On a slip-formed concrete elevator job, the superintendent was not expected to be deskbound. So it wasn’t a complete surprise to find a pay account jotted down on the back of Edwin Christoffersen’s handy notepad. His letters home probably came out of this paper supply, assuming he had time to write them.
The Cordell, Okla., elevator was built in 1950, when Edwin Christoffersen took charge of the job for Mayer-Osborn Construction.
It is easy to forget that times were so dramatically different then.
We were entering a frightening time, with the Korean War looming. Edwin’s nephew, my dad’s brother Dick Osborn, was putting on a uniform to go fight, taking a break from building elevators for the company.
Our country was pulling out of a period of deep recession and unemployment. Air travel was a luxury, but in no sense was it the comfortable experience we have now. Airplanes were loud and flew through the ugly weather, instead of over it. In the book “Fate is the Hunter,” Ernest K. Gann recounted the very real perils of flight in those days. He made it seem all too real in his excellent book.
Ed’s notepad recalls a bit of aviation history. Deco style was modern then. In small print, it even says “Made in U.S.A.”
On the reverse of this nearly empty pad of stationery, which miraculously survived for over sixty years among Edwin’s papers, is what appears to be an account of a monthly budget. It seems pretty clear that Ed would have been paid decently. The “coolies,” as they were called, did the physical labor and made $1 an hour. My dad, Jerry Osborn, got that job for one summer, and he didn’t get any special favors, either. The term was not a racial one in those days–it described the work, mostly done by local farm boys.
Edwin added up a sum exceeding $40 per month–perhaps it was what he had left over, after paying the bills. He came up with $170. Was this tally a payroll for his workers? Or was it a budget for his personal use? Did it record expenses for the Cordell project? It is hard to say.
In 1950, you could drive a good used car off the lot for a few hundred dollars, though a new Cadillac would have been out of reach for most people at over $3000. Maybe Ed had money left over to go get rowdy after work. Or maybe he could buy a good shotgun for his favorite pastime, which was hunting.
I wish to thank Diane Osborn Bell for the pictures of her father, Richard “Dick” Osborn. Ed Christoffersen also kindly shared some of his dad’s personal papers, for which I am grateful.
It’s a truly illuminating way to look at man’s life and his work.
- Mystery elevator identified as Mayer-Osborn’s Cordell, Oklahoma project (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)
- The Cordell, Oklahoma elevator project fused engineering prowess with family ties (ourgrandfathersgrainelevators.com)