Interview with Martin Dillon, 1969 July 28 [audio](part 2)

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  • Selling butchered beef to bologna and hot dog makers; getting married; losing money in the mushroom business
    Keywords: Frankfurters; Mushrooms; Slaughtering and slaughter-houses; Stocks; Tanneries
    Transcript: [Unnamed speaker]: This is the continuation of the Martin Dillon interview, begun on Side 2 of Tape 69-2.

    Scafidi: Did you do that often?

    Dillon: Oh yes. Didn't miss nothin'.

    Scafidi: How many hides did you try to take in a load?

    Dillon: Well, I was dealing with a Model A that time, Model A truck and if you got 1500 pounds on it you better stop.

    Pizor: Where did you sell the meat?

    Dillon: To the bologna people. There was a man named John A. Berman which I first started at 8th and Madison St. and Bestes was right over the alley from him, so either one of them.

    Pizor: Did you ever keep any of the beef for yourself?

    Dillon: No Ma'am.

    Pizor: Easier to supply your own...

    Dillon: I'd buy the hot dogs, though, sometimes.

    Scafidi: Was this ground up and made into things like bologna or hot dogs?

    Dillon: Oh, yeah. I didn't handle no first class beef.

    Scafidi: Just bought the farmer's cow that was lame...

    Dillon: That's right, something they couldn't ship away.

    Scafidi: What did you do with the hoofs, the horns?

    Dillon: Throw it away.

    Scafidi: Didn't try to make glue out of it?

    Dillon: No, I left many a cow's head laying...

    Pizor: Did you ever get married?

    Dillon: Yes, I have four kids, two boys, twins.

    Pizor: You had a family to support. When did you get married?

    Dillon: In 1915, June 8. Had a taxicab with two big white horses, and a big fat colored man driving it. Something you couldn't find today.

    Scafidi: Where did you get married?

    Dillon: St. Paul's in Wilmington.

    Pizor: Was your wife a farm girl?

    Dillon: No, she was raised here in Wilmington, Broom Street.

    Pizor: You took her to the farm?

    Dillon: I took her to the farm, yes, sir. It's a wonder she stayed with me but she d1d.

    Pizor: How did she like it?

    Dillon: Never said. She stayed.

    Scafidi: Did she help you with your business at all?

    Dillon: No.

    Scafidi: You ran the business...she ran the house?

    Dillon: That's right. Didn't interfere with me and I didn't with her.

    Pizor: Did your children ever help you with your business?

    Dillon: Oh yeah, the boys were a real help to me until they were 28 and then they went for themselves.

    Scafidi: Did you pay them?

    Dillon: Oh yeah. They got paid.

    Pizor: They learned a variety of trades also?

    Dillon: They should have, but I don't know, they didn't take to it like I did. The one boy has a diner now. And the other one, he used to have a big truck, hauling produce out of Florida but he give all that up and went down to Florida went carpentering. They are building them big apartments down in Hollywood, getting about $7 an hour and overtime. He's doing all right. I guess he got tired of riding on the roads, I don't know.

    Scafidi: Did you ever take a flyer into the mushroom business, by the way?

    Dillon: Oh yes. I growed 41,000 baskets one year and lost money. In the Depression.

    Scafidi: Close to breaking even?

    Dillon: No, I was 2,000 dollars back after growing 41,000. A lot of work growing 41,000 baskets.

    Pizor: You couldn't get rid of them, was this the problem?

    Dillon: Well, you didn't get nothing for them, 35 cents a basket and you had to buy baskets papers and wire. That was tops. A lot of them brought l5 cents that winter.

    Scafidi: Do you remember what year that was?

    Dillon: Not exactly, I guess about '32.
  • Success with horse trading during Great Depression; employing agricultural laborers
    Keywords: African Americans--Employment; Agricultural laborers; Great Depression
    Transcript: Pizor: How did you do during the depression?

    Dillon: I was trading these horses and farmers could not afford to buy gasoline if they had a tractor. So they had to get a horse. I done good in the depression.

    Scafidi: The horses that you got from the west, was this during this period? Do you know, was it Oklahoma, Nebraska, or all the way out?

    Dillon: We used to get them from Missouri, Marysville, Missouri. Had a fellow bought them there for us. I used to go get horses myself to Ohio.

    Pizor: How did you get out to Ohio?

    Dillon: Train.

    Scafidi: Did you trade for mules?

    Dillon: Anything. Anything that looked like it was worth the money.

    Pizor: How did you get them back from Ohio?

    Dillon: Railroad; in the trucks; after the trucks got good I started using trucks.

    Pizor: That would cost you a pretty penny though, wouldn't it?

    Dillon: About $600 I believe it was for a truck. I bought three truckloads of cows one time in St. Louis and I give the man 2,200 dollars to bring them home. Cash right on his desk.

    Pizor: You made money on it when you got back?

    Dillon: I guess. Had to. Always an experience.

    Pizor: Are you in any business now? Are you retired?

    Dillon: Quit. When I quit I quit. I ain't done a thing in six or seven years.

    Pizor: What was the last business?

    Dillon: Shipping cows from Canada.

    Scafidi: From Canada? You were a shipper?

    Dillon: Bought them in Canada and brought them home and sold them. Milk cows, dairy cows.

    Scafidi: Farmers around here?

    Dillon: Up around home. Yep, sell them to the farmers. 20-25 at a time. Sold one old farmer 141 head. He was a good customer, back in Maryland.

    Pizor: After you retired did you still have people asking you to get them cows or horses?

    Dillon: Once in a while, riding horses or something. Quiet horse for the kids to ride. I get that once in a while.

    Scafidi: Did you pass on your business and your contacts to anybody else?

    Dillon: Nope. Just shut up the door and quit. Bought stocks. Went down, boom, boom, boom. General Motors, I paid $110, it is about $70 something now. ATT, $174 for my first 100 shares of ATT, $53 now.

    Scafidi: When you had all these other businesses were some of them overlapping at the same time?

    Dillon: Everything is at one time. Like trading horses and cows and shipping machinery south...

    Scafidi: Mushrooms and things like that.

    Dillon: But I had other men running them. I wouldn't go there and do the work.

    Scafidi: How did you find laborers or men to work?

    Dillon: Well, it was pretty good. That was one thing that disgusted me, labor got so that they wouldn't do what you wanted them to do without giving me this back talk. That was one of the reasons I quit.

    Pizor: Who did you mainly employ, was it farm hands?

    Dillon: Yes, I tried to hire young fellows. I found out that old boys was too smart. They knew too many tricks. Get a good 17 or 18 year old boy who is strong, much better. The other fellows were too smart, been around too many times.

    Pizor: Old you hire many immigrant employees?

    Dillon: No. Some Italian boys, yes. One kid, he is in the trucking business now, he said to me, "You gave me the first money I ever had. I was thrashing peas."

    Pizor: Did you ever employ negroes?

    Dillon: Oh yeah. I wouldn't draw the line on that. Just so he worked, I didn't care. But when I grew them peas you could get all the men you wanted for 30 cents an hour.

    Scafidi: During the war?

    Dillon: It was around '38, '39. They just sat there waiting for the job, waiting for someone to quit or something, to get a job. There were that many men with no job.
  • Obtaining draft deferments for his farm employees during World War II; loaning a horse to the eventual founder of Mason and Dixon Truck Co.; avoiding the tractor business; post-retirement trade in walnut logs
    Keywords: Commerce; Dixon Lines Inc.; Farm tractors; Mason & amp; Trust; World War (1914-1918); World War (1939-1945)
    Transcript: Pizor: During the first World War did you ever think of going into the army?

    Dillon: Well, I was near to it. I was 1 4 or something; I wasn't 1 A, it was 1 4, I think it was. I was married, but I would have had to go in it if it kept on going.

    Pizor: You didn't think of enlisting though?

    Dillon: Oh no. I was busy working.

    Scafidi: Was the general attitude out there that as long as you had a job, married, you might as well stay?

    Dillon: Well, I think so. The Board didn't take the married men unless they had to. Now the Second World War, I had 7 fellows working for me and everyone of them was eligible to go into the army and I went to the Board and I said, "Roosevelt wants all this stuff and I'm thinking about planting it. I know where I can rent the ground and I have the equipment to do it. If I get half done are you going to draft my men and take them from me?" And they guaranteed me they wouldn't. They said, "Those men are worth more right with you than in any war, to grow this stuff." So then I went ahead and done it. They told me they would give me all the gas I wanted.

    Scafidi: I was going to ask you, when you were selling draft animals, farm animals, were you using tractors and gasoline or...?

    Dillon: I got into it finally. Not in the 30's, there. You couldn't buy gas. You didn't have enough money to buy gas for the tractors. Even if you give them the tractors they couldn't use it. They just had to get a horse. The man who owns the Mason-Dixon Truck Company, and that's a big outfit today, he come to my place and he said he just had a little old farm of 24 acres and "I need a horse and I don't have any money," but he said. "I have a little job in Baltimore where I haul garbage away from the hotels every night. I can pay you in about 30 days if you will let me have a horse." Well, he looked like an honest man and I give him the horse, $75. He come pay me and that's the man that started that.

    Scafidi: Did you have many dealings like that?

    Dillon: God, yes. I've lost enough money trusting people to buy about two good farms. Too soft hearted, you know.

    Scafidi: Did enough of them come through so that you would trust anybody again?

    Dillon: Oh, I don't know. I figured I could go make the money fast enough to be bothered trying to collect it off of them.

    Scafidi: When you were selling animals did you ever get tempted to go into a tractor dealership, after the war, or did you try to stick to what you knew?

    Dillon: I knew there was too many notes being shoved around for them tractors. I always looked for something with cash and turnover. That's why I kept changing my business. Dead stuff, no. Something going out, quit, get out. Want something people want. Right now I'm in the walnut log, some. Just to get a little spending money. That's the hottest thing there is today. Walnut logs.

    Pizor: Who do you sell it to?

    Dillon: I have a man in New York I sell it to but there are shipments to Italy and Germany.

    Scafidi: Where do you find walnut? Are there enough stands?

    Dillon: Oh, you just have to keep hunting all over. Find them.

    Pizor: You buy them and cut them down?

    Dillon: Willie du Pont's estate's got...well. they have about 300 walnut trees down there. And they have been promising to let me cut them for about two years but they haven't said go ahead yet.

    Scafidi: When you go after walnut log you send your crew in to cut them down and do you send it to a mill to be cut up or do you just...

    Dillon: Just ship it in the log.

    Pizor: What do they use it for in Europe?

    Dillon: High class desks you see in these offices. It brings $2,000 a log, no, a thousand, two thousand feet, maybe 500 feet.

    Pizor: You really find businesses.

    Dillon: Well, as I said, that's what the money is in. Don't fool with something that is dying like these stocks today.

    Scafidi: Did you do anything else?

    Dillon: Race horses a little bit.

    Pizor: Race or raise?

    Dillon: Race, up at the racetrack and bet on them. That's a rough game, though.

    Scafidi: You either have to do it for fun or for keeps, you can't be in between.

    Pizor: Do you still run some farms?

    Dillon: No, I sold them all. I sold all where I'm living except my house and six acres of ground. I had 130 acres. I sold it all now and down to six acres.