May 4, 2023
My first venture into the business world was in the summer of 1957 as an 8 year old. Dad brought home an old rusty platen press from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. I can't properly describe a platen press. It was foot treadle powered and hand fed. You can find pictures of them on the web.
The pressman (me) stands in front of the press, grabs a big flywheel on the left side of the press and gives it a hard pull. This puts it into motion. The next step is to take a sheet of paper, slip it into the holding pins on the moving pressure plate while trying to pump the foot treadle to keep the beast moving. The other trick is to get the paper under the pins before the jaws close and smash your fingers, and once the paper is printed to remove it and get the next sheet into place, again without getting your fingers mashed.
Dad brought home cases of handset type and we used them to put together the type for handbills and business cards. After laboriously printing a hundred handbills and the same number of business cards touting my enterprise I set off to become a rich tycoon in the shoe shine business. Dad and I figured this was a way for me to make some spending money of my own. We made a shoe shine kit composed of a wooden box to carry my polishes, rags, etc. The top was shaped to hold a shoe while it is cleaned, waxed and polished. Dad stood me for the first set of polishes and gear, but when they were used up, I had to buy my own. With some trepidation I went to the apartment complex up the street and began knocking on doors. As I introduced myself I would hand a handbill and a business card to the person who answered the door.
Then I would give my spiel, "Hello. I'm Mike Sunderland and I'm offering a new service and would like the opportunity to show what I can do for your shoes and boots." About then I could tell if I had a prospective customer or not. A smile usually indicated a sale, and I would go on to tell them I could clean, polish and shine just about any shoe they had. If the person was receptive to the idea, and many were, I would pick up their shoes at their convenience, after school and on weekends.
I lined up several customers and was on my way to making my first million. After school and doing my homework, I would go to the apartment complex and start on the top floor. My customers would either leave their shoes outside their door, or would tape my card to their door indicating they had shoes to pick up. I'd gather all I could carry, take them to the basement laundry room and go to work. Most of the shoes were easy to do and in a short time I would have them ready to deliver. I charged 40¢ for normal colors, such as black or brown. White, red and other colors were a buck a pair. If they needed some real cleaning before waxing and polishing I charged an additional 40¢. I never had a customer stiff me.
By the time a few hours had passed I could pocket $5 to $6 and go home ecstatic with my hard earned loot. And it was hard work. I have great appreciation of what the shoe shine guys go through. To do a proper job, even on a black or brown shoe takes a lot of elbow grease. Those guys earn every dime. Most of my customers would hand me $1 and say, "keep the change."
On weekends I could clear $10 to $15 dollars with my little enterprise. At least that was the way it was the first few weeks. After that the number of shoes to shine rapidly declined. It never occurred to me that most people would not want, or need, their shoes shined every week. After several weeks of doing less than a dozen pairs I gave it up as a bad deal. It was too much effort to trudge up and down all those stairwells and halls to make a couple of bucks.
Seems many younger wage earners today, especially those from higher income families don't want to put in a full day's work for a day's pay. And if the work causes them to sweat and use more muscle power than tapping keys on computer keyboard they feel that's not an acceptable way to earn money. God help the USA if that is what our future work force turns out to be!