Saturday, February 4, 2017

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Chrysler Stories Continued

Dad took a new position at Chrysler and made lifelong friends. He also shared some stories that are legendary in our family.

The Windshield Wiper Lab
"I started work as a mechanic at the Windshield Wiper Lab, which was part of the Air Conditioning Lab. There were two other mechanics, and it was small room. The room had benches and cabinets and dynamometers on each wall with very little space between for us. It was very cramped. One whole wall of the room was windows that separated us from a room with about thirty mechanics in it.

Dave M. and Terry H. were the names of the two mechanics I worked with. Dave had worked with Chrysler since 1941. Chrysler had never manufactured an electric motor before and it was our lab's job to design and develop one. My work there consisted of building experimental motors, and dynamometer testing them and others supplied from vendors.

The engineers I worked with were Emile N. and Paul V. Emile designed an armature winder and a magnet charger and I assembled it. It was quite a challenge because nothing like it existed on a small scale.

Terry and I became good friends and he helped me to learn the job. He was a heavy smoker and one day as he was running a test on the dynamometer I took the cigarette he had set in an ash tray and set it where he could not see it. The ash tray was behind him as he worked and he turned around and lit another, and set that one in the ash tray and then went back to his test. I sat that cigarette by the other I had hid, and when he turned around he lit another one and set it down! After the fourth cigarette I sat them all in the ash tray and when he turned and saw them all sitting there he looked surprised then laughed when he realized what had happened.

The Boat
Terry had a son named John and he was Tom's age. Sometimes the four of us would go camping and fishing at the Old Orchard campground by the Ausable River. Terry eventually bought an old house trailer and parked it at the same park and then we all stayed there.

The Montgomery Ward store at Hazel Park had an ad for a 12-ft aluminum boat for $152 dollars and Terry and I both decided to buy one. We bought them on the same day and I hauled his to his house then returned and brought mine home. Tom and I used it for fishing and when we went camping. The bought was bought in 1964 and I still have it in 2003. The boat is thirty-nine years old and is still in very good condition.

During the 1970s Tom and I would put the boat on top of our Duster, load his mini-bike, the outboard motor, our tent, and all of our camping supplies and take off for Canada or Upper Michigan.

Woodward Stories
I thought Woodward Avenue at Detroit was a spectacular street when I first went there during the 50s. The median was probably thirty feet wide with four, and in some places, six lanes on each side. The street with crowned with American Elms that arched over the road. During the 50s it was called "the strip" of course.

It seemed every time I drove Woodward in those days I would see an accident, or a smashed car sitting by the road. But the time we moved to Detroit in the early 60s it had calmed down a little Eventually, I-75 was build and I could use the expressway to get to work at Highland Park, but I continued to use Woodward. The traffic on I-75 could often come to the standstill if an underpass flooded or there was an accident. Woodward, while slower, was never closed.

Woodward by McNichols [Six Mile Road] in Detroit was a hangout for prostitutes and they would try to flag you down as you drove by. Sometimes they would stand in the middle of the road and try to stop you. one day as I was passing by one she lifted her blouse and flashed me. Of course she had no bra on.

One Saturday I stopped at a Howard Johnson restaurant on Woodward in Highland Park to get a coffee. As I was leaving a nice looking black girl asked me if that was my car out at the curb. I said no, I owned that black pickup truck. Then she made me an offer for ten dollars. I was so flustered, I said, "I have to go or I'll be late for work." She did not look like that kind.

There was a black porter at work and he rode the bus to work every day. The bus dropped him off at Woodward and McNichols and he would have to walk to work from there. So sometimes I would wait where the bus let him off and drive him to work with me. Well, one day I got there early and as I waited a gal started walking up to my truck. I knew what she wanted, and when she got near the truck I opened the window and blurted out, "I'm waiting for a guy!" Then I decided to leave and as I was going I saw a policeman coming around the corner. I think they were trying to catch a "john." My buddy had to walk to work that day!

After I got to work I remembered the look on the gal's face and realized what she thought I'd meant. She did not know I was waiting for someone on a bus!

Before we moved to Michigan my family would drive to see my grandparents. We would cross Ontario, Canada and take the Tunnel into Detroit. After the long hours and flat landscape of farms it was amazing to come out of the eerie, claustrophobic tunnel into a city of skyscrapers. I had been to Buffalo, but Detroit was bigger! It would be night by the time we arrived, and the streetlights and building lights and signs would fill the sky. I remember the tree lined avenue as we drove up Woodward to Royal Oak. 

I also remember the engineer Dad worked with, Emile Najm. He and his wife had my folks over for dinner and served their traditional Lebanese foods. Later in life Emile lost his vision but Chrysler arranged for him to continue working. Dad often helped Emile, sometimes driving him to Lansing, MI. 

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