Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hanging Doors and Mopping Floors

by Pa Rock
Experienced Worker

Last week I wrote about a summer job that I had during my college years in which I was the “brush boy” for two guys who were contracted to trim trees and clear brush from telephone lines in our rural area.  I had a couple of other summer jobs that probably merit mentioning. 

A train loaded with fertilizer blew up in my hometown of Noel, Missouri, late one August night in 1969.  The blast caused massive damage and leveled many businesses and homes.  As a consequence, temporary housing was in critical demand, a condition that resulted in an influx of mobile homes into the once pristine tourist community.

Not too long after that – and I don’t know if it was related to the train blast or not – an entrepreneur came into town and set up a pair of factories to produce mobile homes.   The original plant was called “Diplomat, Homes” and the second one, located across the highway from the first, was  “Sundancer Homes.”  The fellow who started those plants must have liked Noel because he and his wife spent the rest of their lives in our little community – and they are buried just a few feet away from my parents at the Noel Cemetery.

I got a summer job at the Diplomat plant during a summer off from college.    At that time the plant was manufacturing six or seven complete 12 feet by 70 feet mobile homes a day.  It ran on the assembly line system developed by Henry Ford.  A bare trailer frame was pulled into one end of the plant, every worker had a specific job to do, and as the trailer came to their area, they got to work.  By the time it reached the far end of the building, the mobile home was complete.  Everyone stayed busy, and it was a happy crew.

I was assigned to work with two other men on sort of a “catch-all” crew.  When unexpected problems arose, it was our job to deal with them.  But most of the time we hung doors.  The doors (interior) were some of the last items to be installed in the homes, and as soon as they were pulled out to the lot, things would shift and we would often have to go out and readjust the doors.

A major learning from my time hanging doors was how to use a “yankee,” the forerunner of the electric screwdriver.  A nice "yankee" at that time was a pricey eight dollars, and the workers had to buy their own from the company store.   (Fortunately, I made it through the summer without having to sell my soul to the company store!)

But we had other chores in addition to hanging doors.

This weekend while I was in Noel, I had lunch and a long conversation with the son of the man who brought the mobile home industry to Noel – along with the son’s wife and their young adult son.    During our visit, the man mentioned the name of a woman in the community whom I haven’t seen in years.  He asked if I remembered her.

“Yes, “  I responded.  “She saved my life!”

Our little crew was working on something in the paint room that required a bit of welding.  I was probably in there just to hand things to the guy doing the welding.  The room was crusted in an accumulation dried paint and shellac.  It didn’t take long for a spark from the welder to set the dried paint and shellac to smoldering.    I don’t remember the specifics, but we couldn’t get the door to the main plant to open.  We were yelling for help, but the mobile home plant was a very noisy place, and no one was responding.  About the time I decided that we weren’t going to make it,  the woman we were discussing over lunch, an individual of some size and muscle, suddenly kicked the door in and we were free!

One of our next chores was to fix the paint room so that there would be no more fires.  As I remember it, removing the dried paint and shellac from the walls of the paint room was a difficult process, so someone up the food chain made a decision that we would paint over the walls with a special fireproof paint.  It may have been fireproof, but the paint was not foolproof.  I remember hanging onto the ladder from which I was painting – higher than a proverbial kite!    The fumes from that special paint had me completely discombobulated! 

Another favorite memory from that time involved a very out-going lady who always kept us laughing.  One day as she was laying carpet in the far bedroom of a mobile home, the lady began singing Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” quite loudly, and, of course, it caught on and everyone working on that particular trailer was soon singing along!

Sometime during that summer I picked up the extra duty of cleaning the restrooms at the end of the workday.     I had to pick up and dump the trash, clean the toilets, urinals, and sinks, and mop the floors.  My major learning from that experience was that the men were much neater in the restroom than the women were.  Men put trash where it belonged – and did their business, flushed, and got out.  The women dropped their trash on the floors, slung water everywhere, and weren’t overly concerned with flushing.    Of course, the ladies didn’t need to be too bothered by bathroom etiquette – they had a college man cleaning up after them!

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