Sunday, January 11, 2015

When the Stock Market was 800 by Karla Stover


                                                          My Stock Market Experience

     I started working at Merrill Lynch as a B-wire (business wire) clerk on July 26, 1965. The market was 800. Of those early years, the job I most remember was retyping business news that came daily from New York via an old telegraph machine onto a silk screen, attaching the silk screen to the silkscreen machine (a messy process involving lots of India ink) running paper copies off, and distributing the info to the men. I say, “men” because though Merrill Lynch hired Washington State’s first female stock broker, that momentous occasion wasn’t until the 1980s.
     Three months after I started, I was promoted to wire operator, which meant I was entering orders. The brokers wrote up their buy and sell tickets and walked them back to me. I sat in front of a machine, typed the orders on a ticket tape, and fed the tape into the machine. One man put many of his clients into Coeur d' Alene Mining and that's how I learned to spell Coeur d' Alene. The tapes were put in a bag at the end of the day and the bag was saved for a month in case someone received a confirmation of their trade and disputed it. If I made a mistake, my office had to pay for whatever it cost to make things good. I had a couple of problems during this period in my career: one was that we were on the second floor and the bathroom was on the third and the other was that it was hard to get a potty break. Many times, I sat at the machine from 6:00, when the market opened here on the wet coast, until 3:00 when I left for the day, with no break at all.

     I also operated the switchboard which was in the reception area in an L off the
boardroom. We had approximately a dozen lines and sometimes they were all in use. When that happened and someone wanted to make a call, I waited for someone else to hang up, then leaned over the counter and shouted, “Mr. _______, I have an open line now.” And I'd plug him in.

    I was very young when I started and afraid to go into the building, take the elevator up, unlock the office door, and go in by myself, especially after mass-murderer, Richard Speck was all over
the news. My husband and I carpooled so he came in with me every morning and checked all the
closets. When I was promoted to bookkeeper and started later, I was a happy camper.

     Looking back, some of the things I experienced seem hard to believe. One morning one of the
brokers came up and asked, “If I would like to go up to the roof and help him erect something.” I
turned beet-red and he added, “Like a flagpole.” A couple of years later, he shot himself in the head at a local gun range. One of the men killed his wife; he said his gun went off when he was cleaning it. One man drank, and when he was on a binge and drinking too much he’d get arrested and held overnight. When that happened, he’d call in orders from the pokey to whomever was in the office and available to take them. I coped with everything except the lunch issue: the secretaries had an hour for lunch but we in bookkeeping were only give 30 minutes. I pitched a fit over that.

     All in all, my career at Merrill was a mixed blessing, and I was sure glad to retire. Many, many
of the people I worked with over the years left the firm and went to other brokerage houses in town. I
stuck it out so my 401k would continue to grow, but with a little imagination, you can figure out what
I did during the 30 minutes of my last day.

PS: One day in the mid-1970s, when I was the manager of the bookkeeping department, one of my employees left the office at noon and never returned. She'd met several college guys who were sailing San Francisco that afternoon and she decided to go with them.  She later called me from a ship-to-shore radio and asked if I'd hold her job open until she returned.