I’ve been thinking a lot these days about what it was like to work in the factory. I’ve been doing this for my own reasons, which I may eventually address. But I thought, “What a great way to blog this week, talking about all the things that happened at the factory.” I mean, this is a pretty significant part of my life, so much so that I wrote my 288 page graduate thesis about it. You can read a portion of it here.
But here’s the quick background. For six summers and some school breaks, I worked on the line making washing machines at the Whirlpool factory in Clyde, Ohio. I rotated anywhere between 5 and 12 jobs a day for 1/2 hour increments. There was a lot to learn.
My first couple of weeks there were the hardest. I had to learn each job with a trainer, and then learn to do it alone. During this time, my friend “Ta” would let me watch her perform each task-routing a wire this way, and snapping this ring into that hole, using your knuckles to push a harness out of the way to get to the place you needed to be. Then she would step in front of me on the line so that I could do the job, and she could catch what I missed.
I thought I’d never learn the jobs, but I did.
My hands were merely parts of the line that I was working on, tools full of veins and muscle instead of iron and gears. Factory workers train their bodies to do work the way that gymnasts train their bodies to perform. Muscle memory, strength training, sheer will to get it done and to get it done right.
I went through the motions during the day, and sometimes I went through them in my sleep. I knew the jobs well. I knew them so well that sometimes I did my job and my cousin Heather’s at the same time so that she could go grab a coffee, pick up our paychecks, or just take a break. And she did the same for me.
Those first few weeks flew by, because learning the jobs took 100% focus. But something happens. Once you learn the jobs, once the motions become second nature, you have to start thinking about other things, whether you want to or not. You find other ways to make the 8 hours pass, from the starting whistle to the stopping whistle. And it is during those 8 hours that you learn more about yourself and the people around you than you could have ever imagined…
Cliff-hangery? 🙂 Check back tomorrow to see what it is that we actually did.