CGP Community Stories

Oakley Whiteman, November 18, 2011

Title

Oakley Whiteman, November 18, 2011

Subject

Farm life
Dairy barns
Eggs
Cooperstown (N.Y.)
Great Depression
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Description

Oakley Whiteman, at age 85, looks back at his life with no regrets. He was born on his family’s farm in Westford, New York. Though he has moved around a bit, he has never strayed far from his hometown. As a young man, he had a few odd jobs, but poultry was his passion. After he married his wife, Connie, the couple started their own poultry business, which they ran for 25 years. In 1969, medical reports about cholesterol and changing market structures spelled the end for their business. After 1973, Connie began to work full time for Basset Hospital, and Oakley tried out a few jobs. He spent most of his time with the Baseball Hall of Fame, where he met many interesting figures from the baseball world. Since retirement, the pair have traveled to many fascinating places and have watched their sons grow up from afar.

Oakley is passionate about raising poultry for egg production. He recounts in detail their lifecycle and his business strategy. He attributes his success to his one-on-one approach to egg distribution. This approach worked well in the ‘50s, and ‘60s, but he was not able or willing to change his practices to compete with new forces in the early ‘70s.

Throughout his recollections, Oakley’s main message is that of acceptance. He doesn’t see the point in worrying over what could have been. He shares some disappointments and some joys amidst his accounts of previous occupations, but he takes the good and the bad equally. It is clear that his family is important and that he is proud of his choices in life.

Creator

Chelsea Robertson

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2011-11-18

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown NY

Format

audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
27.5mB
audio/mpeg
17.5mB
image/jpeg
3.7mB

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Sound
Sound
Image

Identifier

11-075

Coverage

Cooperstown, New York
1926-2011
Rural New York

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Chelsea Robertson

Interviewee

Oakley Whiteman

Location

1205 Highway 166
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2011

OW = Oakley Whiteman
CR = Chelsea Robertson

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

CR:
This is Chelsea Robertson, interviewing Mr. Oakley Whiteman at his home at 1205 Highway 166, Cooperstown, New York on Friday, November 18, 2011 for the Cooperstown Graduate Program's Oral History Project, which is part of the Research and Fieldwork course. Mr. Whiteman, tell me about growing up in Westford.

OW:
Well, we were born on the farm, a combination farm. We had multiple enterprises. We had poultry and dairy cattle, and we raised our own pigs. We were self-sustaining. I have two brothers and two sisters. And I went to the local high school and graduated from there, way back in 1943. Since then, I have had multiple occupations. Right after high school, the first job I ever had I was offered a situation as a barn inspector for a local milk company. And that was an interesting experience. You're a young fellow in his early twenties, going around to farmers and trying to implement some of the board of health regulations that needed to be implemented. Well, a young fellow - well you go to the hospital today and the doctors look younger every year, and you sometimes question their experience, so this is an education but I did reasonably well, but poultry was my primary interest. I always loved to be in the poultry business. And so from there, I had the opportunity to go in the neighboring county and work for one of the largest - one of the top six in New York state - poultry breeding farms. Well, I don't know how many birds this gentleman had, but he hatched chicks, so I worked in the hatchery, worked on the farm raising birds and taking care of the birds. I was there for a period of time, and after that I went on my own. Bought some birds. That was in the late 40s, early 50s. Then I found a young lady, and we decided we'd start a family. We moved to a poultry farm over in Mt. Visionary, in that county. We were there five years, then we relocated to our present location. We've been here fifty-some years. And we have done well. We have done very well. But we worked, always. In fact, I always drove a school bus. I had 18 years experience driving a school bus, and I drove for three different systems. And as a side note, just as a point of interest, if you want to bring relevance to the salaries today, the first year I drove a school bus – ‘50, ’51 - for a simple school my salary was 700 dollars a year. 70 dollars a month, for ten months. So, perhaps a point of interest, I don't know. But to me it's interesting how the prices have changed. So at our present location, we came here, and I produced and marketed my own product. And I did reasonably well, I guess. I was at it for 25 years, and then the economic situation changed dramatically. In 1969, I served the independent restaurants and independent stores, and in ‘69, the health cholesterol issue surfaced, and the marketing concept changed. The independent stores and the independent restaurants started closing their doors because of chain stores and malls started staying open in the evenings and Sundays. So the independent accounts that I had started going by the board and my volume dropped more than half in three years. I terminated it in 1973. Since then, I have had other occupations. I've been fortunate. I served a number of years as Assistant Supervisor of the Grounds Crew at Bassett Hospital, and since then I had the opportunity to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and serve as building superintendent at the charge of Building and Supplies, from which I retired back in 1991. I was there a number of years and met a lot of interesting people, and hopefully I made a lot of friends. So, that brings us up to the present point, I guess.

CR:
That's nice and succinct. However, we're going to draw this out.

OW:
Alright.

CR:
My first question is: your parents did a lot of stuff, with the cows and everything. How did you and your siblings help out, when you were growing up?

OW:
You did chores. You fed cattle, you cleaned chicken coops, you fed the pigs, you gathered eggs. You did whatever had to be done. It was multiple tasks. I was the oldest, by the way. As I said, there was five of us, and I was the oldest. We always had good relationships.

CR:
As the oldest, did you have more responsibilities than the others?

OW:
No, everybody had responsibilities. Every individual is a little different; I don't know. My home life was good, my parents were good. To give you a little background, my mother was a schoolteacher in a rural school. A one-room school. And she had to get a variance to go to teach in the fall because she was only 17. So she started teaching in the one-room school before she was 18 years old. But she was a good disciplinarian. All of our family have done well. To me, it speaks volumes of our home life. We have all done well.

CR:
What did your brothers and sisters end up doing?

OW:
I had two brothers, and they ended up in dairy farming. One sister is a schoolteacher, and the other sister is a secretary in a school system down in New Jersey. She relocated down there because her husband moved down there.

CR:
Tell me a little bit more about being a barn inspector. You said there were some interesting situations or learning experiences.

OW:
Oh, there were learning experiences, yes. [Laughs.] As a young fellow going around and saying "Well, we advise you, we're making a push…" Regulations were changing and they had to do this. Suggesting they build larger facilities and larger milk houses. Well, you tell somebody that they want this done and…People are very reluctant to accept change. As I said, it wasn't my first interest by far, but it was a situation that I thought, "Well, I'll try it and see what happens." But it didn't happen! [Laughs.] One of my experiences was I had a farmer sic his dogs on me and chase me off his property. How do you file that report? So, that one died. [Laughs.]

CR:
So that job didn't end up working out for you?

OW:
No, it did not. As I said, poultry was my primary interest. That was my [home?]. If you have something you enjoy doing, don't do something you don't relish doing. This is one of the reasons I figure I enjoyed the business, as I said, 25 years. And I've done reasonably well. But I always drove a school bus as a sideline. There you go to work twice a day, but we never had, per se, a vacation for 25 years, my wife and I. We did go - she being from Massachusetts - we went out there two weekends a year to see her folks and her family. But that was the extent of our vacations until I retired. We stuck right close to home plate.

CR:
What did you like so much about the poultry business?

OW:
I don't know. I just enjoyed it. Just like a mechanic loves working on cars, or a carpenter building something. This is their interest! Why? Don't ask me. But if you enjoy what you're doing, you'll generally be successful. That's my thoughts.

CR:
So what was raising poultry like?

OW:
Ups and downs. You were always fighting disease problems, just like any business, whether you're raising vegetables or crops. You're fighting diseases or parasites or something. You've got to be on the guard for that. It's a risky business. There's a lot more people that don't make a success of it than do, I believe. But I made a lot of contacts when I spent the one year delivering eggs and that sort of thing. As a side note, for my marketing, I only solicited one account in my life. The rest of them all came to me. They wanted the product, wanted my services, which put me in a nice situation. I felt good about that, anyway.

CR:
How did you manage that? How did they find out about you?

OW:
[Laughs.] I was close by, you know? I don't know how it happened. As a side note, a lady I happened to serve - I had a little retail group to start with - and I served her fresh eggs at home. She was the head of the dietary department at Bassett Hospital. She came to me one day out in her back room and said, "Would you be interested in serving the hospital?" "Sure, always interested." So that's how that came about. The welfare commissioner walked in my egg room one night when we were [unclear.] "Would you be interested in serving the county facility?" "Well…" They had a different business practice, a different philosophy, than what I had operated on. But we came to an agreement, and I served them for a number of years until I went out of business. So, if you put out a good product and stand behind it, and give good service and a reasonable [rate?], you'll do fine. But I was the one; I had no intermediary. I was the one they saw, I was the one that made the deliveries. I oversaw the whole thing. I did it myself.

CR:
What was the philosophical difference between you and the welfare group?

OW:
It was how they operated on price. They wanted a set price, and I said "I don't operate on a set price." We always operated on a market plus. Whatever the market is. The market would vary weekly, daily, and I would always take the market and add my margin. That was the way that nature was. Whether it was mine or anyone else's, it was in the business. You always worked on a market plus basis. Because if somebody lost a market, they'd have to go out and push somebody else out somewhere because you're pushing a perishable product. You can't put it on the shelf and leave it there, like hardware or jewelry. You've got to move it. Because the shelf life would deteriorate. So you have to get a market. You had to go out and underbid somebody else, and then you were taking your profit away.

CR:
How did you find out about what the market price is?

OW:
It was quoted every day in the paper. We always based it on the New York market. You had markets based in Boston. You had markets based in New York. Different cities, you know, wherever it was. Speaking of eggs, in New England the market was primarily brown eggs. New York was always predominantly white eggs. And there was always a price difference between the two markets, because that's the way it had been. People who had moved from Europe over here. The ones that came to New York and the ones that came to Boston. Back wherever their home country was - that's what they brought with them. And that's why the markets were established like that.

CR:
Which one were you?

OW:
White eggs. The bird that produces white eggs is a smaller bird. You get more feed efficiency. You don't have as large a bird. It takes less feed to maintain a bigger body than it does a small bodied bird. And that's what they're bred for: production. So I always raised White Leghorns. I'd get 3,000 chicks here every April and have them peeping around. But they'd grow so fast. It was enjoyable. [Laughs.]

CR:
When you started serving the bigger groups like Bassett, did you have to change the way you did production?

OW:
Nope. You sold what you could. We called this retail, which it was. And then I worked with another egg producer who had a contract with a chain store, twenty-some stores. He would take my surplus that I didn't have, and we worked together for twenty years probably. We were very close. He was here every week. That's the way we operated. My wife, she - well, anyway, we had a good time. Good business relationship. Both of us did very well.

CR:
So instead of competing with people around you, you worked together?

OW:
Yes, we did. We worked together.

CR:
Is that part of why you think you did so well?

OW:
I don't know. I think personal contact had more to do with it. Was it my personality? I don't think so, but being personally involved one-on-one is far better than going through somebody else. You have no chance of having a discrepancy in your policy.

CR:
How did Connie help you with the business?

OW:
While I delivered eggs, she would be up. She would go collect the eggs. She was a willing partner. She would gather them and wash them and put them in the egg cooler. And then our boys would help me. I would candle them. Which means running them over lights so you can see through and see any bloodspots or imperfections inside of the egg, which you cannot sell. I would do that and they would be on the other side of my booth, packing them in cartons for delivery or retail or for commercial store or restaurant, which took them in 30 dozen case lots. Whichever I had the orders for. They were always putting them in, whether they were large, medium, or extra large, in different categories. Because you always had different sizes. Of course, they were here until they went to school or college. This all transpired at the time when my business was changing in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, and even so, we were doing that with family labor.

CR:
So how many eggs did you sell on a regular basis before 1969?

OW:
My volume went from over 100,000 dozen in 1969 sales down to less than 50 when I terminated it. So that kind of gives you an idea of how the market changed due to the economics of the cholesterol thing and the retail marketing concept change. So there was no future for me to continue. I didn't figure I had no indebtedness, and I wasn't going to expand and get bigger. Two of our boys were in school, the third one was still here in high school. So that's when I went to work outside. My wife worked part time for a number of years, and then she went to work full time when our boys started college. She worked at Bassett as an administrative secretary.

CR:
She did that while you were still doing the poultry business?

OW:
No, not full time. Not when we were in the poultry business full time. She did not work full time then. She was here. She worked one month a year. They had a lady over there who was there for a number of years, and she always took her vacation in October. And she wanted Connie to take her place while she was on vacation for the month, so she worked the month of October every year for years, since 1949. Then she went to work full time when this other lady retired. Of course, the hospital was not as large as it is today.

CR:
Do you know if she liked what she did there?

OW:
I believe she did. She gave it 110% all the time. [Laughs.] That's all I'm going to commit on that, but she stayed there until she retired from Bassett. Then she went from Bassett… they asked her if she'd work part time at the scholarship office, so she went there and worked when the kids were applying for scholarships in the winter and spring months for a few weeks. So her services were appreciated. Otherwise, they wouldn't be in touch with her.

CR:
How did it feel during that transition period, when you were shutting down the one thing and looking for other things to do?

OW:
I was depressed. I was looking for something else, and I knew I was going to terminate my business in the fall, in October. I was looking around to see what was available. Well, I wasn't available until I was going to terminate the business, so I didn't get any replies. No response. But once I terminated my business, I had three options in just a matter of a few days. One of them was a custodian at night. I said, "No thank you. I haven't worked nights, and I'm not starting now." And things just opened up. I had lived in the area here for a number of years, and I guess it must be my reputation. I don't know. But they approached me. And that's the way the situation was. It puts you in a little different perspective. Somebody had confidence enough in my abilities or heard my reputation. I had been here twenty years or so, or more, before I terminated the business. In 20 years your name gets out. Your reputation gets established.

CR:
How did your customers feel about you terminating the business?

OW:
I don't know how they felt, but I made arrangements with another producer to take care of the commercial accounts. As far as the independent households, they went to the local market. I was still selling to some local markets. I had my name on the cartons and I was backing the product.

CR:
Do you know if any other businesses were affected by the cholesterol stuff?

OW:
Sure, all of them in the poultry business were. Their volume dropped because egg consumption per capita took a tremendous drop. So yeah, everybody that was producing them felt it, market-wise.

CR:
Was it just egg producers?

OW:
Well, I imagine there were others, but the cholesterol…Today you hear something about cholesterol, but not so much. I had a physician tell me when this all transpired, "It'll take a generation to prove this one way or another." And it's proved out right. Now they'll let you eat 8 eggs, no problem. Maybe not quite so many, but the egg consumption per capita took a nosedive. I've heard the statistics.

CR:
Because I'm not very familiar with how the poultry business works, could you go into a little bit more detail about the whole process?

[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]

OW:
[Laughs.] Okay. Well, I'll try to give you a little background. It was interesting, at least it was to me. I'll start with my situation here. I put out 3,000 baby chicks - I'll just try to describe my operation - the first of April. As the bird is coming into production, they mature as the daylight is getting longer, they come in production at an earlier age, and they'll lay a smaller egg. So you'll have peewee eggs and pullet eggs, egg size. But if the bird is hatched, say, in May, and comes in production when the daylight is getting shorter, they're older before they start their production cycle, and they won't lay as many small eggs. They'll start in as a medium pullet or medium egg size. But overall, you'll have mortality in a bird. Say you put in a hundred laying hens in the fall. A year later, you'll have 85. You'll have 15% mortality. I had an oil fired incinerator, which you had to use to incinerate your dead fowl. So I'd put my birds in in the spring. They'd go in the laying house. I'd keep them in the rearing house as long as I could, because here you had your older birds in the laying house. They were still producing large eggs. Your younger birds were in the rearing house producing small eggs. And you needed the large eggs for your market, so you had to wait. So it was enjoyable. I'd leave them in the rearing house until they were laying, and then I would transfer them in October to the laying house. And then by that time, the birds in the laying house would be gone. As a rule, they went to the slaughterhouse for Campbell's Soup in New Jersey for consolidated foods. And I don't think today there's an older processing plant in New York State. But you could sell them to a dealer. They'd come here and crate them up, and they would go to, as I said, a slaughterhouse. And as a side note, at that time you'd always figure ten cents a dozen for every dozen eggs that bird produced in its laying cycle for bird depreciation. For example, you had two dollars and a half invested in that pullet - the price of the chick, the price of feed up until it got in the production line. Fourteen months after the bird was hatched, you sold the fowl for 3 cents a pound, live weight. So you were selling it for 12-15 cents a bird. And you paid thirty-some odd cents for that bird as a day-old chick. And you had two dollars and a half invested in it before you started production. So your bird depreciation of ten cents of every dozen eggs you produced was bird depreciation, from what you got out of the bird and sold them at the end of their production cycle.

CR:
Did you keep your own books to keep track of all this?

OW:
Oh yes, every Sunday I was doing bookwork.

CR:
Did that come easily for you?

OW:
Oh yeah. Well, it took time, but I was fine. I knew what I was doing, and I knew where the arrow was pointing.

CR:
Was there ever a year where it was particularly bad?

OW:
Oh yes. On average, you'd have one good year out of three. One year, I had a disease outbreak, and it was what they called Blue Comb. It was a virus, I guess. I don't know. Anyway, they were dying by the basketful. And I couldn't burn them fast enough, and I was digging holes and burying them. And I lost not only the birds, I lost the future production of these birds that died. They were probably 20, 22 weeks old, just coming into their peak. It was a financial loss. But I ate. We lived. We got by.

CR:
What kind of strategies did you have to get through those sorts of times?

OW:
Pardon?

CR:
How did you live through a time where you had such a significant loss?

OW:
You just got up every day and did what was necessary to keep going. Sure, it was depressing, but you were hoping maybe things would turn around. It did.

CR:
On another note, what was driving the bus like? That was your other job.

OW:
That was a little interesting. I've had some experiences. Hopefully I helped the kids along. You didn't need a calendar to know what day Friday was, because Friday night they just unwound. They were noisy, and you could tell from the kids on the bus that it was Friday. They were done for the week.

CR:
[Laughs.]

OW:
[Looking outside] Look at your snowstorm. [Laughs.]
The other thing we used to do was wear sunglasses, so you could look up in the mirror and they wouldn't know in the backseat behind you who you were looking at. They couldn't see who you were keeping an eye on. I enjoyed it, but it got to the point where you had a lot of responsibility, but you didn't have much authority. Times changed.

CR:
How did they change in particular?

OW:
I don't think there's any parental discipline. One of the things I look at is discipline. They're not disciplined, a lot of them. Their home life or whatever is a little loose. A lot of them, I don't know what their home life is like, but to me they're not disciplined as much as they could be.

CR:
Did your amount of authority also shift over time?

OW:
No, I don't think that. You have a lot of responsibility. You have sixty-some youngsters on the bus. In the morning, they're not awake as a rule. But at night, they are. I left voluntarily. They didn't ask me to leave. Eighteen years is a long time, quite a long time. I have a brother who drove for thirty-some and he just handed his keys in this year.

CR:
Why did he do that?

OW:
He figured, well, same situation. Discipline. He said, "I've got to the point that I figured I'd do it before I had any problems." He's in his mid-seventies. When I was driving, on your sixty-fifth birthday, you didn't drive. That was done. You were automatically done regardless of your status or your health. But today that's not in effect. Things change over a period of time. Whether it's good or bad or indifferent, I don't know.

CR:
How do you feel about things changing?

OW:
There's not much I can do about it. Some things I don't relish. My wife and I lived at a good time. Our family is doing well. And we're blessed. Our health, for our years, is reasonably good.

CR:
Speaking of Connie, how did you meet her?

OW:
[Laughs.] Connie - This is a unique story. Bassett hospital was looking for a couple of medical secretaries, and she went to school in Boston. And somebody at Bassett Hospital knew somebody at the school. They said they were looking, and so she and another lady came out by train to Fort Plain, and the hospital picked them up there. They'd made arrangements for a house. There was a party in Cooperstown that took in girls for roomers. There were a lot of rooms. That's where they were, and as a happenstance my sister lived there also. She was one of the girls. Of course, we were close by and she came home quite often on weekends. She asked my mother, "There's a couple of girls at the house; can I bring them home for the weekend?" And she brought her over to the house, and that's how we met.

CR:
[Laughs.]

OW:
And as a side note, this other girl that came with her married my brother. [Laughs.] She is since deceased. She passed away this last spring, but yeah, they came out from Boston on a train. That's how we met, thanks to my sister.

CR:
How long did you know each other before you got married?

OW:
About a year.

CR:
And you said that you moved somewhere else before coming here.

OW:
Yeah. We lived in Mount Vision. We had a place in Mount Vision we bought. We were over there for five years, and we moved over here in 1955.

CR:
Why did you decide to move back here?

OW:
Move here?

CR:
Yeah.

OW:
Larger operation, better facility. There were more buildings out here then than there is now. I tore the buildings down - the laying house, prop buildings - to take them off the assessment role. There was no use paying taxes on them and insuring them and just letting them sit there. So that's a business decision.

CR:
So you bought this place and the facilities were already there.

OW:
Yes. But, you know, I took all of my own markets.

CR:
What was it like to get started?

OW:
[Laughs.] I guess you just go out the door and go to work. I don't know what it was like.

CR:
How did you find your very first customers for eggs?

OW:
When we were first here, it was strictly wholesale. You [unclear] to a dealer. The egg truck would come around and pick them up and they'd take them in to the market. And as I said, the market was New York City. They'd have the dealers down there. And that was it primarily, but then people start coming over. As far as my delivery route goes, there was a fellow with a route, and he was having health problems. I went to the individual, and I said, "If you want me to serve your customers for a period of weeks until you get back on your feet," - he was having hospital problems - "I'll gladly step aside and you can continue on, if it would help you." And he never did. I was only moving maybe 30-40 dozen retail at that time. So once you get established, it's….

CR:
It just grows from there?

OW:
It just grows from there.

CR:
So I know that your kids helped out. What kinds of things did you have them doing, again?

OW:
It was mainly packing the eggs at night. As I said, I would be in the candling booth, and they would be over boxing the eggs on the other side of the booth. In fact, I learned more when they would be there talking back and forth amongst themselves about what was happening in the school system than we would ever hear otherwise. [Laughs.] That was an interesting thing.

CR:
What kind of things did you learn from those conversations?

OW:
You know, what was happening in the school system. You knew what was going on at school. Otherwise, you didn't know. When you had a couple of boys going to school and discussing amongst themselves this and that and the other thing.

CR:
Did they like school?

OW:
They did well. They liked school very well. Well…we have, as I said, three boys. The oldest boy went to two years of school at St. Lawrence University, and said, "I don't know what I want to do. I'm not going to continue until I find my way." The other two boys had their visions set. One boy is a chemical engineer in Texas. When he graduated from Clarkson College, he had a job offer, but he said, "I'm not going to make paint; I'm going to get in research and development or processing." So he was accepted at West Virginia on a research assistantship, and he went there and got his master's degree. The younger boy was always interested in rockets and airplanes, and he graduated with honor from college. And he made missiles for Martin-Marietta for five years in Florida. Now he's designing planes for Boeing. Now he's in Washington state. The other boy that didn't know what he wanted to do found his niche. He's a paramedic. He's down in Columbia, South Carolina. He's the paramedic and codes enforcement officer for Richland County, which has, I believe, 180 personnel and 48 ambulances. He's up in management in that.

CR:
How do you feel about them being in such different, far-away places?

OW:
Gives us a place to visit. That's life. People grow up, and they leave and find their niche. All you can do is wish them well. Hopefully if you've done a good job, it will reflect on them.

CR:
You said that you couldn't take very many trips before you retired. Have you been traveling more now?

OW:
We've been blessed. We've been a lot of places. The second year after I retired, we left here 26th of March and got back the 14th of June. This is a little involved, but it went well: My sister and brother-in-law, and his brother and sister-in-law - there were three couples involved. My sister lives in south Jersey; the other couple lives up in northern New York. We bought a van with a buy-back guarantee from the dealer cheaper than we could rent one. We prorated it between the three couples proportionally with the time we were in it. The party that had it the most was in Florida. We flew down to our son's in Texas, and they came along and picked us up. We toured the Southwest and the West with no timetable for three weeks, out to California. And then my sister flew out to San Francisco. We picked them up and right back up the coast we went up Route 1. Then we drove right up to Alaska, brought back the inland passage ferry back to Bellingham, back down to Bellevue where my boy and daughter-and-law live. We jumped ship, and they drove back across the country. We stayed out there for a few days. We had to replace all the carpet in the house, so we were moving furniture. [Laughs.] So they were using parental labor, which was fine. Then we flew back across the country. We were forty-odd days on the highway and had only two part-days of rain. One of those was snow up in Oregon at Crater Lake. We were going into Crater Lake, but they were having a blizzard. We called ahead and the forest ranger said, "Don't come in there; we're having a blizzard." Our better judgment said if we got in there we might not get out for a few days. But we have been to a number of places. Been to Ireland once. Well, when we were on the trip, we ended up down in Mexico for a little ways. We've been to the World's Fair in Vancouver. We went cross-country in Canada. So we've been a lot of places.

CR:
What do you like about traveling to all of those places?

OW:
Seeing the people. You just go to the airport and sit at the airport, watching the people go by. That's fascinating to me. All the different personalities and attire. But at my point now, I don't do as much driving as I did. We used to drive from here to South Carolina at the one boy's and on over to Texas to the other boy. But at my years, it's pretty stressful. Our days of that are very limited.

CR:
What's your favorite place you've gone to?

OW:
I don't know if there are any favorite ones. We've been to so many. Victoria. I think the flowers out in the Victoria and Vancouver area were unbelievable - just spectacular. We had a little dinner up in the space needle in Seattle. We had a private plane ride all over Seattle, over the naval base out there. We've been fortunate to have been to as many places as we've been. We've taken a couple cruises. I'll highlight one cruise we enjoyed the most. It was called the Foliage Cruise up the New England coast. We left from New York, and the first day we were in Newport, Rhode Island. We went ashore to a cottage - toured that. The next day we were in Boston - toured that. The next day we were in Bar Harbor, Maine. And every day, we were in a port somewhere, and we had a tour and went in. We ended up in Montreal, and came back. It was in the fall, so it was mighty cold in Quebec. But, I've had a good life.

CR:
What kinds of stuff do you do when you're not traveling?

OW:
Well, we still have the home here, and it takes quite a lot of maintenance. We like to keep it looking rather respectful. I'm getting older and slower, and I don't get as much done in a period of time as you do when you're young, vim and vigorous and go.

CR:
All right. So I'm going to go back to some of the jobs you had after the poultry business. You said you started at NYSHA very, very briefly?

OW:
Very briefly. I was custodian in the library building. The fellow that was the head of the grounds crew at Bassett was going back for a year for his master's in horticulture. He would be up at NYSHA when I went to work at 7:30 in the morning, trying to coach me to go and replace him at Bassett. The retirement system that they had there was the same. I was only up at NYSHA for a short period of time. They offered me this opportunity, and when they ask you politely, you think very seriously about it. I was with Bassett for almost five years, I think four years plus. Then the Hall of Fame was expanding and building on, and I happened to see the ad. I happened to see the director one day in a business establishment, who I knew. I asked him about it. He said, "Give me the details." Then that developed. He said, "We'd like to have you if you're interested. You can just go in and do your thing. I will not interfere, and you can develop your own program. Whatever you want to do. If something happens, yes, but otherwise I'll stay out of your hair." So it was a new situation. They'd never had one before. I was younger and gullible. I thought was equal to the challenge. And I was aware that when you are on scene in a situation when you're installing the equipment, you learn more about the operation - how they operate and how they function - than if you walk in a building cold. So I was there when they installed the elevators, the escalators, and the boilers, and all that sort of thing. I got a little background knowledge. That helped. I was there for a number of years. In 1989 the Hall of Fame had its fiftieth anniversary. President Bush 41 was there. He was Vice President. He came for a visit. It really opened my eyes. I worked with White House security, Secret Service, and the FBI for three weeks prior to his visit. And the behind the scenes stuff that goes on is unreal. I won't elaborate, but it was an eye-opener.

CR:
You don't want to talk more about that?

OW:
No, I'm not going to talk that much about that, because it costs the taxpayers immense [unclear] every time these people travel. I see what it costs. But the things that they do are unreal. Of course, I was checked out, I know that I was cleared for security. I could wander anywhere I wanted to go. For some of the people, that didn't sit well with them. But I did well. I had no problems.

CR:
What program did you develop for the Hall of Fame?

OW:
Getting the job done. That's all. Keeping it clean. Getting the job done. What do you do first? You develop a system. In any business, you have to have a system. In which order you're going to do this, and this, and this. It all depends on the clock. What time you open, what you can do after the public is there, and what you do when the public is there. When you have thousands of people a day coming through, you just hope and pray that all of the toilets work and that sort of thing.

CR:
So you were doing facilities, maintenance, that kind of thing?

OW:
Oh yes. If the elevator quit, [unclear - a person's name?] went "Oakley, Oakley!"

CR:
Did you like that job?

OW:
Oh yes. As I said, I met a lot of good people. A lot of great people.

START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]

OW:
I had the opportunity to take George Will to the airport once. We didn't converse too much. Connie and I took Warren Spahn, his son and daughter-in-law, and another friend, to the Syracuse airport. Of course, he's winningest left-handed pitcher in baseball. He pitched for the Boston Braves. And Connie used to cut class once and a while to go to Fenway Park behind Ted Williams. And as we were going up he asked, "Why didn't you come to Braves Field?" [Laughs.] So that was a memorable experience. I've not met, but I've seen Gene Autry at the Hall of Fame when he owned the California team. I've seen a lot of so-called individuals. We had a lot of companies come there and do shooting - filming stuff for in-house promotion. IBM, Mass-Mutual Insurance, and all those others. I'd have to work with them because they'd require much in this area or that area. For electrical or whatever. We had to keep them supplied. I'd get some thank-you notes from them, thanking me for my services. I don't have any now; I destroyed them. I was there at a good time and enjoyed it. Then they were starting a three-year, three-million-dollar expansion program, and I was 65. I said, "Well, if I start it, I'll feel morally obligated to see it through to completion. I think I'll take my shackles and leave." And that's what I did. Then I went to Alaska.

CR:
[Laughs.] That's not a bad choice.

OW:
[Laughs.]

CR:
You mentioned a lot about how things have changed in a variety of ways. What sorts of changes do you think have most affected your life or the people around you?

OW:
Beneficial? Or…

CR:
Either one.

OW:
Well, one of the benefits we have is our health facilities here. I think the educational system has benefited. I think the high schools have changed and improved their curriculum. Because there are a lot more students going on to well-named schools than used to years ago. This, I think, has been beneficial to the area. I don't know off-hand about the economy. The agricultural enterprises are not what they were. That's changed. It's like everything else. Every business that succeeds gets bigger and the ones that can't quite cut the mustard, so to speak, go by the board. Particularly in agriculture, in my valley here. The big farm across the way leases its acreage to a bigger farm, because these fellows are in their 80s. Their family is in a situation like ours. They're going on to other enterprises. Which is great. Which is fine. But their family's strung around New Hampshire or Nebraska or somewhere else. This is the nature of the beast at this time.

CR:
So if school has changed a lot, what was school like for you?

OW:
It was difficult. I was too young. My birthday's in September, and I was still 16 the following fall after I graduated from high school. Of course, this was during World War II. Being on a farm, you were grounded pretty much where you were. I don't know, otherwise. I had a regent's diploma. That's all I know. I figured that I did as well as some, but math was difficult for me. I could add and subtract, but as far as algebra goes… Geometry particularly was difficult for me. Here's one other experience: I have a nickname that I got in school, and it stuck with me for 80 years. It's Guv, short for Governor. In our homeroom - I was in junior high - we got a young teacher, just out of school. It was his first job. He nicknamed every boy in the room. One fellow's name was Richard, and his nickname was Charlie. Another boy's name was David; his name was Peanut. It's ironic that most of those names have stuck. Most of them are gone now, but that's what happened. I got a nickname in junior high school that lasted me for 80 years. Guv is short for Governor. In fact I get mail, "Gov. Whiteman," yeah. [Laughs.]

CR:
Do you know why the teacher chose that particular name?

OW:
I have no clue, but that's what he did. That was his way to make good relationships with his class. Our class was small, twenty-odd in our graduating class. In fact, we have only had one reunion, and that was our 45th reunion. We got together once. Otherwise, everybody is scattered.

CR:
How many of them stuck around this area?

OW:
None that I can think of. None. Well, some of them went into the service and ended up in teaching. Some of them went into chemical engineering down in the Caribbean. Not much to hang around here for unless you call it home. It's a good place to live. Crime in the area is nil.

CR:
Did you ever worry about getting drafted during any of the wars that you were around for?

OW:
No, I wasn't worried about it. What happens, happens. Things tapered off. As I said, I was young. I wasn't 18 until the end of it. The thing was tapering off at that time.

CR:
There's a question that goes along with the other farmers in the area. I know that there's been some environmental issue discussions going on.

OW:
Mmmmhmmm.

CR:
Have you been paying attention to those? Do you have an opinion?

OW:
I don't know as I have too much of an opinion. I think a lot of it is overblown. I don't think a lot of them have their facts straight on some of this stuff. I think there's a little more research to do. You look in other sections of the country, and they're doing fine. North Dakota - real well. Their economy is going gang-busters. So I think a lot of this is a little bit overblown, myself. It's going to take time to work its way through before we know exactly, but I think they can drill without doing too much damage to the water. Because they go down two miles or more, and then they go horizontally. So I don't know. Texas wouldn't be where it is today if they didn't want to drill for oil. That's my thoughts.

CR:
Okay. We have a little bit of time, so other than what we talked about, are there any big struggles or major events in your life that we haven't reached?

OW:
I don't think there's anything major, no. We had a few health issues along the way, but I'm still navigating. I have no complaints. It doesn't do any good to complain. I do think you make life what it is, but you have to work at it. You have to get out and bend your back, so to speak. They aren't going to hand you anything. If you want something, you've got to work for it. And if you enjoy doing it, God bless you.

CR:
Do you think that's a belief a lot of people around here share?

OW:
No. I think that the generational philosophy has changed. They're looking for, "What can I get?" instead of going out and getting what they want. You have to work. I had an expression I was told years ago by a fellow. He said, "If you're in business, you just watch the pennies. The dollars will take care of themselves." And that's so true. You watch the small stuff; you don't worry about the big stuff. Watch the small stuff. Things will fall in place.

CR:
Why do you think so many people have a different opinion?

OW:
It's the changing of the times. We've lived in a period of time that was very affluent. I know back in the Depression Era, everybody was in the same boat, pretty much. Those that lived on a farm or something could produce a little of their own product. They lived off the land. They had their vegetables. Today, of course, it's totally different. The marketing conception is totally different. But during the Depression, there were no chain stores. The local merchants supplied the area with the groceries and the families with their needs. If some of them needed assistance, they'd call a meeting on the town. The supervisor of the town would go to the merchants and say, "So-and-so is getting help." But you know, they were not allowed to buy a lot of things. They were not allowed to buy bread. They were not allowed to buy cigarettes. They were not allowed to buy butter. They were restricted on what they could buy, but they were getting assistance. They didn't starve. But they were limited on what they could buy. This is totally different today. I'm just making a comparison between back in the 30s and the late 90s and so on. So, the living standards are totally different. Totally different.

CR:
Do you think one mindset is better than another? The mindset of going after things or waiting for things?

OW:
I can't answer that. Honestly, I don't know. I think it's your upbringing. What your status was when you were growing up. I think that makes an impression on how you look at things today.

CR:
Do you think your sons adhere to your vision of life?

OW:
Two of them do. I don't know about the other one. They're young. I think so.

CR:
Do any of them have kids of their own that they're passing values onto?

OW:
[Laughs.] Pardon?

CR:
Do any of them have kids?

OW:
I have one granddaughter. She's a graduate at Charleston University down in Charleston, South Carolina. She's working down there for a company. [Card edge?] company, I guess. They have shipping lines. They've got offices all over the world. Their headquarters is in Bern, Switzerland. I don't know what her duties are, but she's down there. She's been down there since she started school. I see her maybe once a year, and sometimes I don't see here in three or four years. So she's grown up. We miss her.

CR:
Did you see her more when she was younger?

OW:
Oh yeah. They lived here in Cooperstown. We used to see her. But she moved down there when she was four or five, somewhere in there. Oh yeah. We miss the little rascal, but that's the way it is.

CR:
Is there anything else you want to talk about?

OW:
If you have any questions, I'll try to answer them for you to the best of my ability. I hope I've been able to help you.

CR:
[Laughs.] If you've got a message for people listening to this later. If you want someone to know, "This was Oakley Whiteman."

OW:
Don't give up. Don't give up. If you try to run your own enterprise. If you're working for someone else, keep your employer's interest at heart. Look at it from his viewpoint. Sure, they do thing different perhaps than you, and it makes a difference whose eyes you're looking through, but always have your employer's interests at heart.

CR:
Sounds like good advice. Well, thanks very much for talking to me,

OW:
You're entirely welcome.

CR:
And sharing your information with the oral history project.

Duration

30:00 - Part 1
30:00 - Part 2
19:01 - Part 3

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbps

Files

Collection

Citation

Chelsea Robertson, “Oakley Whiteman, November 18, 2011,” CGP Community Stories, accessed January 22, 2018, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/112.