Archon – The Early Work Years

My mother worked every day of her life, both as a mother and wife, inside the home, and later, as a fellow-wage-earner, outside it.  This was before automation, and often before electrification.  She instilled in me early, a strong work-ethic.  Between ages eight and twelve, I had three paper-routes for two different newspapers.

The first job I remember her having was as a waitress at the lunch bar/dining room of a local hotel.  Since she worked from 11 till 3, my brother and I ate our lunch where she worked.  I remember a lot of hamburgers and fries, or hotdogs and fries, and the reduced cost of our meals came out of her earnings.

She eventually developed a circle of people she cleaned homes for, both year-round residents and summer visitors.  She was requested to do more than just clean.  She cooked food for soirees, and served as waitress.  A tiny woman, there were often things she wasn’t strong enough to do.  From 12 to 16, I occasionally worked with her, taking down shutters or storm windows, putting up screens, cleaning out garages or storage sheds, mowing lawns, trimming trees, and sweeping or shovelling sand off sidewalks and driveways.

One customer my mother had, was a grumpy old fart who owned a convenience-store and eight cabins near the beach.  He made most of his money during the summer months.  Since my birthday was in September, and I had to be 16 to get a summer job in a factory, she arranged for me to work for him in the summer of 1960, for the lordly sum of 50 cents/hour.  Nothing difficult or complex, a retail clerk.  I took money, made change, directed customers to product, kept an eye out for shoplifters, stocked shelves, swept up and hand-dipped ice-cream cones.

One slow, hot afternoon, I made myself a cone.  The old man came in the back door just as I was putting money in the till to pay for it, and asked me what I was doing.  When I explained, he told me of the girl he’d had the summer before.  She just about ate him out of house and store.  Pop, chips, candy bars, ice-cream cones, and never thought to pay for any of it.  He was impressed with my honesty.

The next year, my father arranged a summer job at the R.C.A. Victor plant where he worked.  For the first week, I moved raw material, sanded some edges, and wiped dust off cabinets about to be packed.  For this, I was paid $1.27/hr.  After last summer’s 50 cents, I was rich.

They moved me to the spray-finishing department.  TV and stereo cabinets came in on rollers from a half a dozen assemblers.  I was to take them off the rollers, and place them on large trays which would carry them by chain-drive through the spray booths.  One of the sprayers came over to tell me that, I could probably move the individual TV cabinets by myself, but the five and six-foot long stereo cabinets needed two people to move safely.  While they liked a mix of big and small on their line, he told me to accumulate several big ones at the end of the rollers, and call him or one of the other guys, who would help me load up a batch at a time.

While I got an hourly wage, these guys were paid piece-work.  They lost money every time I called them.  About the third day, a little light went on.  I walked up the line, and gave the next empty tray a pull.  Sure enough, the drive pin to the chain wasn’t attached, it was merely pushed.  I could pull a tray forward till it touched the end of the previous one, and it would just sit there till the drive caught up to it.  This gave me lots of time to swivel one end of a big cabinet out, and place it at one end, then move to the other end and safely repeat the process.

About the end of the next week, my spray booth guy suddenly commented that the cabinets were randomly mixed and I hadn’t requested any assistance.  When I explained my process, he was thrilled.  They could do it that way when they didn’t have an assistant, and could teach next year’s intern.

Next year I worked there again, just not in that department.  The wage scale had increased to $1.34/hr.  I was rich as Croesus.  Good thing too, I had a car to support.  The plant shipped most of its output in train cars.  I and another young lad were given the job of loading the boxed cabinets into the cars.  The work was sporadic.  A batch would be inspected and packed and sent down a delivery belt, to a set of rollers.  It was our job to roll them out and stack them in the car. 

Often we would finish one lot before another came down.  Since the shipping department was right outside the office, it would not do to have us standing around.  The shipping foreman told us that, if we weren’t loading, we were to be in one of the cars.  He said that we could eat, read, play cards, go across the street to the store, even sleep, but when he stuck his head in to say there was another shipment, we’d better be there, and ready.

My assistant got a case of the runs one day, and was gone for a lonngg time.  Another batch started and was piling up on the delivery belt.  I used the same system I had the year before, only vertically.  I pushed a row against the wall, then another row in front, then lifted the next one up by one end and pushed it back.  Put another row in front and pushed some more up, then repeat, using layer two to lift layer three.  By the time he got back, I had packed the entire lot myself, and the foreman never even knew he was missing.

I was just too damned dedicated.  If there was a job to be done, I was the fool who done it, but I think it made me a better me, and helped me get jobs later in life when I badly needed one.  I feel my work ethic shone through.

17 thoughts on “Archon – The Early Work Years

  1. BrainRants says:

    Much of your story reminds me of myself, not to sound braggy. This is an interesting tale, Archon.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      When I composed this tale, it just sounded bucolic. When I re-read it last night after publishing it, it also seemed a bit braggy, and I haven’t achieved anything like what you have. Let’s say it’s like “Luck favors the prepared mind”, evidence of a good attitude, no matter the actual results. Thanx. 😀

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  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    Good post, Archon. You remind us that while indolence is invariably punished in capitalism, efficiency and innovation are often poorly rewarded, except perhaps for the “psychic income”. I see you have that.

    I have often reflected on my wife’s role when I was in the Navy and was often absent for weeks or months. She was often on her own, responsible for everything including the bills and raising our three sons. If you created a job description for what she did, it would sound like one for Da Vinci, a combination of domestic engineer, counselor, teacher, accountant, nurse/EMT, correspondent and financial planner. I never failed to let her know how much I appreciated her in that job.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      While I always tried to show my mother how much I loved and respected her, it wasn’t till after she was gone that I realized just how much she had foregone for herself, and how much grinding physical and mental effort she had expended to raise me and my brother. I’m sure your wife appreciated the recognition.

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  3. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Archon, your admiration, love, and respect for your parents really shone through on this post! My parents worked really hard too and gave up many things for themselves so we could have a better life. (I am very thankful I got to tell my dad how much that meant to me before he died)…I applaud your hard and honest work ethic! Great post.

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  4. Sightsnbytes says:

    if only kids today had even half your work ethic! Great story!

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  5. benzeknees says:

    Like you, I always had a strong work ethic until last year when I got hurt. I got my first part time job 3 weeks after I turned 16. Before that I had worked sporadically mowing lawns at my mother’s work & doing other jobs in the summer. I had to look after my sister when my mother went back to work (I was 12) & she came home to a fully cooked meal every night. I am very proud to say my daughter has the same work ethic.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      I think that those with work ethic are often those who blog. Those without, merely read blogs to be entertained. I’m not surprised your daughter is like you. We try to set a good example. I see five generations of it, from a hard-working grandfather, to a can-be-relied-on grandson. 😀

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  6. aFrankAngle says:

    Cheers to your work ethic … and to develop it at a young age is important!

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  7. Kayjai says:

    Nice post, Archon. We were just chatting the other day about the young people now and the attitudes they have regarding work. Many of them, not all, but many think they should be given opportunities instead of working for them. It’s difficult to teach someone things are not ‘given’, but earned when that someone has been ‘given to’ throughout their lives. I think a little struggle is not a bad thing…

    My eldest is currently learning the hard way….that’ll learn ‘ya!

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    • Archon's Den says:

      There’s nothing like the school of hard knocks to teach reality. Often though, it’s too late. I’ve got a post coming up about the nobody-fails educational system. It does no-one any favors. 😕

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  8. […] In between, during periods of unemployment, I was a building custodian (janitor) for a couple of companies, and a Security Guard at a couple of hotels and an office building, for a couple more. For those interested, it’s all here, and here. […]

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