June 1992

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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Work Life and Family Life in the 1950s

At 6:30 on the morning of September 10, I was in my office preparing assignments for the truck drivers when I received a cryptic phone call from L. B.'s brother, Ted Finewood, who simply stated, "Ed, Len was killed last night in a car accident on the Ontario Town Line Road at the intersection of the Lake Road in the town of Webster. Do whatever you see fit there," and hung up. Stunned, I walked out to the driver's day room, informed the men, and sent the fleet out, for many people were depending on the service. Some of the older employees came back in before noon, unable to work—too saddened by the loss of their old friend.

Later in the day a few of us drove to the scene of the accident, and found the 500-foot-long skid marks on the road, made when L. B. tried to avoid crashing into the large stone gate post at the end of the Ontario Center road. We located the Cadillac at a collision shop and saw the completely demolished auto. L. B. was notorious for his high-speed driving and many had warned him that "Trying to fly a Cadillac is going to kill you someday." He invariably laughed and replied, "I hope not."

L. B. died without a will and with little life insurance. This left the business in a precarious position. Except for Valley Sand & Gravel, he had operated the business as sole proprietor. Without a will, the State Surrogate administered the estate, and the legal heirs had to be bonded to operate the Finewood business at all. This placed severe restrictions on any changes in assets, such as borrowing money or buying equipment.

So, for some time to come, the management staff: Iris Woodams, office; Albert Stocum, shop manager; and myself, would conduct the business. It was a challenge, and the three of us dug in, determined to prove to ourselves we could do it. We beefed up the staff by adding assistants, defined our responsibilities, and began long-range planning, that heretofore had been, a "Seat-of-the-pants—What'll we do next week?" style. Soon our smoother management actually added to the company assets.

As the business grew, we rented the equipment that we could not buy (except for six used trucks that we paid cash for) to cover the demand. During peak periods, we had over a hundred pieces of equipment in the field. We expanded into more excavation projects: completed our second contract for development of Genesee State Park Commission's Hamlin Beach Park, and one highly successful excavating and grading project for General Motor's Rochester Products Division. We also completed several hauling contracts for highway construction contractors. During this time, Ridge Construction, which was in the midst of a Kodak building spree, contributed over fifty per cent of our gross income.

Settlement of L. B.'s estate took several years, and during this time Bob Finewood left college, became restless, and came back eager to take a more directing part in the business, to have a chance to "Make his own mistakes," as he put it. I was working long hard hours and loving it, but the inevitable neared when Bob, as was his right, exercised more and more authority. By 1955 I was too often in conflict with his policies. Long-term planning diminished to "wave riding," as we called it. I was spoiled by the period of freedom to manage, and soon Bob and I, at times perversely, were at odds more than was healthy. Something had to give.

I was casting about for new opportunities, when in late 1955, Bob, with good intentions and high hopes, backed into a possible answer to our conflict. He bought I. M. Ludington's Sons, Inc., a transit-mix concrete supply company that was deeply in debt to both Valley and Finewood for aggregates and trucking, and offered me the post of manager. We rejoiced together at the apparent solution to our problem, and in January of 1956 I assumed the position at 720 Lexington Avenue, in Rochester that I kept for the next six years.

Life had continued in a relatively normal fashion with it's good times, bad times, cycles of births, marriages, death, and the family just plain getting along. In 1947 my father had died leaving my mother. She lived then with her mother, Harriet Dillistin. Grandma Dillistin, the molder of my life during my formative years, died in 1954 at the age of ninety-four. Mother lived alone the rest of her life.

Our daughter Linda was born in January, 1946, just before I joined L. B. Finewood in June of that year. Our rented home at 220 West Elm had been sold, forcing us to move. Soon, the house we rented on Linden Avenue in East Rochester was sold, again forcing us to move. Housing was extremely scarce and it took a painfully long time before I finally found to rent an old run-down house at 4575 Lake Avenue, in the area of Rochester known as Charlotte, near the Genesee River harbor. Charlotte, once a village, is now really a state of mind—but don't try to convince a resident of some years there. They are territorial and quick to tell you that at one time Rochester had to come to Charlotte to collect it's mail, and that during the War of 1812, they saved the harbor from the British.

While the rent for the house was reasonable, we had to rehabilitate the place, at our expense, to make it what we considered livable. The deal provided that the owner, Vince Farnan, a bachelor of about sixty and semi-retired plumber, would still occupy a bedroom upstairs—a situation that sometimes enlivened our evenings. Vince would come in late, often pretty drunk, climb to his room, and a litle later fall down the stairs—the upper landing was too near the bathroom door. He never suffered more than cuts and bruises, a fact we attributed to his completely relaxed conditon. Nearby Doctor Strobino always fixed him up with a few stitches. Vince later went on the "water wagon," and surprised us, at his advanced age, by marrying for the first time.

The old house had been in the Farnan family for many years, and before we left, Vince sold us, for a very modest sum, some of his parents' old furniture: A solid oak center-pedestaled dining table, a drop-leaf oak desk, and an oak glass-fronted, "Larkin" high-boy cabinet. He gave us an oak wash stand, and a mahogany rocker made by H. W. Connant & Sons, of Camden, New York, both in very poor condition. Soon after retiring, I restored all of these pieces, and now am writing this on the center-pedestal oak dining table in my basement den.

© 1992, Edwin N. Harris
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