Ruminations -5 Chicago & Return

To Chicago

While Hancock is an isolated small locality, we nevertheless did have some contact with the outside world. In the summer of 1943, between my Junior and Senior years in High School, Warren and I decided to go to Chicago to look for a job and spend the summer. Our parents apparently agreed to this, for one day in June we hopped on the train and made our way south. We rented a room in the YMCA that was located near the loop on South Wabash and we found a job working in a factory run by Western Electric. It was a very boring job that involved wiring some communication boards, but it paid well enough for us to survive in Chicago. I don’t remember much about the people there except that our supervisor spent most of his time trying to make out with one of the female employees.

At some point in that summer Warren quit that job, and got a job in a warehouse. Maybe the pay was better there, but he was then working with a totally different group of people.  We had only a little social life for I remember very little about the city. We did walk over to the loop from time to time, and marvel at all the things going on there. We were particularly enthralled watching the tattoo artists and would hang around them a lot. Of course at one point we decided that we should each get one. I am amazed that we decided first to let our folks know of our intention, and wow, by telegram the next day my dad said “ABSOLUTELY NO TATTOOS, LETTER FOLLOWS”.

The YMCA was actually a hotel, and a very pleasant place to stay. Looking back on it now I realize that at one point some strange things took place – once when Warren & I were riding up to our room a couple of men got on and were quite interested in us going up to their room. Warren would have none of that.

So, the summer went by without any serious incident, and we returned to Hancock late in August.

The following summer, after I graduated from High School, I went back to Chicago to work, but this time without Warren. I am not sure what he was doing then, but he had been out of school for a year and probably had a real job – maybe with Jay. B. Coon electric. I stayed at the YMCA again, but got a job at the Goodman Manufacturing Company. I don’t remember what they manufactured, but the factory included a sizeable machine shop and hundreds of employees. I worked in the electrical maintenance department and did a little bit of growing up during that summer.

The department I was in had a half dozen or so employees, but I remember only one person – his name was Walter. One of the things we had to do was to clean the commutators on d-c motors and Walter was most friendly and helpful with me, for I knew little or nothing about such equipment. One of the things our department did was to respond to emergency calls from the shop when things broke down. I would go with Walter when he went to analyze the problem and fix it, and he was a very thorough person – good training for me.

Finally at one point I was permitted to answer a call for help, by myself. Off I went with all my technicians’ tools on my belt and feeling quite important. A man working at a lathe called in to report that the light on an extension cord hanging over his machine had fallen off – there was a lot of oil in that environment and the cord just deteriorated. So, the cord end was electrically hot but I knew how to avoid getting a shock by very carefully handling the cord and taping the two ends separately. This took a few minutes since I was trying to be extra careful to not get a shock. When I had done this the machinist just looked at me and said – “Why didn’t you just remove the cord from the socket and take it away?” Learning can be an embarrassing situation.

I remember having talks with Walter and telling him that while I was intending to go to College in the Fall I found that working in the environment of Goodman Manufacturing was fun and maybe I’d just stay on there. He really climbed all over me for that bit of stupidity – pointing out that his lack of education was the cause of much limitation on his future employment. So that ended all thinking about not going back to school.

One significant item of company wide interest was the safety record of each department. In fact the Electrical Maintenance department had gone a few years without a lost time accident, and as I found out guarded that record with powerful politics. A large bulletin board carried the name of each department and the number of days since the last lost time accident. My department was way in the lead – days numbered in the hundreds since the last lost time accident. One day I was busily cleaning the commutator bars on a motor when I carelessly turned the armature and caught my little finger between the armature and the field coils. It scraped rather deeply, and I continued on with my task. Well, in a day or so it got infected and when I went to the clinic they sadly informed me that the nail of that finger had to come off. That was done, and the pain was rather remarkable. The head of the department told me to go and hide someplace in the factory, in the hopes that I could stick with it.

Well, I soon realized that I was not going to put up with this and told my boss that I had to leave work – the pain was too heavy. So I left, hopped on a train to Hancock, and stayed there a couple of days. When I returned to Chicago and went back to work I found that I had been on vacation for a few days! But their record was untarnished. I did hear some grumbling about the legitimacy of a brand new employee getting vacation time, but that seemed to end it all.

One other facet I remember about the experience with this company involves the president of the organization. It was his policy to meet with new employees and give them a lecture on values that he felt were important. Chief among these was to be alert and examine things to make sure they are valid and useful. We new hires were all together listening to this when he came to his little anecdote to emphasize his point. He remarked how people accepted the song – dancing around the mulberry bush. “What is wrong with that title” he always asked. He did this every time he met with the new hires, so indeed some people knew this was going to happen and were told the answer. So, when he asked the question one smartie shouted out – “there is no such thing as a mulberry bush – it is a tree!” That ended the lecture and the president left in anger.

Back to Hancock

My work in Chicago ended in late August, and I returned to Hancock and my senior year in High School. One of my favorite subjects was math, again due at least in part to the teacher, Mrs. Moyle. She was very supportive and highly encouraging for me to continue on to college.

During the months when school was in session I took up various after school jobs, besides working for my dad in the bakery. The first job I remember having was to wash the windows in my uncle Nap Brodeur’s office. He ran an insurance business and had a store front right next to the Orpheum Theater. This was on Quincy Street across from the High School. He paid me twenty five cents for washing the store windows and dumping the trash, usually once a week. He was a short dumpy man that didn’t have much to say to me. He was married to my father’s sister, Alvina. They lived in the east end of Hancock, which meant they were rich. They had a large house with a tower and a circular room. My mother was usually upset when Alvina would want my dad to do some chore for her. Alvina and her sister Mary Roy would often want him to do some household maintenance job and mother was perturbed by that. We didn’t visit them very often at all.

Another job I picked up was to be the distributor for the Milwaukee Journal in Hancock. This newspaper arrived by train seven days a week and I had to meet the train to pick up the stack of copies that were dumped off the freight car at the depot. I had three or four carriers who delivered the paper and collected the payment from their customers. So I learned a little about reliability of employees, especially when it came to getting them to give me the money they owed for the papers they delivered. One young girl was particularly difficult to keep in line, and of course from time to time I had to find new carriers. There also was a fair amount of paper work, because at that time the customers could purchase life insurance for a dime or so a week and I had to keep track of that and make the payments for the papers to the Milwaukee Journal company. It was a rather demanding job because during the week the various Sunday inserts would arrive and they had to be sorted and prepared for stuffing with the news sections that arrived Sunday morning.

At one point during this time I felt I could make some money if I had a shoe-shine business. My dad thought this was great and so he built a really great stand for me. It was about 4 feet square and solidly built so that a raised chair could sit on it above the two metal foot rests for the shoes. I started out by setting up the stand on the sidewalk in front of his bakery and had a good little business. A barber suggested to me that I could set up my stand in his barber shop if I would sweep the floor of the shop as payment for use of the space. This was great because now I could keep my business going during the winter.

I remember one time I was in the barber shop doing my thing and a rather drunk individual came into the store for a haircut and shoeshine. So he was able to climb into the chair and I started my job. I would first wash each shoe with saddle soap and then after drying it put on a world class shine. Well, this customer decided after a minute or two that his liquor was getting the better of him and he wanted OUT. I felt I should still do a good job even though he was restless but then the barber told me to back off and get out of the way. Just in time.

For a couple of years I worked as a stock boy at an F.W. Woolworth store in Houghton. That meant walking across the bridge, and this was a memorable chore in the winter time. The job started out with me handling the stock and transporting it as requested by the clerks. In the basement of the store was a large machine for baling the cardboard boxes the materials came in. This meant cutting the boxes and laying them out in the press. Then I would operate the press and use wire to wrap around the pressed boxes for preparation to be picked up by the waste paper company. On Friday evenings I was allowed to come to the sales floor and wait on customers. I thought this was pretty great compared to slogging away on the box press, so I dressed accordingly.

During this time our mother’s sister, Josephine, moved in and out of our lives. She was also a teacher, and an accomplished pianist. However, her mind was troubled and she was classified as “insane.” At times she stayed with us in Hancock but then she would regress and she would go back to the hospital in Newberry, Michigan. This is a picture of her taken in our back yard in Hancock. This really shows her as she was – hidden and remote.

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