The King of Donuts

work

When I heard the Dryden Rubber Company was hiring I got very excited. The minimum age was 16, but I fudged my age as I was only 15. I figured if I stood on my toes and puffed up my chest I might pass muster.

I knew I had passed when they gave me a waiver to bring home to sign. The waiver stated that I couldn’t sue if I was bodily injured in their plant. Mom signed it not really knowing what it was. She was so excited about me making some real money she didn’t read it too carefully.

This was a defense plant, and I had to wear a badge with my picture on it. My first assignment was to dip a brush into a bottle of glue and hand it to a woman who was gluing pieces of rubber together. I can hardly describe how boring that was for me. She sat at a table, and I stood all day…dipping and handing. My mind went into suspended animation, and my eyeballs went into my head.

A few days passed, and I got word to report to the main office. This wasn’t good. When I walked in, the foreman had his head down. He cut to the chase and told me the big bosses had walked through the plant on a tour, and had reported that it looked like I was dead in the water.  He had to let me go.

I was angry and went on the offensive. I asked him how he expected me to stay awake doing a job like this.  He stepped back, smiled, and said ,”Okay, if it’s work you want, it’s work you’ll get. I’m giving you another chance; report to the tank tread room on Monday.”

On Monday, I found twenty women lined up on both sides of a long table. They were all ages and looked me over like a lion examining a piece of meat. My job was to tend to the needs of each and every woman. Whatever they needed in supplies, it was my job to run and get it. I ran like the wind and made sure each one had what they needed before they ran out. I loved it because it was a challenge, and the woman loved me because I made them laugh and they fed off my energy. The foreman was very pleased at my sudden surge of enthusiasm.

Payday came, and I cleared $40. This wasn’t chicken feed at the time. Mom snatched it and handed me $2 and said she would bank the rest for me. She didn’t want me to squander my hard earned money. I was only too glad to help out because things were pretty rough at the time.

I was always aware of my surroundings and had been watching an older gentleman working on a lathe. He worked piece work and usually managed to fill one large barrel a day. These long rubber-like hollow salamis would come out of the rubber room where the molten rubber was poured, and he would slide them on a spool one by one, drop the slotted guard, and proceed to make “donuts” with a sharp knife inserted in each slit after he turned the machine on. He timed it so that he filled the barrel to the top by the end of the day. The donuts were used to slip on the nose of those huge bombs the air force used so that the bombs didn’t detonate if the heads were jostled.

One day, the lathe operator was out ill.  Management was panicking because they had a contract to fulfill. They asked if anyone knew how to run the lathe. It was quiet as could be, and I raised my hand and said I could do it.

When I began the next day, I realized it wasn’t as easy as it looked. When the knife was inserted at a wrong angle, it caught and spun into the air. The women made sure they didn’t come near me while I had the motor running. By the end of the week I was doing close to two barrels a day, and I got a visit from the piece work adjuster. After checking my output, he said I was getting a raise. The only hitch was that I had to equal my high output every day, or my raise would be taken away. Oh my, this was going to be like trying to walk into the teeth of a gale wind. How could I win this battle?

I lay awake at night thinking of all sorts of ways to increase my production. I had them give me twice the knives and sharpened both sides at home on dad’s grinder. I made them into stillettos so that each knife lasted twice as long without re-sharpening.

At five barrels I came to a stalemate. I brazenly entered the infernally hot, molten rubber room and insisted they send the rubber down while it was still hot so I could cut faster and the blade of my knife wouldn’t dull so quickly. They hated to be ordered around by a 15-yr-old punk, but they knuckled under, and the rubber came down so hot I had to use gloves with the fingers cut off.

At seven barrels a day I was drawing a crowd. The women lined up on their break to watch the show. It was better than the circus. My hands moved so fast they were a blur, and I never shut the machine off and on.  It stayed on continuously.

On Saturday afternoon when I went to the Lawndale Theater and they had the Movietone war news.  I craned my neck to search for my donuts; I never saw them… Perhaps the flyers used them to play ringers… Who knows?

On Monday, the former lathe operator returned, fully recovered. Despite my 7-barrel level of production, he made clear that he would still only do one barrel a day, and if that wasn’t appreciated, he was gone. The foreman said that was fine with him because, in his mind I might either stab someone or myself with one of those knives.

The following week, I had to give notice because vacation was ending. The foreman shook my hand and said I had a life-time invitation to return to their factory. The women lined up in a long single line, and one by one I hugged each woman as they wished me well. One whispered in my ear that if I returned, she would break my arm because she wanted me to go to college. All in all it was a fun experience.

(photo courtesy of Dreamstime327/Dreamstime.com)

About Jerry Goldberg

Jerry Goldberg grew up on the west side of Chicago. After high school, he was drafted in the Army during the Korean conflict. Upon his honorable discharge, he joined Local 130 in Chicago as a plumber, working from 1952 to 2000. Jerry has been happily married for 60 years, residing with his wife, Gloria, in Huntley, Illinois. They were blessed with two wonderful children, and have three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
When his son encouraged him to get online, Jerry replied, "What do I need that for?" But all that changed a year into his retirement, when his daughter gave him a modem for his birthday, opening a whole new chapter. Finding stained glass insufficiently fulfilling, Jerry discovered the AARP message boards and began his one-finger magic. Eventually, he became quite proficient (two fingers), starting a board called, "Jerry's Corner."

This board was the second most popular board on AOL. Jerry bantered with any and all, and began writing humorous true stories of his past life. The stories you see here are a compilation of most he has written ... enjoy!

About Jerry Goldberg

Jerry Goldberg grew up on the west side of Chicago. After high school, he was drafted in the Army during the Korean conflict. Upon his honorable discharge, he joined Local 130 in Chicago as a plumber, working from 1952 to 2000. Jerry has been happily married for 60 years, residing with his wife, Gloria, in Huntley, Illinois. They were blessed with two wonderful children, and have three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
When his son encouraged him to get online, Jerry replied, "What do I need that for?" But all that changed a year into his retirement, when his daughter gave him a modem for his birthday, opening a whole new chapter. Finding stained glass insufficiently fulfilling, Jerry discovered the AARP message boards and began his one-finger magic. Eventually, he became quite proficient (two fingers), starting a board called, "Jerry's Corner."

This board was the second most popular board on AOL. Jerry bantered with any and all, and began writing humorous true stories of his past life. The stories you see here are a compilation of most he has written ... enjoy!