The Art Inventory

The Famous Fremont Gold Dust Trial

by Kirby Lindsay Laney
originally published September 22, 1999 in The Seattle Press

Saturday, Nov 25th, 2017 is Small Business Day.  Fremont is a community known for our small, independent businesses.  To celebrate this, wants to revisit some of our greatest small business stories, starting with this one from 1999…


Walter Daly (standing) with (l. to r.) Bill Daly, Jim Daly and an unidentified friend. Photo provided by the Daly family

Jim Daly, a dear, life-long friend passed away recently.  He was central to Fremont, and as I envisioned writing about him, there was too much to say.  So, I selected one story to share.

Position Wanted

In 1992, I desperately needed a job.  My mother gave me a Fremont Chamber of Commerce newsletter ad for an ‘Executive’ Secretary.  The notice said to call Jim Daly for an interview.

I somberly approached this meeting.  Jim had known me as a kid.  I wanted him to take me seriously now.  I had every reason to believe he would only hire the very best applicant to work for the Chamber, an organization he helped start.

When I arrived in his office, he was as friendly as ever.  His office companion, Ginger, sniffed my feet and demanded her rightful attention.  I let her sniff my hand and I scratched behind her ears.  I sat stiffly in the seat across from Jim and handed over my resume.  Jim glanced at it, to see what it was, put it down on the desk, then sat back in his chair and said, “Did I ever tell you about the time my Father sued your Grandfather?”

I collapsed.  “Uh, no, I don’t think so.”

“You haven’t heard this?”  Jim said, settling himself back in his seat as he warmed to his story.

Back At The Physics Lab

Jim told me about the time, in the late ‘30’s, when my grandfather, J.R. Burke, landed a huge job for his company, Burke Millwork.  He was to build all the cabinets for the Physics building at the University of Washington.  For the Applied Physics lab, the surfaces would have to be carefully finished so J.R. hired the best in the business.  Walter Daly, Jim’s Dad and owner of Daly’s Inc., was expert at wood finishing and submitted a bid for the job.

J.R. Burke (standing) with his sister and secretary, Ellen Burke (later Bateman) in an undated photo Provided by the Burke family

The work was finished and the University was satisfied.  The counters were perfect and Burke paid Daly the amount they’d agreed to.  And Daly demanded more.

Daly insisted the work had cost more than the original amount, and though he’d cashed the check, he insisted on another.  Daly, by Jim’s own account, was a consummate ‘entrepreneur’.  He was known to do anything to make a buck.  Burke, as even I will admit, could be tough, and stubborn.  If that is what the bid said, that is what he paid.  Period.

Daly Vs. Burke

They went to court.  Daly’s Inc. versus Burke Millwork Co. began with Walter Daly on the stand, explaining to a sympathetic judge exactly how incredibly difficult it was to finish these particular counters, in a Physics lab, to the exacting specifications of the meticulous scientists.  “Why,” Daly waxed eloquent, “to do the job right you had to smooth gold dust over the whole thing.”

The judge was nodding and Burke’s lawyer was looking nervous.  J.R. was watching all of this with uncharacteristic calmness.  A lunch break was called and, afterward, Burke’s lawyer was allowed to cross-examine Daly.  J.R. handed his lawyer a small brown bag.

The lawyer had Daly repeat the steps required to finish a wood surface and, when Daly got to the part about the gold dust, the lawyer stopped him.  “Why would you use Gold Dust?” the lawyer asked.  “Why not one of the other, better known products, like Old Dutch Cleanser, or Bon Ami, or Ajax?”  The lawyer then pulled a can of Gold Dust cleanser from the paper bag for the judge to examine.  The judge ruled in favor of Burke Millwork.

Jim laughed at the conclusion of his story.

Position Lost?

I stared, imaging the sins of the grandfather heaped on the granddaughter.  “I hope you don’t bear us any ill will,” I said.

An ad for Gold Dust Washing Powder Provided by

“Oh, no,” Jim said, still chuckling.  After the court case was settled, Burke Millwork still went to Daly’s for their wood finishing supplies and paint.  After all, Daly’s is the best and Burke would never settle for less.  As younger generations succeed their elders, both companies changed and Jim Daly and Suzie Burke took over.  They quickly became allies in their combined efforts to see Fremont flourish.

“About the job?” I finally asked.

“The what?” Jim asked in return, sitting up a bit more.

“The job, working for the Chamber?”

“Oh, if you want it, the job is yours.”  He said, without even a glance at my resume.  “I’ve interviewed a few people but you’re definitely the most qualified.”

“How do you know?” I asked, surprised it could be this easy.

“I’ve known you long enough to know you can do it.”  He tilted back in his chair again, “Did I ever tell you about my Army days?”

I reached down to pet Ginger and settled in to listen.


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©2017 Kirby Lindsay Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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