Larry Norton’s long and distinguished career with Modern Equipment came to an end recently when the 37-year company veteran retired in grand style at a dinner held in his honor at Georgine’s restaurant in Bristol, PA, on June 21.
Norton’s retirement dinner — or as he puts it, his “graduation meal” — was the culmination of a sterling career that began at Modern on Nov. 3, 1965— a tenure that’s hard to find in these days when the average worker changes employers six to seven times in a career.
Until a few weeks ago, Norton was the president of Modern Equipment Sales and Rental Company, overseeing several of the company’s rental yards throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. His success at Modern is what most people mean when they refer to the American Dream — start from the bottom, put in an honest day’s work, love what you do and believe you can do anything if you just put your heart into it.
Before he knew about Modern Equipment, Norton served in the U.S. Army in California for two years. There, he worked in Los Angeles at the armed forces recruiting station, after a stint at Fort Jackson, SC, for basic training.
“I couldn’t type, so they made me a medic. I gave hearing tests, vision tests, and so forth. I even gave an electrocardiogram to Frank Sinatra Jr. I never did find out what happened to him, but he was nice guy. We processed 150 young men a day from southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico,” Norton said. “Most of these young men probably went to Vietnam.
“At the time I came home, I had to serve in the reserves in Willow Grove, PA. I went to reserves with a lot of guys who were in Vietnam. They said ’no way am I going to serve in reserves after I’ve been in Vietnam.’ They were all dismissed. So I got out of the army that way with an honorable discharge.”
A friend, John Lanahan, helped Norton get the job with Modern Equipment. “We went to Villanova [University] together and pumped gas at a station in Bryn Mawr together. We were in the service at the same time in California — I was in LA and he was in San Francisco.”
Norton interviewed with Joseph McEwen of Modern, “He could talk to you for a few minutes and figure you out,” Norton recalled.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Norton said of when he first walked in the doors at Modern. “You know, you’re young, out of the army and didn’t know what I was getting into. But as time went on, I enjoyed it more and more. I had absolutely no desire to leave.”
He started employment at Modern’s original location at 6001 North Broad St., Philadelphia, PA. “I worked at the Material Handling Division and I got to do different things, which I thought was great. I figured I could do anything. I started in shipping and receiving. Then I worked in parts and became parts manager. I also worked in service dispatching and I was service manager, inside sales,” he said. Each change of position was advancement for Norton.
In 1976, Modern bought its first rental yard in Wilmington, DE, and Norton, as branch manager, was sent to run it. “That was our first store and it mushroomed. We acquired yards in Havertown, Lansdowne and Bristol, PA,” he said. As individual rental yards were put up for sale, Modern purchased them.
From 1976 up to the recent past, Norton was Modern’s president of rentals. “I loved the company dearly, great people, and I enjoyed the job, but it’s time to go,” said Norton. “Modern is a very nice company to work for. I was well taken care of. If you do your job you can be there as long as you want. The atmosphere at Modern hasn’t changed, the chairman is still there. Most of the people stay. Not too many leave. All the guys that I worked with in the rental yards were drivers or mechanics. Some of them are now managers.”
In his retirement, Norton plans will be keeping him busy. “We go down to the Jersey shore [and] we have a home in the Poconos. I’m into Mustangs and have three of them and a ’52 Ford … my father bought it brand new in 1952, and I drove back and forth to California while in the service. I still have the car, and it’s in good condition. I large garage in which I store the cars. I’ll continue to tinker with my toys. No question I’ll stop by and see the folks at Modern,” Norton concluded.
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