McFadyen’s Musings: Tales from a Flat-bed Truck
In 1890, J. Scott McFadyen Sr. was born on sand so poor that the only things it grew well were Scottish settlers and long leaf pines. His son (my Dad) always said that “whether you were rich or poor, it is nice to have money.” So great-grandfather Dugald McFadyen (I guess they were too poor to afford the “o”), taught him how to scar the bark of those prolific long leaf pines and gather the sap to sell to the Clarks for the making of turpentine. That turned into money for chickens and corn meal and shoes for the 10 brothers and sisters, but not much else. Of the hundreds of stories Granddaddy told me in the decade of my childhood, the ones from that farm on what is now Area M on the Fort Bragg Military Base have their own file cabinet in my brain.
He said that they used to capture opossums for table fare. He said they would imprison it in a barrel and feed it sweet potatoes to “clean it out” before the butchering and consumption. I wondered if it was an unjustifiable waste of both the sweet potatoes and the possum, but I could see in his face during the telling that he had highly valued that meat.
Legend has it that Granddaddy led the charge among those sand ridge farmers to sell all their lands to the United States government. Sirloin steak and pork chops were out there in the world just waiting to replace possum shanks and blackbird pies. Whoever led, the result was that the McFadyens and the McKays and the Campbells and the McLauchlins sold out or were eventually bought out.
W.F. Blount (thus Blount Street in downtown Fayetteville) owned a retail establishment surviving through the sale of pianos. Thirty-year-old Scott McFadyen had a flat-bed truck. So Mr. Blount hired him as a salesman. Granddaddy would load the piano on the truck and strike out across the countryside traveling farm to farm, door to door until the piano was divested. As I tell my three children, “there are a lot of ways to make a living.”
Mr. Blount died in 1923. When Granddaddy bought out his widow, McFadyen Music was born. And just in time for the Great Depression a few years later! Granddaddy expanded into McFadyen Music and Jewelry in an effort to survive. He bankrupted, but somehow kept the doors open.
I have always snickered with guilt just a little when reading about the public servitude offered from local politicians. Perhaps it is largely true, but in the case of my grandfather, I feel like he ran for Mayor of Fayetteville for the steady pay. He must have done something right, however, because he was elected to a two-year term and then ran four more times, serving a total term of 10 years, which got him through the rationing and turmoil of World War II. Through all that, McFadyen Music still had its little footprint on Hay Street four doors from The Market House.
One of the seminal moments for family businesses is when it comes time to rollover family members on the Board of Directors. For McFadyen Music, that time came in 1954 when my father, Scott McFadyen Jr., came home from the Air Force. I think Granddaddy was only too happy to give up the reins, but I am sure he advised Dad to figure out which political office paid the best, because I am pretty sure there was a second bankruptcy in there somewhere.
All I ever knew growing up was that I was a part of a family business. It was not perceived by me as special. It was just into what I was born. I remember sitting in the window of the second-floor repair shop watching for Santa in the Christmas parade. There was a giant black safe on muscular casters where Dad kept the valuables. It had a canister of tear gas that was designed to deploy if someone cracked the safe. Evidently it was a hair trigger, as it went off in the office one day. There was the driveway in back off of Old Street that immediately joined the entrance into the First Citizens Bank parking lot. There was the service elevator at our back entrance that took repairs (and excited children) from ground level to that second-floor window. When we vacated Hay Street, both that elevator and that safe went to The Warehouse on Gillespie Street.
My first job was wielding a feather duster for 35 cents an hour. There is no debate on that rate. I know, because on day one I knocked a bottle of cymbal rouge to the concrete floor, breaking it, and it cost me an hour’s wage. Thirty-five cents. My employer was adept at teaching hard lessons.
The death of family businesses happens every day. In our case, it came in 2000 after Dad called together all of us who had accepted his invitation to join the Board. He told us in that meeting that “the best time to sell something is when someone else wants it.” A man down in Dallas, Texas wanted it, and he paid well to get it. We naively believed all that Texas talk about how nothing would change. Everything changed. Everything always changes.
All of the experiences of 80 years of business and all of that Scott-McFadyen-wisdom was dismissed by the venture capitalists in NYC who had bankrolled the man from Dallas. In six years’ time, McFadyen Music’s suitor bankrupted her for the last time. I won’t say it broke Dad’s heart, but he did openly share disgust over it not needing to have ended that way. He was most pained by the job losses it inflicted on the remaining people Dad had hired and nurtured financially and in other ways during his working life.
Of my three children, two of them have envisioned a path into The Real World over the next 10 months. The third one will finish high school in that same timeline. Therefore, his path is less clearly envisioned at this point. I am wondering how he would look in a flat-bed truck.