Monday, June 27, 2011

Thirty Years Of Jobbers - Chapter 1.3

After receiving his blessing, my then current boss agreed to let me go, but only after he made it clear that I would most surely fail. I was just too ignorant to know any better.

One customer I had called on seemed ideal to be my first customer. David Powell had recently dropped his law and CPA career to go back to the tiny town of McGehee, Arkansas to run his father’s Gulf Oil distributorship. David was the first real genius I ever met, and he was a lot of fun too. We remain good friends to this day. Somehow David convinced his dad, Drexel, to support me until I had finished the program and then David and I would share in the profits. We named our company DataPac, and David filed our corporate documents.

In March of 1981, I moved into a tiny office in the back of the warehouse. Actually it had been the main office when Drexel had started his business as a Gulf Oil agent, driving a bobtail and delivering gas and diesel fuel to farmers who farmed the rich Arkansas delta a mere 10 miles west of the Mississippi River.

The hours I chose to work were from 10 AM to 3AM Monday through Sunday. I rented a small house in the town of about 5,000, and bicycled to and from work every day. They connected air conditioning to the tiny space measuring eight feet by eight feet and furnished me with a desk for the computer, a second desk I used to work at, and a white board with colored markers. My filing cabinet consisted of the cabinets along the walls that were there when Drexel worked for Gulf Oil.

For a computer, we purchased an $8,000 North Star Horizon and a 20 Megabyte hard disk. When the hard disk arrived, one of the men in the bulk plant helped me carry it into my office. It weighted about fifty pounds and had to be carried with extreme delicacy. The computer language was called North Star Basic, and was the most powerful microcomputer language available at the time. The central processing unit had dual, 250 kilobyte floppy disk drives for backup.

Using what I had learned from my brief time as a computer programmer prior to going to work for the computer company in Louisiana, I began writing the support processes to manage the file system. Back in those days, there was no such thing as indexed files, so you had to write all of that code yourself, else your data would be scattered all over the computer, causing you to search endlessly every time you needed something.

Knowing little about the fuel business, save what I had picked up from talking with jobbers during the previous nine months, I relied on David for everything. Tracking and reporting the various fuel taxes was the hardest part. I was continuously running from my office to David’s office to ask him what I needed to do next. He would patiently explain each process from a manual paper system he devised, and I would go back to my office and write the code on the computer.

After six months I had a fully functioning oil marketer package without the convenience store functions which David didn’t care about because he had no convenience stores and didn’t want one; but, the product needed a great deal of work and was not ready to take to the market.

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