Everyone knows that jobs were scarce during the depression but a person could usually find something to work at. There was very little of what you could call “steady work” to be had. The people who had steady jobs took care of them, because there was no such thing as unemployment compensation or food stamps, or ADC, or job training, or subsidies for sitting around on your dead butt waiting for the government to bring you what you should be out working for.
We worked at anything that we could find to do, at what ever rate of pay that we could get for doing it. When you asked a person for a job, you didn’t ask them when your vacation started or what kind of a pension plan they had, or how many coffee breaks you got each day. You didn’t even ask how much they paid, because you knew that what ever it was, it was more than you would have if you didn’t get the job. Most of the work that was available was of a temporary nature, such as, a 12 hour day loading freshly cut oak railroad ties into box cars at 40 cents an hour, or helping a farmer bale hay or haul manure for a dollar a day and your dinner.
Elwin and I cut wood, on shares, one winter. One share for the land owner and one share for us. We hauled our share three miles, to town, and sold it at $1.25 a cord. Those cords were one rick of 16 inch pieces four feet high and eight feet long. That wood was all cut by hand with an axe and a cross-cut saw. We didn’t have chain saws and power splitters at that time. If we hung right in there, we could cut 4-1/2 or 5 cords in a day and then it would take us another day to split it and haul it to town. So you can see that we were getting “minimum” wages and a guaranteed 40 hours a week.
We didn’t seem to mind though, we would each buy a bag of Bull Durahm for a nickel (the papers were included) or if we were real flush we would buy tailor mades. Twenty Grands and Wings were two packs for a quarter and Lucky Strikes, Camels, Old Golds and Chesterfields were fifteen cents a pack. It took just about all of the rest of the proceeds to buy gasoline for the old Model “T” that we pulled the wood hauling trailer with. Gas was then only 17 or 18 cents a gallon.
As I mentioned earlier, you took just any job that was offered to you. After you got it you didn’t try to organize a union or file an unfair labor suit because you didn’t get time and one half for over eight hours a day or forty hours a week. The more hours they worked the better it was.
I was laid off at Fairbanks Morse in the late summer of 1930 and by that time we were getting pretty deep into the depression. I did not have steady employment again until late in 1933 when I got on as an oiler in the Turbine Room at the Eddy Paper Co. in Three Rivers.
In the mean time I worked at anything that I could get. I worked for farmers, sometimes, just for my meals. I tended a Plasterer and a Stone Mason and, at one time, I had a few weeks work driving a dump truck on concrete paving jobs. For a short time I drove that same truck, plowing snow on the State Highways in Allegan County, Michigan.
Louise and I were married in June of 1933 and in August of that year her father recommended me for a temporary job in the Paper Mill. The job was strictly labor, helping to rebuild their nine, 300 Horse Power Wicks, upright boilers. For one reason or another we did not go directly from one boiler to the next. Sometimes it would be a lapse of a couple of weeks or more between the time that one was completed and the next one was dismantled. In that interim period I would go to the mill at the start of each shift to see if I could take the place of anyone that did not report for work. I was usually able to get in a full week, even though I did not, officially, work there.
Quite often I was able to take someone’s place in the Power Plant and during that winter I was given a steady job as a Turbine Room Oiler. That oiling job paid 45 cents an hour and it was steady, so steady, in fact, that I worked seven nights a week, midnight until morning for several months. By the way; those 56 hour weeks were at straight time, there was no such thing as time and one half or double time.
Harry Shively was the Operator on my shift and he, promptly, taught me the basics of Steam Turbine Operation. I am sure that his motive was to train me to handle most of the problems without waking him up. This was fine with me, because it gave me the opportunity to learn some of the essentials of what, I feel, has been a lifetime of Power related activities.