Saturday, July 27, 2013
MUSCLE CARS AND MAKIN’ MONEY
One of my goals when I started the blog was to recount stories about people and events that I thought interesting. Well muscle cars, Chuck Long, Jon Winkel, and makin' money are right up there...and there is also a tie in with an old, old topic of interest. Keep reading.
Sergeant Floyd was the only member of the Lewis and Clark “Voyage of Discovery” crew to die during their expedition. That trip that had lots and lots of hardships, such as bad food throughout and the intense cold when they wintered near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota; but the worst was the winter on the coast of Oregon. Near Astoria, I think, but close enough to Portland for me to attest to the miserable, long, long winter. Sergeant Floyd died from none of these hardships but from complications of appendicitis, and was buried on that bluff just south of Sioux City.
Brings me to Chuck Long, and by association to Dirk Jon Winkel, two important players in the development of Siouxland during the 1980’s through the present, and, as you might imagine, characters. Chuck inherited the telephone company in Sergeant Bluff, and either inherited or somehow developed a personality trait that spewed out an idea a minute. Jon sat there and would occasionally “catch” one of those ideas and it would become a business. He threw away thousands before he caught the one, though.
I was much better acquainted with Jon than I was with Chuck, and we in fact “roomed” together in a house in Augusta, Georgia one time and attended the Masters Tournament. Certainly one of the highlights of my golf-life—walking around with an eerie sense of calm, of being alone with several thousand people in this cathedral. We actually had to leave a bit early as one of us had an appointment that Sunday night, and we flew back on Jon’s plane and only found out who won after we landed. A “grounds pass” for this year’s tournament, for just Sunday, costs about $750, but I don’t remember how much it was back then. It was part of our marketing for the Dunes, just at the beginning. It was probably April, 1990 (I have the VHS tape somewhere) and the winner was Nick Faldo.
Jon’s first name was actually Dirk, a fairly common name in the Dutch communities of Orange City, Sioux Center and Sioux County, and it is reasonable to assume that some of his relatives were given the name Von Winkel when they arrived for processing. But when his little cousins called him “Dirt” instead of “Dirk,” he decided on his middle name, Jon. Fairly good high jumper in high school and college, and in fact placed second in the National High School meet to a guy name Dick Fosbury. Fosbury revolutionized the sport of high jump with his unorthodox method of clearing the bar, now called the Fosbury Flop. The traditional straddle or Western Roll techniques used at the time, and by Winkel, were difficult for him and he experimented with various methods, one of which was described as an “airborne seizure,” only to settle on the flop.
Jon was a small contractor when he hooked up with Long, and they partnered for many years. Their major contribution to the Siouxland community, and major annoyance causing laws to change or be established in nearly all states, was the call center. Originally, the brain child of Long and part of his deal with MCI (which we will talk about later), the call center originated the widespread use of computerized calling to sell products and services, originally and successfully, long distance service. Chuck came up with the idea, Jon made it happen, built the facilities, installed the equipment, hired and trained workers. And all of us were subjected to those awful, irritating calls during the dinner hour.
Chuck’s tiny inherited phone company was doing well, but the concept of purchasing long distance services from AT&T grated on him and he began a journey that ended with the “Judge Green” decision that broke up the AT&T monopoly. Today’s world is significantly different in terms of communication by telephone than it was when we only called “long distance” when it was a crisis or absolutely necessary, and it was expensive. The monopoly was “regulated,” and it was only fair that the company that put the money into the long lines to carry the transmissions ought to receive a return for their money. In a free market, capitalistic society, regulation tends to be flawed and to be subject to excesses, and this was one of the worst examples.
They decided to buy blocks of long distance time, for which AT&T had long been willing to provide discounts to large corporations. My recollection of the matter is not well-informed, but the story goes that Chuck decided to re-sell these blocks of time, AT&T objected and all of this led to challenges in the courts, the development of the MCI call centers and the dismantling of AT&T by Judge Harold Green. The call centers were sold back to MCI in the 1990’s, the business became known as Long Lines, and Chuck and Jon have developed service in several communities.
During the high-flying days, Chuck decided that muscle cars (remember the original topic?) were going to increase in value. As it turned out, he made a lot of money on his strategy, but the reasoning as described to me by Jon was fascinating—the guys who were approaching their mid-life crises in the 1980's and 1990’s were the baby-boomers. They adored the ’57 Chevy and cars like the 4-4-2, the Cutlass, early Mustangs and Chargers. Unlike other collectors that tended to be enamored of a particular brand, Jon would collect the cars that he thought these men associated, either in reality or fantasy, with sex. Their teen years, when hormones were raging. But now, these baby boomers had money! They could actually buy that muscle car they had coveted since their teens.
Now, sex in mobile devices goes back a long way in human history, maybe the sultans and their flying carpets, but Chuck and Jon thought of it as a way to create wealth, and they applied what they had learned from the AT&T days about monopolies along the way. Chuck had enough capital so he could “corner” the market, and that created higher prices, and he drug the other collectors along with him until, in the mid-90’s, he had thousands of muscle cars and was recognized as the pre-eminent collector in the country who dominated the market.
I have heard that he reduced his stock greatly at the peak, but have no direct knowledge of that. I have also heard that the recessions of 2002 and, particularly, the last one really hit the prices of these vehicles. Leave it to Chuck and Jon to create a market, buy at the start and sell at the peak.
When April rolls around, I think of that Masters weekend more than 20 years ago, and my wandering thoughts invariably consider their conclusion that sex and muscle cars could equal big money.