have been a Zippo promotion to encourage him to buy more.

Dad tried some other lighters. I think Ronson made one that had a rounded case. It didn’t work like a Zippo, though, so it didn’t get carried long.

Guys got really attached to their Zippos. That’s hard to believe in this day of throwaway butane jobs (that don’t work as reliably as a Zippo).

Zippo Rule

At the same time he got the SK&J lighter, he got a Zippo Rule with the same logo on it. It looks like a lighter, but the case contains a tape measure.