Chapter 5: Young Guns

Harry Caswell listened to the peculiar squeak of his boots as they broke the unshoveled sidewalk’s icy surface. It was 7 p.m. on a cold December evening in 1939, and as he rounded the corner and approached the W.F. Young offices at 111 Lyman Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, he could see a light shining in Mary Ida’s office window. That meant she was in and working, though it was Saturday evening and you’d think she’d rather be at home. On the other hand, he thought, as he unlocked the door and stamped his feet in the empty reception area, work had always been the place where Mary Ida seemed most at home — maybe that’s why they got along so well.

Hard to believe they had worked together for more than 20 years now — through the early years and the small factory on Monmouth Street, back when they had only the original Absorbine® and a couple of other equine remedies. Then the move to Temple Street as Absorbine® Junior became a success, and the sad years of Wilbur, Sr.’s unexpected death and the Great War. It felt as though they’d just recovered from that when they lost Wilbur, Jr., and the Great Depression hit.

Caswell unlocked his office door, removed his galoshes and hung his coat and hat neatly on a hook.

Through it all, the business had kept them going, as much as they had kept it going. Well, he supposed the business had kept him going anyway. He liked the attention to detail that made him a good general manager. Figures, calculations, interest rates, supply chain and product distribution… these were his strengths.

Mary Ida 1940’s

Mary Ida’s motivations, he suspected, were entirely different. It was always about the animals: making and keeping them healthy and happy. And from her single-minded devotion came constant innovations and new approaches to persistent veterinary problems. She was a good businesswoman, for sure, but it was her love of animals, he thought, that made working more pleasurable for her than relaxation. Why, even when she relaxed it always seemed to involve a horse or a dog or a cat…

Caswell looked around his immaculate office, devoid of decoration except for a couple of framed advertising posters forced upon him by someone who found his blank walls depressing. His desk was bare, except for a telephone and a notepad. He pulled a couple of files from his desk drawer and looked up to see Mary Ida in his doorway.

“Harry! You’re here. I hope the roads weren’t too bad?” Mary Ida asked.

“Belmont and Main were in pretty good shape but you’d do better with a sled on Lyman than a car. Let me just get a few more things together and I’ll see you in your office in a minute, if you’re ready for me?”

“Very good. I have some hot coffee to warm you up,” Mary Ida called out as she walked down the hall. She had learned years ago that if she was going to meet with Harry in the evening, he was a lot sharper with a pot of coffee at hand.

Mary Ida turned on a second lamp at a small round table and took a seat. She didn’t often bother Harry on weekends or evenings, but she knew the situation in Europe was keeping them both up, anyway.

Geopolitical tensions had been brewing for a while, of course. Japan and China had been fighting since the early 30s. Italy had invaded Abyssinia years ago but no one got terribly worked up about it. Japan and the Soviets had fought over borders. But now that Germany and Italy had signed a pact and Germany had invaded Poland, things felt much more … combustible. France and Britain had declared war on Germany in early September and … well, all of these smaller conflicts seemed to be magnifying alliances and discords. How much longer could America stay out of conflicts that involved such close allies?

Harry joined her at the table.

“You’re worried, aren’t you?” he asked.

“There’s no point in that. But I do think of how awful the Great War was, and how an entire generation of young men were lost. At least we can be thankful that there will be tanks and trucks and motorcycles destroyed in the fight this time, and fewer mules and horses.“

“Fewer horses means less liniment, but I can happily live with that, “ Caswell said.

“I should hope so! And sadly, there will be no end of damp, hot and weary human feet needing help if war comes to pass. I don’t like to be negative, Harry, but we may as well map out some big purchases of menthol, calendula, echinacea, and wormwood oils. “

111 Lyman Street, Springfield, Mass.

“Agreed,” said Caswell. “But we’re going to have to talk about installing some new vats, maybe in the northwest corner,” he began, unrolling a diagram of the factory floor.

The lights burned at 111 Lyman Street into the early morning hours.

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