THE CANNERY

The passage of time has a distinct way of erasing items from the mind, especially specific dates and minute details; however, some events remain vivid and can be recalled almost verbatim, during moments of reminiscing about the good old days.

My short tenure in a capacity similar to that of an overseer began when I was perhaps 15 or 16 years old.  I applied for and was hired for summer employment at The Cannery in Ruby, South Carolina.  This firm was the proud producer of the Lord Chesterfield brand of canned goods; mainly, ‘Tomatoes’  ‘Okra’ and ‘Green Beans’.  The precise designation of my job was that of a “Checker.”

Inside the giant warehouse-like building; was a small square area, bordered on two sides by conveyor belts.  One belt brought tomatoes, okra, green beans, etc. inside from the Scalding Tanks; located just adjacent to the outside doors to the “peeling / cutting” area.

The other belt carried the peeled tomatoes and the cut beans and okra to the packing area; where sterilized cans were filled, sealed and continued on; to be lowered into the huge pressurized steam tanks, where the final cooking took place.  After cooling, the cans were labeled, packed in cardboard cartons and stacked to await shipment

The inside perimeter of the peeling area belt, was lined with ladies who did the peeling of the scalded Tomatoes as well as the cutting of the Beans and Okra.  Each lady had an empty bucket into which they would place the peeled Tomatoes and/or Beans, Okra, etc   These ladies were paid by a method called “Piecework”.

If memory serves; it was in the neighborhood of ten to fifteen cents per rounded-over bucket.  Each lady had a string around her neck to which was attached a tag that hung on her back.

It was my responsibility to insure that these ladies received full credit for each bucket filled while at the same time; it insured that the buckets contained the correct amount of product.

When a bucket was filled, I would place it on the conveyor belt to be carried to the packing area.  Then, I would place an empty bucket in front of the “peeler” and stamp her card with a date stamp.

I had been admonished when I was assigned the task; about the requirement for each bucket to be filled completely; insofar as each bucket full would fill a certain number of cans.  It was not unusual for a lady to call for an empty bucket before thoroughly filling her present one.

On those occasions; I had the unpleasant duty to refuse to stamp her card; therefore, I was sometimes the victim of good-natured, verbal abuse; although they all were well aware of the rules.

I cannot remember how much my meager wages were; but the excitement of receiving my first pay envelope was something akin to Euphoria.  Needless to say, the few dollars the envelope contained were not sufficient to prompt me to seek the canning industry as a vehicle for a career.

All of the ladies realized that I was only following the rules; thus they held no animosity toward me for doing my job.  That did not; however, stop a few from ‘heckling’ me for “Sucking up to the Boss Man.”  In fact; most of them became good friends of mine, for many years thereafter. 

My tenure as a ‘Checker’, only lasted for one harvest season; but it taught me a couple of valuable lessons:  Those being,  #1. –  “Abide by the rules”   #2.  –  “Make sure you are fair with all the other employees under your jurisdiction.”  #3.  –  Give the Employer an honest day’s work for the amount of pay that you agreed to accept for your efforts.    

“I’M SORRY; MRS. ADAMS:  BUT YOUR BUCKET IN NOT FULL; AND I CANNOT STAMP YOUR CARD.”  “I’LL WAIT UNTIL YOU PEEL ABOUT SEVEN OR EIGHT MORE TOMATOES.” 

“BY THE WAY:”   “I LOVE THE WAY THAT YOU HAVE DONE YOUR HAIR.”  “MR. ADAMS IS A LUCKY MAN.”

Demijon