23 – 25 Nov 64 : An amazing offer in Philadelphia 


This morning we got up at about 10 am and dressed up in suits and clean shirts and went into Philadelphia on the bus, and found our way to SKF. This involved a bus ride, a tube ride (they have a very  modern underground here) and a tram ride, and finally we arrived at SKF.

<SKF is the world’s largest manufacturer of bearings, and Tony had worked for the company in the UK as a sales engineer. When he resigned from his job, he was summoned by the managing director who asked why he was leaving. After discovering that Tony was leaving to travel the world, he admitted that he wished he had done the same when he was a young man, and asked what he could do to help. Tony suggested that a letter of introduction to present to any SKF company offices around the world, would be most helpful, and the MD summoned his secretary and dictated a very nice letter there and then. 

Philadelphia was SKF’s head office in the United States.>

It was a great thrill to actually be here, and actually see it after having seen so many pictures of it in the past. We were greeted by the usual armed guard and when I showed my card were treated with great respect and eventually shown into the office of a Mr Rogers, who, it turned out later, was a security man, who unknown to us was screening us to find out if we were genuine.

We must have passed as he invited us to lunch with himself and a director, a Mr Bud Lathbury, who is the Director of Exports and visits Luton frequently, and Mr Joe Tofani who is the Assistant General Manager. We were treated very well and had a very interesting talk about all sorts of things over an excellent lunch. Unfortunately the man we had come to see was out all day but nevertheless we spent a very interesting afternoon chatting.

Colin was most interested in the methods of personnel selection here, and we were shown the whole procedure. It was fantastic. They have a panel of three psychologists who examine the results of a ‘personality analysis test’ which had such questions are as ‘Do you day dream frequently?’ and ‘Have you ever crossed the road to avoid meeting someone?’ and ‘Do you blush?’

There were hundreds of questions like this and we were assured that it can’t be fixed because each question is repeated five times in a different form, and as there is a time limit, you haven’t time to realise this. I was amazed to find that the outside sales force for the whole of the USA is only 100, which seems ridiculous when I tell you that the UK has 80. The rep for Texas has an area as big as England. We spent the whole afternoon with these men and were given a lift home to the door by another manager.

The next day we had arranged to go back in the afternoon to discuss with Mr Brobyn, the Personnel Manager the possibility of some employment, but as we didn’t know what the outcome would be, we decided we would spend the morning looking for a job in town, and struck lucky right away.

We have both got jobs in the toy department of a very posh departmental store in Philadelphia. We start on Wednesday morning and (laugh) have to do two days training first. The money is poor but at least it’s something – in case SKF have nothing to offer. It should be good fun at this time of the year and I’m quite looking forward to it.

After lunch we went back to SKF and this time were lucky and saw Mr Brobyn. He was an extremely nice fellow and was most interested in our trip and seemed eager to help us. He said he needed time to think this over, so he promptly arranged for us to be taken on a conducted tour of the factory, which I was most interested in, and I think so was Colin.

When we returned to Mr Brobyn, he said he had thought of something, and were we interested? When he told us what it was, we both nearly fell off our chairs with surprise.

It’s some sort of manual job, which consists of travelling all over the USA. It means visiting SKF stockists, of which there are 500 in the USA, and (I think) taking an inventory of their stocks – and packing and shipping away any surplus. When we have finished, we move on to the next place.

We would fly most times or sometimes go by trains or coach, but due to the terrific distances a car is out of the question.

We would stay at good hotels and ALL expenses are covered (food, drinks, hotels, taxis, etc). He said we could live on our expenses and save our salary which would probably be somewhere in the region of $75 a week. He would like us to do it for at least 6 months, but we can go on longer (until we leave America) if we so desire. It sounds terrific but I have to phone him tomorrow (Wednesday) to see if, as he puts it, ‘the deal can be arranged’.

He says he can arrange for us to be in the South in the winter (for the sun) and the North for the summer (where it is cooler). We will also go to the west, and possibly down to Mexico. I never dreamt anything like this might happen, (especially for us both) – still as yet it isn’t finalised, so let’s keep our fingers crossed. We told him about our trip to Florida, and we are able to still do that, and we’ll start with SKF immediately after Christmas – if it comes off.

<NOTE: Colin had not worked for SKF previously, having been an industrial catering manager. Therefore it was doubly surprising that he was also offered this position.> 

Tonight (Wednesday) Herb picked us up about 6 o’clock and showed us a few places of interest around Philadelphia, and then we went up to Verna’s place to meet the family. When we stopped outside the house I was amazed. It’s a beautiful house (split level) with miles of lawn, and a swimming pool, and very modern looking. I was amazed because Verna’s husband I was told is a bricklayer (later I learnt he is a furnace lining bricklayer and earns $300 a week).

Her husband was at work again but we met Verna and the two children. Verna is extremely nice and great fun and the two kids are very self assured and polite. We looked over the house which was the last thing in luxury. In Verna’s den in the basement, she almost has a whole ladies hairdressing salon. Vi was there having her hair done. We stayed there for quite a while chatting (Verna remembers Dad very well and described him very accurately) although she says she hasn’t seen him since she was 6 years old.

We then left and I drove Vi’s car and we went and had a meal. They always pick expensive places, and this is an embarrassment to us, as we are watching our money, and they always insist on paying for us despite our threats never to come out with them again. However, they seem to enjoy having us with them and seem to get a lot of pleasure out of ‘looking after us,’ so we usually give in.

We have had some great laughs with them and Vi is quite a character. We pull their legs unmercifully about the way they behave when they’re together and poor old  Herb goes bright red.

We then went to a store where Vi loaded us up with frozen hamburgers and a huge mince pie and some steaks for us to take back to the flat. She especially asked that we spend Thanksgiving Day with her and Herb – so we have agreed naturally. It’s a day exactly like Christmas at home, where everyone stays in and eats and drinks and watches TV, so it should be quite pleasant.

Vi has agreed to come down to Florida with us for two weeks, and will be shutting her diner for that. We leave next Tuesday (I think) which is the 2nd of December I believe.

To be continued… 

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3 thoughts on “23 – 25 Nov 64 : An amazing offer in Philadelphia 

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