Given the strong educational background of the Bennett family, Joe had little choice but to become proficient in his school work, a trait that becomes obvious in his later writings. But he was at best an indifferent student. His first love was automobiles, and as he grew up he was remarkably adept at sourcing, fixing and driving them. His namesake, the car dealer, might have had something to do with that. Even before he could drive Joe got his hands on a dilapidated Model A Ford that cost $50.00, which he got up and running in short order. He even might have been seen driving the car around town but no one can remember that since it never happened. There also was the ’44 Ford that Buddy found and bought for $60.00, and in which their father learned to drive.
While still in high school Joe found a ’47 Plymouth coupe that he brought back to life only to have his older brother James nearly destroy in a car wreck. He fixed it just in time to graduate with a working automobile.
Joe’s love of cars never abated. He and his brother Buddy set up Bennett Classics Antique Auto Museum in Forest City a decade ago in order to share with the public the many examples of yesterday’s latest fashion in automobiles that they had jointly collected. The museum is open to the public so please stop by if you’re ever in or near the town–you’ll probably find Buddy there, working on the latest addition to the collection.
Washington College Academy c. 1960 (https://wcacademy1780.wordpress.com/)
Upon graduation Joe attended Washington Academy College, then a small two-year school in Limestone TN, but he hated it and decided that he was done with school. At about that same time the Joe’s aunt, Stella Campbell, who had attended Washington Academy and was then personnel director at Western Electric, during a conversation in the summer of 1962 told his father about a program then underway at Western Electric in Indianapolis, Indiana. If Joe could pass the entrance exam he could get into the Tool and Die Making program at Western Electric, in which case the company would pay for his training as well as provide a job once he graduated. At that time Western Electric was molding all the phones for AT&T and thus needed every available machinist they could produce. As luck would have it, another resident of Burnsville, Richard Hughes, who Joe had not known despite growing up in the same general area, was already in Indianapolis attending that very program. Joe made arrangements to room with Dick Hughes and drove up to Indianapolis, passed the exam and began his career.
Like many young men, Joe was mechanically inclined and at his best when dealing with concrete, physical items, like cars. So the immediate tactile feedback afforded by his mechanical training suited him well. Western Electric needed mold makers and Joe wasn’t sure if he would excel at that particular skill, but he surprised himself in that he not only survived the program, but soon became known as an exceptional mold-maker, making a name for himself within the company. While there he also attended Purdue University. But it was not all work, he began a lifelong friendship with both Richard Hughes and Lindsey Hahn.
The lanky mountain-boy was also known to cruise through a drive-in known as “The Tepee” where he met a petite blond named Sharon a year after he started at Western Electric. After three years of courting Joe and Sharon got married, and Joe began his career at Western Electric in mold making, staying in Indianapolis until 1969. Meanwhile Joe’s friend Dick Hughes had moved back to North Carolina in 1965 and taken a position at Sunbeam in Elkin, NC to help them with their molding processes. Following a circuitous route from plant to plant over the next four years, Dick ended up taking charge of a molding plant in Forest City, NC, Decorative Components, in 1969.
Realizing that he needed a good tooling engineer he phoned Joe and asked him to join him, which Joe did in October 1969. Dick even sold Joe a house right across the street in order to provide housing for his new associate. Also, the business needed logistical support because the furniture components that they molded required rapid delivery to customers scattered from Atlanta to High Point. In yet another fortuitous happenstance, Joe’s older brother Buddy had just purchased a tractor trailer rig but was having trouble finding loads out of Burnsville. Buddy took on the job of delivering Decorative Components products and over the next two years was running three trucks over the highways. Today Buddy’s business runs over three hundred fifty trailers and one hundred tractors. Unfortunately for Joe and Dick the job only lasted nine months, they were both let go.