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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Factory Work--Part 3


If you've been following me this week, you know I've been reminiscing about the summer after I graduated from college in 1967, when I worked in a paper mill. It was a temporary gig, just for the summer, filling in for people on vacation. It was among the most challenging times of my life. I worked 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. most of the time, because people who work shift work usually take their vacation during the shift they hate the most.


The weird thing is, even though I worked there all summer, I remember only three days out of the whole summer. (I mentioned earlier, I suspect my brain has blocked out most of the memories to save me further trauma.) These four days are the fodder of this week's blog. I don't know if they happened in any particular order, I just am relating the details as I remember them.


For today's tale, I tried to draw a diagram of the machine called the compressor, which was one of the tools I used on this particular day, but, unfortunately I'm not exactly a gifted artist, so you'll have to use your imagination. My duties on this day (or week? I have no idea) entailed standing in front of a bin which caught paper plates as they fell off the dryer conveyor belt, stack them in piles of 125, put them in the compressor, a lovely gadget that squeezed all the air out from between them so they would take less space when packed into a box for shipping, and pack them..


I've always been pretty good at counting--I could count to 100 before I went to kindergarten--so this should have been a "cream puff" assignment. The counting part was. Things got a little tricky at the compressor. (Explaining it is tricky, as well, which is why I unsuccessfully tried to draw a diagram!) The compressor was a tube-like gadget perched between two poles. At the bottom of the tube, which was about three feet off the floor, was a round flat surface on which I was to place the stack of 125 (no more, no less) paper plates. The front of the tube had a rounded screened door which when pulled closed, was designed to keep the stack of plates in place as the weight from the upper pole came down on the plates to compress them--force out empty space--so they could fit into the packing box.


The tricky part of this process was to keep the stack of paper plates straight while closing the screen door. The door closing caused the upper pole to come down slowly on the plates. It was necessary to use your left hand and arm to keep the plates perfectly stacked while you pulled the screened door shut. The door was curved, like the plates. Once the door came within a short distance of being closed, it would close the rest of the way automatically and lock, then the vertical pressure would be engaged, squeezing those mothers together for packing. It all depended on timing; you had to hold the stack in place with your left hand and arm while closing the door with your right hand, and yank your left arm out at the last minute before the lock engaged.


For a time, all went well. I was able to tune out the chugging and wheezing of the machines around me, focus on getting the right number of plates in a stack, get them compressed, and slide them in the box. (Did I mention most people who worked here for years ended up with varying degrees of hearing loss, due to the constant noise level?)


I'm not sure what happened next. Maybe the heat was getting to me; maybe I was getting tired; in any case, on one of my compression steps, things went awry. I wasn't quick enough pulling my arm out of the compressor before the lock engaged. There I was, arm held fast between the round paper plates and the round screen door. The screen wasn't the soft screening like you have in a screened door in your home. It was more like stiff chicken wire with half-inch square holes in it. I couldn't open the door, and I couldn't withdraw my arm. Little half-inch squares of flesh were being pushed out the half-inch squares of the screen. The skin wasn't broken--no blood pouring out, thank goodness, but it hurt like the dickens!
I yelled for help, but in the cacophany of chugging and hissing and wheezing of all the machines, it was several minutes before the foreman came running to my assistance. (yeah, the same guy who had yelled at me previously! He just loved me, by now!) He also tried unsuccessfully to open the door, but the lock was engaged; it would not budge. Ultimately a technician was required to disconnect the machine, which released the pressure, which released the door lock, and they carefully opened the door. I was holding back tears at this point--I wasn't about to let that jerk of a foreman see me cry!


I was taken to the infirmary, where an x-ray determined that nothing was broken. The doctor said I had suffered "muscle trauma" and prescribed ibuprofen and three days of rest--Music to my ears! I actually got three days off with pay because it was a work related injury! Yes, Eva, there is a Santa Clause!

11 comments:

Helene said...

Wow, it sounds like it was super unsafe to work there!! I could totally imagine how badly that must have hurt!

The good thing was at least you got a few days off paid!

lakeviewer said...

It could have been more serious! Did you then decide that you were not about to be stuck in such a job again?

Steven Anthony said...

Oh Eva...its a good thing you gave up the factory career.

Tammy said...

Sounds like you had a most memorable summer! NOT!! I am sure that couldn't come to an end quick enough for you.
I enjoy reading your blogs you are a great writer. :)

singedwingangel said...

OUCH See that right there is why most machinery is required to have emergencuy stops on them now so you can manually turn the machine off from nearly anywhere around the machine. So glad nothign major was hurt... good grief I would have siad forget it and stayed home lol

JennyMac said...

OSHA would have had quite a time there, wouldnt they? LOL. But it made a great blog story.

I Wonder Wye said...

Holy crow! That kind of work is dangerous, loud, and smelly! Peeeweehhhh -- we have a paper mill in Morrilton and Pine Bluff I've smelled time to time....thank your lucky stars it was only one summer, I suppose....too bad it couldn't have been a factory job shoveling in choclates like Lucy and Ethel had that time.....

Thanks for your sweet comments this week on my blog - it's been difficult, and readers like you mean a lot to me.....

ethelmaepotter! said...

I will never look at paper plates again without thinking of you. Makes me realize that there is a STORY behind everything we buy - be it canned foods, furniture, or paper plates.

Cinnamon-Girl Reeni♥ said...

That's scary! I'm glad it turned out OK.

Unknown Mami said...

That is horrifying!

The Retired One said...

Yikes, Eva...that gave me the shivers.
If I were you, I would get the chills now whenever I passed chicken wire or a slamming screen door. ha
Glad you made it out of that one with your arm still attached and intact!