Watchman's Teaching Letter #209 September 2015

This is my two hundred and ninth monthly teaching letter and continues my eighteenth year of publication. In the last letter, WTL #208, I was explaining how it took me two years in my own barber business to get well enough established in Fostoria, Ohio to start living comfortably. During these same two years I actually sacrificed about one year in lost income, in comparison to what I would have earned at the Hotel Barber Shop in Bowling Green, Ohio for that period.

By 1956 between my wife’s income from working in the office at the Seneca Wire Mill Company, along with my receipts from barbering, we were doing well enough that we were starting to consider building ourselves a house, but we weren’t doing well enough financially to buy a house already built. So our only other alternative was to buy a lot and build a house, portion by portion, as we could afford it. Again, we were working on a shoestring, so to speak. We started by purchasing a lot in an area that others, at the time, wouldn’t consider, but we took a chance that in the future the area would be built up with new homes, and that is what happened. So we paid $100 down on a lot, and $25 a month until it was paid for. We then found out if the lot was paid for, we could get a ready-cut house for 10% down, and Sterling Homes would finance and send most of what we needed, except for the foundation, plumbing, wiring, and concrete. We got up the 10%, and we were on our way, but I had to build the house myself.

That meant that I had to rearrange my hours at my barber business to gain the time I needed to build our house, and I had to gamble that my business wouldn’t suffer all that much. I was in the barber’s union at that time, and all the other union barbers in town were working from 8.00 A.M. until 6.00 P.M. five days a week, plus Wednesday from 8.00 A.M. until 12.00 noon. Before this time I had chosen to close to all day on Wednesday, making it a five day week for me. I found out by closing all day Wednesday, the greater part of the usual Wednesday customers would show up on Thursday. So I decided to start opening up four full days a week, being closed all day on Monday and all day Wednesday. It worked as I had gambled it would, as the greater part of the usual Monday customers showed up on Tuesday.

The reason that I could get away with these new shorter hours is because about a year earlier, I had built a special sign to indicate how many customers were waiting. Being in a basement location, this information to a passing motorist whether there were none, a few, or many waiting was vital. At that time, many potential customers who needed a haircut would drive around town looking from their automobiles into the windows of various barber shops to see whether they were busy or not, and if they spotted an empty barber chair or an idle barber, they would quickly find a parking place and rush into that particular barbershop. During my barbering years in Fostoria, Ohio, I built several of these waiting signs at two different locations. The first waiting sign I built and mounted on the railing leading down the stairway to the basement under the Candy Land restaurant to my barbershop indicated: “0-1-2-3-4-5 WAITING”. Each number had a separate one hundred watt light bulb to light up that particular number. Actually the word “WAITING” was underneath the numbers. I found out with this first waiting sign that when the light was on 3, 4 or 5, it didn’t draw any customers (and it might a well have indicated 100), so the second waiting sign that I built at 568 North Countyline Street, I left the numbers 3, 4 and 5 off, and when I had 3 or more, I turned the sign off with none of the numbers lit up. I didn’t count the customer in the barber chair being serviced, so I didn’t turn the light from “0” to “1” until I had one in the barber chair being serviced, and one waiting. Sometimes I had a real busy day, but the customers came in at a steady rate, and the waiting sign was on “0” nearly all day, and this was the case about 90 percent of the time every day. Actually, I basically worked by appointment, but used the waiting sign to fill in the space/ spaces between appointments. Another thing I found by working by appointment is that about every third or fourth customer showed up about five minutes late, so I set my electric clock on the wall five minutes late, but kept my wristwatch at the correct time.

Anyway, getting back to my story, my gamble by going to a four day week work schedule worked out quite well, and I took advantage of it several times in different phases of building our house. The great thing about it was I didn’t have to pay any income tax on the labor I had saved by building the greater part of our house myself.

However, physical-wise, it turned out to be a six-day endurance stress test. For instance, on a Monday I would go out to our building site before sunrise, and would do things like driving stakes with a sledge hammer to mark out where the large back-hoe was to excavate for the basement and foundation for our house, and other like activities until well after sunset. I would return home to the duplex where we were renting at 555 W. North Street dirty and exhausted. And after eating a bite, I would take a hot bath and go to bed. The next morning, Tuesday, I would awake around 7.00 A.M. with my muscles stiff and aching, whereupon I would have a bite to eat for breakfast, and it was off to open up my barbershop, usually with two or three customers waiting at the door who were holdover customers from Monday. Not only that, but a few of my customers knew I would have the barbershop closed all day Wednesday, so some of them were also coming in on Tuesday. Therefore, Tuesdays turned out to be quite busy, and I would eat my lunch wherever my appointment schedule would give me a break which sometimes didn’t happen. My closing time was 6:00 P.M., but by the time I got everyone taken care of, it was nearer 7:00 P.M., or later, at which time I would sweep the hair up off of the floor, and tidy up the shop a bit. Then, with every muscle in my body stiff and aching, I would drag myself up the stairway to street level, and make my way back home. On Mondays and Wednesdays it was full speed ahead at the building site, and Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturdays it was full speed ahead barbering.

After a couple of weeks, the excavating had been done, and in order to work at night, it was necessary that I set up a temporary electrical outlet. So I nailed a substantial piece of plywood to a power pole at the north-west corner of our lot, and got a meter box from the power company and wired up a 60 amp fuse and switch box along with a double three wire electrical plug box. I then had a welding shop make me up two half inch steel rods about five feet long with a small spur rod to force the longer rod into the ground. I had the top end flattened and a hole drilled to mount a floodlight and the lower end tapered to a point to make it easier to force the rod into the ground. I also purchased an ample amount of heavy duty extension cord to string up the floodlights where I would be working. So not only was I working all day Mondays and Wednesdays at the building site, but most evenings after dark sometimes up until 11 P.M. One night I was laying concrete blocks, and I had mixed up a little more mortar than I should have, and was still working close to 1 A.M., when my wife, Tillie, called a taxicab and came to our building site to see if I was all right.

After the excavation for the basement had been completed, the next things I had to attend to were digging a hole for a sump-pump to drain the water away that was collecting on the bottom of the excavation, and then digging by hand channels for the footer. After the excavation had dried out, the clay soil turned almost hard as concrete, and the only way to get the footer channels dug out was with a pickax, shovel, and wheelbarrow, and it was a very dirty and time consuming process. It was the middle of summer, and I was in danger of heat exhaustion, or a stroke. I had a large gallon thermos which I would fill half way up with water and the rest of the way up with ice cubes. I knew I had to keep my head cool some way, so I tried placing a couple of ice cubes inside of my straw hat, and that allowed me to work almost as hard as if it were a cool cloudy day. It was a little messy, though, with the water from the melting ice cubes running down my face and ears. I didn’t think about maybe using an ice-pack. Inasmuch as my wife, Tillie, was working in the office at the Seneca Wire Mill, we both carried a brown-bag lunch, and when she got off work, she had a five block walk to get home. I was really pressed for time, as I wanted to get all of the concrete blocks laid before the freezing weather set in, whereupon I could start framing the house. As a matter of fact, I continued to do the carpenter work even when it got as low as ten below zero. One time during that winter we had a heavy snow storm, and there I was nailing down subfloor, and it was difficult to see more than about a hundred feet away. In fact, it was snowing so hard that I had to sweep the area clean after each additional board I had nailed down. I was working a four day schedule in the barbershop, so I had to take advantage of every minute of the two days a week I was taking off, regardless of the weather.

When the temperature fell beneath ten below zero, I would use the time to transfer lumber with my warm car and small trailer, which I put in three storage places after Sterling Homes had sent a train car load of building material to us after we had prepaid the required ten percent down. Many an evening with temperatures zero to five below, I would get out my floodlights, and nail studding together in sections and erect them in place in an upright position, with temporary support.

By the spring of that year, it started to rain every Monday and Wednesday, the days that I had scheduled as off-days at the barber shop preventing me from getting anything accomplished. I made up my mind that I was not going to let this rain interfere with my progress, so I went down to the army and navy surplus store and purchased a rain-proof military style poncho which completely covered me. I was working overhead putting up ceiling joists at that time, and the subfloor was very slippery, and I had to be very careful as the legs of the stepladder I was using could suddenly slip out of place, making the stepladder turn sideways, causing me to lose my balance. Not only that, but when I got a ceiling joist up and in place, the stepladder was wet, my hands were wet, the hammer was wet, and the spike was wet, and when I went to drive the spike in place the hammer had a tendency to glance off the head of the spike. Nevertheless, I worked that entire day in the pouring rain. And if I remember correctly I used that poncho more than once, while working in the rain.

After a few weeks, the continual heavy rain season diminished and the weather began to warm up. My portable floodlights became a nuisance to string out every time I wanted to work after dark. As our budget was already overburdened, I had to find something that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg, so I purchased a white porcelain dishpan from the five and dime and mounted four light sockets on the inside bottom of it, and wired them in parallel, and put a 200 watt clear light bulb in each light socket and placed the dish pan upside down and mounted it on the end of a long 2x4, and secured it to a corner wall near the center of the house, and ran a heavy duty all-weather cable on top of the ground to my temporary electric service from the power company. Then, all I had to do was to pull the switch to the on position, and it lit up my working area plus much of the open field around my lot. Later, when the roof was on, and windows and doors hung, that dishpan light became handy for working on the inside of house as well, although I had to orient it in various ways.

By September of that same year, I became concerned about connecting up some kind of temporary heating for when the weather became colder. One friend volunteered to lend me a fuel-oil space heater that he had formerly used to heat his home. So I had to get around and purchase an insulated metal flue, which I would eventually use for a gas furnace and gas water heater. I got it all hooked up, but it was a bothersome task getting it started every evening, and making sure the flame was shut off completely upon leaving the unfinished house. Talking with another friend at the barbershop, he told me he had a gas space heater for sale with a non-electrical automatic thermostat, that turned the flame up and down according to the demand. I realized this was a better and safer way to keep my unfinished house heated, and the only thing I needed was to turn the thermostat up when I arrived to work, and down just before I left, so I purchased his gas space heater.

In order to hook up this gas space heater, I first had to contact the gas company and see where they wanted to place the main shutoff valve. I then had to get my pickax, two different shovels and my wheelbarrow and hand dig a trench about two feet deep and about forty-five feet long to the edge of my house. I also had to measure up all of the black iron pipe and fittings that I needed, and then purchase them. Also, I had to get the mounting that the gas-meter would hang from, just inside of the concrete wall in my basement from the gas company. When I finally had all of the gas lines installed, I made the connections needed to connect the gas line to the gas space heater and also connect the gas space heater to the insulated flue that vented out of the top of the roof. The next thing that needed to be done was call the gas company to bring out a gas meter, and test the lines. I was fortunate enough to have a gas company man as one of my customers at the barbershop, so he was the one that was sent by the gas company to mount the gas meter, test the lines, and get the gas space heater’s pilot light lit, and then turned on and have all its functions checked. When all of this had been done, I had to back-fill by hand the trench I had dug for the gas-line.

Once this heat was on, I could start roughing in plumbing, wiring and start insulating the ceilings and outside walls, among other things, like mounting the main 200 amp electrical fuse-box, and changing my temporary electrical hookup to a permanent service. They didn’t have relay boxes back in those days. One nice thing, back in those days, was nearly everything I was buying for our house was made in the U.S.A.! Neither were there any city or county building or zoning codes in our area to hassle with or get permission from. The electric power company, though, did encourage adequate fusing in the main fuse box and discouraged overloading of any of the various circuits, and I always tried to exceed the recommended ratings on everything.

The problem that arose at that time was, we were paying the utilities at my barbershop, at our rented duplex at 555 W. North street, and gas and electricity at our building site, besides the rent at my barber shop and our rented duplex, plus paying payments to Sterling Homes on the balance due for the building materials they had sent us. Eventually, when it came time to plaster the house and run a concrete floor in the basement and have a septic tank and leech bed installed, I was able to get a contractor’s type open-end loan, and was able to pay off Sterling Homes, and hire to get this other work done.

So financially it was imperative that I get our new home ready for living as soon as possible. We finally moved in our new home in November of 1958 living on the subfloors, and I only had two electrical outlets hooked up to use, so we had to run extension cords to our lamps, but our Arkla-Servel combination gas furnace and airconditioner that I had installed and ran all the sheet metal duct work for, was keeping all the rooms in our house quite comfortable. However, the bathroom was only half finished, with only the stool and bathtub hooked up, and the kitchen was completely unusable, and wouldn’t be finished for another three years. Whereupon, we decided to use what would eventually become bedroom #3, for a temporary kitchen.

In bedroom #3, there was a closet that would have two sliding doors when eventually turned from a temporary kitchen back into a bedroom. In the unfinished state, this left a four foot six inch wide by a six foot six inch high opening. So I cobbled together some rough plywood sheeting usually used for subsiding in the form of a box and put five shelves in it 23 inches deep to use for temporary cupboards. My grandmother Keiser gave us some well-used old linoleum she had left over after putting down new linoleum in one of her rooms. I was then able to salvage from the linoleum she gave us, a piece the size we needed in our temporary kitchen. I then had to temporarily run a three wire 220 volt electric cable from the main fuse box to this temporary kitchen for our 40 inch Frigidaire electric range, and wire up a 110 volt outlet for our Frigidaire refrigerator. My grandmother Keiser also gave us a well-used chest of drawers to use for cooking utensils. Then when my wife, Tillie, wanted to prepare a meal, she would have to go to the bathtub in the bathroom to draw any water she might need. Then, after the meal was over, she would have to return to the bathtub in the bathroom to draw enough water to fill a dishpan to wash the dishes and any pans she might have used. And after washing and drying the dishes and pans, and tidying up the temporary kitchen, she would have to return to the bathroom to empty the dishpan into the toilet. Also we had two picture windows, one in the living room and the other in what would become our dining room, Our budget wouldn’t allow us to buy any new draperies, so for quite some time we made do with bed sheets instead.

Now with all of this my wife, Tillie, became pregnant, and it turned out to be a baby boy, born July 14, 1958. She worked right up until the day of his birth, but after that, my wife never again returned back to work at the Seneca Wire Mill, except for a couple of weeks a few years later to fill in while another woman was on vacation. So not only did my wife have to keep house in this unfinished state, but she had our baby boy to take care of. Financially, we would miss the income that she was contributing to this housing project, and I discontinued my four day work schedule at the barbershop, and went back to a five day week. But there would be no easing up for me with my evenings and days off work schedule, as in order to get the house finished, it would demand every moment that I could commit to it.

After moving into our new home and arranging things around the best that we could with an unfinished house, I decided to take one room at a time, and finish that room completely, then move on to another room and do the same with that one, until all the rooms in the house were complete in every detail. That way I could put my tools in the room I was working on at the time, and when it was bed time, I could just leave the tools lay, and close the door behind me.

From November, 1958 until December, 1960 I was making great progress on getting our new home shipshape, when out of the blue, I had an opportunity to purchase a property on north Countyline street that I could use for my barber business. Countyline street had been changed from two to four lanes around 1950, making it a good location with a lot of traffic, suitable for several types of business. One day one of my customers, who was in real-estate at that time, and I asked him if he knew of any lot or property for sale that I could use for a barbershop, as the lease I had on my basement location under the Candyland restaurant would expire June 30, 1962. He told me he had a property at 568 N. Countyline street, but he said he wasn’t sure whether or not it would fit my needs. My business was slow that morning, so I suggested that I would close long enough to go out with him to see it. When we arrived at the property, he started to show me where the lot lines were located. Right away, I could see that see house on the property sat near the extreme north side of the lot, and that on the south side of the lot there was enough room for an entrance driveway, and the backyard could be used for a parking lot. The house was a quite old lean-to type of building, and I wasn’t really interested in the house, but a recreation building that had been built behind the house. Actually, it had at sometime in the past been a garage, and the previous owner had added a 20x20 foot addition to the garage as a recreation room, an ideal size room that I could eventually remodel for my barber business.

The lady owner of the property had originally asked $15.000 for it, but unbeknown to us, she had dropped the price successively to 13, 11, and finally down to $9,000 at the time we became interested in buying it. In 1960, we had been in a protracted recession, and realestate was really taking a beating. In the end, I offered her $8,000 if my bank would approve the loan. Our bank did approve our request, and they added it to our already open-end contractor’s loan on the new home I was building, and suddenly we found ourselves in debt for $16,800, which was a very large sum in those days.

Once the purchase was consummated, and upon getting the utilities turned on, the gas company informed us that there was a gas leak somewhere in the house. It was about 5 degrees below zero, and I was afraid the water pipes might have frozen up, and would break once the heat was turned on. So I had to take some time off from the barbershop to repair the gas leak. We did, though, manage to get the electric turned on, and I was able to use a small electric heater to raise the temperature maybe 5 degrees, but it was still near zero inside the house. In order to hunt down the leak, I hooked up a tire type valve and an air pressure gauge to a small piece of plumbing. I then put a cap where the gas meter was located in the front of the house, and checked the main gas line inside the house to the furnace room in an up-ground cellar. With a hand pump, I pumped the pressure up to 50 pounds, and after waiting an hour or so the pressure remained at 50 pounds, so I knew there were no leaks in that part of the line. I next turned the shutoff valves to the furnace and the water heater. This last part of the line had about 8 black pipe fittings and a half dozen short lengths of black iron pipe. I then placed my homemade pressure gauge where I had broken the connection to test the main line, and hand pumped the pressure up to 50 pounds, and within about 10 minutes the gauge dropped back to nearly zero, and I realized the leak had to be in this maze of black iron pipe. I had already worked in this near zero temperature for three days, so I decided to measure up each section of pipe and the number pipe fittings I would need, and I went down to a plumbing dealer and had them duplicate each pipe and pipe fitting. Then I disconnected all that maze of black pipe and fittings, and installed all new pipe and fittings in that area, and then did a pressure check from gas meter to everything in the up ground cellar. The pressure held, and the gas company came and mounted the meter and tested the lines, and turned on the furnace and water heater, and fortunately found there were no water leaks or damage to the toilet tank or stool. After having all of the utilities turned on and working properly, we decided to rent out the house, as there remained two more years on my lease for my barbershop under Candyland down town. The rent money we received from the house on Countyline street, helped us to make the monthly payments on our loan from the Citizens Savings and Loan Association in Tiffin, Ohio.

Meanwhile, it was back to more work finishing up our new home on north Vine street, using every moment I could find. My next undertaking was to finish the kitchen, which consumed a lot of time. There was a new lumber company in Findlay, Ohio, and I ordered four or five 4x8 foot by ¾ inch birch plywood panels clear on both sides to use for the cupboard doors and drawer panels. I also ordered some 10x¾ inch sheeting boards I which I needed for a different project, but when they delivered this material, the sheeting boards they had delivered, were beautiful white pine with a minimum of knots. Right away, I realized that if I would carefully cut out the clear areas between the knots, I had all the white pine I needed for the framework of the cupboards. And the birch plywood panels they delivered had a beautiful wavy wood-grain appearance.

I didn’t have the funds to purchase an accurate cutting power bench table saw, so I bought a metal bench saw table from Sears Roebuck to mount my 6½ inch hand-held power circular saw mounted upside down in it. I used hollow ground fine tooth finish blades in my upside down hand power saw which left the cut as smooth a surface as if it had been accurately planed. I also purchased from Sears Roebuck a power planer that attached to my 6½ inch power hand circular saw (on or off of the metal bench saw table). I was also able to mount this power planer on my metal bench saw table with my 6½ inch power hand circular saw supplying the power with a small “v” belt. Every time I needed a very precise cut with the circular saw, I would use my square to make sure the saw blade would be at a perfect 90 degree angle. Sometimes I would have to use shims at different places to get that perfect 90 degree cut. I was using a lot of tongue and grooving to fit the framework of our cupboards together, so I had to be very careful setting the saw blade up for a perfect tongue and groove. When I was cutting out the birch plywood door and drawer panels, I had to be even more careful, as I wanted the grain of the door and drawer panels to match perfectly all the way from the ceiling to the floor, and one miss-cut would spoil the whole effect. For the back of the cupboards, I used melamine coated hardboard, and on the surface of the shelves I glued a hard plastic sheet material similar to Formica. That way it eliminated the need for using shelf paper. To get the design for our cupboards, I had taken notice of some cupboards that were custom built by a cabinet maker for my parents when they had built a new house, only I made ours a little more fancy, and I did this cupboard building project all by myself.

Even though the kitchen cupboards were completely finished with the kitchen sink mounted, and all the plumbing to the sink connected, we still couldn’t use the kitchen until it was painted, the tile floor laid in place, all the woodwork cut and nailed in place, the ceiling light mounted, the temporary 220 volt electric line moved from bedroom #3 to the kitchen, and the 40 inch Frigidaire electric range moved from bedroom #3, to the kitchen and hooked up to the 220 volt service. Finally, my wife no longer needed to go to the bathtub in the bathroom to draw water for cooking and washing dishes, nor did she need any longer to go the bathroom to pour the dishpan water into the toilet. My wife and I didn’t realize it at the time, but building this home with the least amount of borrowed money possible, we were at least obeying, in part, the Biblical mandate not to borrow money upon usury. It makes one wonder what it would be like without usury!

This is not the end of my story as there was still a lot of work to be done to finish our new home, and now added to this was a building without utilities except for an inadequate electrical hookup to totally remodel and prepare for my barber business. As long as I had the Countyline street property rented, it was impossible for me to do any work there other than something that needed repairing or replacing. Fortunately, our renters moved out about four months before my lease expired downtown below the Candyland restaurant. This gave me the opportunity to enter and inspect all of the three buildings on our Countyline street property. While looking the place over, I began to envision how I might be able to use the kitchen in the house for a temporary quarters for my barbershop, as I began to comprehend that it was going to take quite some time to get the combination recreation-garage building remodeled as my permanent business location. After much consideration, I decided to set up the temporary quarters in the kitchen of this Countyline street location, and I found myself pressed for time to get ready for the move.

The main thing that I had to do was stone in an area for a driveway and a parking lot, so I went to the City of Fostoria’s zoning office and got a permit to cut the curb. I had a sixteen year old cousin, Phillip Keiser, son of Merrill Keiser, who wanted to help me, so on my day off at the barbershop, we got together at the Countyline street location and we used a sledge hammer to break the curbing up. We would take turns swinging the sledge hammer as hard as we could, and I first took the sledge and gave it all I had for about ten minutes whereupon, I handed the sledge to Phillip, and he did the same, and handed it back to me. By the middle of the afternoon, we had twenty-two feet of curbing broken up and the debris removed to an area that needed some fill. I then called the concrete company to send the needed amount of concrete to fill in the space from the edge of the street to the sidewalk which was about three feet wide, and we worked down and straight-edged the surface of the concrete. I will say one thing: Phillip swung a wicked sledge hammer!

After cutting the curb for the driveway entrance I needed to stone the driveway and parking lot. It so happened I had a customer with a large dump-truck that could spread the stone evenly as he moved the truck slowly along, and he had a good source for the stone at a reduced price. There were a few minor sections that I had to dig out by hand to make room for the stone bed, which only took a couple days of work. The driveway and parking lot probably took 50 to 60 large dump-truck loads or more, but I didn’t count them. If I remember right, he laid down a bed of coarse stone, and covered it with a layer of assorted crushed stone. I knew that in the summer time the kitchen in that house was going to get super hot, and the lady that sold the house to me had left a small air conditioner in the window of the bedroom, so I moved it to the kitchen area. I had another small air conditioner that I had installed at my basement barber shop under the Candyland restaurant, and I disconnected it and took it to the Countyline street location and installed it in another kitchen window. Between those two air conditioners, I was able to keep it comfortably cool on the hottest day of the year.

After getting everything in the house and kitchen shipshape, I decided to install a meter box and a main 120 amp fuse box and cutoff switch in the garage-recreation building that I would eventually remodel for my barber business. After getting all of this hooked up, I called the electric company, and they came out and mounted a meter, and I had electric power to start my remodeling of that building. Later, I also had the telephone company hook up an extra extension phone (besides the phone I had in the kitchen of the house), in the garage-recreation building, so if I had some extra time between customers, I could take my appointment book with me and get some work done with that remodeling job.

Finally, the last day of my lease of the basement under the Candyland restaurant was coming near, and I had engaged one of my customers with a pickup truck to help me move my waiting chairs, barber chair, barber furniture, fixtures, a gas space heater, and a gas water heater, along with two work benches I used in the back room of my barber shop, to my Countyline street location. I also prearranged with the telephone company to disconnect me after my last full day under Candyland, and have me reconnected the next morning ready to go to work at my Countyline street location.

Immediately upon opening my barber business on Countyline street, I found what it was like to work at a ground level location, looking out of the windows and seeing the green trees and the birds flying about. Not only that, but the greater part of my established patronage had no trouble making the transition to my new location, and I gained a lot of neighborhood business in the process.