We have selected a feature story from the early 1970s, we hope you enjoy it. Be sure to look on the other pages to view additional stories. If you have a story you would like to share about American life in the 1970s, please see the Tell Your Story page for instructions on how to send it to us at AmericansRemember.com.
Featured Story: The Fence Painters
In the early 1970s my best friend’s mother married a gentlemen who owned the local cement plant. Ric had grown up in a middle class family, like me, but with his mother’s marriage the family now had resources that most of us in our small town did not. Ric’s step-father was a very nice man and wanted to help Ric and me to understand business while teaching us the value of hard work. Because we were too young (about 13 years old) to be hired by a business, he devised a plan to teach us these valuable lessons, and also take care of a family need.
He offered to pay us a fee for painting the family’s large privacy fence. The fence was six feet high and ran along three sides of their back yard–over 200 feet in total length. We would need to paint the fence within a defined time, and he asked us to sign a contract with a penalty which reduced our payment for each day the job took beyond the deadline. While working on the project we would have full access to the family swimming pool, pool table, riding lawn mower and other items that appealed to teenage boys. The agreement required that he provide us with all materials (paint, brushes, etc.) necessary to complete the job. As growing boys, we also negotiated that upon completion of the project he would treat us to a steak dinner. We were very excited, as this project would provide us with more money than either of us had ever had at one time.
When we started the project, we were very enthusiastic and attacked the work diligently, but after a few days our interest waned. The temptations of swimming and other activities were overwhelming, and began to take up more and more of our time. After a few days we fell behind, but we were sure we could still meet our deadline.
Unfortunately, a summer storm delayed us further. As Ric and I discussed our predicament, we recalled how in the Mark Twain novel Tom Sawyer had tricked others into doing a job similar to ours. We decided to give this a try. We invited my cousin and another friend over to Ric’s house with the promise of an afternoon of swimming.
When they arrived we were not in the pool but busily–and to all outward appearances– happily, painting the fence. However, they did not buy our story about how much fun painting a fence could be. Instead, as we painted in the heat, they enjoyed the pool until we finally grew weary of our task and joined them. Later that day we explained the situation to them and, to our surprise, they agreed to help–for a fee. After some negotiation we agreed on a reasonable fee and learned another a valuable business concept–subcontracting.
We completed the project on time, learned some valuable lessons, enjoyed a steak dinner, and made more money than we deserved. It was a good summer. Thank you Mr. Hammontree.