I found a few jobs I left out of the “Early Jobs” post, and they’re worth sharing, so here’s an addendum. As always, I feel obligated to point my new readers to the first post in this series: Jerry’s Story: First interactions.
It was during Jerry’s undergraduate years at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln that Jerry got a summer apprentice job at 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota. The year was 1952 or 1953. His job was to find a way to recycle the abrasive material that comes off of sandpaper when it’s being used. The challenge was to capture it and then separate it from the adhesive that had adhered it to the paper. He put both his physics and his chemistry coursework to use on the project. He was working for Arthur Fry–Jerry called him Art. Jerry doesn’t know whether any of his sandpaper ideas were developed any further, because he left the job before the summer was over. He missed his girlfriend, Pattie, so he want back to Omaha and married her.
Jerry lost touch with Art, but he did notice when Art achieved his greatest success a few decades later. Frustrated by the bookmarks in his hymnal that frequently fell out, Art put a new adhesive that had been developed by a co-worker on the back of a small piece of paper, and the Post-It Note was born.
Jerry and Pattie were in Lincoln for the start of his next school term. They rented an apartment in a former mortuary, with the kitchen set up where the embalming room had been. Jerry remembers that kitchen fondly because it was very spacious and yet had no unfortunate reminders of the room’s former purpose.
By the next summer, they both found jobs in Milwaukee. Jerry’s older sister, Charlotte, worked at a department store in Milwaukee as a buyer. Her boyfriend invested in a new business, the Eddie Mathews Bataway. But the business needed a lot of help, and Charlotte recommended Jerry. Pattie got a job in a hat factory in Milwaukee, so they moved there for the summer.
The Milwaukee Braves had recently moved from Boston, which threw Milwaukee into a frenzy of excitement over getting a Major League Baseball team. The Eddie Mathews Bataway wanted to harness some of that excitement. Eddie Mathews played for the Braves, and would later be called one of the best third baseman of all time when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Mathews was a partner in the Bataway business.
The Bataway was in trouble. They had bought pitching machines from the lower of two bidders, but still investing a significant amount of capital. The machines arrived unassembled and with no assembly instructions. They didn’t know how put them together, and the supplier of the pitching machines had disappeared. Every week they delayed was costing thousands of dollars, and once baseball season was over, they would be closed for the winter.
Charlotte told her boyfriend that Jerry was a “mechanical genius.” While he was growing up, Jerry had tinkered with his father on a wide variety of things including home repairs, fixing electrical devices, and doing body work on cars. This gave him the reputation and the skills to help the batting cage business. Jerry was hired, with the promise that if he could get the pitching machines working, he would get the cushy job of managing the Bataway. They rented a garage, hired two gofers to help, and Jerry got started.
Less than a week later, two of the pitching machines were working. The Bataway was open for business as Jerry worked on the rest of the machines. He had to make several adjustments, including filing and taping the “pitching hand,” which was two long parallel “fingers” on an arm creating a track for the ball to roll up as the arm came up and flung the ball forward.
Eddie Mathews made a few appearances at the Bataway, which was a thrill for Jerry, who had tracked baseball statistics from a young age and enjoyed playing baseball himself. Jerry was able to hone his skills in the batting cages when business was slow, but he never found an opportunity to play on a baseball team again as his career progressed. But an even bigger thrill was the money he was earning, more than he had been paid for any job before.
The most memorable part of the job for Jerry, though, stemmed from the fact that the Eddie Mathews Bataway was built on top of a landfill that spanned at least five acres. The landfill supported a population of flies of legendary magnitude. Jerry said,
Swatting flies was about the most interesting thing about the job, unless one of the machines broke and had to be fixed. I soon set myself a goal of killing 100 flies a day, but that turned out to be too easy, so I raised my goal to 200. That also was too easy, and by the end of the summer, I was up to 500 a day.
A parade of inventors came by to pitch their fly control solutions. One that they tried consisted of an inch of yellow liquid in the bottom of a gallon-sized jug. This actually worked so well that the jug would be full of flies in about four hours. No matter how many jugs they put out, they would all be full in short order, and the flies kept coming. Jerry abandoned all hope of slowing the fly onslaught and swatting flies just became a way to pass the time. He constructed a giant fly swatter that could kill a square foot of flies in one blow, all the while recalling the fairy tale “The Brave Little Tailor” who killed seven at one blow.
At the end of the summer, Jerry and his wife moved back to Lincoln for the next term at the University of Nebraska. But Jerry’s most lucrative job to date left them with no more savings to pay for school expenses. Most of their money was spent at restaurants because the apartment they rented in Milwaukee has an ancient stove with an oven that had two inches of grease in the bottom. They never used it. Jerry was angry with himself and he resolved to start being more diligent about saving money. Their last $100 was spent on a speeding ticket they got in the middle of the night in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin on the way back to Lincoln.
Now, more that 60 years later, Jerry hasn’t gotten another speeding ticket since then. He feels a connection to Mount Horeb that perhaps helps him to remember to watch his speed. Jerry likes the fact that his middle name, Marvin, is the name that people occasionally choose when they Anglicize the Hebrew name Moshe or Moishe. The more common Anglicized name is Moses. The Moses many of us know received the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb. And Mount Horeb, Wisconsin was named after the biblical mount. Through this tenuous connection, Jerry has managed to both improve his driving record and save a lot of money.
Coming up in the next installment, we’ll explore more about Jerry’s schooling, starting back before he enrolled in elementary school.