Thursday, January 6, 2011

Uncle Oscar says:

On 1/6/2011, I interviewed my Uncle Oscar (Oscar Ralls*). Uncle Oscar said that he first learned about Silly Putty through his wife, my aunt, Ethel Haynes Ralls. Aunt Eppie was my dad's youngest sister.

Uncle Oscar said that in the beginning Pete was living in a green house on Temple Street. The house was on the corner and right next to what is now a girl's dormitory. From his account, some early Silly Putty work may have been done at this green house as well as at the Block Shop.

I asked him about the North Branford plant because I keep reading accounts of the plant being in a barn and that it didn't look at all like a barn to me. He indicated that it was initially a barn but that they "built over it" to make the building that I remember. The north Branford land was formerly a farm and, of course, he said "they had animals on it".

In my interview with Uncle Oscar I learned something new - that he had also worked at Silly Putty after meeting my aunt.

Uncle Oscar apparently met my dad and aunt Alice after my family had moved back from New Bedford because he says that he can not remember my dad living out of town and what he remembers is that dad and Alice were working at the Block Shop. He indicated that Pete and Ruth Fallgatter were close friends; that when Silly Putty started Pete needed someone to be in charge; and "who did he know? He knew your father"; that Alice continued to work at the Block Shop for Ruth and that my dad went with Pete.

Uncle Oscar then answered the question that I posed at the beginning of the blog, namely, Why were our families so close? He said that my Grandma Jane (Dora Haynes Midder) used to wash Pete's shirts and that she would feed him. He said that during that time period (apparently before Silly Putty got off the ground) Pete didn't have any money. Uncle Oscar stated that Grandma Jane treated Pete as if he were a relative. She treated him as if he were one of the family. This partly explains why we were so close.

No one could have imagined that Silly Putty would become what it became. It was a genius use of marketing (as one of my lawyer co-workers said to me today). Probably because it was first intended for sale to Yale students, or possibly the local market, it was started with a small family (though not necessarily blood related) group and with the additional help of Yale students. When the company grew, fortunately the members of this small group were up to the task of operating on a large scale. They stuck together and Uncle Oscar indicates that family members were able to be called in when needed.

Uncle Oscar said that "Pete put your dad in charge and your dad went from there" and that my father "was the big boss - the big wheel". They worked in "crews". Uncle Oscar was on the crew that would take the putty, cut it up, and put it in the eggs. My father supervised all of the crews. Under his supervision was a man named "Tony" (Uncle Oscar does not remember his last name but says he was of Italian origin). Tony was over packaging and shipping.

Uncle Oscar also said that the Block Shop and the Silly Putty office at 424 Temple were one block away from each other.

In his book, A CALL TO ASSEMBLY, Willie Ruff talks about the challenges that the Yale students had trying to deal with the barrels filled with the silicone rubber and that "watching ... Silly Putty's college crew wrestling and packing the stubborn stuff was more fun than playing with it". This must be why Pete needed my dad (who had machinist and production skills) as Mr. Ruff continues that, in the beginning "there seemed to be no systematic process that would speed the job along". He says the the "meanest task" was getting the silicone rubber out of the barrels.

(*originally Rawls)
** The photo is of Oscar Ralls greeting Delores Butcher as our family reunion in Virginia Beach in ?2000.