Interview with Robert F. Neathery, Age:
Voice of Pride Editor's Note: Robert Papa Bob Neathery was a legendary figure in West Plains. He founded a chain of radio stations in the immediate community and the surrounding area. He became respected as a local expert on the history of West Plains and Southwest Missouri over the years, authoring two books on the subject. Neathery passed away in September 2003. He was 96 years old.
Radios, washing machines and hard times
S.W.: Take me back. Tell me what an ordinary day was like at the radio shop you ran towards the end of the depression.
R.N.: Well, I remember one man had trouble on his radio and had me go look at it and I put in a ten cent pilot light bulb. He got mad, said I charged him too much -- charged him fifty cents, and for a service call!
S.W.: Why did you go into selling washing machines ?
R.N.: Well, the radio repair business was not lucrative. The sets were fifty bucks and not much went wrong with them and you couldn't charge much to repair them. It just wasn't possible. So, I advanced into washing machines and appliances.
S.W.: You said in your book [West Plains As I Knew It, (1999)] that you went out and washed clothes with women. Are there any particular stories you would like to tell me about?
R.N.: That was the only way you sold the things. You had to go demonstrate to sell them. That was the secret. Maytag taught us that. Washing machines were available everywhere, but Maytag was better. You could demonstrate it was better. In one case, I went to see a woman and she said she was interested. She was going to try out three different makes. So I said "Well, I'll bring mine out first and we'll try it out." So I went out and washed with her. So [after the washing ] she said you can take that and I'll have another! We left it there. Next week, here was the other washing machine, so I go out and help her with that one. So she sent that one back, got the next one and I go out and wash with that. I do three washings with three different washers, but mine was still sitting there and kept sitting there.
S.W.: Please give me an example of something that gave you hope during the depression.
R.N.: Well, the fact that we were selling washing machines. I had three salesmen and the rule was you had to do a minimum of two washings a week. If you did three or four you would be sure of selling two. Maytag taught us that and we did it. Nobody else did that.
S.W.: What did you learn during the depression that has stayed with you?
R.N.: You've got to work. Do the job. You can't goof off! It's not going to come to you- hustle, hustle, hustle and it [the work] will hustle with you.
S.W.: Is there anything the country learned from the depression?
R.N.: Oh, I don't know. We still have got a crazy world.