Part 4

It was-about 1960, when I-was 52 years old, that I started going through what is called a mid-life crisis. I understand they are common. I didn't know about that; I only know what was happening to me. Looking backward after over 20 years, I believe I can better understand how my brain was working at that time.
I believe I thought I was a failure. I had never earned a lot of money. I was getting close to my sixties and had no savings put away towards my retirement. We had never been in want but only because I had Stella for a wife who accomplished miracles with the little that I earned.
The principle cause of my trouble, I think, was that I had always liked my work and although my wages were low, they were steady and I never missed a payday. My work was interesting and I must have been pretty good at it, because I was able to repair every thing we sold in the store. I know I was honest with our customers in that I didn't charge for things they didn't need a and in many cases when their appliance was too old or in such bad shape it wasn't worth the cost of the repairs-I told them so. I got along well with our customers and I know my reputation was high with them. And although I spent hours every day in someone else's kitchen, with someone else's wife, Stella never worried and she had no need to do so. Some of her friends told her they couldn't stand for their husbands to have a job like mine, but it never bothered Stella!
Later, when we were in business, I could better understand what it meant to Mr. Benovitz to have an employee like me. If a customer came in and gave him a hard time, he had only to say, I'll have Smitty take care of it, and never give it another thought. If he felt like sleeping in a little longer,- he knew I would be there to take care of things and if I had to work a little later to catch up with the service –that didn't bother him, either.
MR. Benovitz was a smart, shrewd man, but he didn't understand how electrical or mechanical things operated. Sometimes when I had a stubborn problem to solve and it was taking extra time, I may have searched for an hour to find a broken wire or a loose connection. When the trouble was found, of course the repair was quick and easy. When asked, I would have told him I had to repair a broken wire. He would probably have answered: "What took you so long? Why I could have repaired that myself in five minutes! I told him he must think when I go on a call that I am greeted by a little sign on the appliance that says "I NEED A NEW THERMOSTAT" or "MY PUMP IS CLOGGED or I HAVE A FREON LEAK IN MY EVAPORATOR". No such thing! You have to find the problem, and sometimes it takes time. Of course having experience is a big help.
I knew Mr. Benovitz was about 65 years old and may have been thinking about retirement, although he never talked about it, but I'm sure it was something else that I worried about. I just had a feeling that I wanted to get away from the store-- I never wanted to see another refrigerator or any kind of appliance again!
Except for Dennis, who was only ten years old, I wouldn't have to worry about Lois, who was married, or Ginger or Chuck who were getting a college education. But I was very worried about myself with my 8th grade education. How could I ever get another job at the age of 55 or more?
Stella never knew (at least I didn't think she did) what silly worries, that I had. I knew our church needed a janitor and I thought about applying for the position. I developed a cough, a sort of hollow cough, that I think now must have been caused by my nerves, but it worried the family. This condition lasted for months.
I was talking to my friend, John Moyle at the church. John was now a foreman in a small tungsten carbide tool and die plant called Carbidie, Inc. I told him about my unhappiness in my work and he immediately came up with a solution! He said if you are looking for another job,-you can start to work with me tonight! He said his plant bad just received what for them, was a huge government contract to make the nose cones for armor piercing shells for the military. These would be the same as I had made at the Firth-Sterling plant during the war. I would have to work steady night turn, 11PM to 7:30AM, seven nights a week- no overtime for the 6th and 7th nights, and no nights off. The contract would take a year to complete, but there were possibilities for contract extentions. I think it says it all about my mental state when I told John that I would meet him there that night, and I did!
I don't remember what I told Stella, or what her reactions were to my decision to take this job, but they may have been similar to mine, when at about 3AM I was wondering if I was crazy!
I went to the store the next morning and gave Mr. Benovitz a weeks notice that I was quitting my job. I didn't tell him I. had another job, and for the entire week, I worked day and night on both jobs.
I worked for 59 straight nights before I got one off, but only because of a mechanical break down. It also happened several
more times through the following year. It was always a night to celebrate, because we never knew when, or if there would be another one! The year passed and the contract was completed and there would be no extentions, and I would be facing unemployment.

Mr. and Mrs. Benovitz surprised us when they came to -our house with a proposition. They wanted Stella and me to take over their business! The timing could not have been more perfect. Considering how I had felt about the store when I had quit last year, I truthfully don't know what I would have said if I had been made this same offer at that time. But now I was forced to give it serious thought, and perhaps make a commitment.
He admitted it was principally because I had quit that he had decided to retire. He said he hadn't been able to find a satisfactory replacement, or one he felt he could trust. He was now full of praise for the work I had done. Now, I guess, he was trying to butter me up!
He explained his problems in selling his business was that he was still responsible for the time still remaining on the warranties on all the appliances he had sold. If he decided to just quit outright, he would have to get another service company to assume the warranties and pay them to do it.
If another party wanted to buy the business, the warranty problem would have to be resolved, but their was another difficulty to be settled. The Frigidaire franchaise was the principle franchise the business owned and it was not transferable or saleable by the dealer. An application would have to be made to the Frigidaire Corporation, and as John Moyle and I had found, you had to meet their standards, and they were rigid. Mr.Benovitz' solution, was, if Stella and I would take over the business, He wouldn't "'sell the business", There would be no charge for the "good will", and in exchange Stella and I would honor the balance of time remaining on the warranties The business was well established and to most people, I had always been a part of it, and they were accustomed to see me there!
As for getting the Frigidaire franchise, he thought Frigidaire would feel the same way, because I was very well known to every one who mattered in the Pittsburgh Branch office. The Branch was responsible for all dealers in one half the state of Pennsylvania, and a part of Ohio and of West Virginia.
Under his plan, we would only have to pay him his cost for the merchandise on the sales floor and in the warehouse. (I could easily verify the cost of the merchandise). He had been cutting back on his orders and there was a minimum of stock on hand. The final item was; if we would collect his customers outstanding accounts, he would give us the store's two year old Chevrolet truck, which was in good condition. We were happy to agree. It was a good deal for us. It turned out to be a good one for him too, because we collected every dollar of the debit!
Thank's to Stella's thrift, we had paid off the mortgage on our home and it was free of debt. We checked with the bank and found we could borrow enough money to buy the business. The store was in the bank building, and it would be our landlord. The Frigidaire Corporation agreed to award us the franchise, and with Stella's urging, we made the deal with Mr. Benovitz. The only stipulation Frigidaire had made was that we continue to use the same name on the store for a period of three years. We used it for five years until Stella finally got tired of customers calling her Mrs. Benovitz!
I couldn't have made the store the success it was, without Stella's help. As well as I knew and respected her talents, I was surprised to find how many more she still had in reserve.
She always surprised me by doing things I would never expect. When we first went into business, we sold only appliances-the furniture came later. A thing that became one of our biggest money-makers was the sale of used refrigerators. Stores used to give a trade-in allowance for an old refrigerator. This isn't done any more. In fact most dealers have a delivery charge and another charge if you want the old refrigerator removed. but back in those years, I would move it to Aunt Mary's house or grandma's or where ever. Times have certainly changed!
I would replace whatever parts needed to put the old refrigerator in good working condition and then Stella would clean and if necessary repaint it. She would Use a brush and do such a superb job that most men would swear it was sprayed. The finish would be smooth and even.
Advertising is very expensive and it's difficult to know how effective it really is because very few customers would refer to one of our advertisements while making a purchase. We used both newspapers and television, but only on large ads that the manufacturers would co-op, or share the cost of the ad. We did know we ran a very successful ad in the newspaper on the classified section. It was for the sale of used refrigerators; justa four line ad which which ran every day, and we had more calls for used refrigerators than we could supply.
The Menzie Dairy Company, purchased more than 50 from us, and we delivered them to elementary schools all over our area where the dairy supplied the schools with milk for the students. We had few problems and as far as we knew, they gave good service for years.
Stella always had a friendly way with people and made friends easily. In our store, she always made coffee and it was available to everyone, customers, salesmen, truck drivers, the police everyone. After the microwave oven came on the market, she had hot dogs for whoever wanted one. She had Mrs. Paul's frozen fish fillets also. They made a tasty demonstration for the oven. Almost everyone has a microwave oven today, but in their beginning, people had to be convinced they needed one. Of course that is true of almost every new item that comes on the market.
Stella had a way with salesmen, too, and got the best deals and the lowest prices. I think it was because she was so friendly and nice. She always had a way with me too! I look back, it seems the next half dozen years passed very swiftly and with nothing outstanding to report. There were always new appliances coming onto the market which we would display and sell. We weren't getting rich, but we were earning a good living. Stella was able to pay off our seven year business bank mortgage in three years! We also had bought a new car and a truck.
When Stella and I made a division of labor in the store, I don't think we ever said, "you do this and I'll do that." I knew she had a lot of experience with our finances and I had none, so I left the paying of bills and the ordering of goods entirely in her hands. Of course all sales had to be recorded daily and all payments posted in the ledger, I started doing it at the beginning, because it was important that it be done. I knew from working for Mr. Benovitz, that there is nothing more embarrassing than to have a customer come in to make a payment on his account, and the account had never been posted in the ledger! Very sloppy bookkeeping!
There was usually not enough time for me to do it in the tore, so I would take the books home with me and do the bookkeeping in the morning before going to the store. I also kept the records of the state sales tax, and made the monthly payment. One of my big moments was when an agent from the I.R.S. complimented me on my book-keeping! I almost thought I could like him– ALMOST! After we had been in business for seven years, we were being forced to make a decision which would effect the future of our business, in fact the future of our very lives!
Duquesne was an old mill town, which grew up with the mill and depended on the mill for it's very existence. The buildings were old and the streets were narrow with no parking lots at all. There had been talk for years about a possible redevelopments and now it had begun, and bulldozers were knocking down buildings.
There were about 30 business' effected because their buildings would be goner including the bank building, and our store.To replace all of these buildings, they were going to construct a small shopping center with 12 stores. It would be called The Oliver Plaza. Ten of the stores were about the average size 35 ft. wide and 120 ft. deep, about twice the area of our present store, but the rent would be Five times as much! In addition there would be a $48.00 surcharge every month to pay for the lighting cleaning, and snow removal, in the large parking lot. The other two stores had been pre-leased by the' Peoples Drug Store and a grocery chain, and were much larger.
Would it be feasible? Would our sales increase enough to more than cover the increase in our costs of staying in business? Of course it was a classic case where we really had no choice. It would be scary, but there were only 10 stores, and there was no other available place where we could move.
We signed a lease, but the completion of this project took almost two years. As the stores emptied and were demolished, and their old customers had to find new places to shop, and it changed the shopping habits of some of them permanently. We also lost 75 families who had lived in apartments on upper floors above the stores. They scattered all over; many left our city, to find places in which to live.
Since we had leased early, we had a choice of the store rooms. The food super market was at the northern end of the complex, and next to it were two empty stores, and the next store was the Pennsylvania State Liquor Store. Stella and I reasoned these two stores would attract a lot of shoppers, so we chose the store next to the liquor store. As time disclosed, it was a wise choice. The new storeroom had over twice the floor area of the old one, and when we moved in all the appliances and other merchandise from the old sales floor, the store had an empty look!
We had been giving some thoughts about getting in other merchandise to sell, and the obvious choice was furniture. One furniture store had closed because of the re-development. There was one other well established store, but it was outside of our area. When the news got onto the furniture grapevine that we were going to sell furniture, we had a stream of salesmen coming to the store. This is where I took a back seat and Stella took over. Salesmen, of course, are there to push their product, but Stella really had no guidance as to what merchandise would sell, except her common sense. Of course she made some mistakes in ordering. I told her not to worry about it, because it was bound to happen. I reminded her that automobile manufacturers had some times spent millions on car models that didn't It sell! So if some furniture sat on our sales floor too long, Stella would sell it at our cost price and get rid of it. Someone is always looking for a bargain!
After a year of selling furniture and getting some experience, Stella made several trips to the markets in the Carolinas, as well as to Chicago and New York City to buy furniture and lamps. Lois accompanied her on several of these trips. Stella was a good furniture salesperson. She could ask good questions and helped –really helped in the choice of styles and colors. Again, her friendly manner, and what I have always called, her niceness, if there is such a word- charmed many people.
We also sold carpeting, and one of my jobs was to measure the rooms and give an estimate on the price and the yards of carpet to be ordered. We paid professionals to lay the carpets. I didn't attempt to do that job!
After six months, the store room between our's and the food store was still vacant. We asked the management if they would rent it to us at a minimal amount for a furniture warehouse, with the stipulation that we would empty it if they would lease it to someone. A year passed and we were selling more furniture than we had ever planned for, and of course we were ordering more also. The extra store room had never been leased, so we went to the management and we were able to lease it for 50% percent less than our first one. There was just a fire wall separating the store rooms, so we opened the wall in several places, and made one large room, and turned it into an addition to our sales floor and display area. We also had another large window to display merchandise.
In 1968, Dennis entered Findlay College, and Stella and I had our house all to ourselves for the first time, after 32 years! After college, Dennis worked at several different jobs before coming into our store to learn the furniture and appliance business, He had worked in the store at different times, during school vacations and was a good salesman. He had a very nice personality. When Dennis had worked about two years in the store, he was able to take complete charge if we were not there and it was about this time that appliance companies started to use a new sales gimmick. A dealer could win vacation trips if their sales would surpass a quota set by the factory. Stella and I were very fortunate and won six European trips to different countries over the next several years. It was a fabulous time for us, who had never had the opportunity, time, or money, to go anywhere.
Not counting the war years when nobody got a vacation, I had worked from 1947 until the 1970's; about twenty three years I and always six days each week without a vacation. That means of course that Stella didn't get to enjoy one, either. So we enjoyed all of our free vacations with a clear conscience.

I must also report that a dream I had since childhood, was fulfilled, when I learned to pilot an airplane. I would have probably learned to fly in the late 1920's or early 1930's, when I was single, but there were no facilities or money for such an indulgence.
The closest airport to Steubenville in the 1920's was Bettis Field in Pittsburgh, and it was just a grass field on a hilltop, surrounded by trees, It did have some hangars and repair facilities. The Allegheny County Airport that replaced Bettis, was a mile up the road, and in the 1930's was the finest, with a mile long concrete runway and two others, which were e a bit shorter. It also had a tower and a restaurant.
Some of the airplanes that visited Steubenville were sea-planes, or flying boats, and would fly from the Ohio River at the foot of Market Street.
Most of the conventional planes with landing gear would use the Butte field at the foot of what is now Wilshire Boulevard. It was simply a grass field, and not a very large one The old bi-planes of that time with two wings, one over, and one under, needed a much shorter take off distance than our modern planes.
I flew many times from Butte's field. My favorite was the Waco in which I went up in six times during one summer. It was almost new, and had a Kinner 125 horsepower, radial engine.
All of these airplanes were open cockpit types and you had to wear a helmet and goggles to cover-your hair and eyes. Incidentally, Stella and I flew in what was her first flight, in an Ireland amphibian airplane from the Ohio River, in 1930, when she was seventeen.
When she told her father about it, he said, "If I had known about it, I wouldn't have allowed you to go!"
After Ginger married Charlie Brinton, he took me up several times in his 1947 ER Aircoupe. It was a low wing type, with an 85 horsepower engine. On a flight to Hershey, he turned over the controls to me and I surprised him when I was able to fly level and hold a compass heading. I had flown enough, and read so much about flying, that I had always felt that given the opportunity; I could do it! Of course I knew there was a lot to learn before you can become a pilot.
One day, after wehad been in business a few years, Stella made a surprising suggestion, and it shows the kind of girl I married, when she said, "Why don't you take flying lessons?" I was 58 at that time, and I'm sure if a husband would have expressed such a desire, most wives would have answered, "NO WAY"! Stella said, "You will never be any younger, and if you want to do it; you had better start now!"
Neither of us could have guessed how long it would take. I went to the Pittsburgh-Monroeville Airport, which is a narrow macadam strip on a hilltop, where a small school used Piper J3 Cubs for instruction. It was the only remaining school in our area where the famous old Cub was still being used, and they had four of them. Working the long hours as I did; not stopping until my sevice calls were completed, made it impossible to schedule my lessons. On a day when I could be finished by six o'clock, and if the weather was fair, I would go over while hoping that an airplane and instructor would be available. Many times it was a wasted trip.
It was summer and the sun would set about 8PM. The Piper Cub was not equipped with red navigation lights on it's wing tips or tail; nor for the few instruments on it's panel. The law prohibits such airplanes to fly after sunset, and the school strictly obeyed this rule. This rule also cut my time to fly to a minimum. I was only able to total ten hours of flight in a two month period. There was no real continuity in my lessons, because of the time between them, and I shared three different instructors.
I waited until the next summer before resuming lessons and decided to forget about Monroeville, and go to the Allegheny County Airport, which was only Four miles from our store. It had been Pittsburgh's principal airport until the late 1950's, when the Greater Pittsburgh Airport was completed and all of the airlines moved away. The County Airport remained very active and was the home of several hundred private airplanes and many larger company owned airplanes; some of these were jet powered and some were turbine propeller powered. It had a tower and a ILS or instrument landing system, and all airplanes using the-Facilities must have a radio. All airplanes arriving or departing the airport were subject to orders from the–flight controller in the tower.
After landing, the pilot would immediately switch his radio to the ground control frequency which monitored his movements on the ground.There were several flight schools at the airport and I selected one that flew Piper Colts. It was probably a poor choice, but I didn't know it at the time. As a trainer, the Colt was not highly rated. It seemed all right to me, but it did have a high sink rate when the throttle was closed; much greater than the Cub.
My experience that summer was much like my previous one, perhaps in part because our store was busy and I had less time for flying. I should note that I seldom ever flew on Sundays because I devoted that day to the family. The mornings were usually spent in Sunday school and church and in the afternoon we all tried to get away and do some thing together, although Dennis was the only one still at home. I think everyone else was more anxious for me to solo than I was. When I could have a lesson, I enjoyed it immensely, and was happy with what ever time I could fly. But again, I accumulated ten more hours of flight, and as the weather got colder, I again decided to wait until next Spring. I should tell you that most students can fly solo after eight to ten hours of instruction. This relates to serious students, who fly daily, or at least several times a week, usually with the same instructor, so there can be a continuity in the lessons. I feel sure I could have done it if I had been able to follow a systematic regimen.
The third summer, I went to a school at the County Airport that flew Cessna 150's. This airplane has become the most popular of all. More pilots have learned to fly in Cessna 150's than in any other trainer. (the newer model is called a 152.)
It is a high wing, all metal airplane, with a 100 horsepower, Continental engine. It cruises at 120 miles an hour, and has high lift electrically controlled flaps. It-is easy to control, both in the air and on the ground. The one I flew had a good radio? enough flight instruments, and for navigation, you-could fly a VOR omnirange. (navigation by radio).
If I were wealthy and could afford to buy any airplane I wished; for the way that I like to fly, I'd love to own a 152.
I was pleasantly surprised when I met an instructor at the school with whom I had flown with several times in Piper Cubs two years previously. His name was Art Hamilton, and we were close to the same age. Most flying students are young and so are the instructors. I tried to fly only with Art, and it worked out very well. We soon became good friends and I think Stella got tired of hearing that Art said this, and what Art said about that. I remember when I tried to explain to Art after I had done something dumb, or flew a sloppy maneuver and he would show his disapproval by playing an imaginary violin, while saying, "You sing the words, and I'll play the music!"
One day when we were flying about forty miles east of our airport, and over Latrobe; I said, "When are you going to let me fly solo?" He said, "0h, you want to solo? How about right now? Land it at the Latrobe Airport."
The Latrobe. Airport was just a paved strip (it has since been enlarged) It was known locally as the Arnold Palmer Airport, His home was near-by and he hangered his airplane there.
After I landed, Art got out and said, "Make three take offs and landings, to a full stop, each time."
I did so without any problems, and Art said, "Lets have a coke," and we got one out of the machine, and then Art signed my flight log book, and we flew home. No big deal.
When I got home and told the family, Ginger was there, and she knew the custom to celebrate the solo, and she grabbed a pair of shears, pulled my shirt out of my pants and hacked the tail off of it. It symbolizes losing your tail feathers. She used a laundry marking pen to print the date and the place where the solo was flown. I still have it here in a dresser drawer. The next time I flew, Art made a couple of circuits around the airport with me and then told me to land. When he got out of the airplane, he said, "Go ahead, take off. You are on your own!"
When I took off, the airplane, freed of Art's considerable weight, seemed to leap into the air. This second solo flight seemed more meaningful than the first one. I was able to relax and savor being all alone in the airplane. I also realized I had only myself to blame if I didn't get safely back onto the ground.
About six months later, Art bought a new, pretty, blue and white Cessna 150 airplane, No. 8779G, or phonetically, 79 GOLF. Art was a licensed commercial pilot, and licensed to instruct flight, and those who wanted learn to fly on instruments. He had over thirty years of experience and could fly almost any make or type of airplane, and did so. He was away on trips as much of the time as he was at home. He flew free lance and his services always seemed to be in demand.
He paid me a very high compliment when he gave me a key to his new Cessna and told me I could take it whenever it was parked at the airport. He knew I would only be flying in the area and would never be gone very long. I would leave a note in the ash tray after every flight, and pay him for the time when eventually we would meet. We never had any problems, and I did this for six years, until he decided to sell the airplane. It was a wonderful arrangement for me; better than owning my own airplane. I think I visited every airport within thirty minutes flying time from the County Airport, and there are a lot of them. I made many flights to Steubenville, and I enjoyed circling around the city, and I would sometimes land at the Wintersville Airport which was just West of the city.
I was now 68 years of age and near retirement. I found renting airplanes was expensive and a nusense. I did get to fly the new Piper trainer, called the Cherokee 140, several times. It was a low wing type with a 150 horsepower engine. It was easy to fly and land, but I like the high wing of the Cessna. The low wing blocks too much of the view when looking down from the cabin.
After we started going to Florida, I decided I would forget about flying, but of course I could never do that entirely, because next to you know what–it's the greatest!!
Millions of people fly today and flying in an airliner is a wonderful way to travel, but it is not really flying! It is more like riding in a bus. You are up too high and most of the time much of the flight is above clouds. When landing, you only know it is happening when you feel the shock of the wheels hitting the runway. Flying in a small airplane at low altitudes, you can see straight ahead and to all sides to the horizon. Especially when flying alone–you feel like a king in a world of your own. The countryside looks beautiful and you can see he cars crawling along,the crowded roads while you sail along unimpeded. Most of the time you never see another airplane when you fly, except perhaps the vapor trail of one that is miles above you.
It's great fun to watch the shadow of your airplane zip down city streets and race along congested highways. Landing an airplane never becomes routine. You must steer your airplane to the landing strip and land into the wind or nearly so, on the designated runway. When landing at a small strip; you look at the windsock to decide in which direction to land. If the wind is blowing across the runway–a crosswind landing will always keep you on your toes!
When flying back to a busy airport like Allegheny County, you could find that you were number five or six to land and the tower would tell you (that perhaps) your traffic was a red and white Cherokee over the high school, and you must identify it and follow it around the pattern, so that when it landed, you would be so positioned that when the tower gave you clearance, you should go in, and land, and taxi off the runway as quickly as possible, so the airplane following you could do likewise.
Several times I had the experience of being cleared to land and then have the tower tell me to abort the landing and pull up and overfly the airport because the plane which landed just before me had stopped in the center of the runway and just sat there instead of clearing it. That meant I must again become "Tail-end Charlie," in the landing pattern, and try again.
Many times when I flew, I had worries bothering me when I took off, but after flying around for an hour, I had forgotten them and for a while it seemed like I was walking around inches above the ground.
If you have never flown in a small airplane, (and they are-fast becoming very few, take a flight in one while you still can. It is becoming very expensive to-learn to fly today and there are more and more restrictions as to where and how you can fly. Cessna and Piper have both discontinued manufacturing trainers, there are so few flying students today.
To a young person desiring to learn to fly at the present time, I recommend going into the military service. They have the best airplanes and equipment and you will learn to fly well, and get paid while you are doing it!

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