The Lessons Of Work

  You can learn some good lessons about life and how to get along with others by working with a variety of people. It usually is better than any social studies or American History course. American history these days is taught with such obeisence to political correctness that it doesn’t reflect how people interact down on the farm as it were. The younger you can get this experience the better. Some hard work doing physical labor won’t stunt your growth and listening to the give and take of your fellow workers will tell you more about folks than any Sunday talk show pundit.

I started working when I was 13. My uncle owned a water plant that bottled and delievered drinking water to consumer. It was mostly home delivery; very little of the product was sold in supermarkets in those days. Today they have whole aisles devoted to bottled water. These bottles were big, the five gallon size and were made from glass. Admittedly I didn’t work a 40 hour week that first year but I would take the street car and bus and get to the plat around 10 and then I would ride home with my dad that evening. He was the general manager of the plant. Of course it was totally illegal for me to be working even in those long ago days because of child labor laws. I think you had to be 16 to work. I very much wanted to work. I wanted to show my dad that I could do the same kind of work he did when he was my age and that I could work with other men. The truth is that I would have worked for free. But I was lucky and got the whopping wage of 50 cents per hour. Even then that was certainly not big bucks.

The work was only during the summer when it was really hot. The bottling plant was not air conditioned. It was hard physical labor loading and unloading those 40 pound bottles off and then onto the delivery trucks. There was a very large industrial washing machine for all the returned bottles. Even empty the bottles weighed a few pounds. The machine was about 40 feet long and had an opening at one end where you would load the empties and they would work their way around the system until they returned to you clean when you would remove them and place them in the bottling machine which was located next to the washer. It was only a couple of steps but when you make that small trip a thousand times a day it adds up. Of course you had to keep the washer filled with empties at the same time so there wasn’t any time to rest on your laurels.

The bottles were wet and you had to grip them really tight or they would slip out of your hand. You would have to rest the bottle on your forearm for a brief second as you lowered them into the washer or the bottling machine. It filled 5 bottles at a time and then the next five would move into place. No matter how careful you were sooner or later you would break one. That meant that the washer had to stop and be cleared or the bottling machine stopped until everything was cleaned. If you didn’t put the bottles into the washer just right when they made the far turn they would collide with the bottle next to them and that would break both of them. That was a real mess to clean up.

After bottling the bottles came out and had to be loaded into special crates that were then loaded onto the trucks for delivery. The crates were loaded with a forklift. In those days there were no foreign forklifts, everyone used Hyster. I don’t even know if that company still exist. Driving the forklift was the dream job. You got to sit on your rump and didn’t have to be lifting all those bottles. I learned to drive one my first summer. I only was allowed to drive it when the other guys were busy with something else. It was always a great relief to get to spend and little time there. I got pretty good and could turn the tightest corners with one and simultaneously maneuver the lift up down or tilt it one way or the other to slide the load right into the truck.

The lunch break was always interesting. I was with ordinary men. There weren’t any Rhodes scholars there but they all brought their own experiences and views about the world to the talks over baloney sandwiches. I of course said very little. I was the kid. I listened. In those days it wasn’t Hispanics who did this kind of work but white people and blacks. The older guys had all been in the service during the War and the younger guys had maybe been to Korea. They talked of politics, work gripes and families and naturally women. I caught a lot of grief being so young. It was a different world. The black men I worked with I addressed as “Sir” contrary to what you might think. They were my elders and were entitled to respect whether deserved or not.

The work could be a bit dangerous on occasion. I cut myself pretty badly three times. Each cut was on my forearm when I would be loading or placing a bottle in the washer or the bottler or loading them into the crates. Only a fraction of an inch would make the difference and when it hit the metal of the machines the glass would break. The one on my right arm I can ‘t really locate anymore but the two on my left or still visible to this day. They probably could have justified stitches each time but I never got any. The gashes were bad and the blood really poured out. Mom would have a hissy fit each time but Dad and I just never got around to the stitches. They all healed. What I worried about more was the caustic solution for the washer. It had to be loaded every thousand bottles or so. It came in big 44 gallon drums. It was pure lye. When you took off the lid the oder would not you over and the burning in your nose woulde make your eyes water. Lord knows what kind of precautions they make you take these days to unload that stuff with OSHA looking over your shoulders. It was strong. I hated it when some small flake would land on you. It was just like a huge detergent soap but in big flakes rather than powdered. In that heat you always had some small amount of sweat on you or moisture from the machines. If a flake touched you skin it would burn, really burn. It would take off the top layer of skin in seconds. I learned real quick to have a dry rag with me when we had to unload that stuff to knock the flakes the touched my skin. We didn’t wear protective goggles or anything and no masks for the fumes.

I worked there every summer until my senior year in High Schoo when I worked at my dad’s industrial laundry he was operating for Deltal airlines. It was hot, messy and dangerous work but it was good for me. Life can’t always be lived in a safe cocoon and the kids should still learn that lesson today rather than attending computer camp during the summer.

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Filed under business, Culture, family, history

2 responses to “The Lessons Of Work

  1. A very interesting read. While I suspect that I would have disliked this particular job at the time (we are all wired differently), it would likely have done me a lot of good. I certainly second the general sentiments about over-protection, the benefits of real-life experience, and the risks of being “in a safe cocoon” for too long.

    In particular, I long had problems with “street smarts”, self-confidence, risk-judgments, whininess and wimpiness, whatnot, due to being raised by a single mother, who was highly over-protective. (Compounded by the fact that I naturally was more interested in books than sports, which further reduced my exposure. However, reading, in and by it self, is good for us; over-protection is not.)

    Considering how inefficient the school system is, I daresay that sending a 13 y.o. out to do one year of real work, instead of going to school, would be highly beneficial with regard to both knowledge and character.

    • olcranky

      glad you enjoyed the read……nothing wrong with honest labor for any of us….and I also am an avid reader…..since and early age…..thanks

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