My first real job was at the Econo Carwash across the street from the Ogden Temple. I was 16 years old when I started working there six hours each Saturday morning. I was paid $3.35/hour when I started and two summers later I was all the way up to $3.40/hour. We did have a bonus program whereby we could earn an extra 25 cents if we sold a “hot wax” in addition to the carwash. We also got a dime for every quart of oil we could sell. Nearly every customer that asked me to check their oil inexplicably required a quart of oil. KaChing! The fringe benefit we enjoyed most was that we received one free car wash for each shift we worked. My father would have me trade off driving the 9-passenger wagon and the “Brown Hornet” just to keep them in a balanced state of cleanliness. The problem with the “Brown Hornet” was that each time I’d send it through a big chunk of brown paint would peal off. I believe Econo was personally responsible for removing most of the paint from the hood and door of that poor car.
But the big money came if I could confiscate a “hot” credit card that was on a special list we called the “seizure list” that was put out by the big credit card companies. I believe most of the cards on this list were either stolen or very delinquent. If a customer tried to pay with a credit card, I was required to check it against the “seizure list” to see if I’d hit the jackpot. This was before the instant transaction stations you have today that charge your card on the spot. I had to manually fill out a slip for every card we took. For every credit card I was able to safely “seize”, I was paid $50 from the issuing company. I believe I was able to seize two cards while employed at Econo. One very large lady promised to kick my white butt if I didn’t give back her Visa which I promptly decided to do so likely saving my life.
A regular car wash cost $4.00 if the customer bought at least eight gallons of gas and $4.50 without a gas purchase. I never felt like that was much of a discount so I offered the $4 price to anyone even if they only bought a 99 cent jug of wiper fluid. And don’t think for a minute that all customers would pull in and say, “filler up!” because that just wasn’t the case. Many customers would coast their piece of crap into our station on empty and then scrounge through the seats looking for a buck in loose change to get them home.
A few experiences stand out in my mind. We had this large oil cart that held about 20 to 30 quarts of oil that we’d put out near the pumps hoping to score an easy dime bonus. We’d display it right out in front of the customers during the day but would store it inside during the evening since it wasn’t locked down to anything. One Saturday morning I arrived at work and went to pull out the oil cart when I realized it was missing. I looked around the shop and could not find it and then decided to go outside and see if it had been left outside the night before. I walked out near the pumps and did not see the cart but I did see a distinct track of oil leading from our station, to the sidewalk and then up a hill. I went inside and told my boss. We both went back outside and followed the oil trail up the sidewalk about three blocks to a house. We could clearly see the oil trail leading nearly to the front door of this house. My boss said, “We’ve got to get that cart back” so he rang the doorbell at about 8 am on a Saturday morning. This lady answered the door, and I thought for certain she was hung-over. We told her that we were missing our oil cart and that we think she might have it. She just stared at us and then pointed to a small garage alongside her house. My boss and I walked around the side of their house and found our oil cart and the one quart of Prestone that had sprung a leak. We brought the cart back to the carwash and set it out for display in its rightful home. Obviously, we hadn’t been robbed by the brightest of thieves.
We had a contract with Lindquist Mortuary to provide car washes to their fleet of hearses. Each Saturday would bring a convoy of black and gold hearses into our station to be cleaned. One Saturday I sent a hearse through the car wash and then walked down to the other end of the bay, ready to begin the custom, hand dry we gladly provided all customers. As this particular hearse progressed to the brush area I heard several loud banging sounds. The noise got louder and louder and then suddenly stopped as the car entered the dryers. The hearse exited the wash and I realized that something had gone terribly wrong with the hydraulics system which controlled the movement and pressure of the brushes. The driver exited the hearse and animatedly reported to me that several of the larger brushes kept crashing and smacking against his car. He was very upset as we walked around his car and sure enough, there were dozens of good sized dents on every panel of the car. I had to call in the owner that day to calm this guy down. I never heard how the matter was settled but I’m certain this car was a body shops dream come true.
So was life at the Econo Carwash. My first job was an adventure.