I was reading something, or other recently that reminded me of an event that I witnessed in a paper mill in Western North Carolina, a long time ago. I was making a routine inspection of the electrical and mechanical equipment in the beater room basement. Now a beater room basement is not a good place to make an inspection, whatever it is that you are attempting inspect. The only reason that there is a basement under a beater room is to provide a place for the motor and the lineshaft that drives the beaters and jordans, on the floor above. As a consequence, the distance from the floor to the ceiling is only enough to make room for the drive motor and the lineshaft. This provides little head room for the oiler to get around and under the rotating shaft, belts and pulleys.

Those paper mill oilers have a terrible job. They have to climb, around, over and under all sorts of machinery, operating or stationary, that is hot, wet, dirty and quite often dangerous. They traditionally, because of the nature of their work, wear only the clothes that are absolutely necessary. Usually just a pair of bib overalls.

I was just about to enter the area when a man came running out of the door without a stitch of clothing on. He didn’t stop or say a word as he passed, so I went on about my business. When I got back among the pulleys etc. I could see the reason for the oiler’s departure. There was his overalls caught on one of the shafts and flopping in the water with each turn of the shaft. He had raised up too soon after crawling under the shaft and it caught the suspenders of his overalls and tore them right off. It was a good thing that he was not wearing new clothes or I might have witnessed a gruesome sight.