Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowthrower service

This is just one of my updates as stories come too me. This is from a note we give to some of our repair customers.  Just remember it is unedited.  I would appreciate comments. 

Dear Snowthrower Owner
When it snows we are at our best.  For 65 years we have provided service support for the Lawn equipment industry.  I am disappointed that our servicing of your Snowthrower did not live up to yours or our expectation.  Our hands are tied by manufactures and dealerships that don’t provide support after the sale.  In this case parts availability was the issue, this is a problem with servicing discount/home-center snowthrowers.  90% of the requests for Snowthrower service over the last 6 years are because of a corrosive additive that the EPA requires in fuel.  Below is a page from a project to write the History of our business.  An unedited unfinished copy can be found at this link.  www.leisersrental.blogspot.com

Toro introduced the first affordable Snowthrower for homeowner use in the mid 1950’s, and Leiser’s offered the first Toro snowthrowers to the homeowners of the Lehigh Valley. We sold and serviced Toro and Ariens Snowthrowers until 2006.  The Snowthrower business became unprofitable as the discount retailers under-priced us.  The discount retailers were able to do this by selling a stripped down version of what we sold and eliminating product support.  When you purchased a Snowthrower from Leiser’s It was assembled adjusted and delivered free of any charges.  Our customers were instructed on the Snowthrowers use and if our customer had a problem we would brave any snowstorm to take care of it. 

During a blizzard in 1966 Linden Street in Bethlehem was closed by 8’ snow drifts.  We cleared Linden st to a passable side street so our driver could make deliveries.  During the next few days our driver was out on the road past 10 or 11 at night delivering new machines picking up equipment that needed service.  Many times this meant clearing the street with the Snowthrower to get to the customers house.   Everyone else in our business was assembling new machines or repairing customer breakdowns this would include us kids and our friends. 

We understood our customers’ needs and knew the number of snowthrowers and the amount of parts we needed to stock, even if we didn't know when the next storm would hit.  We stocked more dollars in parts then most dealers stocked in equipment.  In 2006 the year we dropped Toro our retail parts inventory was almost $55,000.00.  We stocked 10 auger belts for every Snowthrower model we had sold the previous 20 years.  We were at our best during a snowstorm.  Something I still pride myself in.  One particular Snowstorm in the 70’s my father left the house in cross country skis and I rode my snowmobile on a 10 mile trek to get the store open.  My trip included several miles on a 4 lane highway.  For a large storm I would even spend the night in the store so it would open on time.

During the snowy winter of 1995 there were no snowthrowers available on the east coast.  Even the discount retailers were sold out.  We found Toro Snowthrowers in snow-less Utah dealerships and had them shipped in for our customers.


Times have changed.  We try to offer the same services to the owners of the discount house customers however we are limited.  We can only stock parts that we know we can sell.  Unlike The Toro Company we cannot return obsolete parts for credit.  Many times requests for parts are for models that we have never seen before, or equipment from companies that have shut down.  This year a customer requested service for a Red Chinese built Snowthrower sold online.  Chinese engines are even showing up on name brand machines in such large numbers, they forced the largest US producer of Snowthrower engines to quit engine and parts production.   

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Start here

I have been working on this story for years.  Over the last 6 months I have but a little more effort into the project.  What you are reading is a first draft.  You are sure to find spelling, grammar, and other errors.  

I have been collecting and scanning pictures and hope to add them to the text.  I also have 2 chapters I am still working on. 

Please leave comments and corrections.
Rob

rob@rentalbarn.com 

Introduction 1945 -1948

Introduction 1945 -1948

This is an introduction to a story about our family business.  I have not been actively involved in The Leiser’s Rental in Bethlehem since I purchased the Forks Township Store in 1995; however I have a financial investment in the Business’s success.  The reason I decided to take on this project is that the business is on very shaky ground.  The current management is the older of my two Sisters and one of her Sons.  Nether of them have any understanding of the business’s history.  Without the knowledge contained in this story they can’t save it.  They have ignored my help and continue to blame everyone else including me for the state of the business .  

The story was not written on how to be a success business.  There are plenty of good business books in the Library on that topic.  It is an interesting story that follows a very successful business my Father never planned on starting.   

This is a History of the Leiser Family Business.  The business my Father started in 1948 entered its 6th decade in 2008 without its Founder.  In my Father’s estate planning, my Father provided my Mother with a steady income that would allow her to afford a comfortable life.  He set up a foundation to take care of his hunting trophies, and restored a one room School House he owned.  My Father enrolled his Farm in a farmland preservation program, and my Father was very generous to his favorite charities.  As his health failed everything seemed to be in order however my Father would leave his business without a succession plan.

 Why? 

The obvious answer would be that my Father never expected the business to survive his involvement.  Some of his letters in the last years of his life would allude to this.  To the best of my ability I will draw the Map that will take my Father’s business from Dawn until Dusk.  The Map that I draw will show it was not all smooth sailing.  Along the road to any successful business there will be potholes, and dead ends, my Father’s business is no exception.    

This is a story of the business would start with my Father collecting bricks for the foundation long before the agreed to 1948 starting date.  During World War II my Father was training to be a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps.  When the war ended my Father would pursue his life love of flying.  Using the GI Bill to attended Spartan School of Aeronautics my Father would complete a course in Airport management.  He would then return home to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and search for a job.

There were not many jobs available in the Bethlehem area.  Local industries were still retooling from War production while trying to absorb the thousands of newly discharged solders.  My Father would take on some part time jobs. He would work for my Grandfather at the estate of a Bethlehem Steel executive.  For a time my Farther worked nights as a bartender and during the day he operated a handyman service.  My Grandfather was a nurseryman by trade; this background would set a direction for the handyman business. 
  
My Father purchased a used Rototiller and a surplus Jeep; he offered a custom tilling service.  In other words if you wanted a garden dug, you would hire my Father to dig it with his tilling machine.  My Father would also cut lawns and purchased a chain saw to cut trees.  With the chain saw he saw an opportunity to sell chain saws to farmers and contractors in the area.  My Father would spend the winter traveling the roads of the Lehigh Valley demonstrating the chain saw to farmers.  He had an innovative product; unfortunately as hard as he worked my father would sell only a few chain saws in those early years.  Most farmers could not justify the amount of labor saved compared to the cost of the saw.  The farmers were amazed by the speed but would confess to my Father that they had all winter to cut wood with a hand saw.  

The chain saw; the power chain saw had been developed in the early 1900’s it was a heavy expensive machine.  Even the lightest chain saw needed 2 strong men to operate. Wartime advancements in the production of aluminum castings would make the chain saw lighter cheaper and portable.  The first brand we sold was Mall, over the years we have sold and rented most major brands of chain saws.

The postwar chainsaw was an innovative product; however it was not a product that the business could be built around.  My Father never intended to open a retail store so the chain saw was just a product that would enhance his handyman business. 

My Father still envisioned finding a career in aviation; however with no aviation jobs available he would pursue his lifelong love of aviation as a hobby.  My Father was active in the Civil Air Patrol and a local Pilots Club.  He would be involved in flying all his life however aviation would always remain a hobby as he would grow his business.

Another business opportunity that would present itself to my Father was home building.  One of his friends convinced him to by a huge Army surplus Glider.  With the wooden crates and the wood recovered from the glider my Father would salvage enough lumber to build himself a house.  Few years later he would marry and build a second house, and then a third house.  These three houses still stand in the rear of my Grandfathers property. 

My Father would touch other business opportunities however the steady income from the handyman business would occupy his days. 

First decade… 1948 - 1958

First decade… 1948 - 1958

My Father acquired a Toro dealership in 1948.  I doubt he knew that he found a product to grow a business around.  Power lawnmowers were not new, Toro introduced a consumer sized powered Lawn Mower in the mid 1930's.  However in the 1930’s the suburbs hadn't been invented yet and with a limited market they were very expensive.  With the post war building boom came yards that were too large for push mowers.  A power lawnmower in 1950 was still expensive item.  A walk behind power mower could cost a homeowner 2 to 3 weeks’ salary.  As the demand for power lawnmowers increased prices would drop and the suburban sized power lawnmower moved from luxury item to a necessity.

It was never made clear how my Father and Toro got together, however with virtually no investment my Father would be given exclusive rights to sell Toro lawn equipment in the 2 counties that comprised the Lehigh Valley. This was postwar retailing, where business relationships were consummated with a handshake rather than a contract.  My Father would go on to slice up his territory by wholesaling Toro products to other retailers within his territory.

The lawnmower necessitated a change in my Fathers handyman business. The lawnmower was not an item he could sell out of the back of his Jeep.  The lawnmower would need a showroom.  My Father installed some large windows in my Grandfather’s garage, and Donald W Leiser Sales and Service was born. As the lawnmower business grew the handyman business would be phased out. Toro lawnmowers would be the single product that would support my Fathers new business.

Location is always very important and establishing the business in the center of Northampton county would give my Father’s business access to a strong middle class.  The Lehigh Valley was the home of Mack Truck, Bethlehem Steel, and Ingersoll Rand.  The Lehigh Valley’s many college's that included Lehigh, Lafayette, Muhlenberg, Moravian and others would get a boost from the GI Bill.  This would help grow a, middle and upper middle class community with disposable income.  The town of Bethlehem was built on the side of a mountain. Between downtown Bethlehem and my Grandfather’s house would be miles of flat land ready for suburban development.

Even with the opening of the retail store this would not set my Father on a lifelong career path.  He would find other business opportunities to explore. Dad’s lifelong love of the outdoors would start another business. My Parents had a season long campsite at Promised Land State Park in the Pocono Mountains. When the State of Pennsylvania started leasing building sites my Father would lease a site and build a cabin.  During construction Dad would watch the neighbor struggle in his cabin building project.  In helping the neighbor with his cabin my Father would notice the neighbor’s lack of building skills. This would give him the idea of building cabin shells. He would install the foundation, erect the floor, walls, and roof and the owner would finish off the inside. While this would be a mostly weekend and off season business Dad would find customers for his building services.

My Father had only completed a few of these shells, when back to back hurricanes spawned flooding would devastate the Pocono Mountains in 1955. The flooding would kill hundreds of people; wash out most of the bridges.  Dad would fly my mother and me up to the cabin site he was working on to check on it. The floods had pick up the enter lumber pile and push it against the foundation without the loss of a single board.  He would finish that cabin; however the demand for cabins in the Pocono’s had died. 

Another product that would be a stepping stone in the growth and diversity of the business would be the backhoe. Today the backhoe loader is now found on every construction and landscaping project, however before World War II the backhoe loader as we know it did not exist. Digging a basement or digging a trench was accomplished by hand or with a “Steam Shovel”.  The prewar power shovels needed to be hauled to a construction site in pieces and assembled before use. Moving a power shovel from one job to another could take days.

My Father would start by buying a Shawnee or Pippin backhoe kit assembling the kit, and installing it on the customers tractor. Now a digger could be driven to a job site used and then driven to the next job. This would lead to Dad acquiring a tractor dealership, to supply tractors to install backhoe kits on.  The tractor dealership wer would acquire was International Harvester Industrial Tractors. With International Harvester industrial equipment Dad had a full line of construction equipment from garden tractors to bulldozers.

The tractors and construction equipment necessitated a move out of my Grandfather’s garage.  In 1955 Dad would purchase 3 acres at the intersection of Linden St and Macada Rd in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and move the business ½ mile South of my Grandfather’s garage. The building was built mostly for lawn equipment business, however the showroom floor was reinforced enough to hold the weight of a bulldozer.
As the businesses first decade was coming to an end the business was still evolving, however it seemed to be on a solid foundation.  From a starting point of a chain saw in the back of a Jeep, to the 44 x 48’ building the business was a success.  




My Father hadn't yet hired a full time employee, as extra help needed, it would be provided by my Mother, my Grandfather or Friends.  Every Friday Mom would drive a truck to Philadelphia with a check to purchase replacements for the mowers that had been sold during the week.  Dad would schedule deliveries and service calls for evenings so he could operate the store during the day.  This was truly Mom and Pop.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Picture Link.

I plan on collecting sorting through and posting pictures.

Current photo links

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/rentalbarn/sets/72157640423879753/

Pictures from my Toro Collection are scattered through the picture page.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rentalbarn/sets/

Second decade… 1958 - 1967

Second decade… 1958 - 1967

The second decade would start with continued growth mostly on the lawn and garden side of the business. The lawn mower business continued to grow and with Toro, my Father had a manufacture that also offered commercial landscape equipment.  Some of our commercial customers would be the City of Bethlehem, and Bethlehem School District, Bethlehem Steel, Lehigh University and Moravian College. These customers would also purchase International Harvester Tractors to tow Toro Mowers. My Father still hadn't needed to hire a full time employee.  He would hire or borrow friends when he needed extra help.

The backhoe and heavy equipment business would start to take a back seat as my Father’s one man operation didn’t allow him to make the outside sales contacts needed to grow the construction equipment business.  The equipment business was still profitable, primarily because International Harvester did not have equipment stocking requirements.  We stocked a backhoe, Farmall Cub and the T340 tracked loader.  The T340 was International Harvesters smallest tracked loader and was my Father’s favorite toy.  It was used in all of the building projects and it was also his favorite snow plow.  When one T340 was sold other one would be ordered.  I was about 8 when I would be taught to operate the T340.  For an 8 year old using the manual steering clutches was a chore.  The T340 required two hands on the stick to make a turn. 

A T340 would find its way into the rental fleet.  Moving the machine from job to job would be a problem since we didn’t have a trailer large enough.  My Father would solve this by loading the 3 ½ ton machine in the back of our dump truck and find a bank to unload it.  One of our customers unfamiliar with the dump truck would jump the clutch and the bull dozer would be dumped onto the main street in downtown Bethlehem.  Dad would find the street dented and the loader undamaged; and would drive it back to the store.    

1958 my Father would introduce a new product to the Lehigh Valley the “Riding Lawn Tractor”. The first lawn tractors would be introduced in the Midwest and move east.  In 1958 we would acquire dealerships for Bantam and Wheel Horse.  The Bantam was a very simple tractor with no powered implements. It could push a plow or pull a mower and that was it.  The 1958 model Wheel Horse was introduced with more than a dozen attachments.  The Wheel Horse could plow snow, mow grass with 3 different mowing attachments, plow, plant, and cultivate a garden.  The Bantam tractors we sold were all traded back for Wheel Horse Tractors.  After our initial shipment of Bantams, the line would be dropped, however they would not go away.  Unsalable we would strip the traded in tractors for usable engines and tires.  The last, never sold, new Bantam Tractor is still with us.

The start of the Rental Business; my Father's interest in the rental business started in 1959 when he read an article about the rental business in Changing Times Magazine.  The consequences of this decision wouldn't be known for almost a decade, however it would take the business decades further than ether equipment sales or lawn and garden would have.

The Equipment Rental business was another new type of business which found acceptance during the post war business boom.  The popularity of renting tools and equipment started on the West Coast in the late 1940's and was moving East.   After reading the magazine article my Father would travel to Long Beach, California to learn more about the rental business at the American Rental Association's yearly Convention.

On this trip Dad would visit some California rental stores and learned the business by talking to the West Coast rental pioneers.  My Father returned with an enthusiasm for the rental business.  After returning home he did a quick inventory; the results were we had enough tools and equipment to open a well-stocked rental store.  With the equipment we owned from our building projects and the lawn and construction equipment we would only need to purchase few tools to fill out the inventory needs.  There was an old house on the business’s property, my Father would knock out some walls add some windows, and Bethlehem Rental Service would open for business in the spring of 1960.  



The next building project would be to move the Rental Department into the main building.  During the winter of 1961 an addition would be added to the main building and a connected Rental Store would open that spring.  Along with the rental equipment a paint department and some hardware and housewares were added.

The sales side the business would gradually move from lawn and construction equipment into a full service lawn and garden center with chemicals, seeds, fertilizers, tools and plants.  Another unusual product was custom mixed grass seeds.  We would have our own mixes or mix to customers specifications we could even add clover seed to the mix for customers who didn't consider clover a weed.  We had grass plots where our customers could see samples of our grass seed mixtures.  We even had a Bent Grass putting green with a Toro underground sprinkler system and an every other day mowing schedule. 

Soon after the rental business opened it was clear that the business could no longer be a one man operation.  By 1961 my Father would hire his first full time employees.  As the second decade continued more full time and part time employees would be added.  During this period my Father’s time in the shop and on the road would come to an end, as he seldom had time to leave the sales floor.

The 1960 rental store would not be recognized by today’s rental industry peers.  Many of the tools that are stocked in a general rental store today hadn't been invented in 1960.  Trailers were the most popular items we rented in the early 1960's.  We rented local and one way trailers and trucks for moving.  We would also rent whatever vehicle we had in the lot.  This would include pick-up, dump trucks, and cars.  For a time there was an early 50's Plymouth convertible that was popular, and a little English Ford sports car that could be rented for a nice day in the country. 

The insurance companies didn't completely understand what the rental business was all about; neither did the Department of Transportation.  We would just slap a dealer plate on whatever the customer wanted to rent and down the street it went.  For one rental request in the late 60's we would mount something called an Automatic Teller in place of the side doors on an Econoline Van.  The Bank that rented the van would travel around to shopping centers and give demos.  After the ATM demo the telephone company rented the same van and used it inside the Bethlehem Steel Plant.  It was returned a year later with 50 miles added to the odometer.

Hand power tools were very popular rental items at the time. Today for less than 3 hours wages a person can purchase a power circular saw, the same type of saw in 1960 would cost more than a week’s salary.  This made the Rental concept easy to understand and sell.  Another popular rental item was camping equipment.  We rented everything from sleeping bags, cots, to coolers, stoves and tents, pop-up and travel trailers.   Camping trailers would occupy our Fridays as trailers were returned Friday mornings; they were quickly cleaned, prepped and sent out Friday afternoons.  Friday afternoons were the busiest as trailer hitches and light harnesses had to be installed.  For the larger travel trailers we needed to install load distributing hitches and temporary electric brake controllers.  At one point we had a dozen camping trailers in our fleet.  One building addition would be a covered area where we could install hitches, and wire lights on two customers at once.  We even installed custom hitches and had more than 100 custom hitches in stock.  By the early 1960's International Harvester had sold off its appliance business and with the exception of the Cub Series had no other products for the homeowner market.  In 1965 International Harvester approached the Industrial Lawn & Garden Dealers like us with an ultimatum to “Get Big or Get Out”.  The $35,000.00 investment in inventory and a requirement to add a full time on the road salesman was too much for my Father and almost every other International Harvester Industrial Dealer to handle.  By the end of 1965 we would sell off the remaining inventory and return parts.

The “Get Big or Get Out” program was so popular on the “Get Out” side among dealers; International Harvester lost most of the industrial dealers.  International Harvester Industrial would be so crippled by this program that they would need to open company owned stores for industrial equipment.

By the Mid 1960's the rental business was doing well; my Father had the cash needed to expand into new product lines.  We would add some expensive new products to the rental inventory.  We would add products to our rental fleet that were not available anywhere else in the area.  Some of the new items would include diamond saws and drills, airless painting equipment, and a rough terrain high reach fork lift.  Occasionally the fork lift would be displayed with one of the employees cars lifted into the air.  We had the largest most diverse rental inventory outside of Philadelphia or New York.

The Mid 60's would also see the start of the party rental business.  Rental chairs and tables had been in the inventory since the rental business started along with a collection of green canvas tents that we used for our fair displays and open houses.  When it came down to adding china and flatware to the rental inventory we purchased heavy green edged china from a closed down restaurant.  Dad would keep an eye out for restaurant closings as the party business increased.  Washing would be in a wash tub and the unwrapped dinnerware would be stored in the warehouse.  The party business grew faster than restaurant failures, and customers started asking for matching china, glassware and flatware.  1966 would see a major investment in party.  All new gold edged china, matching flatware, and glassware was purchased.  We also added 30’ x 60' blue and white party tent, and table linens. 

Erecting the 30 x 60 tent required 3 people and in the early years this was most of the staff.  My Mother would take my siblings along with drinks and snacks for the crew.  By the time the center poles went up the neighbors had gathered.  Yes they had all seen circus and fair tents however not a blue and white stripped tent being set up in someone’s back yard.

The next step in the party business was to add dish washing and laundry facilities (sort of).  Our house was unusual in that we lived in the basement for a few years until the main floor of the house was complete.  My Father had purchased and installed a used kitchen with a dishwasher in the basement for this temporary kitchen. This basement kitchen would be used for dish washing, after busy weekends both of my Mothers dishwashers would be used to keep up with the work load.  Unable to find a quality laundry service for the linen's we would bring the linen service into our house. 

By 1967 and a few more additions the rentals, sales, parts and service departments would be handled at the same counter.  The storage garages between the rental and sales entrance was tripled in size by pushing it out over top of the shop. The original rental store was now party rental storage and display.  The new addition was used for lawn equipment display, swimming pools and supplies, and the hardware department.  The original store was for seasonal and ½ of the trailer hitch area was converted to rental equipment storage.  If this sounds complicated making sure every door was locked was even more complicated.

One of our largest investments was to purchase a Cash Register that could handle some of the accounting for the rental business.  One of my Fathers hunting buddies work for NCR.   In 1967 my Fathers friend and NCR designed a cash register that could record and subtract security deposits.  The Cash register would also allow us to separate our sales, rentals, and repairs into a 12 separate categories.  We still had to manually figure sales tax however; we could now separate rentals from sales and give our customers a printed receipt.  The cash register weighed 220 pounds and cost $3500.00.  Eventually we would have others built as we opened stores.  This was a huge expense considering the $12,000 cost to computerize 2 stores in 1990.       

During the 1960's our busy spring season started in late February when a railroad carload of peat moss (Garden Mulch) would be parked at a railroad siding about 3 miles away.  From that event it was a mad rush with everything that rolled to get the rail car unloaded as quickly as possible.  Since the 40 lb bags could be handled by a 10 year old I was included.  From then tractor trailers loaded with Scotts Lawn Products would arrive. The garden tools, lawn mowers, and tractors for the season would arrive be assembled and moved to the showroom. 

By early fall it was time to change the seasonal displays. In place of the mowers were snowmobiles, snow throwers and snow shovels.  The mower decks were removed from the lawn tractors and replaced with snow plows and snow throwers.  Bird feeders and bird food would replace fertilizer and garden chemicals.  We would display several hundred Bird Feeders as we stocked bird feeders from 50 different manufactures. The bird department was my Grandfather’s responsibility.  As soon as the bird feeders were in place we would set up the Christmas department.  In the days before Big Box retailing we were the largest Christmas Store in the Christmas City.  We even ran a lighting contest where first prize was a Toro snow thrower.  Judging was handled by family and friends piling into the Station Wagons driving around town and then comparing notes.

After Christmas the leftovers were packed away, and the rest of the Bird feeders were put on display.  As February rolled around the railroad would again call to inform us that the load of Peat Moss was rolling into the Station.

Traveling around with a chainsaw in the back of a jeep quickly became impractical as the business grew.   My Father would start setting up displays at local fairs and farm events.  At fairs we would find an unlimited number of people who wanted to touch and sit on our products.  It was easy to draw a prospect into our display when junior found a tractor seat to sit on. These country fairs were so profitable Dad would purchase his own tent and even take our marketing outside of the Lehigh Valley.

As our products changed so did the events we attended and the equipment we displayed.  For us kids we got to attend all the big events.  Depending what products we were promoting we could find an event to display it.  Agricultural Fairs, Sports Shows, Home Shows, Mall Shows, Bridal Shows.  They started to become time consuming and expensive proposition to pay for the display space set up tear down and deal with the damage.  We would cut the list of events we attended and do our own spring fair.

Every April the tents would go up next to the store and the equipment was moved under the tents.  My Mother would put weeks into preparing and freezing Barbecue from whatever animal my Father shot the previous fall.  The back page of the local paper was covered with a full page color Ad. The Factory Reps would come for the weekend and a WWII searchlight would be hired.  All of us, the cousins, and the neighborhood kids would be given grey shirts and cowboy hats and watch as all hell would break loose.

In 1966 “Ortho” our garden chemical line introduced a lawn fertilizer with a small hand held spreader called the Whirlybird.  With the purchase of a bag of fertilizer and a spreader ($20.00 for the Package) the customer would receive a Helicopter ride.  The Helicopter landed in our front yard and for 2 days was kept busy providing 3 minute rides.

Those were the good old days before lawyers, noise ordinances, and annoying neighbors.






On the sales side there was so much going on beyond the core of Lawn Equipment and Rentals but if you couldn't find it anywhere we had it or could get it.  We had 3 hardware wholesalers visit almost on a weekly basis.  The salesman would walk the isles and mark down what they thought we should have. At that point my Father or Grandfather would review the list and cross off what we didn't need.  One particular ingenious Salesman would always send items we hadn’t ordered, knowing there was a good chance that my Father would keep the merchandise rather than sending it back.

We were the area's first, or biggest for so many products, our competition was always playing catch-up. We had the best products best service and competitive pricing.  As the second decade would come to an end as a new type of retailing would take hold in the Lehigh Valley, as “Two Guys” from Harrison New Jersey would bring the concept of Big Box discount retailing to or area.

Despite the local Blue Law’s we would be open Sundays during the busy spring season.  City officials and the police would mostly ignore us because we were only open for a few hours in the afternoon and only for 2 or 3 months.  The Two Guys store would ignore the rule completely.  Paying the $25.00 fine each Sunday was insignificant compared to the amount of Sunday sales.  We would continue Sunday sales and Thursday, Friday shopping night’s through the 1970’s. 

The odd and unusual from our retail products we carried during the second decade.   Pedal Boats, Sail Boats, Boats that converted to campers, Boats that converted into car top carriers.  We were a Winchester dealer so my Father could buy guns for himself and his friends at wholesale prices.  We sold plastic pink flamingos, concrete lawn ornaments and bird baths.  Someone once stole 7’ 300lb Indian women; no one ever stole the 500lb concrete bear.  We sold and rented wrought iron lawn furniture.   We could order custom outdoor lamp posts and custom cast iron address markers for the lampposts and mail boxes.  We tried hardware and housewares we also tried above and in-ground swimming pools. We sold Fiberglass garden pools and fountains long before the water feature would become a popular landscape addition.  We sold and installed underground sprinkler systems.

We always had powered toys of some type.  After the original rental store was moved my Father started selling racing go carts there was a limited market and when the local track closed that line was dropped. During the 1960's kids would use old lawn mower engines to power homemade Go Carts and Mini Bikes this spawned a market for clutches, chains, tires, and other parts we also sold Mini Bike frames and complete Mini Bikes. We also sold the little Model T's the parading Shriner's refer to as Tin Lizzies.  My very first job at 7 or 8 years old in the business would be to remove engines from old reel mowers get them running and sell them to the neighborhood kids.  

Mini bike supplies made our store a popular spot for the kids, day and night.  If a customer’s mower was mistakenly left out over night the engine would disappear by morning.  Another powered toy we introduced to market was Snowmobiles.  The first snow machines were 20 mph 700 lb. monsters made by a company called Foxtrac.  Not only did we bring the first Snowmobiles to the Lehigh Valley we were one of the first Snowmobile Dealers in the Mid-Atlantic region.  When our snowmobiles were displayed outside people would pull off the road to see one or sit on it and have a picture taken.  When it snowed the grass demo yard would be the snowmobile demo yard.  Mostly it was a chance for a passerby to use the demo as only something to brag about.

Our first snowmobile would find its way to the front page of the local paper.  The snowmobiles would attract attention when we replaced the skis with wheels and showed it off at our Spring Fair.  That first snowmobile would get plenty of attention but never find a home. It was rented a few times and has been sitting in a shed since the early 1970’s.  Our next brand would be Ski-doo, then AMF Ski Daddlier, Wheel Horse, Ariens and a few others until we acquired a Polaris Dealership in 1971


1965 Foxtrac Snowmobile

By the late 1960's the Wild West of retailing was just about over.  My Father would be denied the permit needed to add the umpteenth addition to the store.  By 1967 the store had 3 front doors on 3 different levels, 3 side doors, at least 10 garage doors not counting the huge 3 car garage at the house that was also used for storage.  Our building had 2 separate attics and 2 levels of basements. It was heated with 3 oil burners and was powered with one main overworked fuse box. Somewhere among the 6 levels and 7 interior doors was one toilet and a sink.


By the mid 1960's my Father was planning to open a second store.  Dad found a suitable location had it rezoned and acquired the permits.  He would have the steel delivered and start excavating before all the appeals were exhausted.  Mid foundation the neighbors appealed the rezoning and this would stop the project for over a year.  

Third decade… 1968 – 1977

Third decade… 1968 – 1977

The Palmer Township (Easton) store would be designed from the ground up to cover the continued growth of the party rental business without neglecting lawn and garden sales and general tool rental.  The building would be built around some new rental products.  The new items this store would offer office furniture, medical equipment, portable laundry equipment, and concession equipment.  The store would be built with clean storage for the party equipment and tents.  My Father found a used commercial dish washer, so the dish washing and the laundry operation could be moved out of the basement of our home.

This store was a complete departure from the rental industries view of a rental store.  Most rental stores at the time stored and displayed equipment outside.  This store was designed with all indoor storage.  The showroom would be carpeted with recessed lights.  The displays would be clean and tasteful.  For the first time we would display the party goods and the softer side of our rental inventory in front of our customers entering the stores.  The tools would be moved to the back of the store.  All the purchase for this store would be mostly new items to our rental business; however we did not neglect the core.  Lawn mowers and tractors would be displayed on carpet in our showroom.  This would be unheard of in the lawn equipment industry at the time.  Our lawn equipment displays would put many new car dealer showrooms to shame. 

We would not recreate the full garden center experience in Palmer.  We would have an adequate supply of fertilizers, and garden tools; however we would not offer the more obscure items like custom mixed grass seed, bird feeders, Christmas decorations and hardware.

The tool and equipment inventory for this store would be purchased from a Philadelphia tool rental store that was closing down.  The tools were old but usable. The Palmer store manager had a mechanical background that came in very helpful in keeping the old inventory usable. 

Even at this early point in the business the age of our rental equipment would start to become an issue.  While we had the largest most diverse inventory it wasn't always the most reliable.  Being the first and without real competition our customers were accustom to having the occasional breakdowns.  My Father would rather have 3 old air compressors rather than 1 new one.

The Grand Opening in April of 1968 was very eventful.  If my Father had been superstitious he would have locked the door of the Palmer store the evening after the grand opening and never go back.  The day started with one of the first visitors being the neighbor / lawyer that filed the injunction to stop our project.  This neighbor would welcome us to the neighborhood and explain he had nothing against our business except the other neighbors paid him to try to stop us.  That lawyer would be a loyal customer for the next 25 years until his passing.  The weather during that April day would be rain, snow, and a strong thunderstorm.  The Wheel Horse tractor rep would cut his hand during a demo and bleed all over the new carpet.  The day would end when a woman having a heart attack would be carried in and die on the display hospital bed.  After an interesting opening day the store would operate profitably until 1982 when my Father was approached with an offer to sell the building.

The machine made a snack called a flip chip
 Palmer opening day
Palmer Early Spring 1968

Seeing how efficient the Palmer Store was with a single floor clear span building my Fathers next project would be to replace the current Bethlehem store with a modern steel building.  The proposal my Father would submit to the City of Bethlehem was to rezone an acre of residential land next to the current Bethlehem store and start with a new Steel building that would eventually join and envelop the old building. This proposal was met with a resounding No! from Bethlehem zoning officials.  City officials were already dealing with an eyesore that had serious safety and fire hazard concerns.  The Cities rejection would send my Father scrambling for another location outside the City of Bethlehem.  About the same time Shell Oil company approached my Father about selling the Bethlehem property.

The Monday after Thanksgiving 1969 my Father would make settlement on an acre of land. This property was just a few hundred feet outside the Bethlehem City limits. The property was about a mile north of the current Bethlehem store.  On the day of settlement the steel building was already on its way.  My Father planned to make the move within 4 months.  A week later the snow and topsoil would be pushed off the site so the construction could begin.  After the foundation was poured a hard freeze would hit, the length severe cold weather would last most of the winter.  The brick layers and steel erectors would be bumping into each other in a scramble to get the building up and closed in.

Once the shell started to close in we would start tenting and heating to get the frost out of the ground to pour the concrete floors.  The heating and concrete project would last weeks as an almost a 24-7 operation.  We would make a late evening trip to the new store to refuel the heaters.  As sections of concrete floor dried inventory would be moved out of the old store so we could start demolition.  Most of lumber and doors from the old building would be reused in the new building.  Demolition and the continued operation of the old store would continue simultaneously.

The new Bethlehem store was rushed to open on schedule in April of 1970.  The store had no running water except roof water directed into a holding tank.  The water system worked so well we would continue to use it for the next 10 years.  The showroom lighting was strings of 100 watt light bulbs.  By 1971 the old store had been completely disassembled the remaining salvaged lumber and hardware would be saved for the first addition to the new building and other projects. 

In late 1971 as the first addition to the new building was being planned we would learned the property was about 30’ shallower than originally thought.  In the hurry to purchase the property my Father didn’t notice that the acre he purchased started in the center of the street.  This would cut the size of the addition by ½ of the original planned size.

As the popularity of the rental business grew the focus of the business would move away from a full service garden center and began to focus on growing the rental business.  My Father would make a significant investment in rental equipment.  Customer requests were always used when it came to adding new items to our invintory

It seemed anything we added to the party business was profitable.  The party business's growth was almost out of control.  Evan in 1970 we had enough party equipment to do an outdoor wedding for up to 150 people.  We had china, flatware and glassware for more than 300 people. With 4000 chairs we supplied most of the valleys college commencement ceremonies.

We were fortunate the Lehigh Valley has 5 large Colleges located within the Lehigh Valley.  The fraternity business would keep us busy during normally slow periods.  Adding casino equipment would be extremely profitable from day one.  To keep up with the demand we even produced our own craps tables, poker tables, and numbers wheels.  During the early years we were always experimenting and with the party equipment to meet customer needs.  The party rental business was new and wide open there were no rules.  Imagination and ingenuity was our only limits to meeting our customer requests.  One request from Lehigh University was to set up a 30×60 tent on a steep slope. We would construct a level Platform to erect the tent on; much of the lumber used for the platform was remnants of the Old Store.  Long before tent flooring became available, we would build platforms, and install flooring, and carpet with our rental tents.

Another new customer would come to our front door in 1970.  A Dentist from Philly had a dream of building a Race track in the Poconos.  1970 Dr. Matiolli was preparing to host his first Indy Car race at his Pocono Raceway.  We would be called on as last minute glitch’s appeared.  The first few years we would provide the scaffolding for the TV camera towers.  We would eventually provide all the chairs tables and tents required for the Indy and NASCAR races. This business relationship gave us access to all points on the race track.  Wheel Horse Tractors from South Bend Indiana would be used to push around the Indy Cars as they did at the Indy 500.  Wheel Horse would provide us the ability to watch the race from the Pit Wall.

We would drop the Scaffold where requested and on the trip I would encounter on pick up was erected 50’ towers that needed to be disassembled.  I can’t say I was ever comfortable at heights but this was something that was part of the job.    

We brought the first Skid Steer loaders to the local rental market in the late 1960's, and when a Bobcat Dealership became available in the early 1971 my Father jumped on it. The Skid Steer loader we had in rental was doing well enough to add more units to the rental inventory.  As a dealer we could purchase new loaders for rental at cost.  The manufacture of Bobcat was trying to move its loader's popularity as a farm tool and enlarge the market to include industrial, construction, and rental.  We were the perfect outlet for this task. 

I would spend 2 weeks in Gwinner, North Dakota learning the service side of Bobcat a few months later our first outside sales person would make his way to North Dakota for sales training. Rather than training a young salesperson my Father would hire mature experience salespeople.  These early hires would be too old to be bouncing around a construction site in a Bobcat loader.  For many customers this was the first Skid Steer loader they had ever seen, and without a competent demonstration the sale would be lost.  Some of us would take turns doing the demos for the salesman.  One Salesman trainee with a drinking problem would almost burn down the only motel in Gwinner, North Dakota.  Another salesman would run into some legal issues with his previous sales job in the “not so legal” substances business.

Our ability to find new markets for Bobcat loaders would never really get off the ground; however we would find new homes for Bobcats in familiar places.  We would introduce Bobcat loaders to other rental stores, along with continued growth of our own loader rentals.  Every cement plant in our area would have a Bobcat, most foundries did. The early Bobcats had lots of clutches chains and belts.  We found a profitable market for parts and service of Bobcat loaders.  With Bobcat parts and service we would service an area twice as large as the Lehigh Valley.  Our service truck would cover the far eastern quarter of Pennsylvania and some of western New Jersey.  We had enough Bobcat service business to keep a dedicated service truck on the road. 

During the 1970’s some large construction projects would come to the Lehigh Valley.  The largest and most complicated would be the Shaffer Brewery.  My Father was purchasing construction equipment as it was needed on the Brewery site.  A new riding trencher was delivered directly to the site.  It would be months before we would see it.  Scaffolding would be picked up from the manufacture and delivered to the Brewery sometimes before the paint was completely dry. 

The economy of the early 1970's was on a down turn the Arab oil embargo, fuel shortages, and cuts in steel production but would be hardly noticed in our business.  Layoffs at Bethlehem Steel and the other large manufactures would leave the unemployed workers with free time and generous unemployment checks.  Inflation and the rising cost of food and fuel would popularize vegetable gardens and wood burning stoves and the tools needed to supply and maintain stoves and gardens.  We took on a line of Franklin Stoves and a new line of chainsaws and log splitters. 

The interest in rototillers would be revived.  The rototiller was one of the first products my Father sold; however they were expensive and complicated and never sold well.  The original Rototiller line was left behind at my Grandfather’s house in the 1955 move.  My Grandfather continued to handle the sales on a part time basis.  My Father and Grandfather would renew ties with the old rototiller company that was called Troy Built at the time.  In the early 1970's as the gardening fad grew we had customers standing in line for Troy-Built rototillers.  We would modify one of our old rental vans just to haul tillers from the factory in Troy NY.  We could get about 40 disassembled unboxed tillers on the truck.  Every few weeks as Troy-Built would have a shipment tillers ready we would send the truck back to upstate New York.  Chainsaws would also sell well, and log splitters would become a popular rental items. Wood stoves never took off and were dropped.

Gardening would be a fad as the popularity would decrease as food prices and inflation were brought under control.  Will we ever see the popularity of home gardens again?  The answer would be probably not.  Many of those 1970’s garden skills were passed down from depression era parents. Today self-sufficiency is not a popular life skill.  The Troy built company as we knew it would disappear by 2000.  The only remaining sign of Troy Built is the rights to paste the Troy Built name on Chinese made equipment.

With the move to a smaller building and increased competition from a new K Mart store that was less than a mile away we would say goodbye to many products from the past.  As the old store was coming down dead inventory from the attic and other dark corners would be collected for an auction.  The Christmas decoration business would fall under the auctioneers hammer.  Hardware, paint, and swimming pool supplies would be auctioned.  As more than 100 custom trailer hitches were sold.  At the auction we would learn the custom made hitches to fit Desoto’s, Ramblers and Studebakers were worth about 50 cents each.  Brand new Toro hovering lawn mowers still in boxes would be sold for $17.00 each.

The concrete lawn ornaments, bird baths, bird feeders and lawn furniture would make the move but be scaled down. The Ski-doo Snowmobile dealership would be sold to a local car dealer and we would drop most of the competing brands of lawnmowers. With Toro selling so well there was no reason to clog the new showroom with Reo, Lawn Boy, Jacobson and Economy.  We would also trim down the full service garden center as my Grandfathers health began to fail.  The rental and sales of camping trailers would be eliminated as car bumpers were getting increasingly more difficult to install temporary hitches on.

By 1973 the Bethlehem move was complete; my Father would look towards a new project and would start a search for a third location.  The Lehigh Valley is made up of 2 counties and 3 large cities. The Valley’s population in 1970 was about 460,000 people.   Bethlehem straddles the county line in the center of the Valley.  Easton is along the Delaware River on the New Jersey border.  The Easton area was covered by the Palmer Store. The largest city in the valley is Allentown located on the western side of the valley.  My Father’s search for a third location would be on the west side of Allentown.  He wanted to be outside the city of Allentown to capture the growing residential and commercial areas outside the city limits.

My Fathers search for a location had a dollar figure attached to it; my Father would skip over his desired location as he felt the real estate was too expensive.  His search would move further and further from the population centers and would end in near the western Lehigh County town of Macungie population 2500. (Macungie is an Indian word for “Bear Swamp”) It wasn’t the best location however it was in his price range.  With a Mack Truck plant under construction across the street, my Father saw this as an area of growth. 

Lessons learned in Palmer and the new Bethlehem store would be incorporated into the new Macungie Store.  The project would include a larger building on a piece of land with plenty of room for expansion.  

This Macungie project would be slowed by township planners who found faults in my Father’s hand drawn plans.  To move the project along my Father would eventually hire a local engineer and the project would proceed.  The Macungie store would be mine I would help build it and manage it once it was open.

For the Macungie project we would erect the steel building ourselves.  The only outside sub-contractors we hire would be for the foundation and masonry walls.  Bethlehem was plagued by a brutal winter, the Macungie project would be plagued by mud.  During the winter of 74-75 the ground never froze deep enough to eliminate the mud.  We would use our high reach rough terrain 4 wheel drive forklift to set the steel in place.  Even with 4 wheel drive we would need a Track Loader or the brick layers rough terrain forklift to continually pull one or the other or both out of the mud.  When the roof panels were installed we would be picked up by the forklift in the parking area driven to and lifted onto the roof as to not leave muddy footprints on the roof. 

The Macungie Store would also incorporate the roof collection water system.   

To stock the Macungie Store my Father would purchase a complete new rental inventory, this would include more construction oriented product lines.

Like Palmer my Father would take this store in an entirely new direction with an extensive inventory of construction equipment for sale.  At the time we were adding larger pieces of construction rental equipment to our fleet.  We had been without a full size Backhoe for a few years.  One of the lines we took on offered tractors up to 100 horsepower and full sized backhoe.  Stow Construction Equipment, Essic and Western Black Top Rollers, and a fleet of new Air Compressors would be new lines of equipment for us.  Items ranging from hand tools to blacktop rollers and skid steer loaders would be on display in the showroom.  The interior would match Palmer and Bethlehem with carpeted showroom and well planned displays.  In the spring of 1975 the Macungie Store would open without me at the counter.  A few months before opening I would learn that I would not manage the Store.  When I would ask, “why” I would not get an answer. 

The Third decade would come to a close with a large footprint and name recognition across the Lehigh Valley.  With the 3 stores 90% of the Valley’s population was less than 10 miles from one of our stores the economy was struggling; however we had good product lines, a good reputation with no competition to speak of.

What would the 4th decade bring?  My Father would make it known that he planned additional expansion.  He seriously studied a store in Pottsville Pa.  The Pottsville store would be located almost an hour from the main store.  This would be a big step because this store would operate by itself without any support from the other stores.  My Father made some visits to Pottsville and even announced the 1977 opening in an interview he gave to a small weekly newspaper.


1977 would come and go without a store or even a property lined up for the Pottsville location.  The Macungie store was only open for 2 years however the growth my Father anticipated hadn't come.  The separation between the Macungie store and the Bethlehem and Palmer stores were becoming a problem.  My Father wouldn't drop Pottsville or future expansion; however it was put on the back burner.  A few years later my Father would have his pen in his hand and a manager lined up in deal to purchase a store in Reading Pa.  When the manager prospect backed out of the opportunity of running the Reading store the expansion plans were dropped.  



Gone completely would be snowmobiles. Polaris changed distributors and Polaris was looking to eliminate dealers who handled snowmobiles as a side line.  We certainly tried to find a market for snowmobile.  The snowmobile was a product that just hadn’t come of age in a fringe snow area like ours.  In the future snowmobile trails and resorts would be built in the Snowbelt of upstate New York and destination snowmobile vacations would become popular. 

Kubota tractors would be dropped.  Of the first shipment of tractors we received we would not sell a single tractor.  After a few years the rusting tractors were pushed out the door at a loss.  Today Kubota tractors are the most popular utility tractors in the world however at the time it was an unknown product with an unknown reputation.  The quality of Japanese imports was still unknown; my Father himself questioned the quality and refused to add Kubota to the rental fleet.

My Father would often sign on as a sales dealer just for the opportunity to purchase rental equipment at wholesale prices.  The dealerships that were availible were not necessarily the name brands.  He would often take on lines because of the price.  Two brands that would make the top 5 of Losers Freaks and Orphans were Brown Trenchers and Long Tractors. The Brown Company had been in bankruptcy when my Father signed a contract to buy 3 machines.  By the time Brown cashed our check and the machines arrived the company had shut down production.  The Brown trenchers that arrived would be almost rusted solid as if they had been sitting in a field for years.  The company would send paint and new decals before they locked the doors completely.  The new trenchers would need to be sandblasted and painted before they could be used.  The assets of Brown was purchased by another company that also went bankrupt the machines broke down frequently parts availability was non-existent and the Brown trenchers were eventually sold as scrap.

Another of these unknown brands that my Father would sign a dealership contract with was the Long Tractor Company.  The Long Company was known for their tobacco harvesting equipment.  Long would also import a line of farm tractors from Romania that were produced using a Fiat patent?  Long would also build a backhoe using a drive train from a British bus company?  Breakdowns were frequent, parts availability was poor, and product support was none existent as service manuals were written in ether Italian or Romanian.   When the backhoe blew an engine the Company had no idea how to remove the engine.  We were told the engine was the first step in assembly and the tractor is assembled around the engine.  The repair would include cutting the frame and re-welding it as our only option in completing the repair.  Long Tractors are still being imported if you see one for sale “don’t buy it”.  My Father would be stung again in the 1990’s when a Chinese built tractor he purchased exploded while being started sending large chunks of the engine hundreds of feet.


As 1978 was approaching we would be celebrating our 30th anniversary of our relationship with Toro, 20 years with Wheel Horse tractors, and 6 years with Echo trimmers, leaf blowers and chainsaws.  We built these lines with our reputation to provide a quality product, with quality service.  Echo was an unknown Japanese product when it came into our store.  Echo would sell well just because the customers respected our reputation for quality. 

Forth decade… 1978 – 1984 (part I)

Forth decade… 1978 – 1984 (part I)

For the first 30 years the business would see strong steady growth, for the 4th decade the business would hit its first significant bumps in the road.  “If you build it they will come” is not always the case.  The continued down economy would kill the construction equipment sales business before it ever got started.  The manager of the Macungie store was uninspired and he was beyond the oversight of my Father.  The 4th decade would expose some serious cracks in the business’s foundation.  The large investment in the Macungie store was not paying off.  After 3 years the store was still running at a significant loss.  After a considerable investment in construction equipment inventory my Father would overlook the hiring of a competent outside salesman.  After 3 years the original construction equipment sales inventory was just collecting dust.

Early in the 4th decade my Brother would enter the business.  He had minimal time working in our business, however spent the year after High School attending a rental school set up by the American Rental Association.  After the program, he spent the following summer apprenticing in a California rental store.  My Brother would return and have my Father’s complete attention.   My Father would study ideas my Brother learned on his apprenticeship.  After all these California rental pioneers that my Brother apprenticed under were my Father’s mentors.  As long as my Brother had my Fathers attention he felt he could wrestle control of the business for himself.  This would be the start of the “Leiser Family Wars”. 

In 1980 a former mechanic of ours would start snooping around.  After he left us he had spent a few years working for Bobcat.  After Bobcat he decided to open his own business.  First he would find a way to acquire our Bobcat customer list and grab some of our service accounts.  Eventually with some inside help this former mechanic would steal the Bobcat franchise away from us.  Our Bobcat dealership would be given to a one man operation who's only business facility was his garage.  The loss of the parts and service business would be a big hit on the Macungie store.  This new Bobcat dealer would eventually fail however until that day he would profit from his inside contacts.  My Father would never understand how closely the people he trusted were involved in us losing the Bobcat franchise. 

My Father who had never committed 100% to marketing Bobcat Loaders was now determined to hurt Bobcat and this new dealer.  He would acquire another brand of skid steer loaders from a company called Hydra-Mac.  The quality was horrible; Hydra-Mac loaders would break down on demos, at one point the factory even flew an engineer in to see if they could solve the problem of exploding hydraulic hoses.  Another annoyance my Father never understood was as soon as we found an interested loader customer the Bobcat dealer would find his way to the same prospect.  With the Hydra-Mac reliability issues my Father would acquire a third line of skid steer loaders.  That company would shut down stranding us without parts.  This would end our ventures into construction equipment sales.

Even with the poor economy the party rental business would remain strong.   The Palmer store could no longer handle the increases of the party rental business.  Every weekend our busy party delivery trucks covered the valley.  Our tent, chair, and table inventory allowed us to service major events like Pocono Raceway.  We had grown to a point that we could handle 2 large outdoor weddings a weekend.  The already enlarged Palmer store needed to be expanded again, however there was no room on the property to expand. 

With over 4000 chairs we could handle large college commencements on consecutive days.  We were handling the chair rentals for all the collages in the valley with outdoor events.  The collage commencement season would last less than 2 weeks.  Collage commencements season would be one of those events that was, all hands on deck.  Moving 4000 heavy slippery wooden chairs from one event to another enlisted everyone in the business that could carry a chair or drive a truck.  The commencement season would start at home where a section of the barn on the family farm, was set aside for off season chair storage.  This would be a family project as the first step was for us to load trucks and trailers with chairs.   From there we would move chairs from one school to another. 

The wooden chairs we used had their own problems.  The different brands we had would not stack correctly if mixed.  One year 500 brand new chairs from a new manufacture would be rained on. They swelled to a point that they wouldn't fold or stack and the varnish got sticky.  This was a logistic nightmare considering they were needed the next day.  We delivered and set up the chairs outside at the next event, fortunately the sticky varnished dried before they were needed.  One other issue that would plague our aging wooden chairs was the glue had dissolved from most of our inventory. They were safe but wobbly.  As we added lightweight metal framed chairs to our inventory the wooden chairs would be retired. 

We had one last customer for the wooden chairs and that was Pocono Raceway.  Pocono Raceway would lose chairs at every event.  We preferred that they lose and be charged for our old wooden chairs rather than our new lightweight chairs.  The Pocono Raceway losses would fund the purchase of replacement chairs.  At one event we would lose more than 300 chairs.  The steel bolts that held the wooden chairs together were found on a burn pile, this would be the evidence that the chairs would never ever be found.  Apparently the chairs were used by race fans to build a bonfire at one particularly cold race weekend.

Our attention would focus on how to handle the growth of the party business.  The Bethlehem and Palmer buildings had expanded as far as they could, and Macungie was too far from our customer base to relocate the party business to that store.  With no other option the plan was to move the Bethlehem store to a new location.  The vacant land behind the current Bethlehem Store was available however this was the same developer who cheated my Father out of land in 1969.  My Father would look elsewhere.

My Father found an interesting property with great highway visibility and less than a mile from the current location.  The problem with the property was that a bridge needed to be built across a Trout Stream to access the property from the main road.  In my Father’s mind we could build that bridge.  When he learned the costs of just acquiring permits for the bridge the idea was dropped.  After looking at several other properties he decided the best plan would be to purchase the property behind the current Bethlehem store and expand on the current site.  The property contained a barn and some storage buildings that could quickly be converted to usable space.  

The expansion plan wasn't written in stone but would involve moving the complete party business from Palmer to Bethlehem.  The project would consist of remodeling of the old barn that was on the recently purchased property.  The lower level of the barn would be used for the storage of tables chairs and tents.  The second floor of the barn would be reinforced and serve as a showroom and repair facility for a new motor home business.  The project would include a complete reconfiguration of the Bethlehem Store.  A new party warehouse with a loading dock would be added to the rear of the main store.  In the currant showroom the sales area would be used to create a party showroom, and washing and laundry facilities.  The complete project would take a few years to evolve, when the project was finished the parts room was used as an office and linen storage.  The main counter and offices would be pushed into the storage area.  During the reconfigured of the showroom the remnants of a full service garden center would be sold or put into storage.  We would continue to sell lawn equipment, however the space dedicated to lawn equipment would be considerably smaller. 

The first part of the project was to break through the fence and make our way to the barn.  My Father would buy an old bulldozer, track loader and an old dump truck as the construction would be handled by our staff.  Most of the next few months of that winter would be dedicated re-grading 2 acres, and installing a second entrance. I would do this by hauling in hundreds of tons of stone one 5 ton truck load at a time.

The project for the spring of 1982 was to reinforce the upper barn floor with concrete.  Without engineering help we would pour 4” of concrete over an old wooden barn floor.  The hope was that the wooden floor and the lower beams would support the weight of the wet concrete until it dried.  One of my Father’s friends with some concrete knowledge would help lay out the reinforcing rods.  We would patch any areas we thought might give way or leak.  My Father decided not to move the party inventory from the area below the concrete pour.  We would cover the inventory with plastic so if the floor had given way we could jack hammer our still clean party inventory out of the hard concrete.  The concrete pour was successful and a few weeks later when the first motor home was driven onto the floor and it would hold the weight.

As progress continued on the barn project a third floor RV office would be added, and the RV showroom on the main floor would be completed.  With the exception of the new warehouse most of the project would progress without building permits or inspections.  With the addition of dish washing and laundry facilities we would remove the roof water collection system and install city water.

With the move complete the Palmer Store was no longer needed.  A buyer for the property would be found.  The remaining Palmer inventory was put into storage in Macungie.  The Palmer store had opened in 1968 with a medical rental equipment inventory.  The property was purchased by medical supply company that was expanding into rentals.  We brought the medical rental equipment to the market too soon to find success.  Medical equipment rentals would work in 1982 because insurance companies saw savings by moving patients out of hospitals quicker.  There was nothing we could have done to make the medical business work in 1968 however we did try. 

By the late 70’s the business had grown to a point that it no longer needed to have my Father’s hands on the controls every day.  My Father had the confidence that he could spend a few weeks away hunting and return to find no significant problems.  As his time away from the business increased he would lose the ability to step in and understand what was going on.  The party business had become completely foreign to my Father.  He had complete confidence in the party manager and let the manager have complete control of the business and most of the purchasing. 

My Father was a competent mechanic and welder however there was no longer a place for him in the shop.  If my Father wasn’t building, hunting or farming, his time in the business was spent in his office. The time spent in the office was something he didn't enjoy.  My Father was becoming bored with the business and he would look to other projects to occupy his time.  During the search for land to relocate the Bethlehem store my Father would travel to Florida to meet with the owner of the trout stream property.  On this visit he would purchase a lot to build a winter home.  This project would give a chance him to return to his love of building during the winter.  During the winter neither the business nor the farm needed my Father’s hands on attention.  As soon as his first Florida house was complete he would start another house.  The time spent in Florida would increase to 6 months.  For the next 20 years my Father would build and sell houses in Florida. He would complete a house every 2 years and then start another house.

Another new project that would interest my Father would be a motor home business.  With his love of the outdoors he decided to once again to explore the recreational vehicle business.  We had been Winnebago and Scotty dealers in the early 1960's however this was mostly to provide units for the rental business.  Acquiring a Motor Home dealership would allow my Father to purchase a personal unit at cost and would allow him to explore the business. 

The original idea was a small venture with just a few units in stock.  The business would start small with one brand of motor homes and 3 stocking units.  When my Brother took interest in the business my Father would begin to expand the RV business with other brands.  He would acquire the full Shasta line of RVs.  With a full Recreational Vehicle line the RV venture would become much more than just a side line.  My Brother would now be the full time manager of the RV business. 

Taking the RV business from 3 motor homes to a fully committed full line business required considerable capital.  Some of the financing would be supplied by the RV manufactures most of the capital to grow this business would come from the main business.  The investment in RV’s would begin to drag down the rental business.

Without investment into replacing our aging rental fleet much of the powered equipment inventory was moving past its usable life.  During the growth of the RV Business my Father would look more towards adding used or off brand equipment to the rental fleet.  Our fleet of air compressors included as many brands as we had units.  Some air compressors we purchased during the first years of the rental business were still being used 20 years later.  When we needed larger air compressors my Father would purchase a 1950’s truck mounted air compressor at an auction, we would mount the air compressor on a WWII bomb carrier so it could be towed.  Our largest air compressor was purchased used from a mining operation; it woke up the neighborhood every time it was started, when it started.

Our rough terrain high reach forklift had been a very profitable rental item; however by 1980 it was past usable condition. The frame had been welded the brakes were iffy the lifting frame had been bent.  It would still be rented however it broke down regularly.  When the local competition added the same type of machine our regular customers left.  Our full size backhoe was also held together by putty and bailing wire.  The bulldozer that was over 25 years old when we purchased it had some serious problems including a bent frame.  Before one of our competitors added a new bulldozer to their inventory we had the only rental bulldozer in the area.   Our customers would deal with the fact that our bulldozer with a bent frame couldn't really level anything.  Our large track loader was another item that was beyond its usable life when it was purchased.  Several multi thousand dollar repair bills would eliminate any chance of ever seeing a profit from that machine.

Our fleet of delivery trucks was an interesting mix of classics.  In 1974 the last new pick-up truck would be added to our delivery fleet.  My Father would purchase very used trucks when we needed to add delivery trucks.  Our 1970’s and 80’s delivery fleet would be built around “Junk and Freaks”.  The truck tractor that we used to haul our heaviest loads was built in 1953, when it would no longer pass inspection it was replaced with a 1963.  We had a new Rollback body installed on a 10 year old truck chassis, as one oil leak would be fixed another leak would start.  Our party equipment box trucks were from the 1950's to the 1970’s. 

One of my jobs was to drive the trucks my Father deemed too dangerous for the employees.  When the large forklift was loaded onto the tractor trailer it was 6” above the legal limit, and a thousand pounds overweight. The trailer had no brakes or inspection.  I survived 2 downhill brake failures on that truck one going forward the other going backward.  Another truck we used to haul chairs to a college commencement had no inspection, registration and only a working emergency brake.

The focus on growing the RV business opened the door for competition to move into our rental market.  One of the properties that interested my father during the Macungie search was purchased by the owner of a little A to Z Rental franchise.  The name would be changed to Action Rental and the new competitor would be located between the Bethlehem and Macungie Stores.  This store would open with a new inventory and immediately pull business away from both Bethlehem and Macungie.  Between Action Rental and our Macungie store the family of one of our former employees would open a Taylor Rental franchise.  As these new competitors grew they would siphon off our construction equipment customers.  The early 80's would end our ability to compete in the construction equipment rental market.

In the 1980’s seemingly unstoppable growth in tool rental was stopped in its tracks.  Instead of focusing on our core, our marketing would be focused on competing against the established RV dealers.  We would try to find success in an already crowded RV marketplace.  Our competitors in the Rental Business, who had been always playing catch up would suddenly pass us. 

With my Father off the showroom floor, and I was being shuffled between three stores the sales of lawn equipment came to a halt.  He and I had a passion for this part of the business my Sister had no interest in learning lawn equipment.  With my Father working in the RV business, lawn equipment would just gather dust in a dark corner of the showroom.  In 1982 our Wheel Horse dealership contract was pulled after 25 years.  Our dealership had been terminated for a year before we even noticed.  Toro was well aware that our mower sales were on a downward slide.  Toro was not as concerned because my Father continued to place orders for new mowers that just piled up in the warehouse.  Toro would use the decline in sales to set up new dealers inside of our protected territory.

 Another draw on the business would be a small restaurant that my Father would get involved in.  Never before had he gambled so much money on a business venture he knew nothing about.  While the location was on a main road with good visibility, it was in the middle of nowhere.  The business plan showed this desolate location would pull its revenue out of the Mack Truck assembly plant’s lunch hour.  What the restaurants tenant and my Father would learn after the restaurant was open is that assembly line workers were not given the time or opportunity to leave the plant for lunch. 

The restaurant building was too small the kitchen was too big.  When the kitchen with a walk in cooler and huge grill area was installed the dining room only had enough room for a few booths. When the exhaust fan was turned on it sucked the doors shut.  The first redo would double the size of the heating system, and add outside vents to allow the doors to open when the exhaust fan was turned on.   The tenant would default on the lease after a few months and my Father would be left with an empty building full of built in restaurant equipment. 

My Father who co-signed the restaurant equipment loan was responsible for more than ten thousand dollars’ worth of built in unsalable restaurant equipment.  My Father would say he always wanted to run a restaurant and decided to reopen the restaurant.  The uninspired Manager of the Macungie store would be given the task of running the restaurant.  During the time we ran the restaurant it never came close to making a profit.  Without the ability to oversee the operation more money went out the back door then came in the front door. 

By 1984 the Allentown competition had stripped Macungie of most of its business the store was an expensive, out of the way, almost forgotten storage facility with a few employees and an every afternoon pot party.  Even with ½ of the showroom leased to fitness center there was no sign that Macungie would ever turn a profit.     
  
When my Father received an offer on the Macungie property from the neighboring business he would accept the offer.  The next major project was to sell what we could, and completely empty the store and restaurant in 5 weeks.  Between running a going out of business sale and moving the inventory from 2 rental stores into storage 35 miles away, this would be 7 day a week dawn to dark operation for me as the settlement date approached.

 During the first years of the 4th decade growth of the tool and equipment side of the rental business was stopped in its tracks, as all energies were focused on RV’s.  The Party business with its increased visibility in Bethlehem would continue to see growth.  A single larger party facility would reduce waste caused by transferring inventory between stores.  The only real new item added to the rental inventory during this period was Costume Rentals. 

The closing of the Palmer stores and the sale of the business property would consolidate and add efficiency to the operation.  The Palmer and Bethlehem stores were only 7 miles apart, most of the Palmer stores customers would continue to do business with us.  The closing of the Macungie rental store would be another story.   While the closing of Macungie store would stop the bleeding of cash, almost all of our Allentown-Macungie area customers would move to one of the 2 Allentown competitors



The Real estate transactions would infuse the Business with a large shot of cash, or would it?