Looking for Gypsum in Cuba -- Manufacturing
In 1958, National Gypsum was transporting gypsum from Nova Scotia to Tampa by a large ocean going bulk transport. The company decided to explore for gypsum in Cuba and design a short supply system to Tampa.
Oliver Campbell and I flew to Havana over a weekend and stayed at the Hotel National before taking the train the next day to the north shore at the center of the island.
Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to create a checking account for my wife and two-year-old who were to stay with my mother in New York City for my three-month drilling project of the off-shore islands. I had my paychecks sent directly to my wife who could not cash them because I had no New York City accounts in my name. When she ran out of money, I called my boss in Buffalo to have my paychecks made out in my wife's name! You can well imagine the consternation in the payroll department – but they did it.
My predecessor, who was drilling the mainland, told me how he bought a Jeep when he first arrived there. He spoke no Spanish but figured taxi drivers would overcome his handicap. He approached the starter at the taxi stand at the hotel and said, "Jeep, Jeep" and received the response, "Si Senior." He said the ride through Havana went through steadily declining neighborhoods until the driver stopped at what was very evidently a brothel with the ladies of the evening at the windows in all their glory. He said to the driver, "Jeep?" The driver responded, "Cheapest place I know."
I rented a place on the beach and bought a powerboat to ferry the drill teams and equipment to the islands where we were doing the exploratory drilling. One large island was a ranch for a very beautiful strain of mahogany colored cattle. Roads were few and travel was by horseback. One of my jobs was to scout out water holes to supply the water necessary for drilling. The first time I was asked if I knew how to ride, I said "yes" because I had ridden in some dude ranches. Well, these were genuine cowboy working quarter horses! I gave the horse a good jab with the spurs – my glasses went one way, my hat in another, and I flew in the third direction!
When we completed the project the boat was worn out and a pile of junk so I gave it back to the previous owner as payment for the many major boat repair bills. Other bills I paid back with bottles of scotch (cheaper than if I had paid in cash because of the graft in the country) and my personal photo light meter to pay a $200 bill.
When I returned to the Buffalo administrative and payroll department, a hush fell over the entire office. I asked one of the clerks why, and she said, "We have been waiting for three months for you to come back just to see the person who has driven our bosses nuts." You can imagine the reaction when I told them I had no boat and no receipts except for those bottles of scotch and replacing my light meter for $40.
Later in my National Gypsum career, I was told any thoughts of company foreign operations were delayed for years because of me.
Incidentally, I advised the decision makers not to plan on future Cuban operations because there was a guy called Castro up in the mountains who was going up against Batista and that government blood would flow.