For some reason, (likely because I am working on my book tonight) I was thinking about an old long gone operator and righteous business man, and so I looked up an old post and was glad to find this story from Sept. 2013. Maybe this also came to me because I am in the midst of the next generation of operators these days and thought that maybe they may profit from an icon's words. Yes, the world has changed and so has the way we do business, but one thing you can't change in just a couple of decades is the importance of human contact and negotiation, one that ultimately ends up profiting all the parties involved.
Bill died while still working in his mid 80's and the post below is from over five years ago, so it is fantastic that we have the internet to allow us in remembering and hopefully relearn stuff if we can open our minds enough to grasp the past context and muster the attention it takes to understand what no longer exists.
Bill Delabough is still working, - well, as much as he can these days. Bill is 84 and recovering from prostate cancer. Nowadays, we use the term "recovering", but at 84 your chances of getting your spunk back are slim to none, and I know, that Bill knows that from just talking with him. So he does what a man should and has to do,- he keeps working. One of his sons, or his son in law drives him around in a big old white Cadillac from location to location in the Cornwall area along the 401 where Bill still operates a few pieces of equipment, plush cranes mostly. He wheels and deals product to put in the cranes and goes around wheeling and dealing with his clients and suppliers (myself included) on a regular basis. (Bet ya didn't know that I sell plush toys too ?)
Bill has been in the business since the age of 18, and has over 63 years working for himself on the road and collecting coin. He learned the trade working for Harry Ing of Standard Novelty back in the late 40's. Standard Novelty had one of the largest routes in Eastern Canada. So when Bill got married in 1950, he asked his boss for a 3 dollar a week raise from the 15 he was earning to make ends meet. The answer was a long time coming, and when Bill asked again, Harry said that he couldn't afford it. Harry is the dude in the top left picture of the "mugshot sheet" from a 1950's Canadian Coinbox trade magazine, and I am pretty sure that Harry could have afforded to pay Bill the 12 quarters, or 60 nickels more a week he needed.
So Bill did what any responsible man from his era would do, he quit and started his own business and used what he learned working for Standard Novelty to build a life for himself. He borrowed $3000 from an old acquaintance he met in a pool hall and told me his name (Jim Melon), but said that I wouldn't know him anyway. He then went and bought a Genco pinball machine, a United bowler and a rifle game from a distributor in Montreal, not Laniel but from a distributor called Roxy Novelty. Bill being quite young and new at this, said that he overpaid for his first machines. By the 1960's Bill had put his old boss pretty much out of business and built up a huge route along the 401 from Oshawa to Montreal, operating all types of coin op amusements and vending machines in all the locally owned rest areas, motels and truck stops. He ran his operations under Morrisburg Music, a company he started and built as a young family man and ran the business until he turned 70. Bill is more than well off, and has been for a long time, and a few times over after that, but he keeps making money everyday, because that is what he always did.
Today at the parts counter Bill was tired, more than usual, and confided in me that he has been having a tough time lately. Saying that some days are much worse than others. He had called me earlier in the week to tell me that he was coming to Montreal on Thursday, and would I be in the office that day. I said yes, and then he asked if I had received some new stock of plush toys and if I had a special type of fluorescent lamp that goes into the 42" Pinnical crane machines from ICE. Yes.
At a certain point in our conversation he asked about Gerry O'Rielly, and if I had seen him recently.
Bill had done tons of business with the O'Riellys over the years.
"Not since his wife's funeral", I answered, - then Bill said, "Is he still doing business ?"
"As far as I know", I answered.
"What's happening with the court case ?"
"I don't know Bill, but I am sure Gerry can drag this thing out if need be, he's got the lawyers."
"Yeah he isn't going to run out of money any time soon that's for sure, but you know what," pause - "why would you want all that trouble with the law ? And what a pack of trouble for all the money he made, - to hell with it, you can't really do anything with it at our age anyways, and you certainly can't take it with you when you die, - it is of absolutely no use where we are going."
"I know Bill, but don't you take comfort in the fact that you worked hard all your life, never had too much trouble with the law and now you are surrounded by friends and family who obviously care for you ?"
"Yeah, that's for sure, but I sure as hell wish I wasn't so tired all the time and could do more."
"Everyman has to wind it down Bill at some point if he isn't stopped by something drastic, and maybe you just need to keep working like you do in order to feel happiness at this stage of your life."
"Guess so, - and remember, don't forget about me Robert if I don't see you again."
"I won't Bill, you are an inspiration."
I can imagine Bill as a young man working long late hours on the old and lonely Trans-Canada highway, and probably old highway 2 as well. Stopping in to see established and new clients and making deals here and there, installing new equipment and doing service calls and PR late at night. And I can also see why he built such a huge and profitable route, he is still a sharp and likeable guy, always willing to work a deal that benefits both parties. That hasn't changed with age, but what has changed is that he is no longer a young dynamo of an operator who identified opportunity all along the roads he traveled on.
I took a moment today at work to write this, because it seemed alot more real than what I was doing. All this purchasing and selling I do daily by e-mails with people I will likely never meet. Sometimes I feel that I am working in a dream by the new virtue and wonder of not having to talk to anybody while making a living anymore, and not really living my life through what I do daily. Bill reminds me that it wasn't like that not so long ago, and that things have changed radically in a very short time.
Maxed out at 10 machines, no more no less. Toujours a 10 machines, pas moins pas plus.
Une règle suivi gueri de tout. A rule respected can cure anything.
A philosophy of doing shall rule til the days when I can no longer "do" arrive. Because when I am too old to wipe my own ass, adjust an AX relay or relieve a woman from sighing, there will be only memories to fill my time. So, the task at hand is to build a RRSP of memories, come hell or calm tides.
P.S. Some of us need something to do besides contemplate how important everyone has suddenly become in a world of exaggerated self-promotion upheld by the new dumb.