Good Cars and Good People

image0At the end of his Basic Training, about the time Bill Stacey graduated, Wayne and Norma Sims brought Velma and Janet to California. He had never seen Janet and hadn’t seen Velma for months. It was an anxiously-awaited visit for all of them. Velma, and her sister Norma and husband Wayne Sims had never seen the ocean. The reunion was joyous, but Wayne was not one for long conversations. He wanted to do something he had always wished for: to drive on the beach.

image1Bill wasn’t sure about that, but Velma wanted Janet to see the ocean, just in case she never got another chance to get to the beach. So the four adults and two babies piled in Wayne’s car and headed for the beach. Roads and rules were not strict in August of 1943, so Wayne drove right out on the sand. Velma held Janet up and Norma held John. “Look at the ocean,” they said. “We didn’t get to see it until we were old, but you can see it when you’re babies.”

image2As soon as they were back in the car Wayne couldn’t resist driving on the sand. Bill urged caution, but Wayne was having the time of his life. Unfortunately he didn’t realize how unstable sand is right next to the water. On one pass down the beach, he drove so close to the waves the car became mired in sand. Being a resourceful man, Wayne was certain he could spin out of the sand. He put it in reverse and he rocked it in forward drive again and again, but it was no use. The harder he spun his wheels, the deeper he sank.

It was then someone noticed the tide was coming in. They may never have seen the ocean before, but they knew enough to be worried. In only the half hour since becoming stuck the tide had risen, and they knew the car would soon be swamped. After Wayne unsuccessfully tried all the tricks he knew to get the car out, Bill spotted an Army truck. He didn’t hesitate catching the attention of the soldiers and asking for help. Fortunately the soldiers were willing, and the truck pulled them free with its four-wheel drive.

image3Bill and his brother Wayne had already learned about the power of four-wheel drive at home. There were no paved roads in Woodruff. In fact, the roads were nothing more than wagon trails which had been created as the town was laid out seventy years earlier. The mud and the snow and ice on those roads were legendary, and no one escaped the inevitable car or truck sunk deep in the mud or snow. Four-wheel drive solved the problem.

image4Every winter snow piled on the roads, sometimes several feet deep. Since the roads were seldom plowed, ice formed to a depth of several inches each time there was a storm. Each new storm added another few inches to the roadway because temperatures invariably plummeted to thirty or forty degrees below zero. By January and February the ice was more than a foot deep. Then spring temperatures would thaw the edges, leaving a high ridge of thick ice in the center of the road. “You had to watch out for those roads,” said Bill. If you were driving on a road covered with ice and the edges began to crumble, you could end up high centered with your wheels spinning in the air. Then almost no one could help you out.”

image5For everyone in the nation, old cars ruled the road during World War II. The Staceys continued driving their Ford but many considered Nash and Hudson to be the best cars manufactured. By 1940 both the Nash and Hudson Companies took the time to make sure each one was well made. Those old well-made cars are the ones which made it through the war years when car production stopped completely, and the manufacturing companies made parts for planes and other war machinery.

Predictably, after the war there was a big demand for cars. The two companies transformed themselves immediately. However, to fill the demand, they put out cars so fast they didn’t pay attention to detail; and suddenly the cars from both companies were undependable. Orlando Dickson bought a Nash, but claimed it was nothing but a piece of junk. He wasn’t the only one who was mad.

To save their companies, Nash and Hudson went together to form a new company, American Motors. They brought in George Romney to be the president. He was introduced image6to the leaders of the two companies as a leader in the Mormon Church. They said nothing about the fact that he was Chairman of the Board of another big company.

image7Romney didn’t just tell everyone what to do; he went out on the line and introduced himself. He would say, “I’m just an Idaho farmer. We need to know what things are like on the line. Please help me get it right and help us make this company better. The quality of American Motors cars became almost flawless. Those working at every level wanted to make better cars because they were invested in quality. Eventually Romney was elected Governor, but after he left American Motors the company struggled.

image8Bill remembers Nash and Hudson owners learned a lesson when the two companies became American Motors. They learned the same lesson Woodruff people had been practicing for years: that when one does his best work, it always pays off, even if he isn’t getting rich. Integrity is always best, whether you run a company or make fenders or grow potatoes. And they learned that when individual members of a nation, a community, a company, or a family, feel responsible for the success of that organization, they will work tirelessly to ensure the progress of the whole group. It’s a lesson Bill has been teaching for decades.

Initially benefitted in the coming years were the car owners. But they weren’t the only ones. Anyone who had a stake in integrity and dependability knew, at that moment, what makes good cars and good people.