January 16, 2021
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In the summer of 1978 I drove east to Ontario, looking for work and a home for my family. In a few days I was working in a factory that made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. The first week I worked with Larry who was assigned a few presses on the press line where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts.
The presses we worked on were making sheets of 64 to 100 body bolt cushions. These parts became obsolete when automobiles switched to unibody construction, except for the monstrous body bolt cushions used in pickup trucks. The moulds had to be maintained at temperatures above 300° F to cure the rubber. We sprayed the moulds with a release agent, inserted 64 or 100 metal rings into the mould cavities, inserted slabs of raw rubber, closed that press and moved on to the next one. The Ontario summer was already oppressively hot and humid for this prairie boy and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to my body, but that shock seemed to help me quickly become acclimatized.
For the most part we worked quickly and quietly, but the quiet would periodically interrupted by angry yells, bangs and thumps coming from Howie. I observed that this uproar happened every time parts did not release from the upper portion of the moulds as they should. Howie would have to reach in with a brass tipped bar to pry those parts down, making as much noise as he could to let us all know of his displeasure. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from Howie.
The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be.
As the days went by, I realized that Howie was intense in his work, probably the best and fastest worker in the plant and got frustrated when things didn’t go right. But his anger was never directed at the people around him. He was easy to get along with, liked by everyone, and the first to help the new guy who was floundering in his work.
I worked in that plant for 15 years and learned how to operate those presses and every other machine in the plant. The most useful lesson was to not jump to conclusions about what a person was like. Thank you Howie for that lesson.