Charles Zelew, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Interviewed March 1998. Courtesy of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Transcription by Carmen Venable.
Zelew: The re– How I got– The reason I got involved is because one of the things– first I will tell you that I was born in Pinsk, Russia.
Zelew: Yes. In 1905.
Interviewer: That’s wonderful.
Zelew: So you know how old I am. [Laughs.]
Zelew: And we– my father was in business– in transportation business.
Interviewer: In Pinsk?
Zelew: In Pinsk, yes. And uh, we had– he had six children. My oldest brother, whose name was Edward, my second oldest was Morris, and along came two sisters. And my brother, three years older than myself.
Interviewer: You were the youngest?
Zelew: I am the youngest.
Interviewer: I see.
Zelew: So, and we ran a transportation business in the canals, hauling logs and–
Interviewer: Oh, it’s on water.
It was a barge business?
Z: Didn’t have barge. We hauled the timbers from the marshes, Pinsk marshes.
Interviewer: I see, I see.
Z: And we hauled them to the lumber yards, but they were in a [bunch? 01:26], in other words they were all tied in a group, and they– and we hauled them by horses. We also ran a carriage business, from the station and so forth. And, then along came a 19– uh,m six– my father came to New York, immigrated–
Interviewer: The family stayed in Pinsk?
Z: Yeah. He was there about nine months, he saw how the immigrants were struggling.
Interviewer: He came to America, to New York.
Interviewer: I see.
Z: So he left New York for London, Ontario. Now, in London, Ontario I had an uncle. My mother’s sister was married to Jacob Harris, who was in the scrap iron business. Now, but—
Z: Yes. And so he stayed about three week and left back for Pinsk, Russia. He stayed there and then unfortunately, in 1910, he jumped off the wagon and got a hernia. But he neglected it, and he died, and he got paranitus [sic? peritonitis?] and he died in 1910.
Interviewer: You were five years old.
Z: Yes. Then, my oldest brother, who ran– also helped, and he, uh, ran the business, for– for about two years. So in 1912, he was supposed to go into the army. So he had to get out of the country, and also my second brother, who was a couple years younger than him, left and got smuggled out– out of the country into Germany. From Germany, they took a boat and came to Canada. And that’s how we got–
Interviewer: They went back to London, to–
Z: To London, Ontario. When he got into London, Ontario, so my older brother worked a while for my uncle, Jay Harris and Sons. Then, he left them and came to Detroit. And he got a– several jobs, and then he left and got other work. And then in 1914, my oldest brother, who started to peddle, in those days he bought a horse and wagon, and went to the country. But, you– he didn’t pay for the scrap, he bartered with tinware, like a pail, a cup for water, [mumbles]. And uh, and uh, a washing uh– [Laughs.]
Z: Tub. Anyways, and that’s how he did for about two years. Then in 1914, uh– that’s when he did it. He did this up ’til 1916. In the meantime, we were living in Sarnia, Ontario. I was–
Interviewer: You had come—
Z: I– No, we were living in London, Ontario, pardon me.
Z: And, I went to the uncle’s scrapyard, in the office, and they gave me a job to pick up the waste paper basket and get 25 cents a week! [Laughs.]
Interviewer: Well, you were a young guy then too.
Z: Yeah.So, then when the war started in 1914, I was already peddling papers. But, I used to go to the barracks where the soldiers were, and sold my papers and afterwards, I would go to the– where the sharpshooters were sh– practicing shooting, and after they left, I would go with my hands and pick up six, eight, to ten pounds every– the summertime– lead. And I’d make myself another 25, 40 cents a week. See.
Interviewer: [Laughs.] That’s a wonderful story.
Z: So– So– And– But, in 1916, my brother bought out a scrapyard in Sarnia, Ontario. So we moved in the spring and– in ’16, to Sarnia, Ontario, and we lived there. There, I peddled, uh, newspapers, sold newspapers, and finally one day I decided I– was too much carrying around, so I built myself a little wagon out of the scrap, with the wheels, and I had a– a dog, and I made a harness and he pulled it for me. [Laughs.]
Interviewer: The dog pulled the wagon, [unintelligble] the newspaper route.
Z: And I– Just in the summertime. I would go around picking up wastepaper. ‘Cause in those days, you– paper was–
Z: Also– And, also in those days, my brother bought bones, see.
And the bones were used for…?
Z: Bones were used– sold to the uh–
Interviewer: What, the renderers?
Z: At the bone factory, they made out– made some kind of stuff that they use, I– I don’t– don’t remember what it was.
Interviewer: This is uh, from– from slaughterhouses? Where did they get the bones?
Z: Oh, from the butchers.
Interviewer: From the butchers.
Z: Butchers, yeah. Farmers. Farmers would have it, see. My brother that was three years older than myself, he had a horse and wagon, and he left school early. He didn’t go to– through the sixth grade. And he would peddle, and it– that– and he’d stop– and– also try and get into small plants, and– ’cause you were struggling in those days. You didn’t have like we have today. And there was no cars to speak of. They– So, uh, I, uh– meantime, as I was telling you about, I was in the yard, and one of my sisters, I had two sisters, older than myself, and we would– people would bring the papers to our place, and we would buy– or scrap or whatever it is. And my older brother went around to the plants in the town. We also had competitions.
Z: See. Anyways, it was a friendly situation.
Interviewer: So all of your– all of your brothers and sisters were in the business with you?
Z: My second oldest brother was in the business for about a year. Then my brother bought him a horse and wagon, gave him $500. See, we brought, when we came to this country, two of our employees that worked for us for years, and paid their passage—
Interviewer: From Pinsk, you brought the–
Z: Yeah, and paid their passage, and they never paid us back. Cost us about, I don’t know, cost my mother probably about $500. And–
Interviewer: These had worked with you in the transportation business.
Z: They worked with transportation. But when it came to this country, they got jobs with my uncle.
Interviewer: I see.
Z: He was in the scrap business. He was the largest scrap dealer in– from Toronto to– from Hamilton to Toronto. To Windsor. Which is about 200 miles. We were in the center, in London.
Interviewer: When you came here was– was English– was English spoken?
Interviewer: In your family?
Interviewer: It was all Russian?
Z: No, no.
Interviewer: Russian and Yiddish, or–
Z: So, we– I went to school. Public school. I and my sister that’s a year older than I, sat in the same seats, and we learned English, see. So, uh, so that’s how we got into the scrap business, we– uncle was in the scrap business, but we didn’t go to compete with him, so when my brother bought out the scrap yard in Sarnia, and then my mother started complaining I wasn’t getting a Jewish education. [Laughs] The– and so in 1920, first I’ll tell you– we bought the first truck in 1919– in 1919, a Ford, with solid tires in the front. And that was in 1919.
Interviewer: Must– must made you a big business then.
And my brother would buy from the– there was uh, bolts used to come in. We’d
buy the rope. Rope was a valuable thing in those days. And then uh, in
nineteen-nine– eight– I think it was right after the war, 1918, yes, the
winter– fall of eighteen, he bought from the steam lines two carloads of
propellers. And he shipped that to the uncle to– got us– that got us in
trouble with the uncle.
Interviewer: Oh really?
Z: Well I’ll tell you the story. Anyways, we uh, and uh, we left in 1920 to Windsor, Ontario. My brother found land but we happened to be fortunate to have an uncle who had vacant land. So, we got the land, and we started a business. But in the meantime, my brother bought a piece of land in between one piece they had here, one piece they had there and that’s where we started our business, see. So anyways, we– in those day, we built a shed, you might say, a large wooden building to handle our paper. We also bought– and those days, a lot of immigrant Jews start coming into our city, and they would– the only– they couldn’t get job, so they start peddling the alleys. And what before we knew, we had about fifty peddlers coming in a day. And I was going to high school, and came spring, after the second year, as soon as spring came, ’cause I start working in 1921. And that’s where I start going steady into the scrap business. In 19– so, the comp– I have to say that my– bring my brother into the picture, because he bought the first share of ours in 1922, I think it was. And then, uh, a little later we bought our Doelger number three. So, but we didn’t have a crane yet. It was all done by wheelbarrow, loaded into the cars. That’s the way we handled it. And we didn’t– at first we didn’t– we just didn’t cut ours; if we did we used uh– a chisel and a hammer. That’s the way–
Interviewer: That’s how you processed it.
Z: Yeah. And also, and uh– I used to go with my brother in the country, and I would hold a chisel, and he would cut the bolts with a sledgehammer. So that’s where I come in, see. And I was just— still public school when I was doing this, see. So, that’s how I got into this business. And then when I, uh– we moved to Windsor, I was a bookkeeper.
Interviewer: Oh really?
Z: Yeah, I went to– somebody had to take care of the cash, had to keep track, ’cause it– they– we had to keep books to the end of year, we had to have books so– so that’s how I went to school and took up bookkeeping, to– I went two years high school and two years in technical school, taking up bookkeeping.
Interviewer: So you held the chisel and then you did the bookkeeping. Did both.
Z: Yeah, so I– I had– and then I had– I went two years night school, but soon as spring came, they needed me, because not after for– because usually the peddlers used to come in after four o’clock.
Interviewer: They had been working all day and then they brought it to–
Z: And my brother Max was the one that started to go look into plants, small plants, because we had competition and we didn’t want to bother the competition, so we had to look for other with– didn’t have it so, that’s how we started up with– we were fortunate that my mother brought 5,000– over 5,000 dollars money in Canadian funds, which she transferred it and had. And that’s how we were able to start, and buy horse and wagons, buy– and uh, so we struggled along in the twenties.
Interviewer: Before we go on, tell me the story about the propellers.
Z: Well, I’ll come to that.
Interviewer: Oh okay, fine.
Z: Okay, yeah. We struggled along and we bought the– finally we bought the land that both sides of us, so–
Interviewer: This is in Windsor?
Z: Yeah. And uh, we started to grow. Slow. Uh, along came about 1930, we incorporated, and then I became an active partner in the business. See, before, just the brother and that. So the brother I, Max, and myself. My other brother that was two years younger than– he went out and became a peddler. He left us. He didn’t– he couldn’t get along with my older brother. My older brother was a fellow that was very very– he– eh, do one thing. He had to work hard, see, and he couldn’t have time for playing pool or anything like that. And my [??] brother used to take horse and wagon, and go stop and play pool. So you can see–
Z: So there’s a certain difference– different situations, um– as– now we come back to Windsor. We bought another truck and my brother Max used to go around the small plants. We also had a lot of competition. We had two other companies that were supposed to be big people. One J. Kovinsky & Son, you may have heard of them, and the other was Moretsky, Bernstein, Moretsky, see.
Interviewer: And they had been there for a while?
Z: Oh, before us, see. So anyways, and we tried not to bother them. Trying to look places– So then in the 1930, we bought– I bought for the company, a bankrupt foundry. And I tried to sell it for years, and couldn’t sell it, because we didn’t know about– I didn’t know nothing about the grounds–
Interviewer: It wasn’t operating, or it was operating?
Z: Well, it was operating, making blocks, motor blocks, for Chrysler Corporation. But they weren’t doing a good job and a competitor took away the business.
Interviewer: I see.
Z: In the twenties. We used to sell them the scrap. Cast iron [???]. But uh– eh– so a number of years went by, and then paper stock that we were handling in– in Windsor was hard to get rid of. In the meantime we were fortunate to have– do a wrecking job in Chatham, Ontario about 45 miles from Windsor, where the grade art, what used to be a grade art car manufacturing plant. And it was all wood, and brick, and we sold the brick to the people, good brick. And we sold– and we made– it was our first time we made a little money. We made money but not– to live, but not the way we should.
Interviewer: Was this the first time you’d been in dismantling, or you had done that before?
Z: First time, first time. And that’s where we started our– we– from they– from there we built a warehouse to handle wastepaper, and we used all the old lumber, and we used all the brick. And we put in– we also had already had a small downstroke Economy Baler. We bought two upstroke, different sizes, the largest size and a medium size, from Economy Baler. We installed them in ’37, see. So, that was our break. Also, we got a break in 1936, it all seemed to come with Luria Brothers. They had a big wrecking job to do in Fort William Ontario, coal sheds, that the bolts used to use, that were using coal. See, see the– and were um, very good friends with– because you– we couldn’t sell to the States directly, in those day. In those days, we– the mills was controlled by Luria Brothers in Detroit. Uh, the prior, in the twenties, the big four were the government for working together, I forget what you call it, yeah. They– they uh were indicted, like, Luria Brothers, uh, Luntz, uh, one in Cincinnati, I’m trying to think of. Joseph, and another one, I can’t remember the name, were controlling the scrap market in our districts.
Interviewer: [Unintelligible] This was in the late twenties?
Z: In the early twenties.
Interviewer: In the early twenties.
Z: Twenties, but– 1929, so that broke it up. But anyways, Luria was still the biggest. And we had a good relationship with them, so one day they call us up about the coal sheds. They want to use our name because they can’t go into United– Canada. They thought they couldn’t but actually they could’ve, see. And then they wanted us to buy the material– the oxygen acetylene that’s required, and uh, they will take care of us. And sure enough, we did this for them, and that was also another break for us. So in 1936 we start talking– we would go in partnership with them, in Toronto. Toronto didn’t have anything.
Interviewer: This was for dismantling or for scrap? Or both?
Z: Scrap, scrap, scrap. But we went there and we didn’t– we saw the situation, and it was– we thought it was bad, especially the wintertime in those days, Toronto had anywhere from a foot to three foot of snow, so how do you handle anything there? So we didn’t go into it at the time. That was another thing, mistake we made. And– and along, we come back now to– we starting having a little foundry business, and then as I’m telling you, we bought this foundry called Sandwich Foundry. We bought this there from a bankrupt company. See. We bought the equipment and everything, and we tried to sell it for four, five years. Along came the war. In nine– but– but– but in 1940, my brother got an idea, that– briquetting cast iron borings. So, I went to Milwaukee, made a deal. I didn’t have the money, but, they trusted me, and they built machines, shipped it in, but we had been buying cast iron borings for a number of years. And we were selling it to different firms, and they were using it for other purposes. And uh, within six months after we installed our machine, I had to go to a finance company, because I didn’t want to take the capital from my– from the place, we had about two or three thousand ton of boring piled up, and I– so, we– we sold the briquettes, start selling the briquettes to a foundry, direct, and– pretty soon, within six months, I was able to– for our company, to pay off our debt.
Interviewer: Huh. Short turnaround.
Z: It wasn’t a small amount.
Z: And that’s how we got into the briquetting company.
Z: Yeah. And since then, and that was in 1940, but 1941 the government, I couldn’t sell the briquettes. They set a price on the briquettes that I could sell. Everything was a scrap iron and everything was—
Z: Eh, you know I’m getting a little older– [Laughs]
Interviewer: You’re fine. You’re doing totally fine.
Z: And so– so anyways, they put the ceiling on the prices. In the meantime, we had no– like IRS in the United States, so a group of us decided, and I start talking to people, Toronto, so– anyways the governments came around and called all the scrap dealers in and forced us into associations.
Z: Honest, the truth.
Interviewer: CARI– that what CARI–
Z: It wasn’t CARI, it was Secondary–
Z: No, secondary uh– oh gosh. The Secondary– it’ll come to me–
Interviewer: But they suggest that you do that.
Z: Yeah, so we started. It was called a Secondary Iron and Steel, yup. And that– that’s how– so we started out. We had all were called to Ottowa. And we, in Ottowa, I became a director. I also became a divi– advisor to the steel purchaser on scrap.
Z: So every month or two had to go to Ottowa, and so– in this– and that’s how– it was Secondary Material Association became in Canada. A young man by the name of Levy was the secretary, and I think we started out with about sixty or d— sixty people and finally ended up over two hundred. But not it’s down to about a hundred and ninety.
Interviewer: So this was the way CARI eventually became the organization.
Z: Ye– well CARI, I’ll come– it came later, see.
Interviewer: This started in the– in the early part of the war [unintelligible]?
Z: Yes. Early part of the war. In the meantime, I was telling you we bought this foundry. Along came in 1940 also a man with the collar here all– all, you know, where it’s out here [gestures to collar]. And he came to my office, and I looked at him, he wants to buy the foundry. Good. What are you going to do? Well they– he’s buying the– he’s got a group buying the uh, London Rolling Mill. It was also in bankruptcy [laughs]. So anyways, I made a deal with him. Got so much money from him, plus that they can’t buy any scrap from anybody else, unless I get– big shot– fifty cents a ton. You can imagine the deal– No, not a dollar a ton, but fifty cents. And well, and I was supplying the whole– being the supplier, which are required. They start making for the army trucks, uh, steel rods, and that’s a rod mill that became– we’d had an electric furnace there. They started it up, and I was supplying for two, three years. The third year, the [unintelligible], they started owing me a hell of a lot of money. You know, they didn’t pay. So, the government calls me in one day, [unintelligible], “Charles, I want you in here– the, the uh– in here in twenty-four hours.” What’s the trouble? “You’re not supplying for the war effort.” I said, “I’m not getting paid!” [Laughs]
Interviewer: Seems fair.
Z: So you can see what happened, see. So I– So, I go to Ottowa, “What’s the problem?” Well, I said, “I’ve been shipping to them and they– don’t pay me.” You know, I got a check for $38,000. In the meantime, a good friend of mine by the name of Benny Kovinsky of J. Kovinsky & Son loads up some twenty-some cars of uh scrap.
Interviewer: Scrap what?
Z: For me. So you can– I used to buy and give them the same price that I got. And uh, sure enough, they were on the [unintelligible], on this track, waiting. So anyways, arranged– arranged paying me for five cars at a time. This went on for a while, ’til it got worse. Anyways, I was just shipping them in one or two cars, and I’d get my money. I wouldn’t take no chances. By that time, the war ended, and they– and this plant and the one they bought from me was left without doing anything.
Interviewer: Just– they just took off?
Z: Everybody lost. I even bought stock in the goddamn company and I lost, see. And I used to go every week to the foundry to make sure that they get in the supply, and I would sit with the– their directors of the company, and they would come in from Toronto and we’d all sit down and they’d play– we’d play cards and, everyone was friendly, you know. It was uh– Anyways, they went bankrupt.
Interviewer: Right after the war?
Z: No, well into the war! Just at the end– before the end of the war. Yeah. In nine– early 1918, they got– and then the war ended in November.
Z: So, I was left– they– so I came in one day and I said first, “I’ll take this– the foundry off your hands.” So I made a deal with them. Very cheap deal. So I got the foundry.
Interviewer: Second time now. You got it back.
Z: Back. In the meantime, wastepaper starts being very bad. We start storing wastepaper in the plant. We had a fire there.
Interviewer: In the foundry, full of wastepaper.
Z: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We started out in the back, covered it with tarp [unintelligible], but we had a fire, so that, in the meantime, I had partners with a Devonshire Racetrack. So, I had two partners, and who were they? My competitors. [Laughs]
Z: Yeah, we bought it for $15,000. 133 acres.
Interviewer: This was a flat track. Thoroughbreds.
Z: Yeah, it was a horse track, it– It ran up ’til, uh, about 30, the last time they ran was about 1929. And then– then because you know, things got very bad in ’29. But they didn’t– we were able to– because we were conservative. We were able to go through a situation where we didn’t, but a lot of people lost money. Uh, Intermed Co. went bankrupt. It wasn’t called Intermed Co, it was called Goldblatt. And they went bankrupt.
Interviewer: This was in ’29. When the market crashed.
Z: So will– yeah. They lost their shirt, everything. You know why? They had Geor— Frank Goldblatt in the ’20s, was playing the stock market.
Z: See. See. So anyways, our– our business increased, and uh, [laughs] it gets to a point– I was telling you about the racetrack, so–
Z: We also put wastepaper in there.
Interviewer: In the track.
Z: Yeah. Also had a fire, [unintelligible]. Well, along came promoters, and they wanted to buy it. First it was going to be a turkey farm. They want to give us a lot of– or, I think it cost us $15,000.
Interviewer: Was it–
Z: 5,000 a piece.
Interviewer: Was it operating at that time?
Z: No, no. That’s in the ’30’s.
Z: So [unintelligible] got one owner by the name or Harry Moratsky, I don’t think you know, came in to me and says, “I got a– people want to buy that place.” I says, “That’s okay.” But I says, “I wa– that’s worth more and I shelled out much more.” Finally I drew up plans to build a whole bunch of buildings there. Homes. But it didn’t go through. But we kept it on, and back in 19– he comes back in 1950, says he’s got another one wants to buy it. Yeah, I says, “How much he wants to give?” A hundred thousand dollars. Then came– another two years went by, and in 1954, i think it was, he came with a new proposition.
Interviewer: Same person.
Yeah. He gets– but– he can get $150,000. I said I’m not selling. And
I was lucky that I had my other partner, J. Kovinsky & Son, uh, Milton, I don’t know if you– uh–
Z: Yeah. And Milton agreed with me. Like a darned fool, I should have bought it– bought them out altogether, which I didn’t. Along came ’56, I think it was ’56, we came along, they can get 200,000, but we gotta pay the agent. I said “I’m not interested, I won’t sell.” “Well what do you want for it?” Like a damned fool I said I want– I don’t want to pay no agents any money,” and we each got $70,000 a piece. But, I’ll tell you again, you know, when I bought in 1941, along came a friend that owned a racetrack in Toronto. Two racetracks. We want to buy your– not buy, but we want to take you charter. They had charters. Use your charter and we’ll pay you four thousand dollars a year. Pays taxes. Taxes are less than that. So my brother Max made the deal with them. The other partners were agreeable. This went on for about four years.
Interviewer: And what did they do with the track?
Z: So, it paid–we didn’t have any expenses to take fo H1. So, just to show you how things can happen. Well, we get back now to our business. We start growing, we start having plants that we’re handling, and then we start selling a little bit direct, and that’s the only way we could do it, because we had to sell through other people. And so, and that’s we start selling direct to– we couldn’t sell the steel company. That was already controlled. [inaudible] foundries was already sold. But I did sell, in 1937, to [inaudible] foundries two thousand ton of bundles. Wasn’t my bundles. The guys seemed to like me. But after that I couldn’t sell them it because– you know why? Because Goldblatt’s found out, that I was selling direct. Any they stopped– because they were the suppliers for those two mills. That’s how they got back on their feet.
Interviewer: So you had to broker it through them.
Z: If I wanted to anything through, and of course into United States when we sold, we had to broker it through the United States. Excepting in 1941, I had a direct sale to a foundry to sell our briquetting. Briquetting. And I went to, it’s about some 25 miles out of Detroit, and I start selling them briquettes. And they were lovely, for years. And also I sold it to a foundry in Windsor that was making motor blocks for Chrysler Corporation. And they– the other foundry is also dealing with Chrysler. So we had two direct outlets. Because without the direct outlets you were at the mercy, in those days, to the brokers, or the– either the broker or Luria Brothers or Joseph and Company. And then there was– in Cleveland that we sold the first boatload of scrap into Cleveland. Also through a broker, and I’m trying to think– I know them so well, but I just can’t remember. And I was lucky I dealt with Luria Brothers and I needed motor blocks for the foundries that I had, and I made a deal with them and they brought me in a barge load from Maine. Portland, Maine. And they trusted me. This was also in ’37. And that amounted also around forty thousand dollars a barge load, and they called me up, they come in, I says, “Soon as I get paid, I’ll pay you.” And I paid them right off. But these were whole motors we had to take and break them up and– for the cast iron and the steel separate. Anyways, that happened in the thirties. My brother Max started going out and buying– I was an inside man. My brother Max, he’s the one that start putting it on the map. My oldest brother was the man that was in the yard. And that’s the way it [crosstalk] worked so. And in 1930 also my second oldest brother came to work for us. He was peddling and couldn’t make any money. And I was sending them money to live on. Not very much, but I didn’t know that– he was a single guy for a long time. Anyways, brother Max was very– he got a lot of [inaudible] business in Ontario. In those days they used to buy stove plates, separate them, separate from cast iron. Meantime, we were big buyers of borings. We start buying from our local plant in 1937, and we start buying from Chryslers in Detroit. We had one little mickey. It was a guy in Detroit, he was buying borings from one of the plants, I don’t remember. And we put in sand. When we found that out, we quit buying. He never could [inaudible]. We told him [inaudible]. But he went big and then– but they caught up to him. And actually whoever was selling– you know you can’t do that. You’ve got to be straight. If you’re not straight with the people you’re dealing with, you’re out of business. And this happened in the forties. And we were became large buyers of borings, so we bought from General Motors some. I even bought out of– borings out of Toledo.
Interviewer: And you’re briquetting them?
Z: Yes. So that’s how we got into the briquetting business. We started out after the war, we started out with one, then I bought– I didn’t buy, but my brother went to the [inaudible] in the United States and bought two– three of them. One he sold, and two kept. Before long we had three. So in 1946 I bought acreage out in the county. And then we start moving scrap there in ’50. We set up a shear, but there was no electrics. We used gas engine. And we start– our yard, original yard was about four and a half acres, but here was a large– we start out with eleven, we’re there now with fifty acres. So it’s a difference.
Interviewer: I hear the growth. I see the growth.
Interviewer: I see the growth. Very dramatic.
Z: Yeah. So but we grew small. We didn’t try to do everything at one time. And due to the fact that our competitors had balers- one had balers, the other didn’t have any balers- we didn’t buy– we tried to keep a nice friendship, where they’re buying we didn’t go. So we looked otherwise.
Interviewer: You did that all way through–
Z: Yes. Anyways, we– then we come into the forties. The forties we were quite active in Ontario, into Michigan we buying. And we’re selling more to foundries, and we tried to sell direct as much as possible. ‘Cause you couldn’t otherwise. We were able to continue like that ’til the fifties. We came to land that we bought in the county. We built– we start putting our oversized scrap, because our yard was small into– kept piling it. It was like a swamp. We kept from one of the foundries that we were supplying the brick. It was a malleable foundry. And we were supplying them with the scrap: steel. And they– we took this brick and made roadways for ourselves. And this took a period of time and then in 1956 we decided to move everything, most of our stuff, over to this new yard. We already put in a baler. We bought a baler, and we put– it wasn’t a big baler, it was a hundred TC Galland Henning. And we put in railroad tracks in, and we started to grow. In 1966 we brought our whole briquetting plant [crosstalk] we built a building, we had already now six machines. We also had large Doelger shears and the baler and we cut steel, and we started selling some direct. We start growing, as we went through. But then unfortunately in 1953 my brother Max who was the outside man, he passed away. Heart attack.
Interviewer: How old was he at that point?
Z: Fifty-two years old. And he was in– this happened in Miami, Florida. Miami Beach. And right in front of me.
Interviewer: He was on vacation?
Z; I came in for a few days. And so he was– he came, he was staying there for about a month or so. And this happened, he passed away and that knocked the hell out of me because I was always the inside man, and I started going out to become the outside man. So and as I was saying, this knocked the heck out of me because I always depended on him and he depended on me to do this, and my other brother, he took care of the yard, So we had no worries there. And he lived ’til 85. One day before he would’ve been 86. And we also had a peddler trade. So we kept that place in the city ’til 1966 when we built a building and put in all our briquetters into–
Interviewer: Everything was in one place.
Z: Yeah. We also bought a bigger baler. Yeah. But that wasn’t big enough. From a hundred t o two hundred we went, so. So anyways we put in our own railroad tracks and I supervised it. We’ve got two and a half miles of track.
Interviewer: A lot of track.
Z: Yeah. But when I did it– now they hire somebody to fix. I didn’t have to do that. Anyways, we built an office and– three thousand feet office first time, then we added on another twelve hundred, then we added on another two thousand. So we had about a five thousand office [inaudible]. I put in a scale in there, and now we got two scales above the ground. Before, they were in the ground. We’ve got a railroad scale. We got three switching engines.
Interviewer: How big is this facility now?
Interviewer: How big is the facility now, acres?
Z: The facility now, I’m coming up to that, yeah. So we just bought another eight acres, which gave us now almost fifty acres. We also now, we come up to now, we start selling direct to the mills. We sell to mills in Detroit. We don’t sell to the mills in Canada. We do sell– one that was buying turning from us, up Montreal District. And we’re shipping them fairly– not big tonnage but we’re shipping them. So our business increased. Now today our business is much different. My boys, two boys, Max and Dean. Max came in about some twenty years ago. In the meantime while this happened, I was telling you about the wrecking business. In 1940 we got a wrecking business, and I had a nephew who was around fourteen years old and he was, during the summer, he was a bookkeeper, wrecking another building– a school building. So that was the two wrecking jobs that we had. Anyways, when he got out of– came in one day, he was going to Ann Arbor in school. I was giving him money to go there. His father couldn’t give him– I used to send him not a lot of money but those days, and then the government stopped me from sending money to United States during the war. You couldn’t–
Z: No. You couldn’t– they allowed only about a hundred dollars a month. So anyways he worked– came and worked for us, time keeper for the– we had a man to take care of the wrecking but he was the time keeper. We set him up in a hotel and paid him twenty-five dollars a week, plus hotel. Then as I was saying, this is Sydney Katzman, you probably met him. So Sydney worked for us, he came in one day in 1950, I believe it was. ’50 or ’49, I’m not sure. And he says he’s quit school. I said, “Are you going to work for your father, who is in the tire business?” “No, I want to work for you.” ‘Cause in the summer holidays, he worked for us. Anyways, he came to work for us, and then my brother took him, and took him all over wherever he was buying, and we bought him a car. And started to learn the business. That where he started to learn it. From my brother- my brother Max. So, he worked, as they said he came in and worked steady for us, and I gave him a job, and of course it was to go out to buy in plants, not to work in the yard. He did work in the yard in the holidays. He’s driving a truck and picking up scrap and in those days, it’s by hand. Also I’d like to go back to 1936. I bought the first crane out of– used crane out of Connecticut. Number one. And when we put in the briquetter, I bought another crane. I was the buyer of the cranes. In my day I bought over thirty-five cranes. ‘Cause we would take the ones that would start to get bad, and use the parts for the other ones to [inaudible]. So anyways, he would start working for us, and when my brother Max passed away, he was going to leave me.
Z: Yes. Because he had a brother in law who was in the union. Some kind of supplies he supplied to the– anyways, the brother in law talked to him– anyways his mother who happens to be my sister talked to him and says, “You can’t leave Charlie.” Because he used to sleep with me! Then when he was going to high school, he came to stay at our house. You know why? He was a big, tall fellow. He was– they wouldn’t let him play on the basketball team. So he came to our– and went to the school that I used to go to.
Interviewer: So he could play basketball.
Z: So he came to live at our place, and of course this was in the forties, during the war times. My mother passed away in ’41. When we came over to this country, we, as I mentioned to you before, and we were bachelors. My oldest brother, my brother Max, myself. My other brother go married, which he had two children. They worked for us for twelve years. From twelve until they got out of college. When they got out of college, I said to them, “Well, you want to come work?” “Uncle Charlie, you get up six o’clock in the morning, go to work, and you stay ’til nine o’clock at night.” He says, “I’ll go to work nine o’clock, and go home at five o’clock.” He’s now– he became a judge. And over there a judge is for life. So now he’s in this– he must be around sixty-five I believe. Yes, he’s over sixty-five. Sixty– twenty-eight– he’s seventy years old. So he’s got another five years. But he’s on– one time these judges were for life. Now they can only be on ’til seventy-five years. Now he’s only on for four months of the year, but he still gets paid. He relieves other judges. And he became the senior judge for our county.
Interviewer: And he doesn’t have to get up at six o’clock in the morning.
Z: No, his brother also became a lawyer a year later. The older– he was older a year but he didn’t– he took him another year to– this one was smart– another year or two. Now he’s opened up by himself. And he’s doing alright. And he’s a single guy. So that’s my–
Interviewer: Fascinating story.
Z: Now, Sydney worked along with my brother Max and they stayed with us after the mother talked to him, and I gave more responsibilities, and he worked with us right through until back in the ’69. I let him up cheap, and he was– became a quarter partner. Now,, when my two sons came in, he didn’t like it. Because he was afraid. So I sold him a small interest, and I– he worked for it, and he became our outside man. I was more in the office, and watching the yard, because we were slowly growing. Then, my– Dean, went– I says, “Boys, I want you to be attorneys.” This business is not for– So they went to college. But, they took up business administrations.
Interviewer: They learned it well.
Z: See [laughs]. Both of them. So he came to work first for us. Well, a guy by the name of Sonderberg working for us. And he’s learned the metal business. So I told him, “You work under Sonderberg. I can’t help you.” And I figured that’s the way they’d have to find their mistake and learn theirselves.
Interviewer: You were right. You were right. Tell me the story about the propellers. The propellers. Those propellers you brought along–
Z: Oh, I sold them to my uncle. They were hard steel to break and we finally settled with them for a little above our cost.
Interviewer: Before we wind up, if you had advice to give to somebody just coming into the business now, what would you tell them?
Z: It’s a different type of business. It’s changed. It’s no more like Luria Brothers had sons in the business. It’s no more like, I don’t know about Joseph.
Interviewer: Same thing.
Z: And the same thing for Luntz. Luntz wasn’t as big as Joseph. There was another big scrap person in the twenties and early thirties and I can’t remember what his name. That’s in the district around between Cleveland and Chicago. The business is different. As you can see yourself, the number of people that are going into the business today are not kin. And the children from the scrap dealers either went to become professional, they didn’t want to [inaudible] because they saw their fathers working– it was a different situation. So that’s the way my son learned from Sonderberg about the metal business and slowly he learned, we sent him out to plants to– our plants that we had to see if they’re getting service, and slowly start– and that’s how he learned the business. Now we come to my son Max. Max decided early, when he was fourteen years old, we wanted to send him back to camp. The boys went to camp every year. In the summertime they would work in the plant. They always worked around the yard– office. So Max also took a business course. We had trouble with our– in our office. We had cash deal paying out for peddlers. A lot of money went out, and who found it? I didn’t find it. Our auditors didn’t find it.
Interviewer: Max found it.
Z: Income tax [inaudible]. They had one cashier up in their office, for I don’t know how many hours, and he denied everything. You know, the conclusion I came to was our accountant. Because I had a way that every invoice– bill that was paid must come to my desk. And the girl that was taking care of it, working under the accountant, all of a sudden became behind for nine months. You know what happened? They took a one and made four. They took a one and made seven. And this accountant that we had worked for a big company like- they were our accountants- KMP or something. I can’t think of the name at the moment. And they were the accountants for us. Because back, years back, I was doing the– making the accounting. And if I said, so this particular year they called me in, “Mr. Zelew, how can you take this bill, a hundred and fifty dollars, for chickens– for turkeys– that we gave [laughs]– how can you–,” I was honest! “How can you take a hundred and fifty– you can’t do it that way. You better go see an accountant.” So we get to see an accountant, Fitzgerald and Company, and Fitzgerald Company came and did our books, all they did, I don’t know, worked it out. I didn’t have to pay anymore money, and that’s when we start– that was in 1927. And I was doing the whole thing, making up the income tax papers all the years. So anyways, then I got the accountants– were working for us, and then when I, especially when we became incorporated, I used the same people, and they were our accountants all through the years. God darn it, I should know– Anyways, they are still a part of our accountants, but they took– changed them to another company. That’s what Max is doing. I don’t know, I’m–
Interviewer: It’s quite an amazing story.
Z: Yeah. Well, what’s happened, see, we’re coming back to the amount of money that was– So they figured out there was about seventeen thousand dollars stolen. We got our accountants to come in and in the meantime this guy laughed us. And he worked for this accounting company that we hired. The reason he came to work for us because he wasn’t made the top man. They took a junior man up and they– So he came to work for us. And we were looking for an accountant so he was with us for about seven years, maybe eight, but we still had the accountants do the accounting at the end of the year. So when we found this here, seventeen thousand dollars. But the other accountants start checking and [inaudible]