Friday, January 16, 2015

Salt of the Earth


My great grandfather Victor started off life farming which at the time was the most common occupation but unusual since he came from a line of merchants. His father George owned a grocery store and his grandfather John owned a leather goods store. I don't know why Victor opted to try his hand at farming other than the adage of everyone else was doing so. My best guess however is that he was freshly back from the Great War in Europe and was looking for some peace that would last a lifetime.

Timing however, is everything and my great grandfather Victor's timing was bad. He lost his farm during the day running up to the great depression but was lucky enough to get a job as a salesman for Carey Salt. This job kept him on the road and away from his family for weeks on end which is why during Black Tuesday or the Wall Street Crash of 1929. What money he had from the sale of his farm had been invested in stocks and in late October of 1929, he was rightfully concerned that he could lose that as well. He frantically called my great grandmother Grace and told her to sell everything before they lost it all. Unfortunately for him, she was in the hospital giving birth to my grandfather and was unable to do so. They lost all their money but gained another mouth to feed.

At least my great grandfather had a job and it did pay the bills and feed his wife and two sons. Life moved on and got better. However World War II came along and all available able bodied men went over seas to fight it, including his oldest son, my great uncle whom I helped bury a couple years ago and have blogged about many times in the past. The loss of so many men, put a strain on the salt company who also needed able bodied men to mine the salt. In order to survive, they sent out an ultimatum to their sales staff. Work in the salt mine a month a year or lose your job. My great grandfather opted for the former and for several years, showed up in Hutchinson, Kansas to work the salt mine.

I knew he sold salt but this news of him actually working in the salt mines was news to me until my grandfather told me the story this past visit with him. I imagine it made my great grandfather Victor a better salesman and more appreciative of his job the other eleven months of the year but I also know that his family probably suffered greatly during his long stints at the salt mine. Out of curiosity, I typed in 'Hutchinson salt mine' into the computer and learned that the mine is still there and is now a tourist attraction and the picture above is supposedly taken from it. One of these days, I would like to go for a tour of that salt mine and get a deeper sense of the man whom now shares a name with my youngest daughter whose middle name is Victoria.

8 comments:

sage said...

I have been inside coal mines and gold and silver mines, but never a salt mine. I'd like to see one.

Vince said...

I've nowt.
I tried to find something in Hutchinson, but no. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure Hutchinson is a delightful place but in truth I felt for your ancestor having to spend a month a year there. That 80s film with Keven Bacon could've been made there.
Who would you sell salt to that would require servicing by a team of salespeople. Surely once in they would stay buying.

Ed said...

Sage - I've been in a couple deep caves over the year and they always make me nervous. All I can think about are collapsing tunnels and being trapped inside them in the dark. I would like to go into this salt mine because of my personal connection but I think I will limit it to just this one salt mine and leave the gold and silver mines to others.

Vince - I would liken it more to modern day seed dealers for farmers. The farmers still need the seed every year but the salesperson pushes new varieties and deals. I would imagine a salt salesman would be pushing new uses for the salt and presenting bulk discount deals to the customers.

Vince said...

The only two expanding markets for salt I can think of would be cities in winter scattering it on streets, and food stuffs, bacon and such.
Is it used in the making/smelting of ores do you know. I know chalk is, but salt. Was it used in early air conditioners ?.

Leigh said...

Interesting. That's one way to man the mines. Probably all sales folk ought to have a time in the other end of the business. Might help to appreciate their products.

edifice rex said...

What an interesting story. Poor feller had some awful luck but seems he still managed to come out on top.
We always said that our construction project managers should have been made to work a year in the field, but they never did. I can't help but think it would have given them some better insight too.

warren said...

I had dinner with a guy who still works in a salt mine in...I forget where...somewhere bordering a Great Lake. Anyhow, I had no idea salt was mined like coal but your pic pretty much confirms it! I'd love to see such a place!

Ed said...

Vince - The type of salt from that mine was more for industrial uses. They used it a lot in drilling, tanning, etc from the period.

Leigh - It most definitely does. Back when I was a nine to five person, I always made a point to try my hand at doing what others did for me to get an appreciation for what they do and learn their capabilities. It served me well over the years.

Edifice Rex - He did alright for himself but I think it was easier to come back from total disasters back then if you were a hard worker. These days, there are more cards stacked against you so you have to be a hard worker, plus some intelligence and a bit of luck too.

Warren - I guess I never thought about salt too much either. I'm pretty sure there is a book on the history of salt that was recently a best seller so I may track it down and remedy my ignorance on the subject.