Memory Thirty Four

About mid-1978, Adcom Wire’s employees comfortably defeated the union vote and it appeared to be a relief to all concerned. We gradually fulfilled the many promises we had made legally and illegally during the one year “hands-off” period and things soon calmed down to a normal busy routine. Business was good and we had received a fair amount of extra business as a result of Leggett and Platt’s involvement.

I had been making regular visits to Carthage and occasional trips to our Kentucky plant as well as participating in the Steel Committee meetings in St. Louis that were held about every 10 to 12 weeks. I had also been going on sales calls with Don Bisplinhoff to the wire-bound citrus box manufacturers in Florida, most of which entailed a golf afternoon. I had invited my boss, Frank Ford and his wife to come to Jacksonville for our annual three day, two-man team, Dixie Classic golf event that also had a fashion show and a lunch trip to St. Augustine for the wives.

imagesThere were cocktails, dinners and professional entertainment for each of the three evenings, one of which was a gambling night for the golf teams. Although we were unsuccessful in the main tournament, we both got closest to the pin prizes and it was agreed that golfers and wives had a really nice time.

In this more intimate atmosphere, Frank Ford started hinting about a new position for me in the parent company but spoiled the news by adding that it would be in the Head Office in Carthage, MO. To get me used to the idea, he invited Doris and me to Carthage for a three day visit so we could meet the other senior executives and their wives as well as for business. We did this and were entertained socially all three evenings and were shown around Carthage and the much larger Joplin, MO about 18 miles away. Our visit did not dispel our expectation that it was a company town and transferring there would feel as though we were heading for retirement.

imagesMy conversations with Frank during the balance of 1978 kept returning to the idea of me transferring to Carthage and I got a better idea of what Frank had in mind. He wanted to consolidate Adcom and three of their wire plants, not including the main Carthage plant, into a Wire Division and then to acquire or build Leggett’s own steel mill capable of producing, not only hot rolled steel rod, but to also be able to roll tubular products so that bed, recliner and automobile frames could be added to their product line to complement their sales of their spring wire bed and seat interiors. He strongly hinted that my position would become President of the Wire Division. This began to sound a little more interesting.

Frank Ford had been having trouble with his back and finally decided to undergo surgery to rectify his problem. Unfortunately there was some kind of snag and he was affected permanently with, not only a physical disability but neurologically as well. The first time I saw him after the surgery, I was shocked to find that his capability to do his job was considerably reduced and not long after that, I found myself reporting to another Vice President I barely knew. It became obvious to me that following Frank up the corporate ladder would now likely be difficult or maybe impossible and I slowed down on seriously considering a move to Carthage. Nominally, I still reported to Frank and I was told that he still came to the office for part of each day but his job was really being done by someone else.

From the time Unicapital Corporation sold their controlling interest in Adcom Wire to Leggett and Platt in 1977, I had remained in close contact with my previous boss, Rahl George, their Executive VP. I saw him most week-ends in our regular group of golfers at the Deerwood Golf Club and we had had several discussions about the largest of their subsidiaries, Production Operators Inc. in Houston. I knew quite well that Rahl and his boss, Carl Knobloch, the Chairman of Unicapital were concerned about not knowing much about what was going on at the company. I had also been aware that, at the Unicapital quarterly meetings of their subsidiary managers, Paul Pigue, the POI president only gave sparse information on their activities with his financial report.

He and two partners had formed POI on the basis of providing a new concept of offering complete compression service to oil and gas producers as an alternative to them buying and operating a compressor themselves. Typically, with the relatively small producers, they would have substantially invested in the exploration and drilling of a well and would be reluctant to buy producing compressors to get their gas to a sales pipeline or to maintain pressure on their oil well because they did not know how long their well would last. Having someone come and do the compression for them with a monthly lease and to remove the equipment if and when it was no longer required, was found by independent producers to be very attractive and a market was created. From a small number of compressor units in this kind of service, the company had grown and was operating multiple compressors for customers of all sizes and in most of the oil or gas producing states.

I fully understood the frustration of Unicapital and their need to have a representative of some sort in Houston. Only after talking more with Rahl George, did I learn that the idea of the representative being someone to take over the entire role of president or general manager, did I get seriously interested. There was no way of knowing at that time, that this idea had coincidentally occurred to Paul Pigue who really wanted to get away from the day to day management of the growing company and to expand the more interesting, for him, relatively small part of the company that explored, drilled and operated wells. When Unicapital found that the idea was equally acceptable to Paul Pigue, they immediately came to me with an offer of the position because of the way I had managed Adcom for them.

imgres Both of the new job possibilities offered to me had similar remuneration and benefits but they presented me with the choice of moving to Houston, TX rather than to Carthage, MO and I agreed to go to Houston for a two day visit to help me decide. Doris and I stayed in a POI Houston apartment for the two days and saw as much of Houston as we could. I also had a brief meeting with Paul Pigue who knew why we were there, and he gave me a tour of the POI office and construction facility.

In making the comparison, I pondered for a long time on whether I wanted, after working in the very different industries of cryogenics, plastics and wire manufacturing, to learn another new profession. My decision is another memory for another day.

2 thoughts on “Memory Thirty Four

    • My dad, Joe Welch, was the first employee of Production Operators Inc. of Houston Texas, and I was the second person on the payroll when I was about 12 years old. We went to one of the gas compression plants and I washed the whole thing with Tide and a water hose. I was paid $2 per hour. My dad insisted that POI pay me with a real payroll check for my wages. We moved to Colorado in 1971 and my parents later moved to Ventura CA, Taft CA, Carlsbad NM (my dad spent week days and nights in Pecos TX and went home to Carlsbad on the weekends). Then they moved to Houston in about 1980-1981. After my mother passed away, Dad was transferred to Fort Stockton TX. Dad retired there and came to the DFW area to be near me, my husband, and children. He passed away in March 1999.

      I recall him speaking of Mr. Brooks (I can’t remember his first name). And my family and I met Paul Pigue, his wife and son several times. I remember I played the piano for them that day.

      Have you ever heard of Joe Welch, or did you know him?

      Thanks for your story. It was very interesting to read your history with POI.

      Cheryl J. Welch Huitt


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