When summer turns into fall, I think back to my childhood. I’m reminded of my grandfather and the business he built here in New Hampshire. Alex was a very successful businessman — he started in the coke and coal business first. Coke was actually the product of burning coal in mass heaps to prevent air from getting into the middle. It’s a fuel with very little impurities and a high carbon content. From that, he switched to the oil business and supplied major hospitals in the area. I remember sitting next to him and asking when he had started his business, and he told me his story.
Grandpa Alex was an orphan and lived on a farm in Canada until he was 21. His older brothers, who were much older than him, ran the farm after their parents died and insisted that Alex stay and work there. Once he turned 21, they told him, “If you want to go, then go.” So he came the United States. He calculated how much he would need for a train to get him into the States and saved up $35. This was during the late 1800s, and $35 was worth a lot more than it is today.
However, once he was at the train station and was reaching into his pocket to pay for the trip, he realized that it would be cheaper if he just walked. He ended up walking all the way down to New Hampshire, where he started looking for work. He was running low on money and needed to start saving again, so he decided to try his hand at construction.
Alex approached a construction site and asked the guys working if he could have a job. He was lucky that they spoke French, because he didn’t speak much English. In French, they asked my grandfather if he had ever worked in construction before. Well, the truth was that he hadn’t, but he told the guy, “Sure, I’ve worked on a lot of things.” Then they asked him, “You must have your own tools, then?” And Alex told them, “Yes, I do.” Then he told them he’d go and get them and return the next day. He headed back to the flophouse he’d been staying at and gathered up what was left of his money and all the things he owned, then sold it all to buy his own tools. Alex set about working in construction until the snow got up to his eyes and it was too cold to work. After the site closed, he headed down to the Nashua area.
After working in construction, he realized that he wanted to save up and start his own business — a coal delivery business. So, with his savings, he bought a Ford Model T automobile to use in his deliveries. But because he didn’t speak English well, he didn’t understand at the time that the industry was COD, or cash on delivery — Alex thought that he could pay as he went. He didn’t understand he had to pay for everything upfront before selling it. When Alex finally did realize he had to pay for all the coal at once, he sold his truck to cover the costs.
With no way to transport the massive mound of coal, my grandfather got himself a stool and sat down right next to the pile. The nice man who ran the train station let him keep the coal there while he pondered what to do. That was something my grandfather always told me, “You never turn away from a problem. You sit there with it and figure it out.” He probably sat there for days before an idea finally occurred to him.
Alex loaded up a wheelbarrow with 100 or more pounds of coal and then went door to door, saying in French, “My name is Alex. Would you like to try my coal?” If they bought it, he would go back and forth from the train station 15–20 times to deliver it, because people would buy coal by the ton at the time. It had to be shoveled into a furnace under their homes to keep them warm. He took it upon himself to deliver every piece of coal they purchased.
His hard work paid off, and his business boomed. Even though things were rough in the beginning, he worked through the problems he faced. It’s no wonder that my grandfather was so successful.