Risk, reward, and an old adding machine

When I was a kid in the late 70s I worked in Grandpa’s paint store. Grandpa started his career at Cominco in Trail, where he got hired because somehow the company was under the misapprehension (likely through a well pitched, albeit fraudulent resumé) that Grandpa, a war vet from the prairies, was a hockey player good enough to vie for the local hockey team, the legendary Trail Smoke Eaters. He never made the team, but he was retained on “The Hill” as a  full time painter in the huge lead/zinc smelting plant. The money was decent, and Grandpa was a skilled worker, but he didn’t get along with his boss, and he complained constantly to his wife, Joyce, about the job. Grandma Joyce finally got fed up with the bitterness and told him that if he hated things so much he should just quit.

I’m impressed at the nerve Grandma had. Both she and Grandpa had just survived the depression and World War II, and they had a young boy – Roger, my dad. For people, especially prairie people, who had survived the depression, a job must have been precious. It must have been terrifying for Grandma to encourage Grandpa to reject a good paying, secure job. But she did, and Grandpa quit. It was a good decision. Trail, and other southern BC Interior towns were growing at the time. Houses and businesses were being built, and things needed to be painted. Grandpa ended up being quite entrepreneurial, and he did quite well for himself, eventually becoming the largest paint contractor in Western Canada.

As a side interest, Grandpa ran a little paint store. He won lucrative contracts as the towns main supplier of paint to the many corporations and individuals. The profits rolled in. By the time I worked in the store, things had changed. Grandpa had had a major heart attack, and he had not recovered well from the bypass surgery. Even then it was rare for Grandpa’s particular surgery to fail, but he was left weak and frail, and could not carry on with the contracting business. He sold most of his equipment and focussed on running the store and spending as much time as he could at his cabin at Christina Lake. I worked in the store.

I have fond memories of the Store. Grandpa believed in service, and he formed good relationships with his customers as well as the sales reps from CIL, his main supplier. He was frugal, not wasting money on things that didn’t matter. He always eschewed the electric cash register, being satisfied with ink-and-paper record keeping and a hand-cranked adding machine – a very impressive piece of mechanical technology itself, but I digress. People and companies had accounts at the store, and once a month, we would stuff envelopes and mail out bills to customers. Some people mailed back cheques to pay their tabs, but most people just popped in and dropped off their payment.

I miss those days. We got to know the customers. We knew about people’s successes and about those who had fallen on hard times. Although Grandpa would be frustrated at times when people defaulted on payments. he didn’t harass people who defaulted, but preferred to trust their good will, and just send reminders when payments were more than a week or so late. There were some losses, of course, but it seems to me now that there weren’t many, and certainly, Grandpa’s was a kinder gentler way of doing business. I wonder what ever happened to that old adding machine, a relic even when I used it all those years ago.


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