Columns

2009.04.08 Looking back on a interesting summer in the factory

on . Posted in Nowhere Road

By RICH FOLEY

Learning last week that Adrian’s Hydro plant is scheduled for closure got me thinking about when I was employed there during the summer of 1977, back when it was still called Bohn Aluminum. It was my last summer job before graduating from college.

Unlike the previous summer which I spent at Simplex, a long-gone Adrian factory, and actually worked a union position in the plant, this job was quite a bit different. My task was to do a fixed-asset inventory of the entire complex.

That entailed making a record of each piece of permanent equipment on the premises and attaching a tag to each to verify it had been inventoried. Office equipment got a permanent numbered metal plate glued on in an inconspicuous place. Most items in the plant itself received a stub from my inventory sheet wired to an out-of-the-way spot.

Sometimes I had a helper, but often I worked alone. I had a supervisor in the front office, but he usually came out to the plant only when I had finished a department, to give his approval before I moved on. Many days I saw him only on my way into the plant and on my way out.

One of my most interesting tasks was how to inventory the dozens of forklifts in the plant. Since they were often in use, it would be hard to interrupt someone using one to verify whether or not it had been checked, plus there wasn’t really a good place to hang the tag, anyway.

My supervisor decided to get me a can of fluorescent pink paint, which I would use to paint a spot on the left front wheel of the forklift after registering it. That way, the forklift was marked for a long period and I could tell at a distance and without stopping it whether a particular forklift had been recorded. Then, all I had to do was look for unmarked forklifts and eventually catch them all.

In fact, a few drivers would actually stop and volunteer their forklifts for marking. One, who had noticed the pattern the spot of paint made when the forklift was in motion, asked if I could paint an “X” across each wheel. He thought that would make his forklift look especially sporty, at least as forklifts go. Since he asked nicely, I went ahead and did it.

A week or so later, my supervisor came out to the plant with me and the custom-painted forklift went by. “What the hell?” he exclaimed, then watched as the forklift stopped, exposing the X-pattern. Turning to me, he said, “You have to start hiding your paint can when you go on break.” I never told him the real story.

I should have hidden everything when I worked in one department. The supervisor there said I couldn’t come in and mark up all of his equipment, but a phone call from the front office explained the facts of life to him and changed his mind. That didn’t make him very happy, especially when I came back and started my inventory.

When I returned from lunch the next day, a stack of my inventory sheets had disappeared and the stubs were attached to various items on my equipment cart, identifying them as “clipboard,” “pen,” “paint can” and so on. The culprit was the department supervisor, several of his underlings were quick to tell me. It seems no one wanted to take the blame for him.

Soon, the supervisor appeared with a big smile on his face. “So, how do you like it?” he asked. I resisted the temptation to tell him it was a good idea I was doing the inventory instead of him because nothing he had marked was considered a fixed asset. Instead, I simply said I hoped he didn’t get in too much trouble when I had to report why I had to void a batch of the numbered inventory stubs.

“Well, I don’t think you’re going to get me fired,” he laughed. Luckily, he went on vacation shortly after that and I was able to work in peace.

A couple of weeks later, two of his subordinates came looking for me in the plant. It so happened that on his first day back to work, he was fired. “I hope it wasn’t because he messed up my paperwork,” I told them. They looked at each other and one of them said, “We had forgotten about that!”

Of course, I’m sure such a small thing didn’t cost him his job. I just wonder if he remembered it when the ax fell. I do remember that everyone in his former department treated me like a king the rest of the summer. And that’s the kind of summer job to have, isn’t it?

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