Columns

2008.08.13 Rubber Dump roadkill

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I’m wondering this morning if John Hanawalt thinks I’m nuts. Well sure he does, along with a lot of other people, but I mean specifically because of what I said to him Saturday.

I was at the Morenci Sportsman’s Club to take photos at the annual Kids’ Day event. The Wildlife Encounters show had just ended and a few people were trading stories while the speaker packed up her gear. I can’t remember which of her animals she was talking about when she mentioned something about road kill.

I turned to John and said, “You’re a specialist when it comes to road kill, aren’t you, John?”

I don’t know how he responded, but he didn’t deny the statement.

I reminded him about the time that dead raccoons and possum were collected and hidden under someone’s front porch.

I’m not proud to say I was a participant, but I was there in the collection-and-delivery vehicle, traveling some local roads in search of stench.

I’m going too far back in history to get the details right.

The year must have been 1968: out of high school and making money at a summer job before heading to college in the fall. It was the Rubber Dump, as many employees fondly called Morenci Rubber Products. I was good friends with the Bryners and plant manager Doc Bryner hired me to work on the press line.

I can still recall the nostril-piercing smell of hot rubber and the incredible heat of the press line on a stifling summer day.

I remember the searing hot metal molds when they came out of the press, but the scars have all disappeared from my wrist burns.

It was a miserable job and always somewhat of a mystery. How were these strange sheets of rubber used, anyway?  It always seemed like we were creating hundreds of door mats that wouldn’t really function well as door mats.

Near the time clock was a list of job openings. One day there was a vacancy in the mixing department and someone convinced me to go ahead and bid on it. It was a ticket off the press line and it even paid a little more.

How could a rookie summer kid work his way up so fast? Maybe other people knew better.

My father told me that Doc had some reservations about giving me that job. He just wanted me to be very careful and pay attention to what I was doing.

I went to work on a mixing machine where materials were added to raw rubber. A certain formula of additives created a particular grade of rubber. The product was formed as it passed between two huge rollers and the danger existed of losing an arm if the rubber, as it was cut, wrapped around the operator’s arm and pulled him in.

There was a safety bar overhead to pull down and halt the operation, but I imagined that I would have to somehow activate it with my feet as I was pulled in. Help me, OSHA! It makes me squirm to think back on this job, but I mastered it and mixed some good rubber before leaving for school with both arms intact.

I’m sure John Hanawalt was there the evening I took off running across the front lawn of the factory. It was dinner break at the picnic table and I made some smart remark. Soon someone was chasing me, but all in good fun.

Then came the “ummph!” feeling of getting the wind knocked out of you. There was a wire cable around the edge of the property. It was nearly dark on the second shift break and I ran into that wire while traveling at a pretty good clip.

John must have been there to watch my sudden halt and of course he was present when I had to be one of the boys and say, “Sure, I want to go collect dead coons to put under Pete’s porch.”

Saturday, when I reminded John about that incident, when I accused him of being a road kill connoisseur, I even told him where the house was located and asked him, “Don’t you remember?”

He seemed a little confused about the event and now I know why.

He couldn’t have been there, could he? He had just finished his sophomore year in high school and he certainly wasn’t working in the Rubber Plant mixing room.

So tell me, John, how do you know so much about road kill?

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