On view in July and August, 409 Bluff Street, Dubuque Iowa. Opening reception Friday, July 10th 7 to 9 pm. Exhibiting with potter Ron Hahlen.
Carr, Adams and Collier/Caradco and Jeld-Wen
I started working here on July 15th, 1941. The starting rate was a dollar thirty-two an hour and after three months I got a dollar thirty-five. I was 19 and I didn’t know nobody down here at all. Well, I was from the farm but my dad passed away in ’36. He got appendicitis and we couldn’t get him to the hospital because of a snowstorm. After that I kind of shifted around.
I started as a helper. It was tough at first because all the older people they didn’t want you to learn how to run their machines. They were pretty proud of what they done and didn’t want you to learn their techniques. But anyway, you learned the best you could. Eventually I could run pert near every machine in the factory.
The shaper was the only machine in the factory I didn’t run. I wanted to bid on it but I lost a finger when I first started working here and there was one fella that said, “You can’t hold it.” So I never ran the shapers. They were very dangerous machines. They made stair turns, circles and stuff like that. But I was glad afterwards that I didn’t get it, because this one fellow in the door department, he was running the shaper and anyhow he didn’t have the knives tightened in there. He started it up and one of the knives flew out and hit him in the stomach and killed him. They were dangerous machines.
It ended up I was the head saw sharpener. The old fella who did it before me, he didn’t think anyone else could do it. One day he got perturbed at one of the supervisors and he up and quit so I had to I prove to ‘em that I could do it. Oh, I had a lot of trouble. There was one guy who run the biggest band saw we had which was 17 foot. Every time I worked on that blade this guy would say, “It don’t run.” So finally my supervisor gave him one of my blades but told him it was one that the old fella before me had sharpened. Well this guy put it on and they ran it and said it worked good. So my supervisor took me and this guy out to the dock and says: “Jerry sharpened that blade, so don’t you ever, ever tell another person that he can’t sharpen saws.” I really got onto the trick of sharpening saws.
STARTED AT CARADCO IN 1953. WORKED AS A SECRETARY IN THE TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT FOR TWENTY YEARS.
It was so funny how I got that job. I’d just come to Dubuque and I was working up at this Beadle, Smith and Weber up on Central. And anyway this man Jim Devine came in to pay his insurance and we got to talking. He ran the traffic department at Caradco and his gal I guess had just moved to California and he was looking for somebody. He said, “I sure could use somebody like you,” and do you know he hired me on the spot! He was a real nice person to work for. Real Irish. But a nice person.
I was 26 when that picture of me as the queen candidate was taken. I think I was 24 when I came to Dubuque. My home is Elkader and I just came down by myself to find a job. I had no family living in Dubuque and I can’t believe my parents let me come alone because they were pretty strict. And I’m not a brave person so it just baffles me how I did that. I didn’t have a car. I used to ride the bus. When I first came down I lived at Mary of the Angels. Then I got acquainted with some other gals and they asked me to move in with them at the David Apartments down on Jackson Street. I used to walk down there by myself at night. Do you think I would do that now? No way.
Caradco was a great place to work, though. We just had so much fun. I was thinking of this last night, just kind of reminiscing in my mind. A lot of us gals, you know, we were all single at the time and we used to have some great parties. Those were fun, fun years.
CARR, ADAMS AND COLLIER/CARADCO, 1941 to 1976, ASSISTANT PLANT MANAGER
I started at Caradco in 1941. I was just out of high school—18 years old. I was an office boy at first and then they moved me into industrial engineering. When I was young, you know, trying to make a few bucks, after the day shift was over in the office at five, I’d run home and grab a sandwich and come back and work until 9:00 at night doing whatever needed to be done. I did everything for Caradco except sell.
They needed my skills because they just had a mess everywhere. Caradco started out in life making porch columns, church pews and all kinds of things besides windows and doors. Shortly after I arrived we quit all that other business. And we stopped making windows and doors for other people—to their specifications—and started making them to our specifications. In other words, it wasn’t millwork for just anybody, it was Biltwell millwork. Farley and Loetscher didn’t do that and Farley and Loetscher went broke.
We had a lot of good workers here. Most of our people, you know, were hired in those years when jobs were really scarce, so our workers stayed put here. That’s what made this operation a good operation. Our workers liked it here and stayed. They learned more and more about different parts of the operation so that they could do more than one thing. That’s why the move to Rantoul, Illinois didn’t work. When Caradco closed up here and moved they only took two people from the factory. You can’t do that. You cannot manufacture millwork with people off the street—it takes years to learn the business. And they found that out. They did a terrible job with making millwork down there. The place changed hands five times that I know of. It’s just a warehouse today.
By the time the plant closed here, I was in the higher ups—maybe four or five from the top. They wanted me to be plant manager in Rantoul and I told them three or four times I was not interested. Not with only two people from the factory.