Brian Wilburn (1927) PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 July 2007 00:00
Brian Wilburn (1927)
Interview conducted at 23 June 2002

Brian Wilburn Jr. was a sales manager for the Wisconsin Chair Company(1949-1954). This is a follow up on our conversation of 14 June 2002

Carl Severson ran the whole School Equipment Division all by him self. I don’t know where the company originated from but it operated along with the regular WCC products. Carl’s products would come along the same lines as the other stuff did. Basically, the main product was a school desk, it had a metal frame on each end. Cast and frame were made at a little foundry at Port Washington and then a box for the books was hung in between with a top. And then the casting formed the feet that held up the seat so you had the seat in front of the desk and the desk behind it. And then when you line them up the seating piece would have the seat under the first desk and then they hook them up together and line them up.

They also made office swivel(?) chairs, just a wooden base with casters in it and a wooden feet and back that didn’t adjust very much, pretty much a stable piece, it just rolled around the floor and it turned an swivelled, but it didn’t do anything else, a very basic chair.

The National School Equipment Company remained part of the Wisconsin Chair Company until the demise in 1954. Carl Severson kept working there until the end and then he retired after that. He would have been the same age as O.E. Moeser and Allon Cady and that bunch, he was an older guy. In 1950 he was around 70 years, give or take.

Allon Cady was married to a Bostwick daughter and he was Treasurer of the company and then he ran an insurance business in the side out of the office. Then he had a nephew of his, a real nice guy, that came on just about the time I went to work at the office. His nephew showed up from Chicago and he had been a Captain in the 82nd Airborne and he worked with Allon. I didn’t know what the hell he was doing all the time, he was with Allon all the time.

Harold Laubenstein didn’t work for the chair company. He worked for Simplicity Manufacturing. He lived right across the street from us in Port [Laubenstein worked for the NYRL in 1925].
I knew Ambrose Mayer. I never could figure out what the hell he did. He was around a lot. He must have been one of Dougie Bostwick’s gofers, because he was with Doug a lot and he hang around in the plant a lot.

I ran across that factory like I was on a yoyo all day long, getting stuff. One of the jobs I had to do … what they’d do when they ship their case goods, they would put the hardware in a drawer and then when they get [at] the other end, lots of times the people would unpack it. They see something wrapped up in there, but they did not see what it was and threw it away. So they sent a letter to the chair company saying if they [WCC] shipped them then there were not any poles on them. Well, we knew damn well that the poles were there to start with and we also knew they threw them away. So then we had to get through a big exchange of letters an nonsense, trying to get squared away before I was brought in the plant and pick up the proper hardware and wrap it up and mail it to them. And finally I started figuring out what it was costing. In the long run we always sent hardware for nothing. But we argued with them for the exchange of at least three letters. And I framed it up once how much time it cost to type the letters and my time, the secretary’s time, the postage and all that and figured out it cost more in the silly correspondence than the hardware actually cost, because the hardware used to cost raw cost and it was 25 cents a unit, a pole. And I took it into McCarthy one day and said ”You know, this is ridiculous, we are spending $4-5 writing letters to these people arguing with them and making them mad and in the long run I bring in three or four letters attached to one another and throw it on your desk and you tell me to send it to them for nothing. Why don’t I start to send the pole for nothing to start with?” He thought about it for a minute and he said “You are right, do it but keep your mouth shut”

Every day I’d be on the plant getting hardware. Then one other day, O. E. Moeser got creative one time and he bought some pond rose supine blanks to be turned into dining table core stock. Core stock is a centre filler and then you have two pieces of veneer, one running east-west and the other running north-south on the top and same on the bottom so that the total package would be a five-ply piece with a core in the middle and two pieces of veneer on the top and two pieces of veneer on the bottom. Anyway O.E. bought pond rose supine and it warped. The table tops stayed stable because they were big enough and were attached in enough places around the apron so they didn’t warp, but the damn leaves all warped so about three months after we shipped something we got a letter from the customer bitching about a warped leaf and had to send them a new one. By that time we discovered that the supine was a disaster and we were back using birch corse [?], but we had a lot of products out of the market with these bummer leaves in them and we got to the same deal. I have to write three to four letters to play twenty questions with people, before I would make up a production order to replace the leaf. And then we always asked for the leaf back and of course when it would come back in we’d have to pay the incoming postage on it and the suckers were always warped. Every time they’d come in we would inspect them and they were always warped. So finally, this was another big decision of mine, I said: “This is nuts. We are buying these things back, we’re paying postage on them, we’re driving the customer crazy, making everybody mad and it is our fault.” So from then on whenever a letter came in about a warped leaf, I’d send them one. I got away with that maybe three or four months and all of a sudden I was caught and got my butt hole into O.E.’s office and I got a lecture I can’t tell you, about making these decisions on my own as a twenty-year old kid and doing these things and giving people free leaves. And I just sat and kept my mouth shut, took the beating and finally O.E. said: “Can you explain this why you do something that that?” And I said: “Yes, we are buying them back and then we are sending them down after I inspected them and determined that they were warped. And then I take them to the shop and cut them up and make corner blocks of them. We are the only company in the country that’s putting finished, varnished corner blocks in their chairs.” And O.E. did not think that was one damn bit funny. After I left the office McCarthy called me in his office and shut the door and said: “What you did is O.K., but from now on don’t be smart ass with the boss.”

Al Watry ran the machine shop. He was an older man by then (Al Watry originally worked for the NYRL in Grafton in 1930).

J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit, Michigan (who also had their own Hudson record label sold from the store, using NYRL recordings) was one of our major accounts.. The salesman on that was a guy by the name of Charlie Mayer, and Charlie had his office right in the Hudson Furniture Company department. He had three or four other factories he represented. He was one of the few representatives, they were salesmen for more than one factory and Charlie was about the only one that McCarthy allowed to do that and when I got shipped down to Texas to start selling there, he let me take on other factories because I couldn’t make a living with the Wisconsin Chair Company in Texas, because nobody would buy the damn stuff. They’d buy it, but not in quantity. The scale is wrong for Texas. About the only thing I sold down there were part sets, little square table, 30 inch square table with a set of four chairs. That was a very big, big product line for us.

They never mechanized the cabinet production line, it was all done by hand. So it wasn’t very efficient. Consequently we didn’t make any money on the cabinet work. If we broke even we were lucky.
The reason they pulled the plug out of the record business was that by that time radio came in and I think they just saw their business sliding and with the Depression and the fact that everybody was buying radios, they weren’t playing with Victrolas anymore. I think it was one of those natural things that happen because the volume, the requirement for the product fell off, plus the Depression. People could not live without eating and sleeping, but they could live without records.

Bill Moeser only worked in the WCC during summer school and went to college in the east. There were three Moeser boys: Marshall, Edward and Bill. At one time Marshall was a salesman for the company based out of Atlanta, Georgia working the south-east part of the country. It was a very good job. And then Marshall’s wife, he married a very rich woman, and all of O.E.’s kids did, everyone of them. They married very, very well. His daughter [Ruth] married the local banker, Eddie married the daughter of the owner of the foundry in town. That was an inside joke, that O.E. married his kids very well. They all married very well, married a lot of money. Eddie was maybe five years older than me and he wound up spending the War sitting on an island up in the [….] working for the army encore. When he got back.. what happened, Marshall Moeser’s wife would not sit still for his travelling, being on the road, she didn’t like that. She didn’t like him being away. She raised a little hell and then Eddie and Marshall put together the Wisconsin Showroom in Milwaukee, which was a furniture wholesale operation, allegedly sold furniture to the stores around the state of Wisconsin, but the reality was they sold wholesale to the public. The factory wouldn’t set still for it because they were Moesers, they’d let them get away with it. Later on when I started working for other companies Marshall turned into a real, real good customer of mine, because I had a line of stuff of Swedish furniture that I did very well with and I was talking to Marshall one time and I said: “This stuff is really selling”. And he asked if I would sell him so I started selling him and he did a real good job for me.

Marshall Moeser came back from Atlanta to Port just about the time when our family moved up from Chicago. He and my Dad became very close friends. His wife Edith and my mother were close friends. His wife was a character, I tell you. She had an acid tongue, she’d take the bark of a tree with her tongue, she was just brutal. Their daughter Judy [born 1932] was a sweetheart, a very nice girl. She and my sister were in the same class.

Alex van der Tuuk
Tuesday, 31 July 2007
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