It was only a picture, the one you see to the left ... OUT OF BUSINESS.
Not good news. Not totally unexpected.
A.A. Gilbert Pipe & Supply Co., LLC -- closed. It had operated for 74 years, since Abe A. Gilbert came from Fort Worth in 1939 and set up shop at 4037 Mansfield Road in Shreveport.
It's been a family business -- run by Mr. Gilbert from its inception to his death in April 1966, then by one of his sons-in-law, Lazar Murov, and for the past 17 years by Bill Braunig, who married one of Mr. Gilbert's granddaughters, and Ron Nierman, one of Mr. Gilbert's grandsons. (It was Ron who sent me the message.)
It was our family's business, too, in a sense. For 28 years, it was where Louis Van Thyn worked. It was Dad's place. It was Mister Louie's place.
So, yes, this business going out of business left me a little sad and nostalgic. I'm not alone.
Bill's title was sales manager; Ron's was manager of operations. Both had been involved in the business for 30-plus years, almost half their lives.
"I feel very bad," Bill told me this weekend. "I'm upset because I was managing the pipe business, and it's been there a long time. But it's not going to work anymore, and there was no use losing more money on it."
The bottom line: (1) Business fell off because, for one thing, people dealing in pipe were moving out of North Louisiana because the Haynesville Shale, as Bill explained, was a "dry play," not much liquid involved, thus little or no need for drilling pipe; (2) there was no one in the family who wanted to carry on the business; (3) the cost of overhead -- insurance, property tax, maintenance of equipment and meeting payroll, and more -- was too much to maintain.
They dealt in steel pipe, some new but mostly used, second-hand pipe, oil field pipe and road casing pipe, and pipe you could use to build a fence or put up a sign, and they dealt in scrap iron. They made deals with oil and gas companies, and the offshoot was some shares in the oil business.
The small deals, an individual or small firm, coming to the yard and purchasing some pipe, didn't bring enough income, not when it required people to find the pipe, clean the pipe, or cut it, lift it or carry it, load it on a truck, or drive a truck.
Sure, it was a small business -- only nine employees -- but also an aging one. Almost all the employees were in their 60s or older.
"It was inevitable that at some time we would have to close," Bill said. "Too much of a drain on the bottom line to cover our expenses.
"This is the right thing to do, the right time."
Actually, because of sheer loyalty, it probably was a few years past due.
Bill will continue in business, but only as a broker, d/b/a WMB Pipe Limited, lining up deals between firms in the Ark-La-Tex or beyond and hiring commercial trucks to move the pipe. And, for now, Bill and Ron will continue to work from the old office and yard on Mansfield Road.
The job was waiting for Dad when we arrived in Shreveport in January 1956. Mr. Gilbert -- the benevolent Mr. Gilbert -- had offered it to the Shreveport Jewish Federation as part of the sponsorship for an immigrant family.
(The joke, told often by Dad, was that when he heard he was going to work for a pipe company, he thought that meant smoking pipes.)
I've written about the job, and the Gilbert family (April 23, 2012): http://nvanthyn.blogspot.com/2012/04/shreveports-first-family.html. In short: Dad became the yard foreman.
He was in charge of the yard crew and, as Mr. Gilbert had done so often, in charge of getting pipe organized and loaded on trucks. He was often on the road, all over East Texas, South Arkansas, North Louisiana, South Louisiana (Grand Isle is about as far south as you can go), inspecting pipe, making the arrangements for deals.
I made a few of the shorter road trips with Dad, and really, I never got how it worked, how they made money. He tried to explain it to me often, and once when I was in high school maybe, he suggested I could follow him into the business. But sports, and sportswriting, was far more appealing, and that was OK with Dad, sports fan that he was.
Of course, there were hundreds of visit to see him at the yard for a variety of purposes. As you came in the front door of the main building, his desk was to the left in the front office.
One vivid memory: From May 1970 until the day he left, he had a copy of my first column for The Shreveport Times -- on Fair Park's state championship baseball team -- under the glass covering on his desk.
|Dad's retirement day at A.A. Gilbert|
Pipe & Supply; that's our Rachel,
almost 5 then, presenting a gift.
Some of Dad's guys that I remember: Big Willie, Little Willie, Clarence Jelks, and especially "Sam." Everyone called him Sam; his name was Benjamin Franklin (honestly). Dad loved him as much as anyone in the company.
Sam was a big guy, maybe 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, same age as Dad. As soft-spoken, and polite, and genteel as could be. He, and some of the others, would come to our house and help with projects. My mother would invite them in for water or coffee; Sam, brought up in the segregated world, seldom, if ever, would come in the house.
In a neat twist, when Green Oaks High School opened in 1972, the starting quarterback on its first football team was Benjamin Franklin -- Sam's son. So I got to write stories that put his name in the paper a few times. It was small payback for all that big Sam had done for us.
I could write a separate blog on Abe Gilbert, but I'm going to limit it to this. He was an old-fashioned businessman, not all that organized, but full of energy, full of optimism, a good trader, a great dealmaker (even if he didn't write it all down) and -- above all -- totally generous.
Generous, perhaps, to an extravagance he couldn't afford. But the Van Thyn family certainly can vouch for how generous he was.
"My grandfather was maybe not as wealthy as it seemed," said Mark Murov. "But he was a high-rolling, bigger-than-life person."
Mark remembers the pockets full of change Mr. Gilbert had for his grandkids (and other kids) and the people in business he kept on as "stringers" and employees he kept on even if they didn't exactly earn their keep. He was a beneficiary because he, too, had benefitted from others' generosity.
Mark remembers Ron Nierman, as a boy, saying he wanted to be like Grandpa: "A big tipper."
Bill Braunig, who joined the family a few years after Mr. Gilbert's death, said he heard often that "he was a terrific salesman, and he was a kind person. He really cared about people."
I can vouch for that.
Dad's last day at work, in April 1984, was very special for us. They had a party for him and among the gifts was a Seiko watch with an inscription on the back: "To Louie, from the Gilbert family." I keep that watch in the drawer by our bed; I'm looking at it now.
That day, one of Mr. Gilbert's daughters remarked, "We thought Louie would be here only six weeks or so. He stayed 28 years."
I also kept my Dad's powder blue A.A. Gilbert work shirt. It now fits me perfectly. Just a few weeks ago on Father's Day (also my birthday this year), I wore that shirt as a tribute to Dad. I intend to do that every Father's Day.
And, now, it also will be a tribute to the company my Dad, and many others, loved so much.