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"The Wisconsin Years," from
My First Eighty Years (and then some!) 
Lyle Arthur Seefeld

Copyright Ralph L. Seefeld and Carol Howman. This book may not be reproduced or copied
in any manner without the written consent of Ralph L. Seefeld 

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Chapter 19: Harley-Davidson

In my new job I had a desk in the office of the foreman of the engine assembly department on the second floor of their four story main building. My timekeeping responsibilities included that engine department (which also assembled transmissions, which everyone called "three-speeds," the final assembly department, the paint shop on the fourth floor, and the experimental department, which was so secret that I never did know where it was located!

The foreman of the engine department was a roly-poly Swede named Axel Jensen (or was it Swenson?)  The assistant foreman was Frank Lausmann, who was as German as I am. The lead engine assembler was a short, middle-aged man named Otto Buttke.  There was also a storage area in this department where parts lived until they were needed to make engines.

My timekeeping job here wasn't nearly as complicated as the one at the paper mill in Tomahawk.  Every morning I gathered the timecards from the racks at the time clocks, recorded the times for each employee, and then replaced them in the racks. The records were picked up daily by someone from the main timekeeping office, copies were given to the foremen of the various departments, and that was about it.

With plenty of spare time on my hands, I often visited the various departments and watched parts of motorcycles being prepared for final assembly.  One shop which interested me was the paint shop, not for the routine spraying of tanks and mudguards with the standard Harley Davidson olive green, but for the preparation of special orders.  Being the source of most of the motorcycles sold in this country, many of their customers were police and sheriff's departments.  They all wanted special paint jobs, which included special lettering and insignia, so the paint shop had several men who were experts at free-hand striping, lettering and all kinds of unusual painting.

Another interesting process was wheel assembly.  The experts in this department could take a hub, a rim, and a bundle of spokes, and in a few short minutes combine them into a perfectly round wheel, ready for a tire.

One day after I had been a Harley Davidson timekeeper for almost two years,  a man came up from the sales department office downstairs, informed me that he needed an assistant, and offered me the job. Of course I accepted, and moved to a desk in the main office on the first floor.  My new supervisor was Adolph Wegner, who was responsible for transcribing incoming orders for motorcycles into shop orders which told the various shops what special parts to have ready so that when they reached the final assembly department, they were all there ready to be made into a motorcycle.

So I moved into the downstairs office, where I had a desk between my boss and Edwin Pratt, who spent most of his time talking into a dictaphone, trying to persuade motorcycle riders in places where there were no motorcycle dealers to become "rider-dealers."  The sales manager was T. A. Miller, and he had an assistant named Frank Egloff.  There was another man named Miller, who was the outside salesmens' supervisor, and had a secretary who kept track of the salesmens' whereabouts and expense reports.  In my department, there was one girl who typed the shop orders, which I checked for errors and then distributed to the various departments.  Also in this office there was a commercial salesman, whose job it was to sell the motorcycle and special sidecar combinations used for making speedy deliveries of small items.  And since sales to law enforcement departments were an important part of the business, there was a salesman who specialized in contacting police and sheriffs' departments over the entire United States.

While I was working in this office, I often saw the company's bigwigs talking to the sales manager.  Tall, rangy Bill Harley often came in, as did the elder Bill Davidson, and his son, Bill Junior.  The younger Davidson brother, Art, showed up occasionally, as well as his older brother (Walter, I think.)

In this job I visited nearly all the departments of the company, from the engine department where I had been timekeeper, to the final assembly lines, where motorcycle parts became complete machines, under the watchful eye of foreman Hugo Stelzner.  The commercial sidecar department was interesting, too, because there they built small custom van-like bodies on sidecars for delivery services.

While working in this office, I sometimes peeked in and marveled at the payroll office.  It seemed to date back to Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, with bookkeepers wearing green eye shades and working at stand-up desks!

Then, one day in May, 1930, Adolph Wegner reluctantly told me that they couldn't keep me any longer, because sales were way down on account of the depression.  So I was again unemployed.