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.
The original machine we had for packaging our aluminum cans was a crushing type machine. We would send the cans up a conveyor belt and they would drop into a large bucket and then down into a compactor and would be compressed into a cube. They would come out a small door and slide down a trough where we would pick them up, stack them in a bale and then strap them together into a multi-cube bale to be picked up by a forklift and placed on an eighteen wheeler.
As part of the crushing and refining process the cans would go up the conveyor, over a magnet to pull out the steel cans and then before they dropped into the compactor they would be slightly crushed and the debris (paper, cigarettes and other dirt) would fall into a 55-gallon drum. This slight crushing process typically caused the pop tops to snap off the can and fall into the “debris” barrel. Once the barrel was full I would take it out back and dump it. This happened about every day or so.
I got to thinking that if I could salvage the pop tops I could sell them and make a profit since they were being thrown away anyway. This was something the former worker was doing. It also kept us awake during the day since there was not a whole lot to do. Therefore, I spent the entire summer salvaging pop tops. It worked this way:
I had a framed table top on four legs that was about 4 feet high. The top of the table had a screen mess type of metal where I could shovel the debris out of the barrel onto the table. Much of the dirt would immediately fall through the screen mesh table top onto the ground. The mesh was small enough to where the tabs could not go through. What was left on the table top was pop tops, which I wanted, small pieces of paper, rocks, a few other small objects and scores and scores of cigarette butts. Pop tops and cigarette butts were the main things left. Once all of the dirt was hand-sifted out I would pour the remainder of the material on the table into a 55-gallon drum of water. The pop tops would go to the bottom of the barrel and the cigarette butts would float on top of the barrel. I would sift (hand scoop) the butts off the top and throw them to the ground. I would then take a forklift to pick up the barrel of water and clean pop tops and pour them back onto the wire mess table. I could then sift out any remaining debris. Then I would take the pop tops and put them in large thick plastic bags and stack them in the corner. These bags were about 5 feet high. They were huge and very heavy. Once I had a vanload, which was over 600 pounds I had Penny take them to a buyer and we made enough money to buy a piano. It took all summer, was a bit of dirty fun and well worth it. I made over $300 cash for my part-time job.
Dr. Clark was a big help. He gave me a recommendation for a job opportunity with a “mom-n-pop” recycling organization. I visited one of the two employees that worked for this company. It was located at the White Horse Road Fairgrounds. He was an out-going senior who was going back to Louisiana after graduation. (Not “out-going” in that he was full of joy. He told me that Jesus never smiled and we shouldn’t either. He was a lot of fun!!) He said I could have the job if I wanted it, but I needed to come down in May rather than some time later. He was leaving and they needed somebody. He said he worked there for four years and never did any of his homework outside of the workplace. He said he could have two or three customers in an eight hour day. It seemed like a remarkable opportunity. I took the job and planned to move down in May.
Penny could not quit her job until later in the summer. We worked at the same place, TransAmerica Delaval. She quit in June/July and then moved down with the kids. I lived in a small apartment during that time. We found a house a few miles away, but it was not going to be ready until later in the summer. I felt some pressure about getting the house but thought since our life was changing so much it might help the situation. I don’t know if the pressure was self-derived or externally derived. The house was more than what we needed and could really afford. It seemed like the right thing to do and I hoped we could swing it. We moved in during the late summer. Both of us were making $20.00 per hour in 1986 combined. After we quit our jobs and moved to Greenville I was the only one working making $5.00 per hour.
Work went great! I had virtually no customers that first summer. Not only that, but the owners sold the business to Alcoa Recycling within the first week or two that I was hired. I got immediate benefits and a raise. Alcoa bought the company because during the 80’s they were trying to raise the recyclability of the aluminum can. This small plant was a marketing tool. The recycling rate was under 50% in those days and only a minority of people was on-board with recycling in our country. By 1993, when they closed the plant, the recycling rate was over 70%. We had worked ourselves out of a job so to speak. It was a fun job. I worked there through college and on into 1993 when they shut the plant down due to down-sizing.
I began waiting on the public when they brought in a bag of aluminum cans to sell. It took about 24 cans to make a pound and the rate was anywhere from .25 to .65 cents per pound. It varied in price for many reasons. Alcoa began to promote more and I became busier, but never so busy to where I couldn’t do my homework onsite and they were okay with that. In addition, we owned Golden Goats and Can Banks in 11 (I think) locations from Cheraw, Woodruff, Gaffeney, Pelzer, Fountain Inn and more. People would bring their cans and put them in the machine. It would weigh them and “spit” out the appropriate change. Two or three times per week the big wagon would come with several thousand pounds of cans which we unloaded by shovel, crushed and blew on a tractor trailer to be shipped to Maryville, TN.