Ace Rug Cleaners in Reno. 1958, I am 24 years old.
I arrive in Reno for the first time on a Saturday in October as I recall. Monday I look in the
phone book under Rug Cleaners, the first one listed is Ace Rug Cleaners. I call them, maybe hire
me, I go in for an interview, and get hired. The pay is $1.00 per hour to start. I am desperate and
broke, so I take the job. The owner is Pete Powers. He had recently purchased the business from
a prior owner, and had no knowledge or experience in this business. So an experienced guy was
a big help- and that's me. I said I would work one week for $1.00 per hour, but after showing him
I knew my stuff, I wanted a raise. he said OK.
The rug washing method they used was- a sloped concrete wash floor. Roll the rug out, hose
down with a 2 inch water hose, then use a high pressure gun- like a pressure washer- at 400 psi
as I recall, shoot the mixed soap and water onto the rug, back and forth, then end to end. No
rotary machine here.
Wearing knee high boots, sometimes the foam would be so high it would run over the top of the
boots. Then rinse off with cold water. Then run through a wringer at the lower end of the wash
floor, and hang the rug.
Next day take the rugs down, roll and put in tubes ready for delivery.
The soap that was used there was a "secret formula" made up each day by Pete Powers, in a
locked room at the back, then put into 24 gallon galvanized garbage cans for ready to use. One of
the 24 gallon cans would be used for washing rugs, other garbage cans would be put on the truck
to be taken to the customer's house for wall to wall carpet cleaning.
Only Pete could use the roto, my job was to move furniture, vacuum, and keep the shampoo tank
on the roto filled. The groom the carpet once the furniture was back.
I told Pete I knew how to run a roto- had been doing it for some 2 or 2 1/2 years by this point.
That did not matter, he was the boss and only he wanted to run the roto. OK, fine.
Then after 3 or 4 weeks there, one day I asked him why he did the "secret formula" mixing in the
back, and taking the ready to use to the customers house instead of taking the concentrate to the
house and using the customer's water. He said he had paid the prior owner $3000 for this "secret
formula" and nobody else should know it.
Big mouth me. I said his so called "secret formula" was the same as I had used for almost the
entire time I had cleaned rugs and carpets, and I knew other cleaners used the same thing.
Pete got furious. I knew his "secret". He made me swear never to tell anyone what it was. After I
left his employ, I told everyone that would listen. Other companies I worked for, including the
next company in Los Angeles I went to used the same one, but did not consider it a "secret."
The next to last day I worked there was a Thursday. There were 6 dining chair sets to clean.
Striped cotton and rayon satin fabric. I started cleaning them with his "secret formula" using a
sponge. He came along when there was one left, and insisted I use a brush and to get the fabric
wet, where I had only barely dampened them. I would not, saying getting them really wet would
result in water marks, and damage them. He took the brush himself and scrubbed it and saturated
it. Then set it apart from the others, and he said we will see in the morning how they were.
Friday morning, we checked the seats. The one set apart looked fine, no problems, but one of the
5 I had done was still wet, several water marks, and obviously damaged. He said this was my
fault, and would come out of my wages to replace the fabric. I said no way, all 5 I had done were
dry and looked good, he had switched one of them.
Friday work finished, he asked me to come in on Saturday to wash the truck and do some
maintenance. I said sure thing I got my check, cashed it, went to the boarding house I lived in,
checked out, went to the edge of town, at the highway leading to San Francisco, stuck my thumb
out. A guy stopped, going to San Francisco, and that's where I arrived Friday night. So much for
I had enough money to check into a cheap hotel, and did. Next day, cold, foggy. I stayed in. next
day, cold, foggy. I went out, had a brief look around, then raining, back to the hotel. Next day,
cold, foggy. From my walk I saw a greyhound bus station. How far could I go for $10.00?
Fresno. Fine, gimme a ticket to Fresno. So much for San Francisco.
Fresno, I stuck out my thumb. Guy going to Los Angeles. Fine. I was dropped off at midnight in
the middle of the city. There was a cheap hotel there. Next day I looked up Rug Cleaners, called
a couple, one needed a guy. I went there for an interview, and was hired.
American Rug Cleaners in Los Angeles
American Rug Cleaners shop was in Inglewood, owner Ted Servais. A great guy, we got along
fine. My starting job was as helper for the pick up and delivering of rugs and furniture. Not
knowing the city, we had a Thomas Brothers book map in the truck. I would navigate, tell the
crew chief where to go, turn, look on the right side or left side for the address. In this way, I
learned the entire city and surrounding suburbs pretty quick.
American Rug Cleaners had such a big area to cover daily, it was broken into 2 parts. Monday,
Weds, Friday, everything North of Western Avenue. Tuesday Thursday and Saturday, everything
South of Western Avenue. We went as far East as Compton and Watts, Long Beach, Gardena,
Whittier, etc, and West to Santa Monica, Malibu, and San Fernando Valley, then East to
Pasadena, Glendale, as far as Pomona. A very big territory.
At American, their policy was to rotate everybody in the various jobs, so nobody would get
burned out on one job. They had 2 crews doing wall to wall, one crew doing pickup and delivery,
one crew washing the rugs with a Mirza automatic rug washing machine, and hanging them,
repairing rugs, and cleaning furniture.
I was switched to cleaning furniture. They had a great setup, assembly line kind of thing, there
was so much of it to do. Every day, there was some 10 or 12 sofas, chairs, etc to do. I got real
quick at doing furniture. They had a 20 gallon tank on wheels with a pump on the top, a long
hose with a sprayer on the end. Spray the item down, scrub with a soft brush or sponge, then
extract with a big tank vac, then put in the sun to dry.
It took 10 to 15 minutes per sofa, less for an easy chair. They also had a Hild rotary furniture
shampooer, it was connected with a hose to the 20 gallon tank, and fed the shampoo directly to
the scrubbing brush head, and that was used for the more heavily soiled items.
When you have a big volume of things to do, you get creative, and find a way to do it within a
certain time frame.
I did this for 2 months, then was switched to the rug washing crew.
The same applies to big volume of rugs to do. An automatic Mirza or Moore rug washing
machine allows a crew to do as many as 100 rugs a day.
I washed rugs for 2 months, then was switched to the on location carpet cleaning crew.
I stayed there some 8 months, I liked working for Ted, and the rest of the crew at American. As
the 8 month period ended, I asked Ted for a raise, since I was still getting my starting wage. Ted
said he could not afford it. I gave him a long, silent look, eyes going to his new Cadillac, and
said "I quit". I was really sorry to go, but wanted more money, and felt I was worth it.
There is a postscript to this story. In 1986 when I was ready to buy a new Ballweber Truck
Mount in a new Astro van, Ted, who had remained in business all these years, also used
Ballweber Truck Mounts, and had come up to the Portland suburb of Woodburn, where Arnie
Ballweber had his shop, to buy another new one, and take delivery of it. Arnie told me Ted was
one of his satisfied customers, and Ted and I got together for several hours at Arnie's place
before Ted had to go back South.
Ace Rug Cleaners in Los Angeles.
I was offered a job at Ace Rug Cleaners for more money, and took it.
Big mistake. Ace was a bait and switch type company. My first time with this kind of operation.
Low ball pricing to get in the door, then raise the prices for the work. The 3 trucks were in a junk
condition, the boss would not spend money on repairs, so the trucks were constantly breaking
down. Every day, we started at the boss's house at 7 AM. and given a list of 12 houses to do.
Impossible. Well, we were supposed to do 12. On days when the truck did not break down, I got
into the habit of only shampooing, no vacuuming, no moving furniture, no grooming. In and out.
The work came in from phone solicitors and door to door knockers. They would promise all
spots and stains would come out, etc, anything to get the job, then it was up to us to do what was
promised. Very seldom was the customer happy. Never had a re-clean, that was not part of the
deal. Race the customer to the bank to cash the check, and occasionally the customer would get
there first and stop payment on the check, which meant we were not paid for the job.
Three weeks, and I could not take it any longer, I quit.
I took up another line of work, driving a taxicab.