Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wad Slunging, Bubble Gum Welding and Mini Skirt Watching


I had told no one, outside of ARCo management of course, that I had quit my job. I didn’t tell my parents until May 5, which was long after the fact. I had resigned back in March, about a month after the ski trip to Big Vanilla. I offered to remain until the end of May, but once I gave my notice they saw no reason for me to stay around past March 31. So all during April when my folks thought I was going in to Philadelphia to my job, I was really going into Drexel Hill.
 I still had my key to 1030 Cobbs. Lois was working at the Title Company in Bryn Mawr, so she wouldn’t be there. Neither would her dad. He left very early in the morning for work since he had to drive to North Wales every day, which took him a good hour each way and he started around 8:00. He worked for Leeds & Northrup assembling electronic testing equipment. Lois’ grandmother was ailing and staying with her aunt. At any rate, the house was empty between 8:00 AM and 4:00 in the afternoon.
I would enter the house around 8:30 and set up my typewriter on the living room coffee table. I spent much of the day there working on a novel and my stories, but sometimes I would go into Philadelphia and make the rounds looking for places needing a writer or maybe just taking in the sighs downtown. There were a number of beautiful sights, too, all caused by Mary Quant’s short skirt. Named the mini skirt in 1962, it had grown shorter by an inch or two every year since. By 1969 women were wearing what they called the micro-mini. There was now a better show on the streets of Philly than in those girlie magazines I use to lift from Charles’ Newsstand. Even Lois was in to them; although in reality, most of her was out of them. (See photo of Lois on the right.)

Speaking of Lois, she was the one thing I couldn’t get over. I liked both Mary Ann and Janice as persons and we had some fun times together, but I didn’t have any deep down feelings for either one. There was no physical stuff going on between us, other than some kissing and hand holding. I never had sex with those women, and I can say that without trying to twist my syntax in the Bill Clinton manner. In March I started to court Lois like I just met her, asking her on dates. I couldn’t get her out of my mind and I couldn’t stay away from her.
When I left ARCo I was forced to sell my stock in their credit plan. I had more than $10,000 worth by then, which would be enough to fund me for a whole, but hardly forever. In todays money that would have been worth almost $66,000. I decided I needed some sort of supplemental income. I took a part time job, four hours a night, five days a week, at Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation in Havertown.

Philadelphia Gum had been founded in 1948 by a man named Edward Fenimore, a former University of Pennsylvania professor and a vice-president of Bowman Gum Company.  During the 1950s Bowman was the leading purveyor of Baseball Card Bubble Gum, competing for the rights to player's photos with Topps. In 1956 Topps purchased Bowman for $200,000.
Philadelphia Gum started producing single bite bubble gum product called “Swell”, which sold for a penny each piece. It soon added to its line “El Bubble”, a brown candy cigar that sold for five cents.By the time I arrived on the scene they were quite successful and putting out a number of bubble gum packets containing trading cards. In 1967 they acquire the license to produce trading cards of National Football League players. This put them in direct competition with Topps, who had the contract for the American Football League. They also put out Dark Shadows Trading cards and Marvel Comic Super Hero Stickers. The company was acquired by Tootsie Roll Industries in 2004 and the Havertown Building was torn down and replaced with the Havrtown YMCA.

My first job there was as a sugar sifter and wad slinger.
I described my work to Joe Rubio in a letter on April 24.  “There is a big barrel of sugar and a sack of corn starch, and a large empty barrel between them. I put two scopes of sugar to one scoop of corn starch in a sifter and I sift this into the large barrel. I have blisters on both hands already from doing that. It is a very big sifter. Then I load a large bin with this mix and put it on top of a machine for the woman operator to load. I then take a full bin from under the machine, where part of the unused mix comes out, re-sift this into the mix with some more corn starch. I have to get the sugar from a storeroom and the corn starch from a warehouse section when I run out. The sugar is in barrels weighting a ton each and I walk them off a skid and into place…”
I would come home every night looking like a haunt, a ghost, covered with the sifted sugar head to toe. There was more to the job. Every so often a bell would ring. When it did I dropped the sifter and hurried to a opening, about the size of a half door, in the far wall. A conveyer belt came up to the opening from the kitchen on the lower floor. Spaced out on the belt were wads of just cooked bubble gum. They looked like chewed wads from the Jolly Green Giant. My job now became Wad Slinger.
I would grab the end of the first huge wad and I would sling it up and onto the top of the bazooka gum maker. The machine was quite large. An operator actually sat atop it so it reminded you of a piece of farm equipment, such as a combine. The difference was this machine didn’t move anywhere. It was quite stationary and consisted of this long, twisting tubing, like some immense metal intestine that grew narrower and narrower as it coiled about the machine. Atop the beast, the operator would use an enormous paddle to press the newly made wad into this hopper, force it to be ingested then digested through the winding metal tube. It would eventually come out the other end as three inch, paper-wrapped sticks of bubble gum.

My job was to sling those wads from the conveyer to the machine top where the operator could then ram them down the beast’s throat.
At the end of the night I also got a broom and swept up all the spilled and scattered sugar and corn starch.
I did this for a couple weeks and then I got promoted to Bubble Gum Welder.
This job didn’t require a big mask and protective clothing. None of these jobs required special outfits. I see more recent pictures of gum workers and they are wearing white  pants and shirts, latex gloves and paper hats over their hair. Back them we didn't do this. We just wore what we showed up in. Usually I wore a pair of black jeans and a T-shirt. I still was dressed in white by the end of my shift, covered in powdered sugar.

I was back on a machine. My station looked like a worktable, something like an Addressograph to tell the truth. I stood to one side and these eight foot high cards would be rolled up at one end. There were several heavy boards going up and down each side of these carts upon which were long rounded ropes of bubble gum.  I would grab the first of these ropes and pull it across the top of my table and then feed it down through a tube at the other end. Something inside there would begin pulled the rope along and a blade would snip off about an inch of the end. This would fall into a bunch of metal fingers that wrapped the piece and then drop it on to a conveyor belt that carried the bite-sized gums through openings in the wall into the inspection and packing room.

My job was simple, keep the ropes moving. In the middle of the table were two blades and a hot plate. As the first end of rope reached the table center I would already be pulling a second rope down. Snip-snip, I hit a foot pedal, the blades cut the ends off both ropes. I then pressed both ends into the hot plate, got them warm and squeezed the two ends together, thus welding them into one continuous rope. When the cart became empty it was quickly replaced by another and I welded on to the end of my shift. at 11:00 PM.
This was surprisingly tiring work, but I was free to write all day and I got to binge on bubble gum. What a mess I was going home afterwards, though, just a big cloud of white powder floating through the night.

After he left, Joe Rubio and I continued a regular correspondence, much as I had nine years  earlier with Ronald Tipton. Joe’s two main concerns were how the bowling team was doing and whether Lois and I were making progress on getting back together. We were both busy, but in much different ways. On April 17 he wrote he was stuck in Infantry and sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for additional training. He told about everywhere they went included wearing the full field backpack. He then wrote:

“To make matters worse the barracks we’re in must be the oldest they could find, they don’t look like they’ve been used for years.”
These were gripes Ronald had when he did his basic at Fort Dix.

I wrote back to Joe on April 23, telling him Frank McBride, one of the men we both had worked with at ARCo told John his being sent to Fort Dix probably meant Joe wouldn’t go to Vietnam. “Fort Dix isn’t set up to train for Vietnam fighting," he said
Frank was wrong and Joe did go to Vietnam.

I also took the opportunity of the April 23 letter to fill Joe n on my own activities:
"I have been writing daily for once. Very hurriedly, too. I have a manuscript of poems, 115 pages, ready to send to Yale for their Younger Poets Series.  It really consisted of two books, Days of Despondency and A Walking Tour.
"I also sent a play to a contest of the New England Play Committee. It is one act and called
 Honor of It. It is about a wounded President and the feelings about him. I want to enter as many contests as I can. I also have to get "Dream" rewritten for MOH (Magazine of Horror). Robert, the editor, promised to take it if I resolved a certain problem in motivation, and I think I have the solution.
"I sent a story to Argosy, which I only wrote last week. It is called, "Hitchhiker" and I'm hopeful.
"I am trying to write a novel by June 1st. Whew! It's for the Franklin K. Mathews Awards.  $10,000! Could that help? Half from Boy's Life for publication and half as advanced royalties from G. P. Putnam's Sons. Title -- Forty Dollar Car. It's rather autobiographical."

On April 25 I did come home for supper and shocked everyone because I had Lois with me. I took her home and stayed the night.

1 comment:

Ron said...

You have a very interesting life Larry. I love reading about it. I'm learning things I didn't know. I'm glad you're writing all this down for posterity.