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by James Mays, based on an interview with Ken EcclesPart of Rambler Canada • Reprinted with permission
Ken Eccles journeyed from England to Canada in 1923 — at the age of two — settling in Oshawa, Ontario. Ken graduated from Oshawa Collegiate and Vocational Institute in 1939, then joined the military, getting trained for aircraft in Galt.
After the war, Eccles worked as an unemployment insurance agent. Then his friend Walter Shannon, having become the parts manager for the new Nash Canada’s Ontario depot, hired him to pick parts at the new Danforth warehouse in Toronto’s East End. The salary was good for the time at $120 a month; the downside was the hour’s drive from Oshawa to Toronto twice a day. He bought a used ’39 Nash for the drive; when the cloth roof insert tore off, Eccles covered the hole with plywood.
At the time, Ford was still building cars on the site, and most of the building was a warehouse for a soap manufacturer. Their jobs looked tenuous when the government stopped allowing American goods to be imported, to shore up the Canadian dollar and ease the trade deficit. Eventually, the government said Nash could import cars until their local factory was ready.
In 1948, Ken Eccles married Mabel Laycoe. Ford and the soap people moved out of the warehouse, and Nash began assembling cars there in 1950. Eccles became an order interpreter, sharing an office with his friend Watler; most dealers had open accounts, while shaky ones paid cash on delivery. Parts were set up by group numbers (e.g., all headlights and related parts were in one group). Albert Love was a walking memory; he knew every part by number and exactly where to find it.
The new front office quickly acquired a full staff to service the network throughout all nine provinces. The flamboyant Leo Fenn ran Nash from Toronto; he always wanted a car that wasn’t in stock, and insisted that the engine parts be chromed. Being particularly fond of cheesecake made from the uniquely light and tasty Winnipeg cream cheese, Fenn would order a new car and send a driver on a 2,000-kilometre trek to Winnipeg to pick up a cheesecake. That was the car’s break-in period.
GM built the rear ends for early Nash Statesman cars in their St. Catherines plant; Nash owners were used to a very quiet ride and complained loudly about the whine. Dealers sent the offensive parts to the
Danforth. The parts depart ment kept a hundred new units in stock to keep customers satisfied.
When Nash and Hudson merged in 1954 to form AMC, some Hudson people came aboard; and Eccles could buy a 1954 Hudson Hornet.
With Hudson in the family, there were lots of new parts to stock, but they were quickly fit into the corporate scheme. Parts were unofficially kept on hand for ten years. When a car was no longer under warranty, parts for that model were kept on hand according to number of parts sales.
Eccles was sent down to Kenosha and Milwaukee for a national parts managers’ meeting in 1959. American Motors was a much bigger outfit in the US; its massive operations were impressive. Eccles chuckled that the Canadians enjoyed teasing their American cousins in an after-hours drink or two about why it took the US until the end of 1941 to get involved in World War Two.
Aluminum engines were sold in the 1961 model year. They caused a few problems but American Motors took good care of those affected. “The danger,” Eccles said, “was in the engine’s first 1,000 miles.”
Eccles remembers a national dealer driveaway that didn’t go well during Rambler’s aluminum engine era. Lots of dealers’ new cars broke down on the way home and they were understandably angry.
Eccles moved to Winnipeg in 1958 to manage the Western Canada depot. His daughter Ann was born there a year later. Westerners did business in a big way. One dealer used to fly in from a remote part of the territory following the railway line. Once the order was filled, the dealer would load up his plane and fly home.
In 1963 Eccles was transferred back to Brampton as inventory control supervisor for the national depot; he had to know what was in stock and what had to be ordered. There was a half-dozen office staff and ten pickers in the warehouse.
In fall 1969, AMC purchased Jeep from Kaiser. As with the merge with Hudson fifteen years earlier, the acquisition meant big physical changes in the warehouse. An experienced Eccles completed the massive job in just ten days but, he said dryly, “There was a lot of overtime that week-end.”
He stayed in the parts department and rose to be the company’s national parts manager. During his last ten years, Eccles was issued a new car every six months; he loved the adorable Gremlins, but the big Ambassadors and Matadors were his favourites. Finally, he stepped down and took special assignments, later moving back to being a foreman in the parts department. The company was good to him: at no point was his salary cut. He was offered an office job, but decided to retire after over 37 years of service. It was 1985 and he was sixty-four years old. Christmas was the right time to quit.
The thirty staff in the warehouse gave him a memorable noontime presentation, with a special good-bye from old friend, Ron Hogue. Eccles managed to get away quietly without an official farewell party; he was a modest man and that’s the way he preferred things to be handled.
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