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Working On the Line – A Source of Pride

It’s the last day of the factory week here at Bon Bons and Martinis.  And today, I want to talk about pride.

I may not have been working during her war, but I worked during ours.

You heard me.  I’m damn proud that I worked at Whirlpool, and I’m have so much revere for those who have made factory work their careers.  It takes a lot to be a factory worker–strength, determination, willingness to be in the actual setting of the factory.  Everyone who works at a factory deals with a hazardous environment, hard work, and so much more.
Now, you all know I’m by no means a feminist.  I need that to be clear right off the bat.  I will say, though, that being a woman in a factory is much different than being a man.  Manual labor has always been considered “man’s work” and it’s easy to see why.  But you know what?  What all the men were at war in the 1940’s (and thank God they went, because I’m not so sure I’d be good in combat), the women stepped up to the plate and did work–factory work.
Rosie the Riveter is monumental.  From her beauty to her brawn to her brains.  And we were lucky to have thousands upon thousands of Rosies step up to the plate and keep our country going.
I’m lucky to have experienced factory work firsthand.  I know what it is to work hard and to ache.  And I know what it takes for the people who were around me to work that hard for the majority of their lives.  No one can say that I had it easy my entire career.
I’ve always felt tough.  I still feel tough, but there’s something about twisting steel and wire in your hands that makes you realize that you can handle whatever life throws at you.
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Fremont

 

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Working On the Line – What I Learned

I learned a lot over those six summers.  Da da da DA – another list for your easy-reading pleasure.

What I Learned On the Line:

That starting work at 6:45 am sucked, but getting out at 3 pm rocked.

That going to rock concerts on work nights was stupid and awesome.

That when you are around potty mouths, you become a potty mouth.

That I could do manual labor with the best of ’em.

That learning a new job wreaks havoc on your muscles.

That everyone’s soul has a little youth left in it.

That no matter how ergonomic a chair claims to be, it’s still uncomfortable.

That the quiet ones have the most to say.

That everyone was a little wild in their younger age.

That people are willing to admit things only months after doing something wrong.

That it takes a strong marriage to make it in a factory.

That summer help can sometimes turn into permanent help.

That working in a factory is kind of fun.

That you do end up making friends–real friends.

That while it was incentive to stay in college, part of me will always miss it a little.

That it was comforting to come back to the same people summer after summer.

That as a woman, just saying hello to a man with no other intention can cause a world of trouble.

That as a man, vice versa.

That if you dress up for work, people will think you’re snooty.

That no one cares if you wear the same two pairs of pants over and over again.

That you’re bound to get hurt on the machines.

That people jonesin’ for a cig on their breaks can walk faster than Olympic sprinters can run.

That potlucks are Red Letter Days.

That we all gossip.

That few apologize.

And that we were all meant to be there at some point.

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Daily Happenings

 

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Working On the Line – Why Whirlpool Was Like High School

There was a bell early in the morning that told you when to start working.

There was a bell between each rotation (period).

The lunch period was 18 minutes–and not long enough.

You couldn’t smoke.

There were “cliques” among lines.

People knew your parents, because most likely your parents or someone in your family worked there.

Affairs were had there.

Flirting and anger ensued.

You had your favorite “rotations” or classes.

You fought to work next to people who you could tolerate (kind of like sitting by your besty in class).

People talked about each other.

You goofed off and sneaked food when you weren’t supposed to have it.

You went to the bathroom just for a break…

But you had to ask to go to the bathroom because you couldn’t just walk off the line.

Your bosses are like teachers, so you tried to look busy.

People “graduated” by retiring, or moving to a different line.

Draaaaaaaaaaama.

You had the top of the class that could do the work.

You had stoners.

You had jocks.

You had ’em all.

And most of all, you couldn’t wait for the end of the day.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2011 in Fremont

 

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Working On the Line – The College Kids

There are hundreds, thousands, of folks that worked at the Whirlpool factory with me.  They were true Whirlpool employees–ones with benefits, and families, and an intent to stay on the line.

And then there was me, and the rest of the temporary help–the college kids.

We were only there for the summer, and I could never quite tell if the true Whirlpool employees  like the idea of summer help coming in, or if they dreaded it.  I can think of reasons for both.

I’m sure they liked when we came in because it gave them the opportunity to take vacations.  They got to train us which meant that they got to work half as hard for a few weeks.  And I’m sure that it was nice talking to someone new, someone they hadn’t worked with for 20 years, and someone whose story they hadn’t heard.  And on top of that, we were entertaining.

I worked on the Line 2 Horseshoe for five out of the six summers I worked there.  It was the feature panel line (feature panels are the back of the washing machine) and it was literally shaped like a horseshoe.  The people I worked with were (mostly) great.  There were the regulars–an eccentric group of people who had known each other for years–and the college kids:  me, my cousin Heather, Joni, and occasionally Sarah, Nick, Rob, and some others.

Look familiar, Joni?

Heather, Joni and I were really the ones who were there the most, in the same spots, in the same rotation.  I like to think we brought life to the line.  From Heather talking about all of the crazy stuff that went on at college to Joni putting Kevlar sleeves over her calves as leg warmers and dancing around wildly to the Michael Sembello song “Maniac”, we had fun.

We picked on Manny and laughed with Terry.  I picked Drew’s brain for hippy memories and to build my summer concert list, and we took time to talk to Artie the jeep driver.  We played Big Frank’s “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” game, and we spent hours telling Little Frank that he wasn’t as badass as he thought.

I think that many of the regulars liked talking to us because we were something new.  I think our generation–a generation without much censorship–shocked them a little and made them laugh.

Working 8 hours a day next to these people made it damn near impossible not to develop friendships with them, and to not care about them.  And I kept up with many of them, too.

I emailed Drew for awhile, called Terry a lot and went to visit her when her husband was hit by a car.  I go to see Toni (from my sixth summer on Line 3) once in awhile, and my dad fixed Artie’s lawn mower.

As far as the college kids go–Heather’s due date for her first son is tomorrow.  Joni has a darling little girl now and Sarah is in cosmetology school.  My cousins Meghan and Heidi worked on a separate part of the line, and they’re both teachers and doing well.  Heidi has a little boy, too.  Sarah is in cosmetology school, and Rob kind of disappeared from what I understand.  And Nick…Nick died in a motorcycle accident about two years ago.  And it was horrible to hear about.

When you all experience a job like working at a factory, and when you spend that many hours a day next to people in close quarters, you do end up talking, and probably sharing more than you would in another environment.  You do it out of boredom at first, and then it becomes pure interest and friendship.

I really appreciate the time that I spent at Whirlpool, and all the people I got to know through it.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2011 in Fremont

 

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Working On the Line

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.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in Fremont

 

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