Don was our typewriter salesman from Billings and his territory included mine. He had gotten wind of what was going on and, knowing that my work was very satisfactory and appreciated in the rest of the territory, sent a memo to Helena praising my work and expressing his confidence in me. Neither of us work for IBM any more but I will not likely forget what he did for me and I think of him as one of my best friends. Anyway, Don’s memo apparently promoted management in Helena to seek evidence beyond the tales carried by the data processing salesman. The winds turned to a more favorable direction for me. I was not aware of how serious the situation had become until our division manager from Seattle visited my territory and told me that he owed me an apology. By that, I knew that it had been serious enough to come to his attention and that his judgement of me had not been favorable.
Well, the air and my reputation were finally cleared but a bitter flavor remained. It was at this point that I began looking for a business that I could finance and operate myself.
In 1961 I was transferred to Billings and a more diplomatic fellow by the name of Conrad Berg took my place in Cody. We found a comfortable home in a suburb on the northeast edge of Billings called Billings Heights and settled in there. Our daughter, Bonita (Bonnie) started the first grade that fall, at the Billings Heights School, and Ron started there two years later.
Working out of the Billings IBM office at that time were two data processing technicians, two typewriter repairmen, two data processing salesmen and one typewriter salesman. There weren’t any office personnel. We all took care of our own office chores and an answering service took our phone messages. The office itself was in a single story two-room building. IBM occupied half of the building. Those of us who maintained and repaired equipment were called Customer Engineers and the two of us in data processing had a territory that extended west to Harlowton, east to Sidney and south to Buffalo, Wyoming. Shortly after I went to Billings, Les Dyrud took an assignment in Germany and was replaced by Dave Bowman. Dave had only recently completed basic school and had very little time to gain practical experience when I left for a school in Rochester, Minnesota. The entire territory fell on his shoulders. This was to happen to one or the other of us several times over the next three years as new products required new training. The company’s policy of austerity kept manpower at bare minimum levels.
The first computers were coming out now and data processing methods were rapidly changing. The ability to print and read magnetic characters was being applied to bank checks and other documents, greatly reducing the need for punched cards. The computers were so large, physically, that one of them, with associated input and output equipment, would fill an entire room and required a large air conditioning unit to absorb the heat. The cost of renting or buying one of these systems was quite high, so most of those who did, made maximum use of them. This usually meant running the equipment two or three shifts. Since IBM in Montana didn’t employ enough Customer Engineers for more than one shift, we simply had to be on call night and day. Getting called out during the night became very common and, when one of us was away to school, the other one didn’t get a lot of sleep.
At one point, there were some problems in our Customer Engineering Department and I was put in charge of both data processing and typewriter Customer Engineers. This was not a career advancement but it certainly indicated a higher level of confidence than when I was in Cody.
From time to tine, we still had to deal with reckless promises made by our salesmen but this was an entirely different circumstance so it was never more than an irritation. Things were actually going quite smoothly but Dave and I were under an awful lot of pressure. I decided that, if I was going to be devoting my whole time to a business, it should be my own business. So, I again began looking for a business that I could make my own. We found what we were looking for during the summer of 1964. At the end of that year we moved to the little town of Whitehall.
The move soon proved to be good for all of us. A vilifying teacher at the Billings Heights school had nearly destroyed Ron’s confidence and enthusiasm. But, both he and Bonnie blossomed and thrived in the atmosphere of the small town school.
The business we had bought was a small motel combined with a small gasoline service station. It was very similar to the place in White Sulphur Springs where I had worked for Ray Compton 15 years earlier. At the time we took over, some groceries were also being sold there. In other words, it was what is now called a convenience store. Early in that first year, I went into automobile repair. At the end of the year we discontinued the groceries. The auto repairing and motel provided us with a good income, although, sometimes the days were long. In the summer, it was often like working a double shift.
I returned to Billings several times to take care of unfinished business there and, on one of those trips, I will have to say I was justly rewarded for any shabby treatment I received while working for IBM. Conrad Berg had transferred to Billings from Cody and I accompanied him one afternoon as he called on customers around town. I was warmly greeted by all that I had previously known. Where we encountered new faces, Con kept introducing me as “the legendary Jim Fuller”. It was actually getting to be a little embarrassing.