Thursday, May 11, 2006

The factory

Yesterday was National Nightshift Workers Day. It brought to mind the time in my life when I worked second shift in a copper mill. It was real manual labor for Manuel Labor, I guess you could say.

I took the job thru a temp agency, after being unemployed for nearly a month. It is the only time in my working life I have been unemployed. And the only time in my life I have worked thru a temp agency. And all this followed the only time in my life I have ever walked out on a job. Funny how those go together.

I hated the factory at first. Hated it. There was a feeling of dread every day as the hour to leave for work approached. I worked 4 PM till midnight. Usually six nights a week. Sometimes seven. And only occasionally five.

The summer was hot. And the winter was cold. There wasn't much in between. In cold weather, there were only a few space heaters located here and there inside the plant. Warmth could only be found standing directly below one of them. Or standing next to one of the large machines which gave off heat. We worked in several layers of clothing.

And in the summer? Inside a metal building with hundreds of machines running... Let's just say I never had to worry about being overweight. There were only small fans for cooling, which did nothing more than circulate the hot air. And even that, only sparingly. I drank 20 ounce Mountain Dews in two sups. I weighed 163 pounds when I left that job.

I'm not sure why I hated the job so much. It was new, and different. I was new, and lost. That's never too much fun. The hours no doubt cut into my free-wheeling Charlie Sheen-like lifestyle. (Actually, I got off at midnight, so it wouldn't have affected it that much). It was monotonous. At times, I felt trapped. There was a sense of hopelessness. I just knew it wasn't what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be forever.

But I learned a lot during my time there. About work, people, and life. I learned to operate a forklift. And a hundred other work-related things. It felt good to work with my hands. To sweat. For eight hours. Or more. I miss that sometimes.

It was also while working there that I rediscovered reading. We would get two fifteen minute breaks and one twenty minute lunch break every night. A lot of people would go outside to smoke, eat, talk, or some combination of the three. I would stay inside and read. I started going to the bookstore every week or two and buying new books. Reading led to writing.

Since leaving, I have come to appreciate my time there. I have a lot of respect for people who punch a clock and work 40, 50, 60 hours a week in that type of industry. It was a unique experience. One that I wouldn't trade. I even miss it occasionally. Especially some of the people.

I could talk about the people all day. Fondly. Clocking in everyday at 4:00. Clocking out every night at midnight. Five, six, seven days a week. Working. To survive. To provide. To be able to afford a new car. Or a short vacation. Or just to have a little extra money to spend on the weekend. When there was one.

I remember one girl who was working there trying to save enough money to pay for college. She'd been there five years when I left. There was a young single mother working to support her and her daughter. There were several single mothers.

There was a 40-something-year-old lady who had just gone thru a divorce and been forced to go back to work. Sometimes she'd bring food and share with me at supper. There was the plant bookie. A former Air Force cadet. A volunteer fireman. I could go on.

There are thousands of places like that all over the country. I feel like that is the soul of America. Hard working. Real people. Real problems. Real life. Men and women. Black and white. Young and old.

On my last day, one of the crane operators walked over to me and shook my hand. We'd never said more than a line or two in passing. But I'll always remember his words that day. He said, "It's been good working with you. You're a hard worker. But more than that, I can tell you're a good man."

That meant a lot to me. Still does.

Yesterday was also National School Nurse Day. I don't have a story for that. Honest.

"There are people in this country who work hard every day. Not for fame or fortune do they strive..."


  1. Working hard, though difficult at the time, is always worth it.

    Great post, as always.


  2. Wow Bone that's beautiful. But it left me wanting to know more. About the people that you worked with--in more depth

    Like the crane operator who talked to you on your last day. How could he tell that you were a good worker? What was he like

    Why did you walk out? Seems like you gave notice

    Sorry to ask some many questions. But it left me intrigued

  3. I remember a time like that. At first, the old job that you left doesnt seem so bad anymore huh? IHOP is always fun at midnight. You can always count on IHOP and Steak and Shake.

  4. Blondie: Yes, it is. Makes you feel good when you're done.

    Pia: Great comment. This post could have been a short story actually. Could have been much longer. I didn't go into detail for the sake of space.

    The crane operator worked up high. So while he was idle, he could oversee a lot of what was going on in the department.

    Again, great comment. Keep it up ;-)

    Groovie: Yeah. I came to know the places that were open after midnight. That's for sure. Always felt more places should stay open. There are a lot of people who work similar hours.

  5. Most of my work experience is in the Fast Food industry. I've worked for a lot of the minor ones...never McDonalds or Burger King though.

    When I worked for Hardees (aka Carl's Jr, depending where you are) They thought that I had management potential. hee hee So I went threw a process of learning everything. When I did my stint of being the biscuit maker I had to be at work every day at 5am. I didn't have a car, so I walked to work about 2 miles...maybe more. It's a wonder that I'm still alive.

    I've got bunnies on my blog.

  6. There's something to be said for manual labor. It's so much more satisfying than 'desk work'. I firmly believe it's character building. I'm sure you started off with character though, that's the kind of guy you are. But it does shape you. I like to volunteer to do manual labor. I get double the high...helping and working hard.

    And no, there is no Milli Vanilli. None. Never.

  7. I just noticed your address..."little nibbler" LOL :)
    Makes me think of that commercial with the older couple and the gentleman eating his oreo..."nibble, nibble, nibble...he's sucha' nibbla'"! :)

    Anyway, I find that I (in general) think of folks in factories as a kind of nameless and faceless people in middle-America that actually run the country. But of course they do have names, and faces, and they have lives...and you added to their importance today by showing us their character...and yours as well.
    The only person I ever knew who worked in a factory was my Grandmother, who was a seamstress, and sewed for years and years. To this day I have never asked her what she made in that factory...I guess I need to stop blogging and write her a letter!
    Enjoyed my visit here...thank you :)
    -Cora :)

  8. Renee: Love the bunnies! I want them all. Can only stomach Hardees for breakfast.

    Lass: I agree. It's very satisfying. Like I said, I do miss it sometimes. No pressure really. Just hard, sweaty work. And when the horn sounds, the day is over. No thinking about work when you go home.

    Mayden: Thanks for stopping by. Always great to have new readers and commenters.

    I think you bring up a great point. They each have a story. They'll never be front page headline news. But where would we be without them.

  9. That was such a nice compliment you got. And though I've never met you, I think it must be absolutely true!

    I've come to gain a greater respect for people that really must work hard and get paid little. It's funny how the people that get paid a lot of money, don't do as much work as those that sweat and slave for 40 or more hours a day. This was a new concept for me until recently.

    I've also gained a great respect for those that really have to scrimp and save for everything. It can be a really ugly world out there when you don't have money to buy the necessities in life.

    I think everyone should have a job like you described. Just for perspective if nothing else!

  10. It's amazing the kind of work you'll do when you really need a job. I think it's good for everyone to have at least one experience like that. It makes you a better person and, later in life, helps you to appreciate your job a little bit more.

  11. unWhen I saw the title, "The Factory", I couldn't help but think of Shane and Melody's announcement in the paper a couple years ago about the "Milk and Meat Factory.", and how you were the only one who picked up on it. ROFL

    Then I thought... "Is this Bone's way of telling us his girlfriend is pregnant?"

    Hmmmm.... interesting.

    Oh, I finally got all my blogs posted for the week, starting off with the one about the Sept 11 freaks, finally.

    Cya this weekend! It might be nice we should do tennis.

  12. Carnealian: It was nice to realize someone had noticed.

    I think more and more people are having to struggle, especially the past five years. Cost of living has seemingly skyrocketed, with gas prices, health insurance, etc.

    Krista: Well said.

    Kyle: That was definitely an odd and ambiguous baby announcement.