Carr, Adams & Collier/Caradco 1955 to 1960, Shipping
Anybody who remembers me from Carr’s, they know me by “Smokey,” because I used to smoke like a steam engine. Every time somebody ’d come walking by, I’d tell ‘em, “Watch out for me,” and I’d light up a cigarette and take three or four drags. That’s where I got my nickname, “Smokey.”
When I first started there they put me in the experimental cutting room and it was pretty cool. The cutting room was upstairs on the main floor. And there was chutes that come down and as they cut upstairs, the wood would all come down the chute and they’d come onto a big wheel that went around and you had to separate the different sizes and bundle ‘em up. There was two of us working there like mad people to keep up with it. I don’t know how many saws there were upstairs, two or four, I don’t even remember. But, after I was on there a week or two, they asked me if I wanted the job. They told me what it paid and they said, “It’s a one man job.” I said, “You gotta be outta your mind. You pay me a quarter an hour more, and I’ll think about it,” and they said, “No, can’t do it.” So I turned it down. Now, about a week or two after that, one of the guys on a saw upstairs tripped on a little piece of wood and fell into the saw. He cut his arm off right below the elbow and it came down the chute onto that wheel. I thought, if I’d been there I would’ve died! I’d ‘ve been in shock! I can’t remember his name, but years later, that guy used to go down to the dog track all the time. He was handicapped so he didn’t have to pay taxes, so you’d pay him to cash your tickets for ya.
Another job I did at first was putting screens in windows. Right next to us was the department where they’d put the glass in the windows, and they had a guy there, don’t ask me his name, ‘cause I can’t remember, but he was a great big fella. He was bigger than I am and I’m big. He was the best man for putting putty in a window that you’d ever see in your life. He always had a radio there goin’, and he’d make a roll of putty like bread dough and have it right up on his arm. He’d get up to these windows and he would actually dance with that music while he put the putty on. And he never had to do the same strip twice, he was that good. He was excellent at it! He could take one of them big picture windows with them nine by twelve windowpanes and do that in no time. It was wonderful to watch, because he was so good.
But, most of the time down at Carr’s I was in the shipping room. Now, in the shipping room you had crews of two guys working together. One was the picker and one was the loader. Now my picker’s name was Russ Hinzman and I was a loader. What the picker would do, is he would go up into the factory and he would get the stuff on these four-wheel carts, and he’d load it up by the order. Then he’d bring it down to the loading dock and I would load it on the boxcar. There’s only a certain way to load stuff in a boxcar, too, and it ain’t what you think it is. Everything has got to be just right. But then when you get near the end of the day, he’d come and help finish the boxcar off. You’d handle approximately forty thousand pounds a day by hand. All by hand. Today, nothing is by hand, everything is by forklift.
You know there was not a colder place in the winters than the loading docks, and there wasn’t a hotter place in the summer than the boxcars. These boxcars would come in empty at night and we’d open ‘em up in the morning to go to load ‘em and I can’t tell you how many times a hobo would come running out of that damn thing. What they would do is they’d get in those boxcars—and, like I told you, they are hot in the summer. They’d get in these boxcars and they’d sleep and eat in one end and go to the bathroom in the other end. The stench was so bad I don’t know how they could stand it in there. But I’m the one who got that stopped, because one day I went down there and it was about one hundred degrees out. It was hot! You couldn’t even touch the metal on those boxcars, it was that hot, you know. And when I opened the door, I just about passed out. So I shut it up and went to the bosses and said, “I refuse to load that car.” They said, “What do mean? You can’t refuse to load a car!” And I said, “Do me a favor and get the big wheels down here who order those cars,” and they did. They came down to the dock and they’re standing way back, and I said, “No come over here, come right up here by the boxcar,” and they did. They come right up by the boxcar and I threw that door open and, oh man, they all backed up gaggin’. And from then on they made the railroad company inspect the cars and put a seal on it so the bums couldn’t get in.
I had a brother-in-law of mine who worked down there and we both lived about a block away. I was always the first or second one there in the morning. I always believed in getting to work early and then I’d wake up at work, you know. I’d just sit there and wake up. But my brother in-law—and this is no lie—he’d have his clothes set out next to his bed like a fireman. His pants were pulled down over his shoes and his shirt was hanging on a chair. When the seven o’clock whistle went off, you had four to six minutes before you’d be determined late, you know. So when the seven o’clock whistle went off he’d jump up, put his feet in his shoes, pull his pants up and run out the door. Only one time in the years that he worked there, was he on time. And they put that in the bulletin that they put out—that Murry was on time for the first time in his life.
The reason I finally left was, we were on four days a week for, oh god, I don’t know, about fifteen weeks, eighteen weeks, or something like that. At that time I had three kids and I was only making $34–40 dollars a week. So every Monday I went out and stood in line at John Deere trying to get on there. That line could be about three blocks long, but I did that every Monday until I finally got on. When I got my first check at Deere’s I was on piecework and the check was like a $160 or something. I called the boss over and I said, “They must’ve made a mistake.” He said, “Why?” and I said, “Look at it,” and he said, “You work hard and you’ll get paid like that all the time.” I went from $1,000 in debt to $1,000 in the bank in eleven and a half months, then I got laid off for fifteen months. Here’s part of the story, too, that’s kind of neat about Cardaco. When I got laid off from John Deere in 1961, you couldn’t buy a job in Dubuque. It was really hard. People were lined up a mile long tryin’ to get jobs. And you had to go three places a week to sign up and you had to have them sign a little card to show the employment office. So anyway, I went down to Carr’s, I walked up the stairs to the employment office and I asked the guy who did the hiring, “You got any openings?” and he said, “Naw, I’m afraid not, Bob.” And here comes the personnel manager—he had his office right next to that—and he hollers over, “Hi, Bob, how are you doing?” I walked over to his door and said, “I’m out of work. I’m just trying to get a job to hold me over ‘til I get called back.” He said, “When can you start?” “I says, “Right now.” He said, “Come in tomorrow morning, I got a job for you.” So I went back in and worked at Carr’s for three or four months before I got called back to Deere’s.
Oh, there’s a lot of stories about Carr’s through the years I was there. We had a lot of fun down there. You worked like an animal, but it was enjoyable work.