Archives: An Auto Executive Spirals Out of Control

H.R. “Mike” Eshleman-“AN INDUSTRIALIST”

H. R. “Mike” Eshleman

There are many myths and urban legends about the “second” sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous in the metro-Detroit area. We hope this clears up many views.

Prior to Mike’s sinking into the deep depths of the disease of alcoholism, he led a pretty normal life. He was married to a wonderful woman, Margaret, was an executive at an auto parts supplier, Motor Products Corp. and owned a home near St. Jean Rd and Mack Ave.

Mike had wrestled with “Ole John Barleycorn” for thirty years. It finally gave him an awful thrashing that he found himself in a terrible position. He was living in the world of darkness, filled with despair, discouragement and distress. Mike had been fired from his job of twenty years. He borrowed money to buy a punch press, struggled to make a comeback with his own little business, Springfield Machine and Stamping Co.

Roy M.-Arch T.-Mike E.

But every day, his drinking compulsion whipped him, and in his sober moments, he began to question whether he’d ever be right mentally.

He was sitting, one day, in a “gin-mill” two blocks from his home; a wife waiting, not for when he came home, but if he made it home. He asked his wife, who had become a crutch for him, if she could lift him out of this mess he had got himself in. Margaret replied, “No. You got into it, you’re gonna have to get out the best way you can.”

Mike was at home the next day coming off the worst drunk of his life, when he telephoned Roy M. Roy (Big Mike) was also in the auto industry, and he was the man who Archie had 12th Stepped in March of 1939.

Flop house on Kirby

“I remembered a few short months before, seeing Roy sent to Akron to be given a cure that could help me. I saw this man leave Detroit in a most deplorable condition. His shoulders were stooped and his head was bowed. His hands were shaking and his eyes were blurry and his face was flushed. He was a broken man if I ever saw one. And I saw him return in less than two weeks time from Akron an entirely changed person. His shoulders were straight and his head was up. Those eyes were clear and the flush had left his face and his hands had lost their shake. He seemed to have been and entirely changed personality. I recognized that in this man. I sent for him and he came and he brought me this program and he explained these Twelve Steps.”

Mike never remembered the precise date of his frantic call to Roy, He believes it was sometime around September 1, 1939 (L.D.), and that he and Roy and two or three others began meeting every Thursday in an attic room of Archie Trowbridge on Kirby Ave, near the Art Centre.

Bensons’ Home

Soon Mike, himself gathered in another automotive engineer and a barber. His conviction grew that his continued sobriety “depended on how much of this I gave away to someone else.”

Within the first few months, a non-alcoholic, Elmer Benson who was interested in the program offered the use of his basement as a meeting place. Then the expanded group found its own meeting hall and defrayed the cost—as is still the practice today—by passing the hat.

Harbor Light-Salvation Army

Mike was instrumental in opening the meetings downtown, eastside and westside groups, organizing them. He was was natural leader. He employed Jim Hardee (L.D. 10/18/41) who he allowed to work on company time to start the Tuesday A.M. meeting. With the help of Mike Jim handled the 1945 “The Glass Crutch” program on WWJ radio.

Mike and Cap’t Tom (L.D. 10/07/1939)of the Salvation Army came into sobriety pretty much the same time. Mike took the path of Alcoholics Anonymous and Cap’t Tom took the path of recovery through the Salvation Army. He created the Harbor Light program for the skid row drunks. Cap’t tom would detox them and feed them then send them to Mike and A.A. Mike and Cap’t Tom would remain life long friends.

Continuing his work with treatment centers, Mike would take a carload of A.A. members out to Ypsilanti State Hospital to do open talks to the alcoholics. In a copy of the January 1940 “Slant,” a hospital magazine talks about sending patients down to a new program going on in Detroit called Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ypsilanti State Hospital

Mike started encouraging A.A. members to go into the prisons and jails all over the state, encouraging inmates to get into Alcoholics Anonymous. He would guarantee them a job when paroled if they maintained their sobriety.

Jackson Prison 

“That’s why I had a representative in every correction institution in the State of Michigan. He started with the Federal Penitentiary at Milan and go right on down the string. They were men that were in A.A. They were men that had been involved with A.A. in those institutions. When they were ready for pardon and paroled it had been his great privilege, not a duty, to bring them in and supply work for them and they are some of the finest men he had.”

Through the years Mike’s business flourished, he feels because of his sobriety. He continued to purchase auto part factories, until he eventually created a company called Pullman Industries in which he united the numerous companies he had purchased, creating one of the largest auto suppliers in the country at that time.

Mike would go on to eventually be, Eastern (Southeast Michigan, Area 33) Michigan’s first Delegate on Panel 1, 1951-52.

 

Listen to Mike Eshleman’s talk

FootNotes:

  • References: Open talk by "Mike"; Area 33 Archives; Detroit Times; Detroit Free Press; Detroit News; Burton Historical Collection.
  • © 2013 by Bill T, Archivist, General Service of Southeastern Michigan, Area 33
  • For further information:area33archivist@aa-semi.org