Sunday, January 7, 2018

Keen Foundry

Saw this on posted on Facebook. I didn't know the guy who posted it at the time, but I think we both worked at Keen Foundry back in the early seventies. I met him later through a mutual friend and we played on a 6 foot and under basketball team way back when.

I worked at the foundry for almost exactly a year. I started out as a laborer. I worked in the grinding department in the mornings knocking flashing off the castings before they went to the snag grinders. These were like big versions of a bench grinder - big like with a 3' diameter grinding wheel. In the afternoons I worked the pouring floor shifting weights. That was a back breaker. Later I worked afternoons part time swinging a sledge hammer knocking feeders off the castings and I drove a bucket loader doing clean-up work and transporting castings from the pouring floor to the shake-out table.

I ended up there because I was in a desperate need of a job and because the work was hard they were always looking for non-skilled help. No easy jobs at a foundry. Hard work, really hot in the summer and the black dust got into everything - turned your underwear dingy and your lungs. Long term employees out in the plant - molders - ended up with brown lung/silicosis. I was working my way through college, so I knew going in this wasn't going to be a long term position. It's the kind of job every young man who hasn't decided on a career path should be in for a while, though. Won't take long to figure out a skilled trade or college is a much better option. The only decent jobs in the whole plant as far as I was concerned were the pattern makers. Good working conditions, good pay, highly skilled.

The great thing about the job from my standpoint as a 19 year old was when I went on the night shift, the plant was only working four days per week. I started the week Monday afternoon at 5:00 and worked until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I finished up late Thursday about the same time of the morning. I'd sleep until about noon Friday and then have the rest of the weekend up until 5:00 on Monday off. With the overtime every day I was still getting close to 40 hours, plus anything over 8 per day was at time and a half. Not a bad thing except I was a laborer in a gray iron foundry.

I don't think there's a gray iron foundry left in the United States. The EPA closed most of them down and Taiwan took over a lot of the work. Keen had a bit of labor unrest that was probably the last nail in their coffin. If I remember correctly, they had a work stoppage, somebody drove a truck through the picket line and it got firebombed. That got the Feds involved and nothing good ever comes out of that. They've been closed down now for a lot of years. Too bad - other than the labor jobs that had a lot of turn over, they had a lot of good people who spent a lot of years working there.

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