Labor Day Holiday a Major Shift for Parents

Western Ag Vignettes

Back to school is back in my home

Published on: September 3, 2012

My daughter is changing jobs from New York to Washington, and living with us temporarily until she finds a home of her own. It isn’t just a joy to have her back home for a while, but she brought two of our young grandsons with her, who are starting school this week and next.

It has been years since we went through the first day of school syndrome with our four children, and to be part of the process again is exciting and fun and I feel young again. We went school clothes and supplies shopping and helped get them registered to schools just down the street from our home.

I had to share this moment with you since it has put a smile on this old farm journalist’s face to hear the sound of cartoons and constantly opening/closing of the refrigerator door again!

Regarding this holiday, it reminds me of the editorial I just completed for the October Our Say in Western Farmer-Stockman.

I talk about the high ag value of the Halloween-New Year’s Day holiday period as the "weekend of the year," which represents a whole lot of purchasing of food, wine, Christmas trees et al for our industry. I wish I had a handle on how much ag makes from the holidays in this nation, and if there are any figures out there, please send them my way.

But back to Labor Day. My life has taken many turns, and for a while I worked in a foundry forging Ford motor blocks for Detroit, as a truck weigh master at a highway company, and sold tires so I am very acquainted with labor unions and the things they brought us back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Work hours, wages and a few safety regulations negotiated via the unions were to my personal benefit.

But more important, I was exposed to the "working man" as I envision him. He’s the guy in the Sear’s work clothes who carries a lunch bucket with Twinkies and listens to the sound of the factory whistle to start and stop his work day.

Not many of those around anymore, and that has its sad side. The people I knew where those who believed in working for the dollar, asking no aid, and building a life little brick by brick as their wages increased over the decades.

They were America’s true laborers.

But as the factories and foundries are torn down and computerized production with all its robots replaces the sweating humanity of the assembly line, not all of that is bad to me.

I remember men working under some very difficult conditions back in my foundry days.

Of particular note were the core makers, whose job was straight out of the underworld.

Consider: In the unbearable summer humidity of Michigan, they labored with only a blower of ambient air in the windowless chamber of the core room, where the walls were covered with scores of years of sand mixed with glue, which clung to their half-naked bodies as they moved metal cores under the blower to be filled with the sticky mixture, making the sand cores of engine blocks over which hot steel would be poured later.

When they pulled the blower switch, the hot, stinging sand from the shores of Lake Michigan would not only pack into the core, but escape from the seams to coat the workers with a blast of paste and grit.

I called these guys the subterraneans, because the worked in unearthly conditions along with the wild cats, descendants of felines the company brought in years ago to kill the rats – although the rat population there was large and they were big. Very big.

Today, the foundry and the cores and the rats are gone, razed in the march of time. Gone, too, are those who listened for the steam whistle to blow an end to their day.