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Wiped out by a moving van fire

February 18, 2013

This is another excerpt from my first book, From Sharecropper’s Son to Tracking Missiles.” This is a story about moving back to Texas and the moving van fire wiping out our belongings. My second book, “Memory Harvest of a Sharecropper’s Son,” is now available in Amazon Kindle format and in printed format.

I interviewed at several places in the Dallas area while on vacation that year (1968) and knew that I would have at least two written offers when we went back to Greenbelt. I did not officially have the LTV offer because it was supposed to be mailed, so went back without accepting any offers. We left Bill, Terry and Jay at Mom and Dad’s, since I knew we would be coming back permanently. I had an offer from LTV in the mail when I returned to Greenbelt and called them to accept. The other offer came in also, but I turned it down. I gave my notice to RCA and we moved to Texas on August 1, 1968.

We went to Mom and Dad’s until we could find a place. I reported to work at LTV and a couple of days later received a call from the transportation department. The first thing the person asked was I sitting down. I said yes, what was the matter. He then told me they had lost my furniture. I asked what he meant, lost. He said the moving van had burned and my furniture was lost. What a shock!  There were three loads on the van; ours was the back load. Apparently, the fire started from a hot axle at the rear of the trailer and burned through the wooden bed into our load. It jumped the middle load and hit the front load. They totaled us, the front load was 50 percent damaged, and the middle load was 25 percent damaged.

They brought our stuff to a warehouse area and shoveled it off. I went to the warehouse and looked at the damage. I found our Kirby vacuum cleaner (burned) and a stereo that looked like it might not be damaged too much. They delivered those two items, two bowling bags and a couple of cardboard boxes of stuff to Dad’s. I replaced the power cord on the stereo and it worked. We antiqued the cabinet, replaced the speaker grill cloth and used it for many years. We traded-in the Kirby vacuum cleaner to Kirby Company. When we started bowling again the next year using the bowling balls.

Billie and Charlene looked for a place for us to rent in the Farmers Branch area. We had decided to live near them. They found a house in Carrollton a few blocks from where Larry and Charlene lived. We rented the house and moved in with borrowed furniture. We bought our king‑size bed on time‑payment, everything else was borrowed. We shopped garage sales and gradually outfitted ourselves again.

The company, LTV, had told me to only take the automatic 60 cents per pound free insurance from the moving van company, because the company would insure me for actual value. I provided an inventory list of our belongings to the insurance company. The list was not easy to prepare because we had to list approximate purchase date and cost. The insurance company then offered a depreciated value settlement, which we agreed on. The only problem was they would not pay until the moving van settled and would then pay the difference between the moving van settlement and the depreciated value.

The moving van company requested a similar inventory list. I questioned why, because they were only insuring weight which they had. The moving van company said they had to know that the value was greater than the value of the weight, which I thought was ridiculous, but I complied. I repeatedly called my contact number at the moving van company home office wanting to know when they would settle and kept getting a runaround.

I finally called the Interstate Commerce Commission office and asked if they could do anything. The ICC person told me that they could not do anything legally until the moving van company had withheld payment for over a year. The man then asked me if I had ever played poker and could I run a bluff. I said yes. He gave me the name and nickname of the ICC representative at the moving van home office. He said the representative could not do anything for me and had gone home at for the day at noon. He said he had just been on the telephone with him at home because he was a friend.

The local ICC man then suggested that I call the contact person at the moving van home office and when they gave me a runaround, ask him to transfer my call to the ICC representative and use his nickname when I asked. He said everyone in that office would know him by his nickname. He then suggested that when the contact told me that the man had left for the day, ask him to confirm that the telephone number I had was still his home telephone. He said I had to be serious acting about calling him, but not to call him because he could not do anything.

I ran the bluff and the moving van contact person acted shocked that I was considering calling the ICC representative, who was apparently a friend of mine. He then said that he would try to expedite the settlement. I had a call later that afternoon that a check would be delivered to me the next morning by the local moving van company. It was and the company insurance representative was ready with their check. It had taken over four months to settle the insurance on the fire because of the moving van company. After that settlement, we began to replace a few of the items we had bought in garage sales.

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