Monday, May 9, 2011

A Career with American Brake Shoe

Here is an excerpt from one of my father's memoirs; this one is titled Edwin Ambrose: My Life, written Sept. 7, 2003.

Upon graduation, I was recruited by the American Brakeblok Division of the American Brake Shoe Company, located in Detroit. They manufactured asbestos/rubber brake lining. One reason I chose Brake Shoe was that I would spend the first year in Detroit, where Nancy, my fiancé now, was living with her parents. I was hired as an apprentice salesman, with a twelve-month training program scheduled. [Can you imagine this now? A 12-month training program?]

I was four months into the program, at our proving grounds in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, when a senior man from Brake Shoe’s Research Center in Mahwah, NJ visited our Detroit office looking for a sales apprentice to help promote a new material, sintered metal friction materials, which were non-asbestos. The Company had limited experience with metallic friction materials but was fearful that someday, maybe, metallic materials would replace asbestos-base materials, which was the major part of its business. 

Our research people had developed some new materials, set up pilot plant production nearby, and had its first and only customer, the Caterpillar Tractor Company, which had given us a standing order for metallic steering clutch discs. The two other apprentices in the Detroit office declined the opportunity, but when I got back from Pennsylvania and heard about the matter I immediately volunteered. I moved to Mahwah and began traveling to the Midwest to call on Caterpillar, Allis-Chalmers, International Harvester, Goodyear Aircraft, Ford Motor Company, and others.

I had a rental car with New York license plates which never saw the state of New York. I would fly to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, pick up the car and drive to customers in Wisconsin and Illinois, ending up at the Indianapolis airport, where I would park the car, and fly home. Ten days later I would fly back, pick up the car and drive to customers in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, ending up at O’Hare airport, where I left the car for another ten days. I did this for one-year – the only problem being that when I arrived at the parking lot at Indianapolis or O’Hare airports, it would take me a while to remember where I had parked the car!

After one year the Company was confident about the future of sintered metal and bought the Metallic Friction Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Two salesmen came with the acquisition, I would be the third, and we hired a fourth. I was transferred back to Michigan with my new bride, Nancy, and covered Michigan and Indiana. After three years our new Sintermet Division was merged with American Brakeblok Division, and I was right back where I started from! 

After four years, during which our three children were born in University Hospital in Ann Arbor, I asked to be transferred into our New York International department. This request was accepted, and we were transferred. We moved into a small house in Darien, Connecticut with three kids under the age of four. My new boss was soon transferred to a new office in Geneva, Switzerland, to cover new investments in Europe and I was left to cover the rest of the world.

My first overseas trip was to South Africa, in December, 1961. I traveled extensively from then on, and have covered these trips in a separate file entitled ‘Twenty Trips Around the World’. During these travels, which covered 22 years, I visited India and Australia ten times each and Japan 35 times.  During this time I looked after a hydraulics joint venture with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which included visits to Russia and China. I retired from Brake Shoe, now called Abex Corporation, in 1983, after 31 years of service.


  1. When was your father employed at American Brakeblok? I found this while trying to price a little figurine of the Brakelok mascot "Stopper" to sell on Ebay. I think it's 30s vintage, but may be 40s. I found only one other that was in mint condition which sold for $50 last year. My "Stopper," unfortunately suffered a broken front leg and his previous mother re-set it for him, but it didn't heal perfectly.

  2. Hi Bev, I have a Stopper too. Mine has a few chips here and there, some of which I fixed with a black permanent marker! My dad started working for American Brakeblok in 1952, and when they merged with Abex in 1968 they were then known as Abex Corporation. I've only known him to own one Stopper, though I can imagine these might have been used as giveaways in the 50's and 60's.

  3. I found only one other that was in mint condition which sold for $50 last year. My "Stopper," unfortunately suffered a broken front leg and his previous mother re-set it for him, but it didn't heal perfectly.

  4. While sifting through items found in my late father's dresser I came upon what I assume is a complimentary gambling token. Metal unknown though heavy. One side has a raised picture of a dog with a tag that says "Stopper" and the words "You win every time" and "American Brakeblok". The reverse has what looks like a box of product and the words "Play it safe" "Demand" and "Don't gamble with your brakes." There is a punch dead-center on the front with a corresponding raised area on the rear.

    1. I'm sorry to hear about your father. I think what you might have is a spinner token. I know that companies used to produce these to advertise their companies. If you place it on the raised punch side, can you get it to spin? I'd love to see a photo of it.

    2. Hello Sarah I came across your blog while researching an interesting piece that I received in a lot trade. It is 3" in circumference, little less then a 1/2 inch thick (looks more like a very large penny). On the back it has The American Brake Shoe Company-Chicago with words in the center and on the front it states First Awards in All Exhibits. Would you know anything about this interesting piece?