As with every company I have ever worked for I had an opinion about how it should function. Unfortunately Delaval was no exception. My arrogance knew no bounds back then. It knows little less now. One would think I’d learn a bit more discretion over the years. I wish I had some back then.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what was wrong (Read: dumb) with Delaval and armed with that data I was ready to share my opinions with most anyone who would listen. I would begin by sharing with my peers and then my immediate supervisor and then later with management. I did get a hearing with the head guy in HR and at another time I had a meeting with the President of the company. His name was Lippincott or something like that. I’m sure these guys were well aware they had a brash, arrogant, upstart on their hands. I have no idea why they paid any attention to me. I can’t recall all the circumstances today, but to think they would listen to me for any reason befuddles me. It speaks more of their grace than my importance.
I remember telling Lippincott about the book “In Search for Excellence”, which I had read. He said he had read it several times I think. I thought that was dumb because you only had to read it once to get it. Since then I have read the bible several times and I still don’t get it. My, my…God is incredibly kind to me.
They began having team and shift meetings to get at some of the morale issues they were dealing with. I spoke up at one such meeting. One fellow said I was “the Winston Churchill of Delaval.” He was impressed. (Read: humorous) I suppose it’s not that difficult to impress some. He was probably impressed with my boldness more than anything else. Most certainly I was impressed with myself.
We also developed Quality Circle meetings where we got together to figure out how to improve our quality. These were fun times, frustrating times and I was a fish out of water. I couldn’t put it together at the time, but God had a particular calling on my life. I can see that now. I couldn’t see it then. I was striving. I had strong feelings and an even stronger desire to do more in life than run a machine. If I couldn’t be one of the shakers and movers then I was going to offer my insight to anyone who would listen. They did listen. They were gracious. They didn’t fire me. Cal Pearson told me a few days after I announced my resignation that I was one of the few people at the plant that was really needed. This was a high compliment from Cal. He was kind. It did cause a bit of pause, but oh so briefly as to whether I should stay. I was convinced God had called me elsewhere and I had no choice but to leave.
The work at Delaval was not that complicated. We made rotors. Rotors were used for various applications. An application could be to off-load oil, grain, etc from ships when they dock in harbors around the world. They were displacement pumps as well as other things. There was a main screw (rotor) that we made with a number of other rotors that sat on top of the main rotor. The size of the rotors could be 6 inches to 12 feet. They fit in a housing, which we made as well. When we shipped, we shipped an entire unit. One of our customers was the US Navy. The tolerances and quality control was exceptional. It was a very involved process. I suppose there were 500 or so employees.
I remember one time going into their sound proof room. I was working 3rd shift for a few weeks. We closed the door and the deadness of it all was amazing. I could hear the inside of my ear beating. It was that quiet. It was the quietest environment I had ever been in. I don’t think I could tolerate that kind of quietness for long. It was eerie.
I was a quick study. It was not hard to learn the job and it required all aspects of memory, i.e. feel, sight, hearing, technique. Due to the high quality it required a sensitive touch to cut the rotors and not dent, scar or cause rough spots on them. Much of the finer lathe work was done by feel and not by sight. We also used our hearing to tell if the cutter was cutting at the right spot. It called for a great deal of finesse. This was the challenge that I liked. It was one thing to rough one out. You could cut it and leave a lot of stock on the rotor because the finish workers would come along and do the fine work. However, if you were finishing, then it was a totally different process. We would run two or more machines at one time. One of the things to watch out for was not to burn up a cutting disc. (I can’t remember the name of the disc now.) It was the tool that cut the grooves in the rotor. The edges of it would wear and we’d have to watch to make sure we didn’t push it too far or the cutter folks that resharpened it would be upset. Sometimes we would burn them so bad that they had to replace the cutter blades altogether. We tried to get as many cuts out of it as possible. And sometimes we would cross the line. Typically the reason we did this was because we didn’t want to change it out because it took time. We would just plow through. If you got down to a couple of rotors left, we’d like to push it on through as well, but sometimes this didn’t work and we’d burn up a wheel.
I have a picture of me grinding at one of the finish machines. This was taken around 1984. That was about the time they installed this new machine.
Delaval was a breath of fresh air. There were hundreds of employees. I don’t know the total, but I know there were enough of them that I did not meet them all. There were two shifts. Maybe 500 or so employees. I really do not know. It was a far cry from the two man shop I had been part of. There was a steady salary that I did not have to worry about whether there would be a payday. There were benefits as well. Penny worked in the office. It as a good set-up for me. I became a machinist. This was my third trajectory change in three years. I finished Hardees as a Production Supervisor, then became an apprentice electrician for two years and now I was a machinist for Delaval. I didn’t necessarily see the pattern back then, but I was not finding the security and career I was looking for. I did like Delaval however. It was a good fit.
I’m sure I would have worked there indefinitely. I remember telling Cal Pearson in the fall of 1985 that I loved my job and could not see myself doing anything else for the rest of my life, but if there was ever a day when I got frustrated, discontented or tired of what I was doing then I would walk away. I had been a Christian for about 1 year and had no idea what God was doing in my heart and the direction he was about to send me. I do remember that it was about a month or two after I made that bold statement that my heart began to grow discontent. And it did in a big way. There was a growing discontentment in my heart and it was not going to be abated. It was strong and it gained such surprising momentum that it blew me off course and in direction I was not prepared for and never would have remotely considered. More on that later.
There were about 10 guys or so on our team. Greg Smith, David Russian, Joe Barrett, Ricky Price, Joe Mullis, Liston Darby, Cal Pearson, Ken Griffin, Ken Pressley, Donny somebody and a few others. It was a good group. I think we all liked one another. We did get along. I don’t remember any skirmishes with anyone. There was some frustration with the management from time to time. Liston was the easiest to get along with. Joe Barrett was a supervisor that was difficult to get along with. He was a Yankee, like Liston and Cal, but he had an angry edge to him. He was impatient and opinionated in the wrong kind of ways. We butted heads: it takes one to know one. Cal came across mean and condescending. He seemed aloof and didn’t mind telling you if you were doing a bad job. He didn’t work with you, just argued and fussed a lot and then walked away. He was the most feared of all the bosses. Ricky was passive and not too communicative. He was challenging to work with, but not a bad boss. He was hard to read and we didn’t become best buddies. I’m can be aloof as well and not attempting to be liked, which was my way of protecting myself. I had very little social skill.
I was looking for something indoors. I didn’t want to get rained on or have to work in sweltering heat. I didn’t want to get hollered at and/or cussed out. I wanted a stable environment on all fronts. I did miss pulling wire for Joel Carriker. He always put sand underneath his houses. That made it fun to work in. I could crawl around in sand for an hour our two. The only time that was a pain was when I sweated. Then the sand adhered to my back and front. That was rough. I also missed the roofers. They were amazing. They were some of the most vulgar people I had ever met. I liked them a lot though. They were cool. They would smoke, chew, spit, cuss, drink and work like no one I’d ever seen. They had rotten teeth or no teeth. The could set a nail on the shingle and hit it once and move their other hand simultaneously. They were artist. They were incredibly accurate and lightning fast. It was their life. They could work in any weather but the rain and seemingly never complained, though they complained about most everything else.
I sort of missed Jr. Horton in Wadesboro, another builder who built nice homes. I liked going to Wadesboro because it was sort of a long trip and I could sleep on the way down. We got paid for being in the truck. The longer the trip the better. It was good nap time. We also played Pac Man in one of the diners in Wadesboro, or at least I did and I liked that. I didn’t do it a lot, but it was fun.
I missed going to the Mint Hill diner as well. There was a girl who was quite lovely in many ways and I liked looking at her. I never got the nerve to build a relationship with her or say anything to her, but it was fun going in there. I suppose I was thinking something would magically happen and sorta hoped so though I knew I couldn’t do anything about it since I was married. There was always a nagging feeling that I married the wrong person. I married because that is what you are supposed to do after high school. So I did. I took what I could get and as noted in a prior post the day before the wedding I had doubts and those doubts never left my mind.
There were many other experiences with Prince Electric that I will always remember I suppose. Even though there were the positives it was time to leave for better pastures. TransAmerica Delaval was hiring at the time and my Aunt Pat was working there. It seemed like a good fit for me. I applied and they hired me. I was making around $8 per hour with Prince and I think I got a bit more with TD. I know I left with $10 per hour 5 years later, which for 1986 when I left it was very good money. I worked at Hardees from about ’77 to ’79 and for Chuck Prince from ’79 to ’81 and TransAmercia from ’81 to ’86. TD was a life-altering experience.
Besides the heat, cold and mud I wasn’t too convinced that I could do this work into my old age. It was not as physical as roofing work, but as I thought about the wear and tear it didn’t seem plausible that I could do this as an older man. I realized I would not be pulling wire forever. The reason I did it as long as I did was because Ron had seniority over me and it was a two-man shop. If we had a third person or grew to two trucks there was a possibility I would have been the lead guy on one of the trucks. I did go with Ron to CPCC (Central Piedmont Community College) to take some Journeyman classes. He wanted his Journeyman card and I thought it would be a good thing for me to get mine so I went with him. I didn’t finish because I quit. I’m not sure if he ever finished his classes and got his card.
The final reason I got to thinking I might need to find something else was because of the danger of electrical work. I respected it immensely. I did not play around with wiring. I knew it could hurt you, could kill you. One time I was doing some work in the top of a dental office in Monroe. I thought the power was off, but it was not. I cut into a hot wire with my side-cutters. We didn’t use plastic or rubber grips on our pliars because they got in the way. We preferred the naked pliars because you could get a better feel for the wire. Wiring required a certain amount of finesse and you wanted to be as close to it as possible. Anyway I cut into this wire and it shocked me. I couldn’t let go of the pliars and I finally slung them across the attic of the dental office. I went and found them afterwards in the insulation. The pliars had a nick in them. My pliars had several nicks in them. You could hold them up to the light and see the holes in the cutting area. I didn’t cut into something hot a lot, but it was enough to bring a reasonable amount of fear to my soul.
I finally said that I didn’t want to work with something that I couldn’t see. I didn’t know about the Holy Spirit at the time. It is sort of humorous now, but at the time it was dangerous to me to work in the electrical field. I told Chuck I was going to quit and he offered me a raise. I was doing a good job. I was one of the best workers he ever had. I didn’t complain a lot. Not because of personal maturity. It was due to fear. I also learned very quick and could think on my feet. I could think through things, plan ahead, thing peripherally and was lightning fast at the job. I was also smart. The smart thing was never explored in school. My teachers and my attitude kept me away from fully applying myself. I gave up on school in middle grade and it all hit the fan by the tenth grade. It was a bust. But in the work world I knew how to shine and Chuck knew it as well. However, he couldn’t control his anger and there were too many things on the table to cause me to leave. However, from a practical perspective it was probably the best job I ever had. It was brutal, but Chuck taught me more in the arena of the handy man than anyone.
After two years of Chuck Prince I felt it was time to go. I didn’t want to have a career in the electrical world anymore. There were several factors involved in the decision. Chuck was very hard to work for. He was verbally brutal. I had a built in resistance to that kind of person since I received that from my dad for 19 years. I shunned that kind of negativity and harshness. What I didn’t realize is the whole world is on fire and that harshness, negativity and anger is probably more commonplace than not. It seems almost every job I have ever had with the exception of church work I have had to deal with an angry man. In some cases it was an angry woman like when I worked with four lesbians and Findley Adhesives.
Nevertheless, at that time I thought it would be good to get away with an angry man. I wanted calmer waters. I didn’t know that Cal Pearson was waiting for me at TransAmerica Delaval or Jim Gossett at Alcoa Recycling. My other reasoning for leaving Prince Electric Company was due to the weather. It was very cold in the winter time and very hot in the summer time. I was okay with the heat for the most part. The only time when the heat was difficult was when we were in attics, which we seemed to be in more during the summer than winter. During the summer folks would requests attic exhaust fans to be cut into their roofs to help let out some of the accumulating heat. Typically it was difficult to breathe in an attic that has been roasting in the sun during the summer.
The winter time was a wholly different animal. It was cold. My job consisted mostly of pulling wires underneath the house. Ron would poke the wire through a hole in the floor at a receptacle and I would pull it further through the hole and carry it to the next hole in the floor and poke it up through the floor so he could put it in the next receptacle and then we’d do it all over again until all the boxes in the house were wired. Since most of the houses had crawl spaces the shortest distance between two points was to pull the wires underneath the house. Actually it would be better to pull the wires through the studs, but that took forever to drill the holes. So from a time perspective it was better to pull the wires underneath and back up. That meant somebody had to do the pulling and that was me. There were a few houses that were built on a slab, which meant many of the wires went up through the top plate, across the attic and back down. That took a lot more wire, but I didn’t mind as long as I didn’t have to crawl underneath the house.
In many of these houses I was crawling around under there was mud and standing water. That was not good on any day, but it was particularly worse during the winter. It was like crawling through slush or ice and that was no fun at all.
Chuck was a knowledgeable man. He knew it and wore it where everyone could see it. He had no one over him, no one to tell him what to do. He could do and did do as he pleased. God had blessed him much, but he did not acknowledge God at all. He had many accomplishments from the world’s perspective. He said he invented the “gang-groover”, which was supposedly the machine that put multiple grooves in a four by eight piece of paneling at the same time. He came up with the idea, found someone to draw up the plans and another person to build a prototype if I remember the story correctly. He got a 7-year patent on the device and made a ton of money.
He also went water skiing with Elvis Presley from what I understand. There was little that he had not done, participated in or didn’t know. He knew and did a lot and it was impossible to tell him anything. Like most times in my life it was one of the most difficult, but also the most rewarding. I learned more during this time as far as practical living experience than anytime in my life.
During that time, or shortly thereafter, I built a 24 x 24 out building on my property. I built the entire building by myself except for pouring the concrete pad. I got my father-in-law to teach me how to roof. That was the one thing I didn’t know. He showed me by doing some of it and I did the rest by myself. I built the window frames, wired it, finished the concrete (all the concrete company did was pour it and I did the rest). I set-up the frames for the pad and finished it. I had running water hooked-up and turned half of the building into a shop and the other half was for parking and working on vehicles. It was a nice shop that still stands today. Because of my time with Prince Electric I learned how to do these things.
We wired houses in Marshville, Monroe, Wadesboro, Mint Hill and other surrounding areas. We wired for several contractors and some independents. Chuck would bid on the independents and if we got it Ron and I would wire it. Ron was the lead guy. He would ride down the road picking his nose most of the time. I pretended not to see it. He wiped the boogers on the front of the seat. I looked at them one time. It was really gross.
After two years of crawling around in the cold mud during the winter, installing attic fans in unbearable heat during the summer and being hollered at for most of the time, I decided that I needed another job. I also didn’t like working with electricity. I was shocked several times. I had too many gaps in my pliars from cutting into hot wires.
Chuck Prince was one of the smartest men I’ve ever met as far as practical working in the world skill. He knew something about everything, seemingly. Our primary job was to wire residential houses. Because this was a “mom and pop” business we could not over schedule or over book more than what two guys were able to do. The lead electrician was named Ron. I was the helper and we could only do so much in a day or week. Therefore, Chuck could not take on too many builders because we were not able to provide. There were times when Chuck would run two trucks and have four guys working for him. Because he was such an angry man it was hard to keep people employed. He had no authority over him so he could act any way he wanted to. There was no governing device on him. Therefore, people did not stay with him long. Once upon a time I told him I was going to quit. He offered me more money. By that time I had learned quickly and was very fast at what I did and he didn’t want to lose me. It was not about money however. It was about getting cussed out every day or every other day. After two years of this I had enough. It was also about working in the cold or hot or rain or snow. In outside construction work the elements were hard to endure, they were sometimes harsh.
When we were not working Chuck was very good about keeping us busy. One time we built a pond down at the front of his drive. He had other folk come in and move the rock and dig the hole. Another time we put up a fence to pasture on some of his property. We used the tractor and auger to dig the holes and tamp the post in. Another time we castrated some of his pigs. Another time we demolished one of his barns. We also poured concrete and finished it or built a building from the ground up. We helped to install a wood burning stove and hook it up to his vent system in his house. We also built a green house attached to the main house and wired it as well as installed piping and set it up on a timer to where it would water the plants periodically. This was cool. Every time the sprinkler system went off it would smell like a spring rain afterwards. We installed vacuum systems in homes as well as security systems.
On the farm we did construction, plumbing, farming, electrical, pond building, fence installation, roofing, bird house building, rebuilding motors and much more. It was one of the best times in my life to learn so much about so many things. It was grueling, but it was unbelievably profitable as equipping me for life. I have used what I learned from Chuck Prince all my life. He was a mean, unhappy, controlling and frustrated man. These attitudes and behaviors were foisted on you and it was very difficult. However, the result was good and that is what I remember and what I’m grateful for nearly 30 years later. I’m sure Chuck is dead now. I’m not sure about Marlene, his wife, or the business. It was a learning time for a very young man.
I probably could have continued my Hardees career, but after going from cook to cashier to Production Supervisor it didn’t seem like it would be the best career for me. They didn’t make enough money and there wasn’t enough challenge. After about two years I decided to quit and go on to something else. The Monroe paper was advertising a job for Prince Electric Company in New Salem, which was a neighboring community. I set up an appointment and went to talk to the man. His name was Chuck Prince. He lived with his wife Marlene and twin daughters Donna and Dana. They lived on a 100+ acre farm in a valley. He operated his residential wiring company from the farm. They had a house down near a pond and upfront on the property was a shop and a couple of out buildings. I worked for him for two years. It was a very difficult time as far as a working relationship. He was a very mean and angry man. He was incredibly demanding. He was a perfectionist and controller. He had one way of doing things and if it was not done his way, his lack of patience would thunder down on you. The first day of work I was not moving as fast as he wanted me to and he began hollering at me. I was doing something to a floor receptacle and was not getting it right or not doing it fast enough. He bore into me. I was shocked. I never knew what hit me.
I went to Penny’s house that day and sat down on the back step of her father’s house and cried. I told her I had made a horrible mistake by quitting Hardees. It was an irreversible mistake that I wanted to take back, but I could not. I persevered, went back the next day and continued to work for him for two more years. I got used to being cussed out, hollered at, not meeting expectations and messing up.
The night before I went to work for Prince I got out our old Encyclopedia Britannica books and looked up electricity to learn about it since I was going into the electrical field. I studied electrons, protons and other dynamics to electricity in order to act like I knew what I was talking about. From my perspective I was being proactive. When I got to work on my first day I was given some side-cutters, screwdrivers and a pouch to carry my tools in. It had nothing to do with what I read the night before. I was crawling around in mud, pulling wire and pushing it up through the floor to go into some plastic boxes in a house that only had studs, with no sheetrock or anything else. I was working with cussing roofers and brick masons. There was an oil burning heater to keep us warm. It was called a salamander. It was smelly, dirty, cold (or hot depending on the season). It was an unforgiving world. I was roughing it in ways that my child rearing did not prepare me for. I was not in school anymore. It was cut throat, survivor of the fittest in some of the most challenging ways. I was all alone now. There were no more classrooms and teachers and safe environs. I was in the workforce for real. It was a hard time.
The Peabody Hotel is in Memphis, TN. It is a historic hotel, one of the more popular hotels in America. I was there during the filming of the Tom Cruise movie The Firm. I did not see him or anyone else from the movie. The niche of the Peabody is the duck walk they have twice per day. The ducks stay in a suite, so they say, in the Penthouse. Every morning a guy in a tux comes down the elevator with the ducks and they walk down a piece of red carpet to the pool in the hotel lobby. People gather to see these ducks do their walk. In the afternoon they do it all over again.
Alcoa Recycling had a nationals manager’s meeting at the Peabody. I can’t remember the year. I went to this conference. We toured the Memphis facility and took another tour of a processing plant I believe. This was one of the more agonizing moments of my life. The agony had little to do with the trip, the people or the work. It was all about me; it was all my fault. As a fundamentalist with an anger problem it was a recipe for disaster. I simply refused to fit in. I could not have been more self-righteous, arrogant, stubborn or angry. I had standards which no one in my company believed or practiced. It was an exercise in debauchery according to me.
There were wives flirting with the opposite sex. Many husbands were doing the same thing. There was drinking, lewd jokes and more. In one of the plenary meetings they showed an org chart that had “God” under the CEO. It was supposed to be a joke. By that time I was at my self-righteous limit. Sometime during the week I went to my room after dinner, took out my large print KJV bible, laid it on the floor and begin to pray that God might convert them and give me grace to endure this conference.
As I was waiting for the car to come to pick me up and take me back to the airport I was sitting in the lobby of the Peabody watching the player piano and began a rough draft to the President of the company sharing my opinions about the events of this conference. It was a mean, scathing, angry, self-righteous indictment of the company, the people in the company and my utter disgust with their attitudes and behavior. It was the low-point of my tenure. This low point was not because of their sin; it was because of mine. I was totally out of step with reality, my culture, expectations of pagans and a reasonable methodology on reaching my culture. I couldn’t have been more arrogant. I was ticked and they were going to know about it. They were wrong and I was right. I could not see clearly. They were behaving according to their worldview. I wanted them to be as holy as I was without being regenerated and if they were not going to be converted then they should not act like sinners in front of me. Yep, I was winning friends and influencing people. I was influencing people for sure. This was the beginning of their plan to fire me. They accomplished that by downsizing and shutting the plant down two years later.