Riveting at Table 5


[Photo credit: Glass Factory Worker Rob Kidd 1911—NARA—Wikimedia Commons]

“Hi! My new name is #12859!”

Wednesday, July 19, 1978: I’d passed the interviews, physical and, along with fellow post-high school summer jobbers Randy Johnson and Pam Fox, hurried up to the “first day” at Tonka Toys, working 2nd shift in Department 02: Sub-Assembly.

Although the conditions were hardly as squalid as the Victorian glass factory worker pictured at right, that’s still an accurate reflection of what it was like to go from summer sunshine into a dark, dingy, percussively loud and bustling factory in the late 1970s.

Mom gave me a lift, getting me there by 4:20 p.m. It was the only time I ever worked in a factory and the first time I recall ever having an employee number. Outside of women bosses like Jeanne at the Lafayette Club and Sabrina at Super Sam’s, it was also the first time I worked for The Man.

My shift supervisor, Dick, bespectacled, middle-aged, clad in tie and short sleeves, led us past roaring forklifts, banging riveters and—overhead—small metal toy pieces swinging by conveyor chains to the paint and finishing department yards away. Smudgy workers wearing earplugs grimly eyed us as we were shown to a workstation.

As a new employee, I was anxious to know if I could get the first week in August off to attend camp. Dick listened to my request, his jaw set, and said, “get in touch with me later and I’ll let you know.” That night I worked with a Karen and Dave deburring rough edges off Tonka bulldozers.

Mom left her car in the parking lot after she’d left me the key so I could drive home. On the way I stopped off at the Gravel Pits to stare up at the full moon.

Thursday night I worked at the deburring table again with a guy named Brant. The following night another guy, Steve Walters, joined me with two guys named Kevin and Dave. I’d hoped to ask Dick again on Monday about the time off so I could send in my camp registration.

It was an odd tonal shift to the summer: Bright, peaceful, sunny days spent painting the lakefront deck stairs and swimming—followed by clanging loud, dreary nights in the factory. It was so noisy during shift that we all didn’t talk much—unless someone had to change stations or move materials bins around.

At dinner break we sat outside at picnic tables, smoking and gazing at the dusky parking lot before the bell clanged and we shuffled back inside.

On the weekend I reconnected with friends, hitting Ridgedale in Steve’s car and stopping by the Minnetonka A&W—where we were surprised to discover Kim had started as a carhop. With Monday looming, and a full week at the factory, I kept my sights on Camp Shamineau, meeting old and making new friends. It kept my spirits up.

Monday I walked the railroad tracks to Tonka. Still no word from Dick about the time off, but I’d decided to risk it; I’d sent in my registration and deposit for camp earlier that day. “I hope no one gets mad—” I wrote in the diary, “because I’m going! It’s too strong for me to ignore the feeling I get.”

That night I worked with Chuck Gemar and Dave from the previous Thursday, “riveting side panels to Tonka pickup trucks.” After shift, my brother picked me up at 1 a.m. in Mom’s car, where I learned Dad had just bought a new boat—a Starcraft—and we were itching to take it out for a spin.

But reality crept back in—final summer before college be damned. Tuesday, the diary reports, “No one called (besides an Army Recruit officer—I hung up—)” before I left for shift, working with again with Dave, Kevin and a couple girls “at Table 5 … piecing together and riveting those, ya know, car-carrier truck beds. For a while I riveted … then I spent a large amount of time piecing the bottom part on, which really grated up the sides of my hands and forefingers.”

It was the night for clock-watching.

In four days, maybe I’d be back once again among the smiling, sunny, young faces of Camp Shamineau—my last year ever—and the noise, monotony and grim surroundings would be a fast-fading memory.

At dinner break I screwed my courage to the sticking point and went to see Dick in his cluttered office.

“The 31st through the 5th?” he sighed. “O.K. I suppose you can have it.”

~ by completelyinthedark on May 17, 2013.

One Response to “Riveting at Table 5”

  1. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Superb blog and wonderful style and design.

    Liked by 1 person

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