It was April 1954 and Don had just arrived home from a 3-year stint in Europe as an Army PFC. He had been lucky--of the 1000 men in his group, 800 went to Korea and he spent the entire 2 years in Salzburg as acting sergeant in charge of the motor pool. Even though he was only a corporal, they recognized his talents right away in that department!
Donald always knew what he wanted to do with his life --he was happiest getting his hands dirty in a motor or engine of some kind. As a child, he would take things apart --his toys, a clock, his mother's vacuum cleaner, etc., to see how it operated and then put it back together again in working order. This natural ability spoiled him later in life --his philosophy was, if at first you don't succeed, try reading the directions. Rarely did he have to resort to that fall-back plan.
He arrived home April 9th (it would have been the 8th but he was given guard duty that first night back in the States) and by the first of May he had secured a loan, rented the Old Valley Station in Cleghorn (a neighborhood of Fitchburg, MA) in partnership with his brother Winston, and renamed it Grant's Service Station. The station was located on the corner of Kimball and Rollstone Streets in Fitchburg. Donald was the mechanic and Winnie was the business manager. They contracted with Esso (now Exxon) for their gasoline. In 1954, gas was 21 cents/gallon. Of that, the gas station owner got 5 cents. Gas prices proceeded to increase about a penny a year, but Donald's cut remained at 5 cents.
The day they were able to take over the station, their faithful, hard-working wives, Annie and Addie, pitched it to clean the place up [Can you imagine what that would entail, cleaning up a gas station??]
Donald quickly gained a reputation for honest, fair, and excellent service. People came to him because they knew he would never take advantage of someone or overcharge. This has become his legacy to this day--those who knew him reminisce that he was the kindest man, the greatest mechanic, and whatever he did was done right and fair. The business grew, and after about five years, they moved the operation to a larger facility on Lunenburg Street (now a Lumber yard). Here he was able to hire a couple guys to work with him, but Donald's soft heart often got the better of him, as his hired help proved to have less of a work ethic than he did, yet he continued to keep them on, picking up the slack himself. He also hired his father, Earl Grant, to be a go-fer for him, making bank runs, getting parts, etc, to provide for him a supplement to his meager pension from the Police Force and allow Earl to retain his dignity of not taking a hand-out from his youngest son. It gave Earl something to do, and made him feel important. Donald worked long hours, eating sporadically and sleeping less. His health took a toll, and after about seven years on Lunenburg St, with undiagnosed stomach pain, he decided to call it quits. He went to work for Helen and Lawrence Wennerberg, who owned a car lot across the street from his garage. He became their mechanic, and when Larry died, he stayed on as manager and buyer for Helen, making trips to New York City and hiring drivers to bring back cars from auction. His wife, Annie, often accompanied him to be able to drive one of the cars back as well. He would hire drivers in New York who had their own registration plates, and who would then take the bus back from Fitchburg to the City.
After working at the car dealership, Donald worked off and on for Lakso Machine Company for a total of about 7 years. In between he drove oil trucks and was a consturction worker.
In his own words: "Of all my jobs, the one I like best is Lakso Company [where he worked at the time of writing this.]. To build a $30,000 machine takes about a month and I do it alone, and nobody bothers me until it's done. And when it is done and running well, I feel pretty good thta I did it, and it works! I didn't like the used car business because thee is too much hassle trying to buy cars wholesale from a bunch of crooks trying to bury you in a junk car for big money. You can't have any compassion or high standards in that business." Commenting on the many jobs he's had over the years, Donald said: "Not very dependable, huh? Oh, well, I'll find myself one of these days! I have never collected unemployment, anyway!"
Prices during the 1950s
Average income: $3,960
Ford car: $1548-$2415
Postage stamp: $.03
Swiss Cheese: $ .69 lb.
American Cheese: $.55 lb.
T-Bone steak : $.95 lb.
Del Monte Catsup (2) 14.oz bottles: $.25
Post Grape Nuts cereal -10 oz package, $.19
Introduced in 1954
McDonalds, Burger King, Trix Cereal (46% sugar), M&M Peanut chocolate candies, Lord of the Rings, Elvis' first record, Play-Doh, The TV dinner