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Falling down on the job

It’s been a long time since I’ve applied for a job, but I remember well interviewing for that first job.

I had worked before, but nothing I had to actually apply for. Working as a bean walker or printer’s devil didn’t involve much of an interview.

My first “real job” turned up not long after I turned 16. I had just received my driver’s license and an education on the cost of living. Even at 28-cents a gallon, I had discovered gasoline was an expensive luxury.

My folks let me use their car but I had to supply the fuel. It didn’t take long to learn that the same friends who wanted to go cruising didn’t have any money for gas either.

Then one July afternoon in 1956 the exciting news hit town, the canning factory in Ames was hiring! That meant big bucks because they were paying $1.50 an hour.

I had no idea what working at a canning factory might entail, but it sounded like a good way to get some cruising cash.

Six of us decided to apply. We hopped into Dave Twit’s 1954 Ford and flew up to the “personnel office.”

The interview didn’t take long. Questions were pretty basic Are you healthy? Can you lift up to 50 pounds? Do you want to work days or evenings? How many hours can you work?

The best part of the interview was when I had to give my Social Security number. It was the first time I’d ever had to do that. After all, it said: FOR OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY. NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION.

We were all hired and told to report at 7 a.m. the next morning. Our hours were easy to remember: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On the trip home we discussed how great it was going to be – working out of town with all the independence that comes with being on our own.

Six in the morning came mighty early the next day. I hadn’t slept very well … thinking about this new career and all. When I did dream, I found myself promoted to vice president of the company.

We reported for duty at the same building where we had been interviewed. We formed a straight line and were sent to various parts of the factory.

I drew the warehouse. It was a large building with cardboard boxes stacked from the floor to the ceiling. I immediately decided it would be a good time to find out what we were canning.

It turned out to be sweet corn raised in this area. The corn was cooked in large vats in another building. It was then put in cans and transferred to our building, where it was to be labeled and boxed.

The atmosphere in the warehouse appeared to be semi-organized chaos. The night shift had just left and the day crew was attempting to fit into the proper positions.

The combination of smells and noises inside that building is hard to describe, but one that I shall never forget. I was soon introduced to a man named “Bill” and told to follow his every command. Bill seemed to have his hands full doing his own job without having to watch over me.

He shouted out a few instructions that I couldn’t begin to understand and then disappeared. That didn’t make much difference because a “Mike” came along and delivered me to another job. Before I got his instructions down pat, a “Jerry” decided he needed another helper and Mike handed me over to Jerry.

Within the first hour I had been from one end of the warehouse to the other and had been exposed to four different jobs. I didn’t understand any of them, but at least I was getting a nice tour.

Finally, I and several other lost laborers were assigned the task of stacking boxes. It was one of those jobs that must have been invented by a former Army sergeant. We would work like madmen for ten minutes or so and then stand around for a half hour or more waiting for something else to do.

Before long we decided there was enough time between jobs to take a quick nap. So, while one of us kept watch, the rest of us would catch a few “Z’s.”

It was an ideal working arrangement until I fell off the stack of boxes where I was sleeping. I somehow twisted an ankle and was deemed unfit for any more warehouse duty.

The accident terminated my canning factory job. I simply collected my paycheck and that was it.

It would never work that way today. It would have meant filling out tons of paperwork and going through a hours of red tape because of an “on-the-job injury.”

No doubt, those were the good old days!

(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)

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