My friend Peter Rigutto whom I blog about advised me to try my own marble business, he thought I had the stuff it would take to make it since I was getting so little work as a marble setter it made sense to me. I loaded remnants of marble in a old Chevy van I owned. Art, whom I blogged about, let me clean out his piles of stone remnants at Blazing's yard. My wife and I loaded them onto our front yard, until I found a old quonset hut, in SE Portland I could rent really cheap. My neighbor and friend worked for George Halverson, a large contractor developer and dam builder, Mister Portland so to speak. George talked to him about me, and he gave me two heavy-duty grinders, which I still have, and a supply of leftover two-by-sixes tongue and groove which George and I used to put a partial floor in the quonset hut. We brought in gravel to finish of the floor. I built some work tables, and acquired a used skill saw and carborundum saw blades found through a local source of Pacific grinding wheels for my grinders. I then shifted the stack of stone remnants to the shed. No orders, no prospects of work – A BUSINESS WAS BORN.
These sort of problems provided me with work opportunities in those lean years. One summer was spent on staging, solving a problem on a large Carrara commercial building. There seemed to be a chemical reaction set up between the metal Unistrut, the caulking, and the stone, leaving an oil like stain three or so inches above and below each joint line, causing huge payment dispute. Stone experts were brought in to solve the problem; no answers came forward. I was asked to look at the problem. I had little experience with what appears to be oil stains. They always seemed to get worse and travel around when messed with, so I came up with a plan: cut away what appears to be the problem, the caulking, torch the stone to set, or fry, the stain like frying grease in a fry pan, turn it brown but set, and bleach it white by placing casting plaster and bleach poultice on this vertical surface. I worked on it all summer with Big John, now a successful stock broker, then a good friend who helped me roof my house on Saturdays and Sundays. I don't recommend this process to anyone, but the stone company was paid, and I often look up even today as I drive by this building and see those slightly lighter three inch bands above and below each joint line and smile about the summer Big John and I, two strange looking hippies had.
|Stone hearth, built strong|
|Stone hearth, lightweight|
|Old Town stone shop|
|Charlie & Sharie in front of a pre-built wood stove hearth|
|My wood stove|
There was little work to be had even with a slim crew. Stone work just was not popular. Finally Mr. Macy asked me to try to find buyers for the business. I started by paring down the inventory by selling it off to a Vancouver, Canada stone shop where stone was popular still. I eventually found a buyer who didn’t have any money but had a good line of credit at a bank. To the best of my memory it sold for about $100,000 – saws, polisher, hand tools and supplies, slab inventory and forklift. We had a commercial floor project worth maybe $25,000, and a mall art project worth maybe $20,000 on hand. The rest was blue sky. Mr. Macy, bless his soul, gave me an old pickup truck – whose cab side door wouldn’t close completely – to drive since by this time I was flat broke due to a bad relationship.
The new owner Leland and his wife located a building on the east side of Portland, it had a low ceiling, just high enough for the forklift and no water drainage to speak of, but it did have a truck ramp and big office space for showroom. I, with the crew, set out to build a low concrete retaining wall topped with wood decking, and put all the equipment in a logical row on top, starting with a tilt table I designed to load slabs on saw since we didn’t have room for hoists. This solved the drainage problem and kept our feet dry.
For the next three years Abby Marble bumped along in Jimmy Carter's 20% Interest rate with about a $175,000 bank note. What a deal. I beat the bushes for any work, small commercial projects mostly from design offices, but the big opportunity came from a contact I made with Alexander Manufacturing, a large cabinet manufacturer. They did hotels top to bottom, in their large Portland facility. Red Lion Inns was hot and growing, I promised we could make it happen by us adding the marble to the cabinets before they shipped them to the job site. Speed was everything. We did it well. Also provided the table tops, a good business for them and us.
|Abby Marble Co. shop|
|Brochure for Abby Marble Co.|
We were suited to fast production it took to keep up,but it wasn’t enough to sustain us, and eventually monthly visits to the bank to get more money was part of the job. I remember we all tried hard, and worked as a team,but the interest hill was just to high. Finally, after losing the contract for KOIN Tower to a low bid Canadian company, we went under. That was the last straw for us. (Incidentally they butchered the marble work with their low bid, even today as I go on the escalators I look at one-half inch gaps filled with caulking. You get what you pay for eventually.
Our checks bounced as Abby folded, however the purchasing agent for KOIN, a wonderful woman, gave me personally a small contract for some office furniture, and architect Pat Hills gave me an order for some custom prefabricated furniture for a bank job in California, done by local architectural firm BG BG. I gathered Mike and Dan and we started to work in my garage, back to burning wood crates in my wood stove for warmth. This must have been around 1982 What a business it was.