Articles

They'll move Anything...

from bottle caps to a university. In fact this story, which begins with a man from Hamilton named Hill, is the most moving we have ever published

FRANK CROFT October 1 1952
Articles

They'll move Anything...

from bottle caps to a university. In fact this story, which begins with a man from Hamilton named Hill, is the most moving we have ever published

FRANK CROFT October 1 1952

They'll move Anything...

from bottle caps to a university. In fact this story, which begins with a man from Hamilton named Hill, is the most moving we have ever published

FRANK CROFT

TWENTY-FIVE years ago a Hamilton newspaperman was regaling his friends with an account of his trip to Chicago. "I felt kind of homesick the first couple of days." he admitted. "Then I saw one of Hill's vans crawling down Michigan Avenue, and I felt a lot better."

Hill the Mover Canada Ltd., with its seventy red-and-ivorv vans rolling daily on every main highway in Canada and the United States, is not in business to provide a reminder of home for fardung Hamiltonians. As a matter of fact its headquarters are no longer in Hamilton, from which a mere half dozen of their twenty-two-hundred-cubicfeet monsters now operate. They are in Toronto. Their job for the past sixty-four years has been the moving of household furniture as well as such oddments as business offices. Chinese temple Ivells and even a university.

Canada's largest firm of movers developed out of an argument. George Hill, a Hamilton baker, was moving to a new home in that city in 1S88.

When the mover asked for his money, eight dollars. Hill thought he was being overcharged and said so. The mover patiently replied that he would like to see the man who could do it for less and still provide groceries for his family. Hill told him he was looking at just such u. man. paid the bill and immediatelv started to ponder what he had said.

George Hill was a bantam in size and in temperament. He was quick to assert his opinions, but he was also driven by a strong compulsion to make good with deeds. That night as he tended his oven he knew that once again he was in for it. Next day he increased the capacity of his bakery wagon, painted the words Hill the Mover on the sides and placed an advertisement in the Hamilton Spectator for moving jobs, quoting » price he thought was adequate.

For two vears he operated his moving business as a side line. He had proved his point and he made a pront. He forgot about baking, bought another waeon and became a full-time mover.

In spite of the fact that Hill mixed the fuel, builders' supplies and the ferrying businesses with the moving business during the Nineties, the latter flourished. The other ventures were perhaps undertaken onlv because Grandpa, as he is still all'ectionatelv called by veterans of the firm, had felt compelled to prove that he could run such things better than anyone else. One evening in 1907 he heard himself saying that anybody who spoke English and knew enough to come in out of the rain could be elected to city council. One of his listeners pulled out his wallet and demanded to know how far Hill would go in backing up his statement. Grandpa slapped down a roll to match the contents of the wallet, entered the next aldermanic race and won hands down.

During the firm's early days his son Rowland entered the business and helped develop it. By 1911 the Hills had eight vans. But long-distance moving couldn't be done with horses. The business was still largelv local. Even.time a load was taken to the freight yards to be transferred to a boxcar for distant shipment Rowland Hill would squirm slightlv. Every time he talked of door-to-door moving anvwhere on the continent the dream was shattered by the horse laugh. Three years before the outbreak of the first Great War he saw the beginnings of his inter-city plans in an advertisement of one of the world's first trucks. It was a one-ton Yale, driven bv a drive chain on one wheel cranked at the side, with « brave pair of brass handrails running along the sides of the body. It looked like something between a fire truck and a pickup. Rowland Hill argued his father into ordering one. For two years it was used for piano and phonograph moving in Hamilton only: but it was the first motor vehicle used in the moving business in this countrv. In 1913 the Gramm people produced one of the first trucks suitable for heavy loads. It was a two and a half tonner, and Hill lost no time in buying one. After a few weeks of successful trials in southern Ontario 't was sent chugging down to New York, the first Canadian moving van to reach that city.

It took eight days to get there, loaded, and seven to return, empty. As it drew into the home yards Rowland, who had driven, turned to his helper and cried. "Finch. I figure we've lost about sixty dollars on this trip but we’re through with horses just the same." This crvptic remark he explained to his father later. "Horses would have taken a month, if thev could have got to New York at all. With trucks we can go in for long-distance hauling, appoint agents to have return loads ready and so double the profits."

"You mean halve the losses," Hill senior replied in one of his rare moments of caution, but he consented to the idea. To celebrate he bought a passenger bus of the English charabanc type and inaugurated the first bus service in Canada, between Hamilton and Brantford.

Hauls to and from Toronto soon became a daily service. Hill the Mover vans became a familiar sight throughout southern Ontario and U. S. border cities. By the end of the war Hill the Mover was international. Late in 1918 George Hill died in his late sixties—almost at the same time that all the horses were sold.

Hill was now the only completely mechanized firm of movers in Canada. Improved roads opened the way to Quebec. A branch office and warehouse

was opened in Toronto in 1926 and two years late a similar move was made in Montreal. Winnipeg was added in 1946 and Ottawa last year.

When Rowland Hill died in 1940 a half interest in the business was bequeathed to each of his sons. Arthur and Reginald. In 1949 Reginald was killed in a plane crash. Recently Arthur Hill sold his interest in the business to Joseph M. Atwell, now president, with head offices in Toronto.

Long-distance moving thirty years ago could

have been compared with deep-sea tramp steamer service, the ships which leave port not knowing when they will return or at how many ports they will call before doing so. Henry Ince, who was on the long hauls m the Twenties says, “It was routine to pull out of Hamilton or Toronto for a point in New York state, for instance, then get wired instructions to go farther south or west. This would go on for a couple of months. By the time you had returned home

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They'll Move Anything

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19

you would have been as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and as far west as the Mississippi.”

The company believes, though it is hard to prove, that it was the first in the business with a packing service, which allows the customers merely to put on their hats and coats and walk out of the house. When they go to their new home everything has been unpacked and placed in its proper place

Management and drivers still give conflicting reports on what happened on such a job some time ago when the men found the sink piled high with dirty dishes at the house being vacated. People in the office quietly affirm that the men washed the dishes. Men on the vans declare that the dishes were carefully packed, as found, and just as carefully piled in the sink of the new house.

The ultimate in packing jobs was reached not long ago when an eastern Hill office received a key from Vancouver with an accompanying note saying the owners had gone to British Columbia for a holiday and—“we like it here, so have decided to stay. Please enter with enclosed key, pack everything and bring it out here.”

The packing service is now in such demand that Hills have a few men whose job it is to scour the countryside for barrels and tea cases, the best containers for household moving. Newspaper is still the best protection for dishes and similar ware. Hills keep a few women’s church organizations and boy scout troops under constant subsidy to gather newspapers, cut them into single sheets and roll them into neat bundles.

Commercial firms often call on Hill the Mover to crate goods when special problems arise. They were once asked to crate two million bottle caps, of the kind used on pop bottles, being sent to Shanghai. They were puzzled by the request until the shippers explained that they wanted the caps so packed that waterfront pilferers in Shanghai (always a major nuisance in Chinese trade) would not be able to steal any. The solution was simple. All two million caps were packed in one huge case; weight, five tons. There was no pilfering.

An Ottawa doctor going to Tanganyika called in Hills to do his packing for the journey. They were asked to keep in mind that the last stage would be by native porters. The doctor’s furniture, clothing, books and instruments were so packed that each case weighed the same and had the same centre of balance.

Office moving has been perfected to the stage where it is now called a blueprint move. Such large firms as Dominion Rubber, and Manufacturers Life, have had their entire offices moved by this painless method. A blueprint is made of the premoving arrangement, with each desk, cabinet and wastepaper basket marked in place. A second set of prints shows where each piece is to go in the new quarters. The Hill men come in on a Friday afternoon and are handed the prints. The office staff returns to work at the new premises on Monday morning. “The only difference they notice is that the view from the window has changed,” is the boast of a Hill executive. In 1930 the company moved McMaster University from Toronto to Hamilton.

Hills literally brought a new industry to Canada thirty years ago. They moved all furniture of the Firestone Company’s key personnel, as well as

much of their plant equipment from Akron, Ohio, when that firm planted its Canadian offshoot on the shore of Hamilton Bay. When International Petroleum moved to Coral Gables, Fla., last August, Hill the Mover was called in for the job. The furniture and belongings of forty employees and all the office furniture were stowed into thirty of the largest vans to make i gay cavalcade to the gulf. Total claims against Hills for breakages were less than two hundred dollars.

Indicative of the varied life of a mover was a phone call from a Toronto woman while the above contract was under way. “I wish to have my piano moved,” she said. “Where to. ma’am?” she was asked. “To the other side of the room.” A man was sent to her home. “You have to satisfy such requests, though it means a loss,” president Joseph Atwell points out. “You never know when she might want all her furniture moved to the other side of the continent.”

Merely pleasing a customer resulted in a four-hundred-mile airplane flight recently in connection with a HamiltonMontreal job. The furniture was nearly all antique and, quite understandably, was highly prized by the owner. A few years ago she had moved from Toronto to Hamilton and had been impressed with the care Bert Jay, the driver, had shown. When preparing to move to Montreal she had remembered Jay’s name and asked that he again be placed in charge. Jay, who is now vice-president of the firm, obligingly shed his pin stripe, donned worker’s clothes and went over to Hamilton to oversee the packing and loading. When the van reached Montreal Jay was back in his Toronto office. Then the trouble started. The crew in Montreal phoned to say that the customer would not allow them to take anything out of the van unless Jay were present; to verify this turn of events the customer herself cut in to say that Jay would have to be there before a single article of furniture was touched, and where had he got to. anyway? Assurances from Atwell and Jay that unloading was not nearly as tricky a job as packing and loading, and that the men at her curb were just as capable as Jay in any case, were both unavailing. So Jay wearily replaced the receiver, hurried out to the airport and flew to Montreal where he soothed the customer while the regular crew went about the job of unloading.

The company’s gross earnings indicate a total of more than SI,250,000 for 1952. Today it is the only Canadian firm which can pick up a load at your curb, in their own van. and carry it without its being transferred to the van of any other organization to any point in North America, except offshore places such as Newfoundland. Vancouver Island or Prince Edward Island. No LTnited States movers are licensed for all eight Canadian mainland provinces, so Hills provide a unique continental service.

A Hill driver claims to have made ecclesiastical history in Quebec in 1949 when the company transported i SI35.000 art collection from various points in the province to Detroit. Cleveland. Boston and New York. In order to pick up some early handmade French furniture the mo\ ing men became the first males in centuries to entera convent northeast of Montreal. Last spring the Royal Ontario Museum’s famous collection of Chinese art was entrusted to Hills for shipment as a loan exhibition to Detroit.

In 1946 Hill the Mover carried the first household moving from Toronto to Winnipeg by an all-Canadian route. The following year they went into

Vancouver: the next year they made the longest road haul possible on this continent, from Sydney to Vancouver, a distance of forty-four hundred miles. "The first time into Vancouver saw us return with an empty van. They didn’t believe we were coming in the first place and no agent would bother to book a return load." a traffic department employee says. "Now. household moving by motor van is the recognized method from coast to coast."

Hills are still mystified by the customer who gave their east-west business such a good start. "We went down to Washington and picked up this load — an average houseful of furniture.” Cameron Anderson, now Hills' Hamilton manager, relates. "We settled him in Toronto and in two weeks had an order to take everything to Winnipeg. Less than a month later it was all brought back to Toronto and within another two months it had all gone back to Winnipeg." The mystery man and his family followed all moves in a Cadillac.

The only complete, one-flight household moving job by air in this country was done in 194S when Hills moved the contents of u six-room house at Caledonia. Ont., including a piano, to Winnipeg. The furniture was hauled from Caledonia to Malton airport, transferred to a C47, chartered specially for the job. and twelve hours later put down at Winnipeg airport. The aerial move was undertaken partly to meet the demands of a customer who wanted his belongings to be on hand as quickly as he could get there himself, and partly as a stunt. Though it has not been tried since it has not been forgotten at the Hill offices. "The cost is high." Atwell explains, "but longdistance moving by air is definitely going to be a regular service in this country. Like a lot of other things it is just a matter of time, but it is coming.”

Present Hill rates for long-distance moving are based on a flat rate per hundredweight. For example it costs thirteen dollars for each hundred pounds moved between Toronto and Winnipeg. For city moving a flat hourly rate is charged depending on the number of men and size of truck.

Times ha%e changed in the moving business as in most others. "People no longer ask if they can stow their dogs, cats and canaries in with the load," a veteran driver says. "But they still ask if they can wedge in too. on long-distance jobs—the whole family if we'd let them. Of course, that's strictly forbidden."

There are still people who want the

contents of the coal bin taken with the load. This was done once, years ago. The coal was bagged and. although placed on the bottom of the load, the jiggling distributed such a complete covering of coal dust on every article in the van that everything had to be cleaned before being taken into the new house. This story is related whenever a customer makes a similar request and is always forceful enough to dissuade the frugal.

Many people have the wrong idea of « mover’s qualifications. “Bull strength is the least of their requirements,” Bert Jay says. “We have dozens of men weighing no more than one sixty who can team up and toss a baby grand piano around the way you would a box of cigars. That part of it is pure knack. The qualities we stress are care and courtesy. It’s the men on the vans who can make or break a moving firm.”

Those men are, of course, as fallible as the rest of humanity and breakages sometimes occur—when that happens Hill’s adjustment office is ready to swing into action.

One of the few times Jay has been disappointed with a man was when an enterprising driver, several years ago. was caught trying to smuggle a van load of Chinese to the United States. No one has bothered to check on him recently but it is still thought that he is in penitentiary-.

Along with the knack of lifting, a man soon develops a sixth sense for cubic measure. Experienced men can take u quick walk through a house then go out to the van and draw a chalk mark down the inside walls where the load will end. All moving men will have the front end of their van loaded, from floor to roof when the load is half on, and the exposed side will look as though it has been sliced down with a knife.

Care, certainly, is needed on a job such as the one in Toronto last year when a crew arrived at a home to find that all the furniture was made of glass.

Care too was needed—and perhaps something else—when a crew from Hamilton loaded a van in Detroit three years ago. After a couple of rooms had been cleared the men bent over to grasp an oblong box. “Please be especially careful with that one,” the woman ordered. “My husband’s in it.” Fortunatelythe men didn’t laugh: they didn't even drop it. When the load was opened in Hamilton for customs inspection the box was found to contain a male skeleton. It was her husband, sure enough. ★