I knew I was in trouble, but didn’t know if I was going to be thrown through a plate glass window or if my head would hit the floor and my teeth would be knocked out. This was my first try at operating one of those big floor buffers. I had grabbed the handles of that thing and hit the switch. I’m telling you, it turned me every which way but loose. I finally got the thing stopped and stood up. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed the fiasco. Of course, they had. Phil Harding, the Parts Manager, was laughing his head off. I looked over to the office and Betty Harrison, the pretty office girl, had her hand over her mouth to hide the fact that she had been laughing. Humiliation was my middle name.
All the drama and mayhem are actually part of a pretty simple story. This would have been September of 1953. I was a senior at Augusta High School and was in a work program that allowed me to leave school every day at 2:00 and go to a job. My job was at Howard Motors, the local Chevrolet/Buick dealer. I washed cars and greased them and was learning to do simple repairs. I didn’t have any great aspirations toward being a mechanic. I just wanted a job.
September was the month for showing next year’s models, and was highly anticipated by car buffs and the public in general. To build the suspense and heighten the drama, the local sign painting artist, John Bourget, was hired to paint inviting signs on the windows of the dealership. There were notices in the newspaper, too. Almost everything about the new cars themselves was a big secret. When the auto transports delivered the cars, rather than unloading them in them in the street in front of the dealership, they were unloaded on a side street. Then they were spirited away and hidden until the appointed day.
Getting back to the front end of this story, we had received three 1954 Chevrolets for the showing day. I had washed and waxed them and stashed them in the old white building on the north side of the property. The building looked like it had started life as a stable, and it was large enough to store six cars.
The day before the big showing day, my boss, Kenneth Narkley, the service manager, told me to remove the current models from the showroom, and then buff the floor. I got the cars out of there, and prepped the floor. This was going to be my first experience with a buffer, but I didn’t give it much thought. I’d seen other guys use a buffer, and it looked easy. Now, we are back to the place where the machine went nuts. I feared for my life, and Phil and Betty couldn’t stop laughing. I stood there with a stupid look on my face, trying to regain my composure and look cool. Phil didn’t rub it in. He came over and took hold of the buffer with one hand, and switched it on. He said, “To stay in one spot, hold the buffer parallel with the floor. To move, slightly tilt the buffer in the direction you want to go.” That’s all it took, and I became a qualified buffer operator that afternoon.
The next day, the show room and the cars looked great, and we had a lot of people in. My trauma and drama hadn’t kept us from business as usual.