Archon’s Exciting Work Life

The inestimable John Erickson invited me to make him slack-jawed with tales of my work history.  The only thing about the story of me and my career that would make anyone go slack-jawed is why half of Southern Ontario hasn’t lapsed into a coma.

With no life-plan, and only a grade twelve education, I worked almost a year at a Royal Bank, before I realized that it and I were not good partners. I put in a summer season as the pro-shop assistant at a country-club golf course, although, as a paper-work diversion, I was on the books as the golf Pro.  I moved from Southampton Ontario, to Kitchener, because that’s where the jobs were, then. With no experience and little training, I went back to an adult education course.

After graduating (again), I worked as a Production Clerk at a shoe factory. The company moved me to a skate plant, where I set blades on boots. When they found that I could read well enough to not put out size 12 hockey blades to be attached to little girls’ figure skates, I became a Production Scheduler. They tried to train me for Quality Control, but a recession was on. I got a job at a steel warehouse/fabricating shop. I started as an Inventory Clerk, filled in for two months as Acting Inventory Manager, moved to Expediter, and later up to Buyer, over 7 years. Leaving there, I became a Purchasing Agent for a couple of years at a large millwright/rigging shop, with some metal fab. and machining. I left that company to be the Purchasing Agent at a large (400 employee) precision machine shop that made automotive, dental, medical and atomic energy parts, for four years.

I got a job as a fancy-named Materials Manager at a small auto-parts stamping shop for two years. I had 8 people working under me. The title just meant I had all the responsibility – with none of the authority. I got shit on from above, and had it rubbed in from below. When the company president found that I had ethics, he pulled the employment rug out from under me.

I tried outside sales, first for a small local courier, then for a safety-supply company, but, with no sales experience and no established territory, I couldn’t support the family. I drifted on and off unemployment for a couple of years. I delivered flyers and catalogs. I worked for a small, and later, a larger building-custodial firm. I spent a couple of years with a Security Guard firm. I patrolled a couple of downtown hotels, and then got moved to a shoe/boot/slipper plant.

I had worked with the leather-cutting department foreman years before. After about a year as security, he talked me into working for him. Starting at $7.01/hr, I worked up to $9.25. He put me on a piece-work job, where the previous operator had made $13.+/hr. Not only did I stay at the nine dollar figure, the company was busy going bankrupt, and I either went back to $7.01 or found a new job.

I took the seven bucks, and his shit, for a couple of months, until the previous press operator told me that her new employer was hiring – at $11.35. If you dig back to about August, you’ll find a post about how I got that job. The economy now booming, I kept that job for 17.35 years, through three corporate owners. The last wanted to expand too fast, and bought a lot of small plants, all over North America. When the boom went bust again, inevitably, they were asset-rich, but cash-flow poor, and jobs got eliminated until the entire plant closed.

I found that now, jobs were obtained by working through temp-agencies. I got a piece-of-cake job at a steel-parts producer. Just as I was about to be taken on full-time, the 2008 recession kicked in. Thinking I was only going to be laid off for three weeks over Christmas/New Years, I had the temp agency get me a fill-in job with a medium-sized transport firm. The parts firm went kaput, and I had to stick with the new job.

They were shipping steel coils by rail-car, to the prairies and B.C. I worked as part of a framing crew, using lumber to brace the coils from moving during transit. In and out of the terminal and the boxcars, we got rained and snowed on. Not properly wired for compressors, lights and heaters, it was stiflingly hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and dark in the rail-cars, on a four-to-midnight shift. Broken lumber for splinters, nails sticking out, nail-guns and circular saws, I’m surprised no-one was seriously injured.

It was a very physically demanding job, just at the time of life when strength, stamina and body control were waning.  I put in just over two years before qualifying for full government pension, got to Hell out, or got out of Hell, and retired.

It might be a bit different for people with a skilled trade, but for guys like me, working at one job, or for one company your entire life, was over years ago.  My father had had at least ten different jobs by the time I hit the market, and three or four more after I left home.  There are still exceptions.  One of the co-workers at the auto-parts plant retired with 48 years seniority.  He’d been there through six owners/name changes.  The joke was, that he had been waiting at the corner for a trolley-bus, and they erected the building around him.

Now you know the sad employment history of The Archon. Do you feel sorry for poor old Archon, or just sorry for yourself for having read this tale of woe?

Goin’ South

Mom and Dad stayed, for several winters, with the Tylers, when they went to Florida to get away from the Southern Ontario winters.  Eventually, Bogey Tyler changed his crop schedule and needed his 55-foot trailers for migrant workers again.  My brother had lost a long-term job and got another in the grounds-crew of a local golf course.  This gave him eight to nine months of work, and then off for the winter.

After a couple of years, he got a better paying job with a small company that made commercial window and door awnings.  Sadly, the same eight to nine months of work still applied.  Nobody wants to purchase, or install outdoor awnings, in February.  Ineligible for unemployment insurance, he felt he might as well spend some time in the warm south, and joined the parents.  Recently divorced, he had to sell “their” house and split the money.  He was wondering what to do with his meager half, when the news came that they would have to find new quarters for the next winter.

The parents’ house came with a small upstairs apartment.  For years they rented to a local nurse, but eventually she moved on.  Then followed a series of worse and worse tenants, until finally Dad just said no more.  When the brother lost his house, the parents let him move in upstairs at no cost.  He was there to do yard work, run errands and keep an eye on them.  He decided to purchase a mobile home in a nearby Florida park so that they would all have a place to go in the winter.

The parents eventually reached a point where it was physically impossible for them to drive to Florida.  Mom and I used to correspond a letter a week.  One day I got a letter from her that said, “I had a heart attack.”  She hadn’t, but I almost did.  That is not the kind of information to convey in a letter, a middle-of-the-night phone call perhaps, but not a letter.  The next winter Dad thought he was having a heart attack, and my brother drove for three days to get him to a hospital in Windsor, because they could not get health insurance.

Just when they could no longer go south, my brother got a year-round job and had to stay north, both to work, and to take care of them.  He made arrangements with the park management to administer winter rental on the unit, but still had to make sure it was cleaned, the furnace worked and propane, water and electricity were supplied.  These were best done in person. His new employer was busy in the summer and slow at the end of year.  The first year they allowed him a week’s holiday near the first of December, and he called me to ask if I wanted to go on the trip with him.  I didn’t have to work as hard readying the trailer as I did at the plant, and I hadn’t been south of the Canada/US border in twenty years, so I jumped at the chance.  I had enough seniority that I could book the week off easily.

In his early retirement, Dad had driven to both Canadian coasts, but as they both aged, the long drive from Ontario to Florida became three short days of driving, and two nights in motels.  My brother however, loved to drive, and with only nine days to get a lot accomplished, saw no reason to waste valuable time or money.  I was warned that we would be driving straight through, and I was expected to spell him at the wheel.

I’ve said that my brother is an early morning person.  Excitement may have prevented a lot of sleep after finishing work Friday night, but at least he finished at 5 PM.  I had an afternoon shift, and wasn’t home till after eleven.  I don’t know what time he was up, but he told me he left home at five.  From his place, straight to the border was almost four hours.  The run to pick me up was two hours, and we were still almost four hours from Windsor.  I climbed in his van at 7 AM, and the race was on.

The connection from the bridge at Detroit to I-75 is two miles and seven stop lights.  The back-up at customs was relatively light.  Once we were on I-75, it’s a straight run to within fifteen miles of his camp in Florida.  I saw Michigan, Ohio and the beginning of Kentucky before it got dark.  After that, I knew we were in the mountains, because I could look out the window and doowwnn, and see lights, but entirely missed the vistas.

The sun came up again when we were just north of Atlanta, Georgia.  Just in time to catch the morning rush.  Down the hill into town, over a little flat spot, and down again, and traffic came to a complete stop for no apparent reason.  All except the guy in the next lane.  Screeeech, bang!  I didn’t witness anything, keep moving!  Nothing against Georgia but, unlike the beautiful mountain scenery I’d missed up north, in the dark, Georgia is flat, and orange.  People say the soil is red.  It’s prison jumpsuit orange.  I’ve seen roadside billboards, but this was the first trip I’d seen them on top of fifty, or hundred-foot steel poles.  Hotels?  Okay!  Restaurants?  Okay!  Boiled peanuts at every exit?  It was several years before I got a chance to try them.

We drove on into Florida, slid off I-75 onto the Florida Turnpike, slid off again onto a smaller highway, and climbed out of the van in front of the trailer at about nine AM.  We napped (?) until mid-afternoon and went looking for supper.  This, the first year I went down, we went to Daytona Beach and I swam, for the first time in the Atlantic.  My brother does not swim, and begrudged me the time.  Then we went back to Daytona, where he wasted an hour at the museum, while I explored the stands at the Freeway.

This was a strange, rushed way to travel, but it did leave time for me to see and experience some pleasant and interesting things.  Some day, when you’ve all had lots of sleep, I’ll tell you all about them.

 

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