Tuesday, August 02, 2005


(Originally run 2/12/04 on our old site)

Ernie Simpson

Dan E. Randle talked about Cal-Pack in DeKalb, IL, trying to make enough in the summers of 1957-1959 for college in the fall. Lots of guys from Harding went up each summer to work, as well. DeKalb, a really nice town, home of Northern Illinois University, and pronounced DE-KALB, not De Cab, like the county in Georgia.

California Packing Corp. canned Del Monte brand corn, English peas (Early June peas, the Yankees called them), and I learned from the torture of this place what sleep deprivation does to you, and that, yep, it's true: Del Monte has the highest quality canned produce on the market: I spent some time as a grader (grades the product when it comes in from the field): anything that doesn't come up to standard is labeled Great Value or some such.

I helped run a canning line until one guy inadvertently two stations down had his hand too close to the lid machine, and it cut off and canned his little finger. They threw away 100 cases of corn ahead of the accident, and 100 cases past the accident. I asked if I could work in another area.
Now I have a loathing for English peas, not from the taste, but from the odor of the fermenting vines in the fields in huge 200'x100'x20'tall stacks. The processed vines, containing sugar, and natural airborne yeast, fermented in the hot sun. Great fodder for cattle in the winter, but I never want to smell that odor again.

Sleep deprivation? We were allowed to work all the hours we wanted, time and a half past 10 hours in the day, at $1.25 an hour. After 100 hours, the sense of reality is lost, and ability to think is gone. Coming through the cafeteria one morning once after close to 110 hours that week, my friend Bobby Bullard, from Harding, was behind me in the cafeteria line. He said, "Do you know what you said to that server?" I said, "No, what do you mean?" He told me I said, "Give me some of those xxxxing eggs.” I said, "I did NOT!" He said," Yes, you did." I went back to the lady and apologized, truly not realizing I had spoken in such a way. She smiled and said, "That's O.K.".... she understood.

Dan was on the farm, while I was in the plant, as I recall and, the one time my job changed, was when Gary Gray (SHS-1956) and I were there at the end of pea harvest, and a representative came by from a pipeline. They needed a welder's helper, we tossed a coin and I won. The pipeline was going from Rochelle, IL through to St. Charles. The company had several welders welding the joints of the 12" pipe.

The welder they assigned me to from was from west Texas and a true artisan, by the name of Johnny Moran. He could weld a bead straight as a ruler, and as fine as a thread. It was my job first, not to get killed, (the pipe was suspended on wooden supports and during welding, you had to get under it) not to look at the arc (fries your retina like an egg; maybe why I had cataracts at age 40), and keep rods in his hand according to the size bead he was welding. Kinda like a surgical assistant, I guess. Only, I had to read his mind, since he couldn't speak from behind the welders' mask. And, oh, yes, keep the umbrella over him at all times.

Long sleeves, long gloves, and the summer temperatures were torturous.

Molten slag inside a glove will cause a weird dance.

Johnny hardly spoke to me all summer, neither good or bad, fair or foul but, when the last bead was welded, and the line was done, we took off our gloves for the last time and he said, "You've been the best that I've worked with in a long time. Take a couple of weeks off, and meet me in Abilene. There's a line going through to San Antonio, and we'd make a helluva team."

Part of me looked at how great it would be with the rough and tumble life of following the pipeline construction, but reality came back, and I said, "Thanks, but I'm going back to school."

One stint I had on the pipeline was sealing the joints with an asphalt/tar compound with a hydraulic press made for that application. I thought nothing of going shirtless until the end of summer and, back at A-State, Ann Shannon asked, "Ernie, where did you get that great tan?" That was nice she noticed.

So, the sign I made and put above my bed in college bode well for me: "Remember, Simpson, why you're here and what you have to do to be what you want to be." I wanted to be a teacher, and that reminder helped me to know I didn't want to go back to the pipeline, or the pea harvest.

Sorry for the prattle, old friend. Your posting and Dan's comments about those tough days brought it up to me, and I couldn't stop once I started, you know how it is.

Yep, old chum … and you just prattle on. –tlp-


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