Saul P. Arsht and Michelle Stiennon

Recorded August 12, 2005 Archived August 12, 2005 00:00 minutes
Audio not available

Interview ID: MBX000407


Saul talks about growing up in Detroit, his childhood memories, and working in the junkyard business.

Subject Log / Time Code

Father runs a junkyard, family scrapmetal business.
S recalls arriving at the Ford plant in a non-Ford car and being unable to drive onto the factory grounds.
S loves cars and the scrap business.
His “baby” is a 1949 Chevy.
S installed seatbelts into his new car when he bought it in the ‘50s.


  • Saul P. Arsht
  • Michelle Stiennon

Recording Location

MobileBooth East


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00:00 The September one, right?

00:04 Okay, my name is Michelle. Laurie are stenen. I'm 47 years old today is August 12th 2005. We're in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I am Saul are stutter.

00:21 I'm salty arshed 77 years old.

00:28 This is some August 12th 2005.

00:33 In Ann Arbor, Michigan and I am Michelle Stevens Father.

00:41 Okay dad. First question is tell me about growing up in a small town in, Illinois.

00:48 Well, I think a small town is the best place to grow up. I grew up in Litchfield, Illinois.

00:58 Which is halfway between Springfield, Illinois and St. Louis and it was on the old famous Route 66.

01:11 And it was

01:13 Very enjoyable

01:15 What was what what what's a tell me some great memories about growing up in a small town while you tend to know pretty much the town was about it was a farming community and it was about a total of 6000 population.

01:32 And I you you didn't know everybody in the town, but you pretty well.

01:38 New a lot of people and a lot of people knew you so you really couldn't get away with too much without people finding out.

01:50 So I'm what what's up favorite memory from growing up in Illinois. I just wanted to add that in regard to the memory.

02:06 But I feel that the older generation.

02:09 I was more self-sufficient at that time the people in a way they had to be self-sufficient and a lot of a lot of the people were farmers and

02:24 They just had to

02:27 Make do grow up fast in a way. Yes also make do is also the depression but it was it was I was young at the time but I have very Vivid memories of that. I member the the hobos and the tramps riding the trains and going around and asking for food today or knock on the door of your house. So I don't specifically remember our house, but I have I do remember them seeing them going around to different places. Sometimes people would have them do odd jobs or something and they give him meals or give him sandwiches or whatever.

03:08 And incidentally as far as growing up I learned to drive when I was 12 and 1/2 years old. Where'd you learn to drive on I learned to drive on a 1929 Pontiac which was the family car at that time and I just kept pestering my father.

03:30 To y

03:32 To let me drive and of course, it was a stick shift. So you had to be taught. You couldn't just jump in and and do it so cars have always been important to me always been interested in Carson and they've always been important to me and being a little small town like that back at that time.

03:56 Not everyone had driver's licenses driver's licenses weren't Universal and not everyone happen. Especially the farmers. They only come into town once a week. They didn't bother to have a driver's license and there was no there was no hurry to get one. Nobody would stop being so let me see your driver's license. Just how old were you when you finally got a license. Oh when I was about 16 years old the family moved to Detroit.

04:28 And my older sister because my two older sisters lived in Detroit along with my mother's relatives, and I never had a license after that time and didn't do a lot of driving but when we would drive to St Louis, which was 50 miles away. Sometimes that I would be allowed to drive give me some practice. So when we move to Detroit in the fall of 43

05:00 Hi, my older sister said your you'll have to go down and get a driver's license. And ID says can you drive I said sure I can drive just why I want to make sure that because you have to take a driving test. Even then. I want to make sure that before we go to all that trouble that you'll pass your test. Well, the war was on there wasn't a lot of traffic compared to now not nearly as much but I wasn't used to driving in a big city and she took me out on some of the busy streets.

05:35 And I would say it for about maybe 20 minutes or so and we got back and she says you you did. All right you I think you'll be all right, and I was so I guess nervous. I was soaked with sweat being unfamiliar with driving in that kind of traffic.

05:58 There was but loves a small town. You never had a lot of Tramadol and I know and I wasn't I never never drove in St. Louis, which was the big witches of big cities. So yeah.

06:09 How about what were your parents like my parents were not demonstrative, but they were very caring and they were always looking out for us and how

06:23 I guess my father was the boss.

06:27 And I guess I would be considered an obedient son because I pretty much did what I was told but

06:40 In regard to that my father had a small scrap metal yard. Now at that time. It was called the jump business and then later on when I got older and I wouldn't have business. It was the scrap metal business today. It is recycling, but it's basically the same thing of course, probably a little more respectable now than I used to be. So my father at the small yard and I wasn't high school first or second year, which meant I was 14 or 15.

07:18 And occasionally in the summer, I would just hang out there especially in when I got older. I was I would start a work and

07:29 What wasn't giving a set amount of money but it was giving something I guess for my troubles once in awhile. He would have to go away and maybe for an hour or two at a time and he left me in charge when you were like 14 or 15 and it wasn't it was a small business and I knew what the we bought mostly Metals which is non-ferrous and Iron and Steel we even bought rags.

08:06 And at one time even waste paper.

08:11 And you what you did you weighed the material up and it was so much a pound and you figured it out. And you paid the people. Well here comes a man with a truck load of iron and I knew I didn't have enough money to be able to pay for that and what he did he would go around at all the surrounding farms and buy up the old Obsolete and used farm machinery and then course it would be cut up and shipped to the steel mill Foundry or whatever.

08:47 And I said I said g what am I going to do? And I says well, my father isn't here once he going to be back Isis while I'm not sure exactly when I says I could I could I could buy your load of Steel Isis, but I'll have to give you a check.

09:07 I'd seen my father write checks and know exactly how he signed them. And that was my only and the earliest Kate case of forgery do you sign your dad's name to the check? I had to go away the truck yard come back and unloaded it and get the net weight and then I figured it up and

09:32 Made a check out and sign my father's name. And then when my father came back and told him what I did I says did I do the right thing? I was a little hesitant. I had never done that before and he said you said that was all right.

09:50 So he didn't mind that he'd rather rather didn't want to lose the sale true true about your parents are immigrants, right? So they weren't native speakers know my father was born in the Ukraine, which at that time was czarist Russia.

10:10 And he left home at a early age. He was a teenager 6 months stop over in England and London and then settle in Boston.

10:25 Then my mother was a young woman when she came here from Lithuania, which at that time was also part of the Russian Empire. Yes. Did they feel I mean the day of her were they? I guess we're late do they really feel part of the community or because they are immigrants always felt they were little bit know. I was at your age did he didn't have much of an accent? If anything there were a few words. He picked up a few Cockney words that he picked up the New England. My sister said he would drop his H's when he talked my mother had a slight accent, but no they

11:12 I knew they weren't Native American not Native Americans. I knew they that were Native are native-born, but

11:26 They fit right in there. Yeah, pretty much my father right after you work for quite a while after you was married. He he wasn't several businesses. He had a furniture store for quite a quite a few years and he he hauled cold for a while from the local coal mine. And eventually you wouldn't to the scrap metal business, which his brothers were in at a different location and also his brother-in-law. Okay. Yes.

11:59 So what about

12:02 I hear tell me something else well.

12:06 Also, what I was going to say was that I think I've had a ordinary uneventful life, but I've had some interesting experiences what interesting experience was after I graduated from high school.

12:26 In the summer of 1945 war was still on. I got a job at Albert Kahn Incorporated Associated Architects and engineers.

12:39 Albert Kahn and his brothers at that time.

12:43 We're probably the top leading industrial architects in the country. They built the Rouge Plant. He built the entire Ford Rouge Plant. Not only that Rouge Plant that he built most of the automobile companies.

13:02 All over the country, which there were several wasn't just the big three there were Independence there were several companies and he built.

13:11 Most of them I believe starting with the Packard plant in 1903 or 04 one of the very first plants in Detroit, and that was really and also most of the buildings Office Buildings in downtown Detroit.

13:29 And even some of the buildings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor right gifted. So what did you do there? Well, I was I was proud probably a fancy gopher. I was called there were a group of us about 5 young like I guess you could say young boys on Ben and we were called Vault boys and aren't we had basically two jobs. We went into the Vault defiled and retrieve

14:08 Blueprints and

14:12 And specifications that they needed on projects that they were working on and we are also drivers we had to we had to deliver these job Prince.

14:27 To the building sites, and although it was the war and there was was wasn't a lot of building going on the priority priority were the yeah.

14:40 All the auto plants where

14:43 Had changed war production.

14:46 And they were allowed to work there was necessary building to be done. So we had to go to the job sites all maybe twice a week to deliver the prince and the plans that they needed for probably the following week. Well, I was giving a little hazing incident in regard to that the company

15:13 Had cars from ahead GM cars Ford and Chrysler

15:19 The Ford Rouge Plant was a city unto itself. It was literally a small people a small. I was a small town. There were about a hundred thousand people working and it didn't really just a three shifts around the clock and when it was an auto plant probably just two shifts, but now they were doing war production and it was three shifts around the clock Ford was the only

15:52 Car company

15:54 That only allowed Ford cars or trucks on the premises.

16:00 And I knew where it was located and I was still new and they said take the DeSoto and deliver this to the Ford plant. All right, I drew up to the gate on Miller Road, which were the famous battle of the overpass was with the unions previously.

16:24 And the guard came out and looked at the car.

16:30 With a look on his face that said what in the world is that it's not a Ford and I told him I said, I'm delivering plans and prints to a particular office.

16:45 He said you'll have to park outside and walk in.

16:51 And that's where I found out the hard way when you went to the Rouge Plant. You didn't want to park and walk in you took one of the Ford vehicles. So they were they they pulled my fast one on you there. Yes, they really did. But I was only a year old.

17:17 And not only delivering things around but I was a chauffeur for engineers that came into town. So you're jumping into new surround Engineers two different places.

17:31 Yes, the people with the most seniority they got the better trips to Flint which was a day trip and but I had a one or two to Pontiac Michigan which probably a half a day trip.

17:45 And yes, so it was a

17:48 It was a it was very interesting and

17:53 After VJ Day, which would be August 14th when the war was officially over.

18:02 We found out.

18:04 That the company was the architect for Billings at Oak Ridge Tennessee for this was the Manhattan Project. That's what they said for the plutonium down there part of the atomic bomb project. We never knew that that was probably probably wasn't the name on the plans. Maybe just a number that was literally kept the secret. Nobody the only no one knew about it only the people that had to know.

18:39 So I eventually went into the military. Oh, well, I was at the very tail end of World War II.

18:50 But during the Korean War I was drafted.

18:57 And though

19:01 One of the rare occurrences when the Marine Corps was drafting people cuz usually volunteers aren't they up to them and they were pretty much all volunteers and even during World War two people that were drafted were asked you can volunteer for the rancor if you want them and only the very brave and maybe full Harley people doing that. Well in December of 1951

19:36 For the north what they call the November draft.

19:42 After we passed her physical

19:46 And we're sworn in they said congratulations. You're all in the Marine Corps, and we thought it was a cruel joke stay at that you didn't going into the army. Yes. We thought it was a cruel joke, but I just took y'all.

20:03 As far as I know we took they took all of his not only from Wayne County Michigan, but also a group from

20:10 How Ohio and the Marine Corps had some big losses and furry especially after the Chosin Reservoir and I believe they were allowed to go from

20:22 Two to three divisions so they needed men.

20:27 Quickly and when we got to boot camp and complained they said

20:37 We didn't the Marine Corps didn't draft you you were selected. You should feel honored that you were given the screen out of her. Well, I had I had two breaks. The first break was.

20:52 I went to San Diego boot camp, San Diego, California instead of Parris Island.

21:02 What year was considered Parris Island was considered much tougher. I think it still has his various. Yes. What I hear it is and secondly after boot camp I was

21:17 I placed in the Air Wing.

21:21 Marine Air Wing So I was stationed at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California.

21:28 Within driving distance of Los Angeles terrific weekend Duty and went to the Hollywood us old and never saw any starlets, but I saw a couple of saw a couple of movie stars on location shooting movies usually in the evening.

21:52 Hand up anyway, so after about a year, I was I had a

22:00 Free 13 day cruise to Japan and Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam

22:08 And you're on the trip to where you will or you seasick? Yes, but the whole way there very much very much. So and

22:18 And had the on my way back though. I

22:22 On my own I was able I went and got some Dramamine and that okay that that save the day but it was very interesting of course and I was able on our and ours I was able to see

22:40 In Japan is able to see Osaka.

22:43 Kyoto and Tokyo which was the first time you've ever been overseas and course Kyoto the ancient Capital which was spared bombing how and when we when I was there in 1953 still a lot of damage and destruction. Especially Osaka and Tokyo to Kyoto was spared because it was a it was the historic Capital. It was very historical place. And when I was in at the Tokyo Airport

23:23 I saw a dehavilland comet.

23:28 Jet Plane, which was the first passenger jet plane

23:35 Ever made date there's was in service several years before ours was right and just to show the difference. I tell people the story about the difference in Security in those days. There was literally no security.

23:51 At an airport at an airport because the the Air Force had a corner of haneda airport.

24:00 And and I was always interested in playing some got off the plane and park there on the tarmac is a comet jet which I'd only seen pictures up and walked up to it playing was open.

24:15 And Buddy and I walked in as we were in uniform walked in the plane. There was somebody working in the cockpit and he turned around and

24:25 And just figured your sightseeing in your uniform can do that nowadays know which was which will never ever probably happen again. Anyway, that plane was used for the lot 4B Oasis long-distance routes between London and Tokyo and Australia. Okay, I'm fortunately

25:00 They lost four of those planes and they just took them out of service and stop making them eventually. They found out the planes were had developed metal fatigue.

25:13 And when they got to high altitude, they were pressurized. They literally blew up. Yes. Not real Pleasant there. Yes. So, how old were you then your first was your first flight in the Marines. Did you have to listen to run the air? When did you have to do a parachute drop and no no, no, no never got to that point. But whenever it whenever you travel on a plane you had to wear. You had to wear a pair of shoes just in case and

25:43 No, actually my first my first flight in a plane was when I would probably I'm guessing 9 or 10 years old off Ford tri-motor, which was built in the twenties by the Ford Motor Company by the Ford Company.

26:03 Came to town for to give plane rides like a Barnstormer the town never had a airport at that time. They just had the field a grass field and they advertise this planes coming to town and we're going to give rides and the rides.

26:24 455 since the right stuck about 5 minutes. They were cost $0.55 which of that time was quite a bit of money was still still the depression and

26:38 I asked my father I said so can I go out and get a plane ride? He's oh no. No. No. He said that's that's a lot of money and home. I just well, can we just go out and look at it? I never seen a Ford trimotor. The only plays planes that used to come on to our the Barnstormers the open cockpit biplane. He's all right wing go out. I will go out and look at them and he was probably maybe a little curious himself. So we went out there and the plane ride was all of five minutes.

27:12 And after a couple of

27:18 Plane trips. He turn the main says it would you really like to go for a ride? I said, oh I really would so it's okay. You can go actually paid for a ticket and there was literally took off took off circle around and landed that was like an unexpected treat. Oh, yes that was

27:40 Very unusual because

27:43 Literally no one flew in those days. It was a scheduled plane trip was very very expensive. Yes, and the family didn't have much money right? There wasn't a lot of weight we

28:01 We managed but the most people in town were poor, so I guess we didn't feel different than anyone else.

28:08 What channel it was sort of a leveling experience in a way? Okay, 7 was kind of in the same boat. They're mostly yes pretty much.

28:19 Yes, okay.

28:23 Let's see anything else any other stories or he'll probably stories?

28:31 What about talking about when Michelle is born was born?

28:40 Yeah, that was interesting experience. That was a first I was born and in fact her mother just mentioned that.

28:56 When she went to the hospital have Michelle and 1957-58 58. All right.

29:05 She was able to stay in the hospital for she thinks it was a week at that time. That's right. You said was like a little vacation before the storm broke. Yes. Now it's like 24 hours or whatever. It's it's a dry by delivery the com-links what kind of books and movies and things that you enjoy.

29:30 Well, we had a choice at first. We had one movie theater in town. And then later on they open up second one and Saturday matinees where incense.

29:44 Hand at 1 and then when the second theater opened up, they showed mostly cowboy movies which were $0.05. So if you got $0.10 for a movie, you could go to the cheaper one for $0.05 and buy $0.05 worth of candy candy candy store and they had Penny Candy and you could pick out whatever you you know wanted probably a penny apiece Saturday's things and there was some there were karmel's you pick out a caramel and chair the rapper off and if there was a white dot on it, you would be you would get like a sucker. Oh, okay sites that you could like a little prize so you can spend like a whole day of eating the candy while not old not all day the matinees. They just flowers for the showing and then

30:42 A story that I've told my grandchildren probably more than once they opened up a ice cream parlor in town and they made their own ice cream. Now all three drugstores head soda fountains all drugstores pretty much had soda fountains, but this soda ice cream parlor opened up and made their own ice cream and I always like

31:08 Milkshakes

31:10 And they had a milkshake glass to me. It seemed like it was a quart jar. It was all I could do to finish one does but then people are some of the people there had contest see how many they could drink at one time.

31:30 This was fun. It was what was the favorite one favorite book when Eric had one favorite, but I know I remember reading Black Beauty and you probably junior high school and

31:44 I guess biographies always interested me. And I they still do I still like biographies and autobiographies. Yes.

31:55 Okay. So those are the things you like to do the most pleasure River pretty simple. You will be pretty much.

32:06 Did your own entertainment in summer time in or out of school or playing ball and

32:13 Going fishing with my father once in awhile. He like the fish.

32:18 And pretty much pretty simple things riding your bike.

32:23 Panda

32:26 Trying to stay out of Mischief. Oh, yeah, Mr. F1 about that on the Halloween. I was going to say was there a story about an outhouse and Halloween? Well, that was one of the believe it or not in the town. There were a lot of people had opted houses and that was one of the

32:43 What are the fun things to do with it? That bought it on crossover? Believe it or not? Never know. I always never missed probably miss miss some of the fun.

33:01 But You Were a Boy Scout for a while but I was kind of going to enjoy it three years, yes I did and I did enjoy it and both of your grandsons of kind of Boy Scout Jamboree write write the following I never went to Jamboree but sort of sort of following in my footsteps, that's very very interesting

33:27 Yes, okay, anything else any any other store you like to tell me? What's the offhand? I'm trying to think I'm I'm sure they're there are other ones but

33:39 You know, I can't get them right off the top of your head. I guess I can say that I listen to all my life to these stories until I tell you to remember some of them that you've probably forgotten. I remember going to sleep wishing. I could go to Litchfield and see the little red and white candy store that had the Penny Candy. We live in a suburb mother was a drug store. You could go to get candy from a few, you know, if you were allowed to waste your money on Candy, which we were never encouraged to do, right?

34:11 We were encouraged to go to Greenfield Village and look at the Ford tri-motor. Listen to the story how you got to go up on one.

34:19 And then I ended up lying on quite a few different planes.

34:26 I went time I leave went on a non-skid a non-scheduled airline which today or cause Charter Airlines and coming back from bootcamp head 10 days 11 days leave and the plane was a DC-3 which was

34:45 Probably the most prevalent playing at that time and wasn't pressurized and had to go over the Rockies.

34:54 Anna doll and Rocky Mountains bounced around considerably and I remember making it through there but most of the people on board were that little airsick cuz you were bouncing around.

35:11 And apparently they didn't follow the rules that carefully at that time. It was an odd schedule Airline and we were all people from bootcamp flying to Chicago from San Diego to Chicago.

35:26 And where we supposed to change planes?

35:32 I think in Omaha.

35:34 Well, we weren't able to land because it was a bad snowstorm. So we had to go on the Kansas City will the the relief crew. They're only as supposed to fly so many hours at a time. The relief crew was back in Omaha, and we're in Kansas City. And why do we get too early in the morning? And what are we going to do and finally and the pilot and co-pilot knew that we were all eager to get back home and he says well come on, we'll go ahead and go which they did to snow cut off and just bring me a roll when all went on in the Chicago.

36:12 I think if things are things are a little easier back then I'm sure I'm sure they were right to find a flexible but life seems to be more complicated and more when you learn one system and they go around and switch it into another even I'm beginning to realize that I've lived with three different iterations of computer programs doing the same thing at work right in those days are a computer.

36:44 Was yellow and attending the Eraser on the end. That was the computer and you talk about the good old days.

36:53 There was something

36:57 That we're better than every Everything wasn't good at that time. Life was hard was harder than and that everything was good. But some things were it where it is complicated is easier to get Battle not as fast paced life seem to go at a slower Pace people weren't always in such a hurry.

37:22 I may be a little more critias, especially when they're driving notice that I think everybody knows is that yes and you still love cards right tell about the baby still a car nut always like the old cars incidentally. I ended up in the scrap business bar 41 years. And when I first started out I scrap and junk cars, you know for the parts and for the metal and some of those old cars I tell people I have probably scrapped a million dollars worth of cars somewhere really really should have saved them should have put them away old for its old crayons and Automobiles every day when I was growing up never even knew what I Duesenberg was not in that in a small town. I was grown.

38:22 Before I knew about that, but I had the opportunity about what's been 16 years now to buy a 49 Chevy which we call the baby we could call the baby and it's not a show car. It's a driver so things that you just have fun with it. You don't worry about it getting scratched or whatever. It is something that the it was I call it every man's car. It wasn't a Pierce-Arrow or Duesenberg or Packard but it was in the car shows where every third guy would stop and say first car I bought after the war full right? Oh, yeah trigger a lot of memories. Yes, and your grandchildren. Paul doesn't have seat belts. They all got in there and said wear the seatbelt true.

39:09 The first the first new car I ever bought was a 53 Ford Fairlane station wagon came with seatbelt in the front seat only and at that time I had two children you and your sister and after I got the car with to Sears and have them install seat belts in the back seat. So we used to climb in the way back area in the end of the station way and it just bounced around in there right after that so they were extra. So are you safety conscious or just just thought it was a good idea what people weren't aware of probably the hazards at that time of that. But you were you thought it was a good idea of what you're putting in the seat belt, especially for the seats. Yes. It was. Yes. They said probably good. I didn't they were just lap belts. They weren't shoulder belts.

40:06 Handa airbags weren't even dreamed of at that time.

40:11 And that big big big change in that regard? Yes.

40:18 I guess I guess are we are we done here? Okay. Well Dad's place for 6 really listen to your stories again. Well, I was ever I was glad to do it then.

40:30 I just like to thank I think it's a really neat project like to think that people that are doing it very interesting. Yeah. Thank you storycorps. Very good idea.