Monday, September 7, 2015

Memories of Working at Standard Steel Works 100 Years Ago

In 1962 my grandfather Lynne O. Ramer wrote a list of 'remember whens" which was published in his hometown newspaper, the Lewistown Sentinel in Pennsylvania.

Gramps was a teenager when he worked at the Standard Steel Works in the Machine Shop during WWI when the works was booming. Gramps went on to college at age 16.
Lynne O. Ramer, age 15 in 1919, with his uncle Charles Smithers. Charles married Annie Verona Ramer, sister of Lynne's mother and the Smithers helped raise Lynne after his mother's death. Here he is wearing his FIRST long pants!
Gramps wrote,
Remember when... 
  • You walked to the paymaster’s window and got an envelope filled with gold eagles and silver, with an occasional $2.50 “gold dime” in it too?
  • You walked to the company store to draw the “balance” of your pay—after “early deductions” for food and canvas gloves and shoes?
  • You got the first check, with accounting attachment, perforated for easy tearing? Then cashed the stub and threw the check in the waste basket. (Only for you to be called in to the bank later!)
  • You got an IBM stamped statement, full of cryptic deductions, and found that SS meant “safety shoes” and not “Social Security?”
  • You began to get a check and stub full of so many holes that the remaining cardboard was wobbly?
  • When your envelope was filled with scrip which you hoped the grocer would honor?
  • A smiling lass from accounting handed you the sealed envelope, marked “strictly personal,” and you’d anxiously tear it open to see if it were a raise or a dismissal?
  • When your check was withheld until all final attendance reports, grades, etc., were completed?
  • When you received by mail your first Social Security check, and wondered if it would last until the next one arrived?
  • When you got one for $1,000,100 and it should have been key-punched $100?
  • Can you foresee the time when the deductions will exceed the earnings? If you do—then you’ll REMEMBER!
I researched those gold Eagle coins for my post on the 1866 arithmetic book which you can read here. But the $2.50 "gold dime" was new to me. I learned it was an Indian Head Quarter Eagle worth $2.50 and minted between 1908 and 1929. Gramps was born in 1905 and in the 1920s was at college and starting his career. It is hard to believe he was paid in GOLD and SILVER, which had he been rich enough to save could have paid his grandson's way through college!

Company scrip was given in lieu for cash. The employee used it at the company stores.

I would guess the withholding of pay until all grades, etc. were in happened when he taught in the public schools.

Gramps wrote to Ben Meyers of the Lewistown Sentinel who published his articles in his column, We Notice That.  Here Gramps remembered his time at the Standard Steel Works:
Mill Workers have Fun, But Sometimes It Backfires 
He was an ancient mill worker
Who had a tale to tell
About the pranksters he had met
And how their victims fell 
(Tune of Ancient Mariner)
Don’t We Have Fun?’ 
“I’m not naming names or telling places, but all the events I’m about to tell you, Ben, really happened,” said the vet. “I’ve worked in the local mills in the years gone by. They could have happened there but none of these ended in any tragic note like those out of town where I was employed. Industries frown upon pranks, but still after all these years the pranksters play merrily on. I’ll mention some that backfired and somebody got hurt as a result. 
"Everyone, at some time or another, has gone in search of “left-handed monkey wrenches” and “outside wire cutters” or other various odd tools, he continued. Well here’s an incident that wasn't so funny: 
"In a steel works one noon hour a very heavy sleeper napped in a steel borings [remains from drilling or shaping steel] charging sled [or car]. His pals gleefully heaped boring about him, leaving only his face uncovered. The high-powered crane operator tied onto the sled and carried it to the open hearth. Of course the widow was given a block of steel to be placed in his coffin, but in their dreams the pranksters long remembered the nightmarish screams of the poor victim as the borings and he slid into the molten steel open hearth furnace. 
"A tablespoon of dynamite under a chunk of clay, a 16-pound sledge and a challenge, “bet you can’t hit it the first time,” carried many a boy apprentice high or buried a sledge hammer splinter into his innocent palm. Once was enough for the first lesson. 
"An electrified third rail, a nearby corrugated iron roof. And “see who can shoot the farthest stream from this hose” usually left a writhing victim in a certain steel plant. 
"At noon hour, a sleeping apprentice on a cast iron tool chest, a smoldering oily canvas glove, one deep breath and the nap ended quite suddenly as he ran blindly into a bull gear [gear that drives smaller gears on a machine] that stripped the shirt from his back. It could have stripped the arm from the shirt or the head from the boy. 
"This one was not so tragic. The new teen-aged clerk was told by a senior clerk to “go down to the yardmaster and bring back a way-bill stretcher.” He went. The yardmaster told him to call his boss and ask “for the rate on a carload of feathers loose.” He did. Over the phone he could hear his boss rustling through the rate-book pages when suddenly—the receiver clicked off."

No wonder Gramps was determined to get a college education! I am assuming Gramps was the 'teen-aged clerk in the last story. 

During WWII Gramps worked at the Chevrolet Aviation Engine Division of GMC in Tonawanda-Kenmore, N.Y. After the war he was a stress engineer of frames, suspensions, brakes, etc. on Chevy trucks in Detroit, Mich.
1952 when Gramps worked at Chevy Avaiation
He also taught at Hartwick Academy in Cooperstown, NY and at Kane High School in Kane, PA. He received his MA in Mathematics at University of Buffalo and taught trig and calculus at Lawrence Institute of Technology in Southfield, MI. He also was a Deacon in the Episcopal church!
Kane High School yearbook