By this time I had gained enough experience, and learned enough about automobiles, that I was becoming aware of their deficiencies and shortcomings. But, I was confident that they would continue to improve in the future as much as they had in the past. What I didn’t know was that, right then, in the 1950’s, I was seeing some of the best quality and easiest to repair automobiles that the industry would ever produce. As an example of easy repairing, I once, single-handedly, replaced the clutch in a Ford car in just two and one-half hours. During those years there was a true competitive effort to sell more cars by building better cars but that soon gave way to advertising. Television was an important factor in this development. The manufacturers soon learned that they could sell more cars by cutting on quality and putting the money into television advertising. The next step was to design so that repairing would be more difficult and costly. The intent here was to discourage repairing of old vehicles so that more new ones would be bought. This has progressed into the pursuit of a disposable automobile, one that can be assembled quickly, run almost a reasonable distance and be so impractical to repair that it will be discarded and replaced with a new one. This policy is pushing the cost of owning and operating an automobile ever higher but it will succeed as long as the public is willing to pay the sacrifice in order to drive a new car.
We still had no doctor or medical facilities in our town in 1957 when our son was born on the third of February. The cost hadn’t changed in two years either, it was still $200.
It was about this time that I made the decision to change occupations. My good friend, Harlo Patton, had been working for International Business Machines for several years and had encouraged me to apply to them. But, I had declined because their basic school was located at their plant in Endicott, New York. It was not just a case of the country boy being afraid to enter the big, wide world. It was a long way to travel and temporary housing in Endicott was scarce and expensive. Now however, IBM had opened a school in San Jose, California. So, I applied at their branch office in Helena and went to work there the first day of April in 1957. After a short indoctrination period, I was enrolled in a class at San Jose and, with a loaded two-wheel trailer hitched behind the car, we were on our way to California.
A few months later, I was back in Helena maintaining and repairing data processing machines. The punched card was the data storage medium at that time and most of the machines were for the purposes of punching, sorting and collating these cards. The cards measured three and one-fourth inches by seven and one-fourth inches and provided room for eighty units of numeric or alphabetic data. Just a name and address would pretty well fill one card and then each business transaction thereafter would probably take another card. That meant that thousands of these cards had to be stored and saved as long as there was any chance that the data they held might be needed.
The machines used in this system of data storage and processing would be classed as electro-mechanical. They were mechanical devices driven by an electric motor and their functions were controlled by electric relays, solenoids and other magnetic devices. In 1957 there was still one machine in Helena that was strictly mechanical. It was a model 01  verifier for double checking cards for errors after they had been punched on a keypunch machine. All printed documents had to be translated to punched card by an operator at the keyboard of a keypunch. Then, the process was repeated, on the same cards, by another operator at the keyboard of a  verifier. This machine compared what the operator keyed to what had been punched into the card as a means of detecting errors. Then, the cards were passed through sorting and collating machines until they were in proper order for the accounting machine. These accounting machines were nearly as big as one of today’s compact automobiles and considerably heavier. Inside, they were packed full of electrical wiring and  electro-mechanical devices, some of which were examples of engineering that made automobile engineering look crude and clumsy. These could read the punched cards, add, subtract, accumulate totals print accounts and cause an attached machine to punch summary cards. These were fascinating machines and the very best at the time. But, a whole roomful of them would fall far short of matching one of today’s desk-top computers.
This was the most interesting work I had ever done and I was pleased when, in 1958, I was assigned my own territory. Near the end of that same year I was offered a resident territory in Cody, Wyoming. This was, at the same time, a vote of confidence and a challenge. I eagerly accepted and the beginning of 1959 found us in Cody. I was meeting this new challenge with great anticipation, never suspecting that it was going to shatter my enthusiasm for my new occupation.
What this territory lacked in machines it made up for in distance and variety. It took in the entire Big Horn Basin, including Thermopolis and  Worland, both about 90 miles away. And anything that had IBM on it was my responsibility. This included typewriters and clock systems. There were only two or three clock systems and they weren’t complex. However, there were quite a few typewriters with precision that required sensitive adjustments. So, within a few days after moving to Cody, I was leaving my family behind and going to Lexington, Kentucky for four weeks of school. This was the first of a number of times that school would separate us. This trip to Lexington was my first experience with commercial air travel. Frontier Airlines served Cody with DC-3 aircraft and the larger airlines were flying mostly Lockheed Electra’s. The DC-3 used piston engines while the Electra was powered by turbo-prop engines. Both were noisy and the DC-3’s were small and easily tossed around by weather. Aside from the loud drone, the Electra was smooth and comfortable and cruised at about 450 m.p.h. it was capable of 600 or more but had a tendency to tear itself apart at the higher speeds.
Back in Cody, I was soon busy getting my scattered territory organized and the maintenance up to date. For a time things progressed quite smoothly, but then problems began to develop at IBM’s largest customer in the territory, Husky Oil Co. Before I left Helena, the branch manager had cautioned me about the possibility of this customer becoming demanding and advised me to resist the impulse to appease them. Unfortunately, by the time this became a problem, this manager had moved on and a new man was in his place. But, the seeds for this problem were planted during the period of selling and integrating of the IBM equipment, when certain Husky Oil people were wined and dined and promised anything they asked. I eventually learned that our salesman had let them believe that I was coming to Cody as their in-house technician and, therefore, would be serving our other customers at the whim of Husky Oil. My resistance to this scheme aroused indignation in the manager of Husky’s data processing department and a resentment toward me. Typically, when our salesman came to Cody, he treated the data processing manager to dinner and a night or two of partying. The manager began to use these occasions to tell the salesman various tales about me being lazy, inefficient and uncooperative. The salesman then dutifully carried all of these tales back to my manager in Helena. I was diligently trying to handle the territory in what I thought was the most practical and generally beneficial manner, never suspecting the sabotage that was being done behind my back. I really don’t know how far this would have gone had it not been for Don Baker. Don was our typewriter salesman from Billings and his territory included mine

Excerpted from ‘Wool Trompers’  by  J.L.Fuller


About authorjim

I grew up in the country near a small Montana town, I have spent a lot of time in the outdoors, working, fishing, hunting and camping but have always been interested in mechanical and electrical things. Most of my life has been spent in the use, care and repair of things mechanical, electrical an electronic. After being retired for several years, I began writing and published my first novel at the age of 79. Now, at the age of 82, I have recently published my fourth noveland it is available from me or from the pulisher or book distributor.
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