Pencil from the past writes its own history
Seventy five years later, it’s still sharp enough to take an order.
The yellow pencil from Beaumont Hardware & Lumber is a throwback to the days when everyone met at the hardware store.
Tradesmen sat on old nail barrels smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee from mugs. Youngsters put nickels in a big red machine and waited for cold Cokes to come tumbling down. Women dressed up in their finery strolled about the store to see the latest in dishes.
During the 1930s and 1940s, hardware stores were filled with small-town charm and friendly, helpful clerks—many with a handy pencil tucked behind their ear.
Serving customers with flair
In those days, homespun, tongue-in-cheek advertisements in the local paper kept customers flocking to Beaumont Hardware and made household names out of employees like the late Don McLaughlin. In a career that spanned decades, the former Beaumont city councilman would wait on customers and then go to their homes and businesses to install linoleum, repair Formica table tops, and spruce up wood floors.
Here’s an excerpt from an early humorous advertisement written by Myrl Beck Sr., co-founder of Beaumont Hardware. A snippet at the end jokes about sales at the store.
“Don (that’s Don McLaughlin, you know…) was complaining the other day because he was so swamped. Said he never got to loaf like the rest of us do and couldn’t we do something about it.
“So we decided to do something for Don and the only thing we know to do is to write an ad about him—that ought to do the trick. It works swell on everything else we have down here. If we have something we’re especially fond of and don’t want to sell, we just put a special price on it and invite all you good people to come down and buy it—and it’s ours for life!”
In about 1930, the Bebee and Beck families opened up venerable Beaumont Hardware, one of many early and beloved hometown businesses.
“Everyone showed up at the hardware store, it was a great place to be,” said Bill Bebee, whose father Earl was a co-founder. “In those days, nobody was in a hurry.”
For more than 50 years and at two different locations, Beaumont Hardware lived up to the wording imprinted in black lettering on the old pencil: “The Builders Supply House.”
Many remember the hardware store’s big, brass cash register with mechanical keys and “store accounts” that allowed customers to sign for merchandise and pay at the end of the month. Some fondly recall how the lumber foreman at Beaumont Hardware had a school named for him. The former Andy Chavez Elementary School is now a maintenance operations and child nutrition center for the Beaumont Unified School District.
A trip back in time
In your mind’s eye, a slight twisting of the pencil between your fingers is almost like turning back the hands of time in Beaumont. The clues are right there for all to see. The phone number? It’s only four digits: “3372.”
For baby boomers growing up in Beaumont, a “four-digit” phone number seems very quaint. Some remember the days of telephone prefixes and how dialing “Vi 5” followed by four numbers could reach anyone in Beaumont.
The next clue is the hardware store’s simple address: “5th & Grace Sts.”
The address evokes memories of a seminal moment in the history of our hometown’s transportation: the coming of the freeway.
In the late 1950s, Beaumont’s old downtown area along Fifth Street was razed to clear the way for Interstate 10. Beaumont Hardware and many businesses were bought out and relocated before the freeway came through in 1961. The hardware store moved to Sixth Street and Michigan Avenue and continued to serve customers there until its sale in the 1980s.
In today’s digital age, with our master-planned communities and 24-7 lifestyle, the humble pencil from Beaumont Hardware links us to our past. We think of bygone stores like Mobley’s Department Store, Gray’s Ice Cream and Conley’s five and dime. And while many things may have changed, it reminds us that our history endures and is being rediscovered anew by succeeding generations. The solid pencil with its sharp tip could easily write the next chapter in our city’s great history.
(The Beaumont Blogger would like to thank the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society for preserving this reminder of our heritage during this centennial year.)