Junior remembered his father as someone he learned from “by the example he set in his own life.” Ford Sr. was, seemingly by universal acclaim, a very hard worker and a very good businessman. And so it was in 1929 that he offered to purchase the paint manufacturing division from his employer, the Grand Rapids Wood Finishing Company. An agreement was struck, and Gerald Ford went into partnership with Louis Schuman, Ford managing the business and Doc Schuman, a chemist, mixing paints and varnishes. They opened their business, Ford Paint & Varnish Company, on the corner of Crosby and Elizabeth streets.
Within a few weeks the Stock Market crashed, and America slipped into the Great Depression. Ford’s reputation in the paint business did much to save the fledgling company. “Don’t stop placing orders,” his suppliers told him. “Your credit is good. If you can’t pay, we’ll work something out. But don’t stop buying.”
His virtue also contributed. Ford told his employees, about 10 people, he would have to reduce their pay and that his pay would be reduced to the same level. When business turned around, he would make up the difference. No one lost his job.
Junior and his brothers worked on the production floor alongside the laborers, pushing heavy tubs of paint over the rough floor and mixing ingredients. It was a hot and messy job for which they were paid about half the rate of full-time employees.
“Jerry had a reputation of being the sloppiest guy there,” his brother, Tom, recounted. But it was the reputation of his father that instructed the son. “Whatever he got into, (Dad) was highly regarded. He was really one hell of a guy,” reminisced Gerald Ford, Jr.