We steamed up the Hudson river to a place where could get off the boat. We were loaded on buses and went to the airport at Newark, New Jersey. They announced all the fellows from the West Coast are going to fly home. They said if you think we are doing this out of the goodness of our hearts your going to find out how wrong that is. They said "you will probably be here for thirty minutes and some of you here for two weeks so relax." Well, OK. I decided to call my wife and I got in a pay phone booth and made a long distance phone call. I got nothing for a while and finally the operator says there is no such number. I was calling Sunset 2244. This is the number of Glady's folks. I sat in that phone booth for three hours telling the operator "that was the number when I left." She replied, "I am sorry there is no such number." After a while I got a different operator and she says, "I am sorry that number has been changed to Dexter 2244." It really made me mad. Anyway I finally got Gladys on the phone and said I should be home, I thought pretty soon. I said good-bye and walked away from the phone. It was time to eat again. I went to the mess hall, got back to my bunk and my name was called out. They said to get my gear and walk over to the plane that was sitting there. It was a C47 with bucket seats along about thirty or forty other GI's and a colonel and a major. We boarded and took off. It was about dusk and we flew out of Newark, right up over the old lady of Liberty and Manhattan, as the lights of New York were starting to come on. It was a beautiful sight. Somebody came out of the cockpit, a little guy with a pinstripe suit. He was smoking a great big cigar and he came back and saw the colonel sitting there. The colonel asked, "Is it all right if the men smoke?" and this guy says "Of course it is". So the colonel told the boys they could go ahead and light if they wanted. The little guy with the cigar says, "By the way Colonel, if any of your guys want to go forward up in the cockpit, it is OK." The Colonel says "you #1 on the left there, if you want to go ahead and look things over go on up. Number 1 went up there and he came back all white in the face and he said " there is nobody up here." Well after about fifteen or twenty minutes the little guy went up and brought the plane down in Albany and there we took on a co-pilot. Then we took off from there and flew to Buffalo, New York. After we stopped at Buffalo, we flew over Detroit, and stopped at Milwaukee and then on to Minneapolis. It was about seven in the morning. All of a sudden I saw a big flame and fire. I thought I was dreaming at first because I was half asleep. I opened my eyes and the engine right beside me is all afire. I looked down and I saw all these ambulances on the ground, running around and I thought "oh oh". Well the pilot was able to put the fire out and we landed okay. We walked right over to another C47, got in it and took off with box lunches in it ready for us to eat. We went from Minneapolis to Billings Montana. We landed there. From Billings we went to Spokane. From Spokane we flew over Wenatchee. We landed at Paine field in Seattle. Then we boarded buses and went to Fort Lewis. We stayed there overnight and the next day we got to go in and be more or less discharged.
We lined up. One man at a time would step up to a captain who didn't look at anybody. He was sitting there hunched over a little table. I had a Colonel behind me who worked for Henry Kaiser who built all the Victory ships. He was one of his accountants and he was going to be discharged too. It was my turn to step up there and the Captain said, "What will it be?" I said "What do you mean Sir?" I thought it was understood I was getting out. He said, "Sign up for another year and your liable for overseas duty immediately or you sign up to get out." I said, "I want to get out." Tlhe Colonel behind me snickered.
That day I got to come home to Seattle. I was out of the service. I had no home. I had no car but I had a wife and a little baby. I didn't have any money either. So what am I going to do? I had been teaching the GI bill of rights on the I & E program so much I believed it myself. So I took my wife and we decided to get a house. We went to a Realtor who took us in his car and we looked at some houses. I mentioned I thought we were going to purchase this house on the GI bill but after that he just didn't even want to talk to us. He didn't know anything about the G. I. bill and wanted no part of it.. He got rid of us fast. That burned me up a little bit.
I decided I had to look for some wheels. I went down to Anderson Buick in downtown Seattle. I saw a 41 Buick Coupe with 78,000 miles. They wanted $1850. I didn't need a car that bad. So I went back to looking at houses and also for a job. I happened to go to an employment agency and they sent me out to Nelson Chevrolet because they needed a parts man out there. I remember the parts managers name was Al Rigmyr. I went to see him and he said, "How did you know that I was looking for somebody. I just let the people know this morning. Boy you are fast." He said "I'd like to see how my ad works first." He said "if you haven't got anything to do day after tomorrow, why drop by and we will see." I went to a couple other places. Then I went back to him and he said "you know you wouldn't believe some of the applicants I had out here. They were terrible." He asked "What are you doing today?" I said "Nothing". He replied, " here is a shopcoat. Put that on and I'll show you what I want you to start doing." So that is what I did.
Of course working for an automobile dealership I was soon able to get a hold of a 39 Plymouth four door sedan, so now we had a car. We bought a little old house on Phinney Ridge. Now we had our family together and I had a job. I was an eager beaver. I didn't want any time off. I wanted to work nights and weekends. I wanted to learn the business. I think I worked there about three years. Every so often I'd ask Stanley Nelson Sr. about going to work in the service department or going to work in the sales department because I wanted to learn all I could about this business. "Nah, your doing all right-you just stay where you are." Well I could see that he wasn't very susceptible to any changes so I decided I would see if I could go to work for Chevrolet Motor Division as a wholesale man. I went to their headquarters in Seattle, saw the manager there, and he said, "well I appreciate your coming down but you know Nelson Chevrolet is one of our better customers. We can't hire one of his employees unless he gives us the OK." I said "Well, fine." So every other morning when Mr. Nelson came in, I said "I wonder if I could talk to you?" "Nah, the office is in an uproar, it is the end of the month, some other time." So he kept stalling me like this for about 90 days. I was getting kind of perturbed. One morning he said as usual "How is she going Don?" I said "say Mr. Nelson I would like to talk to you here. I've been asking you". Well he said "I guess this morning is as good as any . Come on in." He unlocked the door and we went in. I thought he was going to say something but he was waiting for me. He sat down by his desk and started fiddling around with the drawer. I said "Mr. Nelson, I talked with Chevrolet Motor division a while back about going to work for them and they said that I had to get your permission first." I thought he was going to say "more power to you Don", but no I could see his neck getting red around his shirt collar, he hit the desk with his fist and yelled at me and he said "If you want to better yourself or go to work for Chevrolet Motor Division you hand in your resignation and your through on the 13th." As he said that I was heading out the door taking off my coat and he grabbed a hold of me and he said "Maybe we should have talked this over before." I never even answered him so that afternoon I went down to Chevrolet Motor Division and told them what had happened and they said "That is too bad Don because we don't have any openings in the field." So I went to work for Sammy La Bid in Tacoma, an automotive wholesaler, jippo autoparts and accessories. I had all of Tacoma and King County. Of course this was an education for me. I traveled a lot, got to know a lot of people. My wife didn't think it was so wonderful but I thought I was doing great.
Every time I called on Westlake Chevrolet and talked to Nick Perry there he says "Why don't you come to work for us. We need a good parts manager." No, I am happy where I am." I couldn't sell him anything because everytime I was in there he wanted to talk about going to work. One time he said "What is the matter with you. Name your figure. So I told my wife about it and she says "don't you think this would be better? You know your wearing your car out." I said "Well, I'll think about it." The outcome of that was I went to work for Westlake Chevrolet as a parts manager. This is, of course, where I made the most money I ever made. One May I made almost $1300 dollars. That was in 1949. It bothered me that I didn't get a job at General Motors so felt I had to try once more but how was I going to do it. Am I going to get fired? I talked to the wholesale man. He said "well, we can't talk to you here. Tell you what, if you come out to the car, I'll give you an application. You fill it out and we will see what happens." I said OK, and I filled out the application and mailed it to Portland and about three days later somebody yelled over the intercom "Don Hansen, come on down to the office right away." Anyway it was McCarty, the general manager. I thought well, this is it. I am either being fired or promoted-one or the other. I went down there and he said "Close the door. I've got a telegram here from Lou Sumpter, the zone manager in Portland who says you want to go to work for him. Know anything about it?" I said "yes, I do." He says "Why the hell don't you tell a fellow. Now I've got to call him back and tell him it is OK. Oh boy, so the result of that was I went to a training session in Portland, got a new company car to drive, got an expense account and my salary dropped to three hundred and a quarter a month. But I was an eager beaver. I wanted to learn. Now I was a district parts and accessories representative.
Of course, I worked with another character called a district manager. He had to do with the allotment of cars and I had to do with service and parts. I had forty eight dealers to call on every month. They said that I'd better move to Tacoma because that would be more central to my district. So we were in the process of selling our old house and we bought a new house. I think we bought it for $9000. Brand new little three bedroom house down on 7430 South Montgomery. It had 925 square feet with three little bedrooms.
We had this character that was living in our old house. He was supposed to be buying it but it wasn't working out very good. He was letting everything go to rack and ruin. He had a drinking problem and his wife left him and there were a whole lot of other problems. Finally we had to get him out and get the house sold which we finally did. We were now living in a new house in Tacoma. We now had two girls and a boy, Marian, Suzi, and Richard, and I am attending meetings every so often in San Francisco and Detroit and at least once a month in Portland for a two day stand going to charm school you might call it. Getting General Motors oriented. I really enjoyed it as I was really getting an education. I got acquainted with all the dealers and their families.
I remember the first dealer I called on; it was the one in Puyallup. He was just an overgrown bookkeeper. He did his own bookkeeping and his brother more or less ran the place. I went into the inner sanctum and he had a cigar in his mouth and glasses down on his nose. He said "Young man, what have you been doing up until this time?" This kind of embarrassed me a little bit cause here was a man who was in this kind of business since 1929 and worth over a million dollars. I was a young upstart who was going to come in and tell him how to run his business. This was a little bit unusual. One of the things I found out was anytime a man has come up the hard way, made his business grow and then wants to turn it over to his son, it is very unusual to see the son do as well as the father, very unusual. Three to four years went by. I got a raise. Then the boss told me he was going to have me transferred back to Seattle. He had been checking up on me and I had been doing a good job he said. I made the mistake of saying no one had ever told me I was doing a good job and he very curtly told me that if I wasn't doing a good job they would let me know.
Our second son, Roger, was born. We now were quite a familly with two boys and two girls. I wasn't home much of the time likle a normal husband should be. I have to give my wife credit, she did a terrific job!
I became a district manager for a little while then they made me the zone used car manager. Of course during all this time some of the other officers had changed. They got promoted or shipped out to another area. We had two different zone managers. While I was the zone used car manager we got a new zone manager by the name of Edward Snyder. I didn't have much respect for him as he wasn't playing the game as he should. He was a promoter and a politician and I did my job as best I knew how. I had a goal and that was that when I got to be forty, I wanted to be zone manager myself. I got to be forty and I had my gold ring but I was no where near being a zone manager and I decided my days were numbered. I wanted to get out. Well you just don't do that with General Motors. But one of the things I want to say is that before I got into this little escapade with Eddy Snyder, was we were looking for a dealer to take over Friendly Chevrolet in Lake City. The owner there was desperate to sell. He had made all his money building an air base in Anchorage and he always wanted to be a dealer but he wasn't a manager. He found out he didn't like being a dealer because there wasn't enough money in it. He wanted to get rid of it.
Well we were looking for a new dealer and of course word got around the automotive world and Detroit and everywhere that we needed a dealer out here. We had a lot of these big old boys from Texas come up here. Most of them were multi-millionaires and Cadillac dealers and what have you. Anyway Eddy Snyder thought he had a sucker for sure. This old boy came up here and he stayed a week in the hotel. He smoked those big green cigars. Whenever you'd ask him a question he would take a big drag and lean back and blow his smoke in the air-like old faithful.
Anyway the boss said all department heads had to gather in tomorrow morning at nine o'clock in the bosses office. We were 18 department heads. We sat in a semi-circle and the old boy from Texas sat next to the boss. We lit cigarettes, and had cups of coffee. The boss said "Well Mr. so and so. What do you think? And the old boy took a big drag on his cigar and let it go and he said "Well, Mr. Snyder, I've checked up on your tax situation heah. I've checked up on your union situation heah and you can take that franchise and shove it right up yo ass." I thought that the zone manager was going to have a heart attack. He had hoped this old boy would be buying this dealership. It surprised the heck out of him and us too. So of course he didn't buy it. We eventually found another buyer.
During this time I became a hatchet man. In other words I got rid of some dealers who were not doing a job or losing money. One of them was Klasey Chevrolet in Morton. Another one was Warren Chevrolet in Chehalis. Chehalis and Centralia are both towns with franchises owned by the Warren family. They were all related. Tracy was one of the sons and he had the Oldsmobile Chevrolet dealership in Chehalis. Of course when you want to get rid of a dealer you have to build a file on him and send the files back to the 14th floor of the General Motors Detroit Division. We had been building a file on Tracy for about a year. Finally the office said they had the goods on him. They said, "This is your district Don. You want to handle it?" I said "sure."" Well they said "you'd better head down there . We'd suggest you get there this weekend and get it handled." So I went up and checked into the St. Helen's Hotel in Chehalis. It was Saturday night and just raining cats and dogs. I was sitting there by the fireplace and I think I called home. All of a sudden they called my name out and I went in and answered the phone. It was the zone manager in Portland, Fred Thompson. He said, "Hey old buddy-where are you?" I said "I am in the St. Helens Hotel in Chehalis." He knew very well where I was. He said "I can't think of a finer place to be on a Saturday night. Can you?"
Well, Tracy of course had nothing to stand on. He was worrying about all the pennies that were lying on the floor when there were dollars going by his nose so fast he couldn't see them. That was his problem. He was a small town operator. He wasn't thinking so much about sales and of course we got a new dealer from California to put in there. Well it came to the time that I wanted to leave Chevrolet so I told Eddy Snyder (my boss) that I wanted to leave. I thought I could do better someplace else. He says "you can't do that." He said you know that you have been acquiring your GM stock and he said you've got a pension plan. You've got this plan and that plan. He says "you can't afford to quit." Oh yes, I said I just want to quit. So for two weeks he tried to make me loose my temper. He tried every way he knew how to get me mad but all I would say was I want to get out. So after two weeks he said "OK Don we will let you leave." "I've got two request to make of you", he says, "one is I'm going to give you a convertible and you can go ahead and drive it and do anything you want with it and someday you and I are going to meet on the street and I want you to come with your right hand outstretched and grasp mine and say good morning Mr. Snyder." I didn't even know what he was talking about. I was leaving, walking out of his office. I figured some day I might run into him at O'Hare airport in Chicago or someplace when we were changing a planes.
So my days with Chevrolet were ended. Having been there almost ten years, I didn't have anything in mind to do. I had been home a few days and my old buddy Don Wobbrock called from Spokane and he said "Say what are you doing over in Seattle?" He had quit Chev at the same time. I said, "Not a heck of a lot. What are you doing?" Well he said "I thought I'd go down the coast and contact all the manufacturers and see about a job as a rep. You want to go along?" Well sure, so we went to Portland and talked to Chrysler Corp and Oldsmobile Corp and a couple of other machinery manufacturers and the VW distributor who said they had an opening. There was one in Seattle and one in Portland. We said "Well we are going down the coast we will drop in on you when we come home." We were going to San Francisco. But no one down south seemed to have any openings. We went down to San Mateo where Don's sister had lived. He had to dispose of all the furniture because she was at some kind of rehabilitation center and had lost her husband. I remember that we went to a movie. I believe it was the last picture show I went to. I believe it was 1960. I don't remember what it was. Anyway we came back and stopped in Portland. We had decided if the opening was still there that Wobbrock should take the job in Portland and I would take the one in Seattle.
Well, that is the way it worked out. I found out that there was an organization up here in Seattle on Aurora, 130th N and Aurora, that was called Volkswagen of Washington. It was owned by four gentlemen, one was Bill Boeing Jr., one was one of his engineers, Jerry Barker, another was Dr. Johnson who had quit his practice because of this lucrative money making deal and the fourth was a fellow by the name of Jim Cleland who had Vermont Motors on Roosevelt but they called it Vermouth Motors because he always had a bottle of Vermouth in his office on the table. These four guys owned the corporation.
The man I talked to was Jim Cleland. He had the most plush office I have ever seen. He was sitting in there with his feet up on a stool having a smoke and a cup of coffee and he tried to make me comfortable and so forth. "Yes," he says "We do have an opening." He says, "Your an old Chevrolet man? We could use you." And he talked about what the job would entail and he said something about how much pay did I expect. I told him and he thought that was a little high. But we talked a while and he said well, I might contact him again. He said they weren't going to close the deal right away. They wanted to talk to some other applicants. I think I went back to see him about two more times. He says "you still insist on that figure you told me?" I said "Yes" "Well I've talked to the powers that be and we've decided we will take you on. When can you start?" I told him how does Monday morning sound? He said that it would be all right, but suggested I spend two weeks working in the office before I did anything else. He said I should read the Porsche story by Ferdinand Porsche. He said, "We have been so busy taking in the money that frankly, Don, we don't know anything about this business. I would suggest that after two weeks you do anything you think necessary. If you want to hold meetings with the dealers or whatever, go ahead and we will play along with you on it." I said fine.
I noticed that there were twelve stenographers right inside the door all sitting in a row not doing anything. Everyone of them had a box of candy that they were nibbling. They were looking at their fingernails and they all had nice hair do's and everything. On Monday morning none of them were there. I asked somebody and they said they are all getting their hair fixed. Monday is their hair fixing day.
Then my new bosses said "Hey did you see your new company car?" It was sitting right outside the door. "The little turquoise job is yours." There was a beetle sitting out there. I lifted the rear hood and looked at that little sewing machine engine and thought oh my gosh! Then they said you'd better get your bags packed because we want to send you over to Walla Walla tomorrow. Well I had never had anything to do with those Volkswagen beetles so I got in it and drove home and I thought when I started out that the engine was awful noisy but I noticed that after it warmed up that it kind of smoothed out. I drove it for quite a while and I got to worrying about the gas. I stopped at a filling station and it would only take four gallons. I couldn't believe it. Anyway on the way to Walla Walla I stopped every fifty miles to check the oil and it seemed to be OK. But I had a lot of problems with it. I really babied the thing. There was always some little thing bugging me or something that had to be adjusted. I learned with a Volkswagen you don't baby them. The next one I got, I think I picked it up in Spokane or Portland, I drove it wide open all the way to Seattle and I never had a bit of a problem with it. It all depended on how you broke them in. I remember I had one that I broke in just the way I wanted to and that thing would cruise at 88 miles an hour, hour after hour if you had the wind at your back. So I am really enjoying myself working for Volkswagen. It is a new deal all together. The dealers were very receptive. It was a new thing. They couldn't get enough cars and they were making more money than they ever visualized. We had meetings all over the country. I thought General Motors was big at the time and all mighty as far as the automobile business was concerned. Volkswagen outdid them everywhere. They spent more money, they did more things, they were more receptive, they traveled more, and they took all their dealers to Wolfsburg by air.
Every time they got a new dealer first thing you had to do was go to the factory in Germany and tour four or five countries. Everybody was really enthused. My bosses came along and said, "hey, your going to Germany-you hear about it?" I said no. They said you'd better go get your shots and get your passport. It is going to be two weeks from now. So I did. I flew down to LA where we got on SAS-otherwise known as the Scandinavian alcholholic system. We went with fifty dealers and their wives from Texas. We took off for Greenland up over Edmonton, Alberta. We stopped at Sondre Strum Fiord in Greenland. It was kind of exciting because you fly down in the bottom of a canyon with mountains and snow and rocks on both sides for about six miles. Right at the end is a miniature Mt. St. Helens you have to fly over. On the other side is the airfield and you had to drop down just right. We stopped there for about an hour and a half while we gassed up. Danish girls were serving coffee and cookies and cake.
Then we took off from Greenland and landed at Hanover in Germany. The runway was only 4600 feet. That is a little short for big DC8's. We thought we were crashing when we landed. They were reversing the engines and putting on the brakes and the one wing tipped, scraped and fire flew. Then it leaned over and the other one scrapped and we stopped right at the end of the runway. They made us walk almost a mile back to the building where we had immigration authorities check our baggage. It was May and it was snowing. We boarded buses. The fanciest buses I've ever seen. All the tops were blue glass. The headrests all had clean, what looked like barbershop towels on them. Each bus had a young woman interpreter who could speak about 15 different languages and they spoke over the PA system.
We went into Hanover. They had one hotel ready for us. They had been fixing it for thirty days in anticipation of our coming. I got up to my room and of course I have never been in a feather bed before. I'd never seen one. On the table was a bottle of mineral water for me to drink. Well I took off the cork and tasted it and it had sulfur in it and it smelled bad. Then I heard some horses out in the cobblestone street right below my window. I looked out and there was an Anhauser Bush team of four big draft horses pulling a flat wagon with barrels of beer on it. The next morning we were supposed to have breakfast and then go into the plant. This plant of course was where they made the little micro buses. On the trip were some big old boys and their wives from Texas. In Texas they do things big. Bigger and better than any other place. This one old boy was pretty loud. He said he wanted steak and eggs for breakfast. The waiter that waited on us was from India and he didn't speak German and he didn't speak English. This Texan was getting pretty irate. He was getting pretty loud and finally I guess one of the people in charge, the manager or something who could speak German and English came over and asked what the problem was. He told the Texan he was sorry but steak and eggs weren't available here. They just didn't have that sort of thing on the menu but this Texan said he was going to go to a different hotel. He was going to sue. The amazing thing was the next morning they got him steak and eggs. People over there don't eat steaks. There is no such thing.
Well, we went to visit the plant in Hanover and it was pretty spectacular. We rode buses to Wolfsburg. Wolfsburg is the newest city in Germany. I had been in Wolfsburg during the war when we bombed out the factory that Hitler built. Of course now it was all rebuilt and going full blast. They had two or three shifts. Each shift had 8000 people. They were turning out about 6000 beetles every 24 hours. It was really interesting. No worker was over 21 years. The older guys were the one that had the labels on their coats that said inspector. A lot of them had been hired from Italy. We got in the trim department where they were putting the inside trim on the bodies of the cars. This was when Polaroid cameras were fairly new and they had none in Europe at all. We stopped where two young girls were working and a dealer snapped their picture. He pulled it out and handed it to them. He stopped the whole assembly line. Everyone came running over. They all wanted to get their picture taken real fast. We went up to the main office and saw the power plant. Wolfsburg is right on the line between the Russian zone and the American zone. You could see some of the guardhouses up there by the fence. It was named after the Wolfs Castle. The castle is still there.
We boarded Pan Am on a flight to Munich. The pilot banked sharply in two tight circles right over Rothenburg-on-the-Tauber and announced over the intercom that we would be down there in three days time. Rothenburg is a castle like city with an old inner wall and a newer outer wall with a giant moat all the way around. It is in existence today much the same as it was in 600 AD It has three big cathedrals. Hollywood has used it many times to film such things as the crusades, etc. What with the many wars over hundreds of years, it has always been by-passed and never been damaged much. History says that about the year 800 A. D., a group of 300 plundering Vikings riding horses came down from the north but were unable to penetrate the city. They were about to give up, when someone within helped them to break through the outer wall. They immediately set up government edicts of their own for the residents who refused to cooperate whatsoever. They pondered whether to demolish the place and kill all the people.
Finally the chief of the plunderers gave the burgermeister an ultimatum. A giant jug or urn full of wine was brought in . The Burgermeister, who was a small individual, was told that if he could drink the whole container of wine with no time out, they (the Vikings) would withdraw. Otherwise Rothenburg would be destroyed. The Burgermeister managed to comply but almost died.
The leading hotel there is the Eisenhut where this ritual is performed with the diners every evening. One of the dealers in our group was a preachers son from Salem, Oregon. Whenever anyone came in his showroom, he would rush over to greet them with the bible in one hand and say, "Praise the Lord." He and his wife were a young couple and apparently very religious. His name was Bob and he wanted to try the wine ritual. The container was heavy glass with big handles on both sides and held about five liters. It wasn't possible for any one person to drink it all. Anyway, Brother Bob got a good grip on both handles, starting to tip the big container with his mouth on the lip edge. The Matre D' started counting in German Ein, swei, dri, etc. Brother Bob lasted till the count of 113! Then he and his little young wife lit up a couple of long black crooked cigars.
We were informed by the hotel employees that no group have ever drank a whole tankard of wine. Our group drank almost two! The bartender in the lounge had been the purser on the Graf Zeppelin. The next day we visited a beautiful cathedral that was in its original state having been built during the 13th century.
One of the things I forgot was that when we arrived at Rothenburg by bus we had to get out and wait a while. Then a big gate opened, the drawbridge came down over the moat, and we were greeted by two trumpeteers astride horses covered in white, followed by the Burgermeister in an ermine robe who welcomed us. Then we all walked behind him over the moat and through the gate into the walled city.
After spending a day and a half here, we boarded buses again to go to a very
picturesque town by the name of Dinklesbuhl, dating back to the 14th century. We were greeted by the All Boys marching band dressed in
their historical uniforms. No one
can be a member after the age of fourteen.
Then we went back to our hotel in Munich named "The Deutsches Kaiser." It was an eight story building mounted on a pedestal. The pedestal was two elevator shafts and the only way in or out of the hotel was through the elevator. We went shopping. We visited two fabulous museums and positioned ourselves under the Glockenspiel at city hall for the 11:00 o'clock clock strike and animated characters. There was no traffic during this as the entire street was full of people. That night we had dinner at a night spot in Schwabing which is the "Greenwich Village" of Munich. The nest day we bussed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We were entertained by a man and wife team playing different instruments, yodeling, and dancing. Altogether it was very mulch "Gemutlickheit" and everyone had too many steinhagers. Then we took the cable car up to the top of the Zugspitz.
We boarded Pan Am and they took us to Berlin. Well now we are over the Russian zone. The pilot pointed out a bunch of Russian Migs below us. We landed at Templehof Airport in Berlin. I had a room in the Bristol Kopenski Hotel which was the most fabulous hotel I have ever stayed in. I got in the room and went in the bathroom and there was a porcelain knob hanging on a chain. I didn't know what it was. The guy next door had to find out. He pulled the chain and right away here is a gal with a towel who wanted to give him a bath and a massage. All the light switches didn't have names on them. They had pictures. One is a ventilator, one is a light bulb, one is a telephone, door lock or whatever. I imagine they have people from all parts of the world staying there and of course it is easier for everyone to tell what it is this way.
Anyway that day we boarded buses to go into the Russian zone through the Brandenburg gate. This was quite an experience. You don't realize what it is like until you are there. It was a real sad affair. Many people have gotten killed trying to cross to the west side. There was barbed wire going up four stories high over buildings. There were three gates staggered one behind the other and they were so narrow that there is no straight approach (they zig and zag) There was no way the bus could go through without scraping on both sides which ours did and once we got to the other side we stopped. They picked up all our passports. Two people stopped at each one of us, to take our passports, ask us how much money we've got, what denominations it is in, what country it is from, and if we have any cameras. We cannot take pictures but we can take the cameras with us. We have an interpreter on this bus and she looked like she'd been around the world a few times. She was probably 20 years old but looked about 40.
She had some stockings that were drooping around her legs. She could speak eight different languages. It took us about an hour before we were ready to proceed. It was a different world over there. There were very few cars and none could be identified. We had never seen anything like them before. She started pointing out all the different things. She said this will be our library in the future. This will be our opera house. All the store fronts were false. They had displays but it was for display only because there was not a store behind it. Of course the highlight of the trip was to go to the big Russian Memorial where they buried all the thousands of Russians and they made a park out of it. The trip took about two to three hours, maybe longer, and then we turned around to come back. We got back to the gate and they stopped us and the security checked everything. They were under the bus-they were in the engine compartment. They looked under our seats. We were wondering if we were going to get back because they hadn't given out passports back. You know how they give them back to us? They piled them on the floor in the front of the bus and said "Pick them out."
We were now ready to proceed back through the walled obstacle coarse and the Brandenberg Gate but before we got started we noticed a giant flag that was covering a four storied apartment house. One of the dealers asked the bus hostess what the words on the flag said. She said it was "Down with NATO." We really breathed a sigh of relief when we went through the gate past the rubble of the Reichstag and Hitler's bunker. Back at the Bristol-Kopenski we decided to promenade on the "Kurfurstendam" which is the Broadway of Berlin. We got a cab to take us to a famous restaurant for a dinner of some kind of wurst. It was absolutely superb-prima! We got back to the hotel and I called Gladys in Bothell. The call went through in about twenty seconds. Before we were to leave for Hamburg, I walked quite a distance to get an international drivers license. There were blocks of rubble consisting of huge twisted girders and chunks of concrete. There were big machines literally gobbling up this stuff. Three elevated spouts came out of each machine. One spout was spitting out chunks of concrete, one was throwing out all sizes and shapes of steel, and the third one just seemed to be throwing out dust.
So, Pan Am now took us back over the Russian zone to Hamburg. There we billeted in the British Hotel and had dinner in an old castle on a high hill outside the city. I had received permission from the group to go on my own for two days. So, I hopped a train out of Hamburg going through Neumunster to the last German town by the Danish Border: Flensburg. There I rented a VW Beetle. At the border the patrol officer loudly yelled at me three times. it sounded like he was saying "Green!" He jerked the passenger side door open and pulled a green folder out of the glove compartment which showed the car was insured. He then made a disgusted motion for me to move on. My mother had written to my Dad's Mother's cousin, Gerda Horluck, saying that I might visit. The Horluck house had a name on it: "Borgnaes." It means "Castle on the Plain." It was all by itself about three quarters of a mile from a small village named "Ruruup." Miraculously, I drove straight to their house and as I pulled up I noticed someone was peeking at me through the curtains on the front door. I rang the doorbell and the door was opened by Gerda who said in Danish, "Are you Donald?" I answered, "Yah." Then I met her spry ninety year old husband, Nels. Gerda had my baby picture sitting on the piano. My Grandma Hansen had sent her these pictures years ago. Nels Horluck had a brother that had come to Seattle in about 1910. He owned and operated the Horluck Brewery and all the Horluck Ice Cream Parlors in Seattle which disappeared about 1940 when the last of the family passed on. Cousin Roger, the dentist bought the old Horluck estate in Woodway Park and now his ex-wife has it. Anyway, Nels was a very sharp old boy and we got along fine. He owned a large farm that the oldest son, Anders, was running. Nels told me about the German occupation. Gerda was on the phone for quite some time. Then the yard started filling up with cars. The house filled up with neighbors and relatives including daughter Ingeborg, who drove over from Ribe. Gerda was a very appealing and intelligent lady. She and I drove in a snowstorm to Tonderupe to buy some pickled eel and pick up her repaired shoes from the cobblers. The next day I returned to Flensburg and turned in the VW. I had to ask my way to the Hopbahnhof (railway station). The language of the northern Germans was much different here than the rest of the country. I was having a hard time understanding anyone . There were five tracks in the station and every five minutes a train roared through. Some stopped and some didn't. I asked for the porter which one went to Hamburg. He gave me a long speech with gestures that I understood none of. Another train was moving out. Then another one was about to go. He waved disgustedly for me to get on it. Across the aisle were four young men playing a game of cards. it was a pretty hot game because every once in a while one of the players would slap his hand on the table. Occasionally one would take a swig from a bottle on the table. On the bottle was printed the words, "Dobble Korn." All of a sudden one said, "Gotcha."-my kind of people. I asked if this train went to Hamburg. They said, "No, you have to change at Neumunster. Just follow us, we are going to Hamburg also." Back at the hotel I was informed of a banquet to take place at 8:00 PM. Our departure for home would be tomorrow at 10:30 AM on another SAS DC8. After breakfast the next morning we checked out heading for the airport. We went in the duty free store and each of us came out with two full shopping bags plus our luggage. We took off and came down in the tricky landing in Greenland again. The Danish girls in their costumes were still there dowling out pastries and coffee. Then we boarded the plane as it was time to depart. There was a very strong fuel smell in the cabin. The Captain announced over the intercom that until some wind blew we would be unable to take off out of there and to please have some more coffee and cookies.
About fifteen minutes went by when he announced, "Here she comes. We will leave now." When we had taken off before out of this precarious canyon on the way over. It had been a nervous situation for all of us. Now the trust was on full power again and I knew we weighed more this time. I was sitting by a window trying to look ahead. It seemed no attempt was made to lift off as we rolled and rolled with rocks and ice speeding by the windows on both sides. Now, I could begin to see a mountain of rocks due ahead. I swear he pulled up the landing gear before we were airborne so as to clear the rocks. We made it and I fell asleep. Never even looked down on Hudson Bay this time. I woke up over Northern Alberta where there are all those gas fires by the oil well. Soon we were over Spokane heading for Los Angeles. If we hadn't stopped in Greenland we would have gotten back to L. A. before we left Hamburg timewise. After a short lay over in LA, we flew back to Seattle, back to work at Volkswagen of Washington. It was time to get at some developments with problem dealers. By this time I had become personally acquainted with all the dealers and their families in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska. I set up a van with tools and supplies and trained a member of the service department to call on the dealers to show them how to recondition their used cars, especially appearance wise.
Two or three times a year we would hold dealer meetings in some exotic place.
We had a dealer in Aberdeen who was a "lost cause". He was originally from West Virginia but had gotten acquainted with the Grays Harbor area while in the service. He classified himself as a VW mechanic and started working in an old service station. The distributor had him sign a franchise agreement but he only sold one car a month and could only afford a parts stock of about $1,200.00 which was a bad situation. He also had cancer. It was imperative that we replace him but we felt sorry for him and it was a ticklish situation. He refused to sell. But he did agree that he would like to have me as his partner. He was concerned that his $40,000.00 life insurance policy would be canceled if he sold out. We assured him this would not be the case and he agreed to sell to me if he could stay as a partner. He and his young son were living in the back end of the shop. His wife had divorced him and he was stalking her at night. So, I started leaving time (Seattle) at six AM on Monday mornings, staying in the Elks Club, and coming home late on Saturday evenings. Rick would go with me sometimes if he wasn't going to school. By the end of 1962 Mr. Marable was near death and went back to West Virginia. He died two weeks later. I then had the family move down to a house on M Street. Marian did not come as she was married to Mike Hamilton and had a son, Adam.
I forgot to mention that while still working for Volkswagen of Washington, I had arranged for Cousin Roger, Mike Hamilton, and Dave Buchan to take a tour of Europe via a Volkswagen boat leaving from San Diego. When they came home after a couple of months they had dinner at our house to tell us about their trip. It was then that Marian announced that she and Mike were going to get married.
I started selling new VW's and trying to build up the parts stock and service business. I now belonged to the Elks Club, Eagles, Lions, and Rotary. Rick was going to Weatherwax High School, Roger was in a little league called the "Pumpers," and Suzi was enrolled at the Grays Harbor Junior College. Gladys started working at a rest home part time. She and I drove to a dealer seminar at Scottsdale. Another time we flew to one in Reno, and another one in Hawaii. The owner of the house on M Street wanted his house so we moved to Annebergs house on Hanna Avenue. Then we bought a house on Essex Avenue.
We didn't sell our house in Bothell. We rented it to a minister and his wife who held church services and Sunday school there.
It was apparent that the economy in the area was becoming very depressed. The distributor said that, Bruce Bachman, sales manager for Gladstone VW in Portland might be interested in buying. So, we sold the business to Bruce. I suggested to Gladys that we take a trip or a cruise. She was not interested but said she would like to go to a nice restaurant! Imagine.
So, we proceeded to move back to our house in Bothell which proved to be in a shambles. They had nailed small religious tracts to the wall with 16 penny spikes. They had tried to burn the garbage in the basement fireplace. One of the basement windows was broken and the rats had gotten in. Every morning I'd go to the lumber yard in Kenmore for wood, hinges, locks, electrical items. etc. One morning I was down at Knoll's and Osgood said, "Say, are you building a new house or are you repairing an old one?" He said, "You know we had another customer just like you and he had his house leased to a preacher, too." I had been working on the house for about three months and one day Madge (my pet name for Gladys) said, "Say, aren't we going to have an income anymore? Don't you think you should do something so that we might have an income again?" I had just taken eight wheelbarrow loads of garbage and ashes out of the basement fireplace where they had almost burned the house down and everything was black. Anyway, I now felt that the house was in livable shape again.
So, now I began looking for something to do. One of the business opportunity ads in the paper had to do with auto transmission repair franchises with good locations to start new operations in. Opportunities were unlimited. A new building in Burien was available and the franchiser was General Transmissions of Bela-Cynnwyd, Pennsylvania. My expenses would be a weekly franchise fee of 5% of sales, am mandatory advertising expense , rent on building, utilities, and a monthly rent on a big neon sign out front. They had three so called transmission experts from Philadelphia to help me get started. So, I paid the initial fee to get started. I found that I had to purchase some equipment that was necessary. This was in February of 1967. I had always heard that Philadelphia was the "City of Brotherly Love." But I decided after a time that if my crew was any example it must be a city of liars, thugs, deadbeats, and home of the Mafia. They would tell customers they needed a rebuilt transmission when all they needed was a throttle or band adjustment. The district manager was Bill Moeller, also from "Philly." He was the worst of all. Even changing employees didn't help much because the only guys that would do this kind of work were not to be trusted. About this time Boeing started laying off hundreds of engineers and thousands of other employees. Some of these were families from foreign countries and had no money to get home or for shelter here. Business suffered. To keep business going my personal income for 1969 was $250.00. Regardless of what my sales were, there were several taxes plus the fees which didn't change whether I did any business or not. Several taxes were due every quarter and some were due every month. Of course, these had nothing to do with income taxes. At the end of the first quarter of 1969, I had no money to pay taxes. I received a reminder in the mail. By the end of the second quarter I received a visit by a Mr. Byrd from the Internal Revenue Service. He said, "Sir, are you the proprietor here?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Mr. Hansen, do you realize half of this year is gone and you owe us $18,000.00?" I said, "Yes, I do and am probably more aware of it than you are." He said, "Those are our moneys and they must be paid. What are you going to do about it?" I said, "Nothing. I don't have anything to pay it with." He said, "You leave me with no alternative and I must call my superior. May I borrow your phone?" I said, "Help yourself" An older person arrived in about ten minutes. He said that I and my employees would be locked out immediately. He put a big sign on the front door to the effect that this business was closed by the U. S. Government Internal Revenue Service. All work in progress would be left as is and he wanted access to all of my records. One of the mechanics yelled, "I want my tools." I told the government man, "Be my guest." After a short while he said, "You know Mr. Hansen, you have been very good about this. Couldn't you come up with some money?" I said, "How much are you talking about?" "How about nine thousand dollars by Friday?" I replied that it might be possible. He said he would remove the sign until 4:00 PM Friday. And I was able to come up with that sum by Friday. Eventually I was able to get current on all the taxes. I had never heard of writing a check and then stopping payment on it. I was a trusting soul but I was learning Merchants in the state had no protection whatsoever. There was one month when one third of the checks we took in had a stop payment order on them. We did a transmission repair for a thirty five year old woman from West Seattle who did this. One of the tellers at the Burien Bank said that this woman never paid for anything as she stopped payment on every check she wrote. We did a repair for the President of the Highland Savings and Loan and his check bounced. I made many calls to his office but his secretary always said he was busy and took a message. Finally I had enough. I received the same message on my next call. I told her to put him on the phone or I would be there in person. She said, "You can't threaten me over the phone and besides he is the president of the bank." I said, "I don't care who he is. I want my money." It took six months before he paid his bill.
It was during this time that Gary Freeman and Suzi were married at the Northlake Lutheran Church in Kenmore by Rev. Eidbo.
I finally met the franchiser, the real owner. His name was Modici (pronounced Mow-dee-kye). He lived on Long Island, N. Y. He had never had a job and had a net worth of 35 million, all earned from litigation. As a matter of fact, he was in the process of starting a medical school on the island of Granada when Reagan sent the troops down to make it free.
I could write a book about the years in the transmission business. Finally I sought legal council downtown. There were thirty seven attorneys in that office and would talk to me only if I placed a hundred dollar bill in the palm of one of them, which I did. He said only, "Bring a copy of the franchise that you signed originally." Three days after I brought it to them, they called for me to come down. They said the agreement had been drawn up by a Philadelphia lawyer and that if I didn't conform to its contents, they could take away everything I owned including real estate and personal effects. Their advice was to play it by ear for a time. Madge wanted me to lock the doors and walk away which I refused to do. I had to get my investment out of it somehow. One year went by and I went to see the attorney. He said, okay, take the General Transmission sign down. I had no more than done this when a representative came by and said, "What happened to your sign?" I said, "I've had enough. I took it down." He then said, "Don, now you will have to change all your stationery!" That was all I ever heard from General Transmissions except for Bill Moeller who was told he could not operate or own any business in the state of Washington. Eventually, I signed up with Lee Myles Transmissions who was a legitimate franchiser operating in this state.
It was now about 1974 when a sweet little feminine voice from an employment agency just south of the airport started calling every day trying to get me to be a part time transmission instructor at a private vocation school called Al-Tech. I told her I definitely was not interested but she kept calling anyway. I finally decided that I should personally visit the agency to stop the harassment. The young lady got on the phone the minute I walked in and called someone at Al-Tech and said, "I have your man!" They said it would interesting for me to visit the school, regardless. Would I please come?
The outcome of all this was that I went to work as an instructor for transmissions, clutches, front ends, and differentials. After a time I hired a manager for the transmission shop. That way I could spend more time at the school. As it turned out, this job as an instructor was a real challenge. The student might be an Eskimo from Kotzebue, and Indian from Blackfoot, Idaho, a man from Canton, a lot of men from Vietnam, men from Mexico, men from Libya and Iran, as well as young blacks from Rainier Valley and Capitol Hill. Those that were from out of town were billeted in hotels downtown. Their shelter, food, transportation, tools, coveralls, and tuition were paid for by the government. The idea being that they would earn an automotive trade. A lot of them were not the least bit interested in anything. One Samoan tried to kill a student in the classroom before class. Some came to school with magnum pistols in shoulder holsters, one Phillipino robbed the National Bank of Commerce on the way to school and the authorities didn't catch up with him until the day after. he had only been in this country for three weeks but had already acquired a new Camaro, several five hundred dollar suits, and a big diamond ring. Judge Niemi told him to behave himself and then she would not prosecute. One sixteen year old black was caught mixing "grass" in a dark corner of the lab and expelled. His mother called and said she was suing the school. We told her to go ahead. One very attractive young black female prostitute enrolled in a night class to drum up business. It was at the night classes when the bay doors were open that those big rats that hang out at Boeing Field would enter the building. One lesbian woman from California kept coming to school with caps that had fluorescent four letter works on them. She came in my class one time with one of those caps on her head. I told her to remove it. She said, No, it was hers and she would wear it. I expelled her.
Al-Tech was named after the owner, Albert Merkel. Al was the top salesman for Electrolux Vacuum cleaners in the U. S. and a devout Nazarene. He had a farm near Moses Lake run by a manager that specialized in raising Alfalfa seed. The school was near 1st Avenue South and Michigan. Al sold the school to Carl McDonald who also had schools in Bremerton and Spokane as well as ITT Technical School in Seattle. Carl moved the school shortly thereafter to better facilities at the south end of Boeing field on East Marginal Way South. Then he changed the name to the Seattle Mechanics School.
Carl and his wife had an estate on the southeast corner of Mercer Island with his 92 foot yacht tied to the dock in front. He drove a different one of his cars every day. He was a mason. He also had a very explosive temper. He had a daughter by a previous marriage that ran the tool department in the lab. She was a rather coarse large girl that had a pet great Dane that was as big as a small horse. The daughter's name was Nina. She said she lived and grew up on a mat on a beach on the big island of Hawaii. One Sunday, Carl had a stroke and died all in about an hour. Carl's wife had a hard time getting enough money for the funeral. They didn't own anything! Everything was on the easy payment plan. Mrs. McDonald had a son in Texas that she had come to Seattle to help her which was a bad mistake. Cliff was a good looking kid with no business experience who knew how to lie and steel from his mother. She did not confide with any of us instructors. She started hiring one consultant after another from around the US with big fees attached. Things got worse. She finally fired her son who had been stealing from the till for some time.
The schools days were numbered by this time and I decided it would be an ideal time for me to finally retire. I made my thoughts known and they held a big party for me with entertainment, trophies, etc. I had been there nine years and had enjoyed trying to make something out of next to nothing. I later heard that Mrs. McDonald hired a diesel instructor who supposedly bought the school but didn't pay for it. This was in 1983.
Now for the first time in my life I could take care of our house, garden, fruit trees, and flowers the way I wanted to I could get busy with my hobbies, visit people more, and take trips. The funny part is, those things didn't seem to happen as fast as when I was working. I can't and do not understand how this can be.