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Vintage Views: Uncle Billy – a very stubborn man

  • Library of Congress Library of Congress

  • Workmen load a wheelbarrow. Library of Congress

For the Monitor
Published: 10/18/2021 12:00:55 PM

There are times in life when we all want to take the higher road, and we are certain that our opinion is correct and most efficient. We dwell on those that are not in agreement and simply plow ahead regardless of the outcome. It was John Adams that once said “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

There are certainly many factors, most quite laughable, when we attempt to persuade our audience.

In my presence I have heard a stubborn man attempt to rationalize his position by stating that he was born a Yankee. My family typically resorts to the fact that we are Irish, and as we all know, Irishmen such as myself will never concede. My very own Irish Grandfather Martin and his brother Frank were very well known for their stubbornness, hence their nicknames well known in the Spain family history … Mule and Donkey. Yes, stubbornness is alive and well, and it always will be.

There was a time many years ago when a man walked the streets of Concord in a very proper manner. His fist name was William, people preferred to just call him Billy. Billy was a very frugal Yankee and chose to live his life here in Concord. He knew many people and always felt the need to succeed no matter the task. As Billy aged, he was destined to open his own business in town, since he felt that he was always correct in his opinions, his early years of employment with other people in Concord simply did not go his way. Billy was a smart man and saved his money, for frugality can sometimes go hand-and-hand with stubbornness.

As the 1880s progressed, Billy was listening very closely to his peers to see what business he might like to invest. He lived here in Concord; it was cold with plenty of snow each winter while horses were everywhere. Perhaps a business capitalizing on the winter activity of the local people might pay great dividends. Yes, winter was a good thought, but what happens when the snow melts and nobody desires winter products? With deep thought and lots of concentration we find Billy reaching a decision that would provide profits during the winter and during the summer, too.

Our young friend Billy opened a factory here in Concord manufacturing sleds and wheelbarrows with thoughts of profits all year long.

Billy had a fine building in town and employed some very skilled woodworkers. He treated them in a fair manner while watching closely for productivity, with large profits each and every day. As the days passed his business was producing quality products and soon every farmer in Concord had a new wheelbarrow with other families purchasing a sled. Sometimes his customers purchased both a wheelbarrow and a sled, really pleasing Billy because his profits grew as the seasons progressed.

Billy situated his factory along the river in Concord to harness the free waterpower and when he was fortunate enough to receive a large order for wheelbarrows and sleds south of Concord, he simply loaded a boat to transport his wares before the winter ice arrived. Yes, Billy thought everything out quite well. What could possibly go wrong?

As success continued Billy found his little factory near the river was employing 40 men. There was a person for every job and Billy managed each and every aspect from purchasing raw materials to building his products, selling them to customers and packing them for shipment.

There was money to be saved and money to be made, Billy and his 40 employees coexisted for a period of years without too much friction until fate finally visited his factory. A new employee that worked in the big city of Boston was hired by Billy and added to his fine group of craftsmen.

His new employee was efficient and skilled, but he had a strong opinion regarding matters that he should not be concerned with. Soon, this new employee started talking to the other employees during breaks and before and after work. This new fellow from the big city told everyone that they should provide a fair service for a fair wage. This did settle well with all of the employees and the young lad became somewhat of a spokesman for all of Billy’s employees.

Over a period of weeks as the momentum intensified the young man approached Billy and stated that he represented all of the employees with his voice. He further demanded a pay increase for the laborers that produced the sleds and wheelbarrows.

Billy felt quite irritated and quickly disposed of this young troublemaker. He felt he was a fair businessman and his employees were compensated well for the products they manufactured. The demands relayed via this young man to Billy were quite disturbing indeed. The nerve! The employees were demanding one dollar in additional compensation per week, this did not settle well with Billy, for as we know, Billy was a stubborn man.

The men stood tall and so did Billy. There would be no additional compensation for his employees. As Billy closed the doors to his shop at the end of the workweek, he reiterated that nobody employed by him would receive additional compensation and that was final. Monday morning arrived, just as it always did. Billy rose before the sun and walked the short distance from his residence to his factory along the river. He unlocked the doors and entered his office in preparation for another productive day that would boost his profits. The sun did rise but the employees did not report to work that day, or the next.

A messenger arrived at the factory late in the morning and handed Billy a note with the demands from his employees. Billy read the note multiple times and, in a fury, responded with his own note to all employees. Billy penned this note and tacked it to the main entrance to his factory. Billy wrote “Very well; you can go. Remember, however, that I’ll see this factory rot to the ground before I’ll give in.”

The response to Billy was swift; “We would rather starve before we yield.”.

So, it was on this overcast day in the late 1880s that perhaps the very first labor strike in Concord did occur. Without arbitration and with stubborn men on both sides the factory remained empty and the people of Concord had to shop elsewhere for their sleds and wheelbarrows.

The owner grew old and gray, but he never did open his factory again. The employees started to pass away in time. Others simply moved away. Billy stayed right here in Concord until his very last day too. His nephew visited him in 1919 and said the very last of the strikers now resided in hallowed ground at Blossom Hill. Billy did in fact outlive each and every one of his 40 employees that demanded one extra dollar each week.

Billy’s nephew returned to Concord once again in 1924 to check on his dear elderly uncle. With a smile he asked Uncle Billy if he would now open his factory since there are no strikers anymore. Uncle Billy turned to his beloved nephew and smiled. He said “Being as I’ve been a blanked fool for 40 years; I’m going to keep it up the rest of my days.”

Billy has rested in peace for close to a century at Blossom Hill Cemetery alongside the 40 men that caused him to close his sled and wheel barrel factory here in Concord. I’m sure Billy and his skilled craftsmen are resting in peace for there are no strikes in heaven.

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