Weekly Local Biography

  Bud Velat

Bud Velat is an American, retired in Chiang Mai, who began working at the age of six as a ‘bootlegger’ and whose first job after finishing school was with the FBI. Anyone who begins his interview with this type of information has to be interesting. Bud Velat is!

He was born in America in 1924. His father was an electrician but was laid off during the depression and the future looked grim. His uncle, however, suggested that they start making bootleg beer, since this was the prohibition era, and Bud’s job was doing deliveries on his bicycle!

By the time he was eight, he was delivering groceries instead. I asked Bud why he had gone legal, and he fixed me with his twinkling eyes and said, “Prohibition ended!”

When he was 12 he began working nights and weekends setting pins in Uncle Bootleg’s bowling alley, an after school job that he did for the next six years. “I was setting pins on Sunday afternoon December 7th 1941 when war broke out.” However, he still had another year to do at school and had already been picked to join the FBI. No snub nose .38, trench coat and trilby, but a job as a file room clerk which he did for nine months but then quit to enlist in the US Army.

Three weeks later he was in the Military Railroad Division keeping supply lines open for the war effort in Africa, Italy, France and Germany. He was shipped back to the US when his father had a heart attack, and after VJ Day went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad, on a multi-million dollar line change, as the ‘rod man’ in the surveying team. Holding the ‘rod’ across America took up the next six years, but eventually the winters in Minnesota were to make him jump train in California. “Eight days of minus five degrees were enough!”

It was 1951 and the record business was beginning to really take off in the USA and Bud joined the record business - in the warehouse, learning all the nuances of what was considered a fairly uninspiring position. Bud was to prove that wrong many times over in his later life. However, he moved into the sales field and then became a branch manager, but after six years he had enough of selling round black plastic things with a hole in the middle (is this a record, Mr. Ripley?) for one company. He formed himself into his own business, representing three non-conflicting record companies and took their products all over America.

As a concept it was brilliant. As a money spinner it was sensational. But it also was one of the loneliest years of Bud’s life. “It was up to three days in any city. Not knowing anybody you just sat in a bar and drank at night. I knew that if I continued, I’d be an alcoholic, so I took a year off.”

He could have the break, he had lived off his expense account and 12 months of salary was untouched. Then he fell sick. American hospitals are not cheap and he came out mended, but broke!

Around this time, aviation was beginning to boom and the Douglas Aircraft Company was looking for someone in the parts sales department for the new DC8’s. Bud joined Douglas who heard that he had warehousing knowledge and sent him to New York to set up the parts warehouse there.

He had no sooner signed off the inventory when Douglas made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Three years in France as head of parts sales for the Caravelle project that Douglas had joined. After saying yes, he was then told he had five days to get there! During that time in France he also learned the language as when he initially arrived he couldn’t even say ‘Gay Paree’!

Returning to the US he was asked to look after Caravelle spare parts by the French, as they and Douglas had parted company. He hesitated and they doubled his salary. He hesitated no longer and stayed with them for the next two years.

He decided to go back to California but remained with the aviation industry, joining a ‘rubber band’ two plane outfit, Air California, as a salesman. He was not there long when his superior formed a tour company and asked Bud to join him. After that it was a natural progression for the hard working Bud and by 1978 he bought in and became a part owner, along with one of the women who also worked there. This less than idyllic state lasted two years and Bud sold out to her. “Never go into partnership with a woman,” said Bud, a concept that he has stuck to ever since!

His old boss, who had started the company, now had another tour operation and Bud joined him as a partner. Bud’s job was to handle all of SE Asia, a part of the world that Bud had come to love. Bud and travel became permanent, until 1987 and the great stock market crash in the US. Suddenly he found he had lost everything, other than his house and personal effects and a condominium he had bought in Thailand for a ‘rainy day’.

The rains came all right and Bud quickly worked out that he could not afford to live in the US, but he could here. He had been to 90 countries, but this was where he should retire, and in December 1989 he arrived in Chiang Mai to settle and indulge himself in his new hobby - cooking. “I love it. Doesn’t use too much energy and you don’t have to walk too far,” said Bud.

Bud may have stopped walking, but his travels have afforded him a wealth of stories. “When I was in school, the nun asked me what I wanted to do. I said I always wanted to travel, and I guess I got my wish!” Bud, you certainly did!