Mentioned in my first Foundry Days story (read me) as our sales were declining during the 80’s and we were finding ourselves with lots of free time, we all were finding ways to tease each other and entertain ourselves. The manufacturing areas of the foundry were hot, dirty, dangerous and required very strong backs. No practical jokes ever got played around the iron or the dangerous grinders – people could get killed. Away from the iron was a different story. We only had two females. They both worked in the office. In fact, I can only remember one female ever applying to work in the shop. It was a bunch of guys working together and with no females there to keep us in line, the old adage ‘boys will be boys’ often played out.
One of the favorite go-to practical jokes that got played on most of the newbies was to send the newbie over to one of the molders for the “core stretcher”. An iron foundry makes “castings”. A casting is simply an object made by pouring hot metal into a mold. For iron castings, the molds are made mostly of sand, a material capable of withstanding the nearly 3000 degrees temperature. Simple objects can use rather simple ‘patterns’ to make molds. If the object is more complex, it often needs a sand pattern placed inside the mold. These sand patterns are called “cores”.
So a newbie would get sent over to one of the molders and would be told to borrow the core stretcher. There was no such thing. Everyone was in on the old joke though so when a newbie came asking for the core stretcher, the standard response was something like – ‘oh, I lent it to Steve. Go get it from Steve.’ Steve of course would say that Willie came by and borrowed it. This went on for as long as it took for the newbie to catch on. All new employees got to be the brunt of this joke.
It’s hysterical to watch a person freaking out from fright. Why is that? Is it association? Is it because we ourselves know the feeling of being scared to death and the immediate relief we feel as we realize there is no true risk? We’ve all been there – it’s a feeling similar to what we feel at the very top of the first giant hill of a roller coaster. We know deep down that it’s safe, that we won’t die, but for a split second there’s this glimmer of a thought – this is it, this is how I die.
Paydays and checkout times were always a riot. We had a guy of Swedish decent, (nicknamed Swede of course – our boys were clever after all), who was absolutely frightened to death of insects and spiders. This made him an easy target for teasing, teasing he had to endure almost every single week. If it was checkout time, it could be as simple as a rubber insect taped to Swede’s time card. Swede would walk up, reach for his time card and then would see the bug. At that point, he’d immediately back away a good 10 feet, hooping and hollering, asking anyone to take the bug off. Everyone around would be cracking up at the antics, someone would grab the bug and throw it at him and he’d take off.
Paydays were funnier. Payday at Deuscher’s occurred every Wednesday immediately after the day shift whistle blew. We had a portal, a window that was located directly next to the time clock and opened up into the main office. On Payday, the guys would all get into a line and one of us would stand there, handing out the checks to each person. Unfortunately for Swede, this made it fairly easy to get harassed. Swede was a relatively small man, weighing perhaps 140-150 pounds and standing about 5’6″. Invariably, while standing in line and constantly looking around like a stray dog tentatively approaching a stranger, someone would capture Swede’s attention with the sole purpose of allowing an accomplice to sneak up on the other side, at which point a rubber insect would be dropped into the back of Swede’s underwear. I have to admit that I looked forward to Payday. Often times I would be laughing so hard at watching Swede dance around, trying to get the bug out of his shots, that I would get the hiccups. It really was hilarious.
Of all the activities our men could engage in, (and there are some humdinger stories), this one I viewed as one of the least dangerous. Because Swede was harassed and teased, he was also looked upon somewhat fondly by most of the rank and file and certainly would have been protected if anyone got out of line and actually tried to physically harm Swede. Although Swede did not like the teasing, he never issued a formal complaint and would have a hint of a smile on his face when it was all said and done. He was either a good sport or smarter than his jokers.
As for myself, I was also not above a practical joke. I wrote a couple of earlier stories about these. One is mentioned at the front of this story and another is linked here for your enjoyment. One of my favorite victims for a quick ‘waker-upper’ was a guy named Bobby Clark. Bobby was a nice guy who worked in an area called pattern storage. The pattern storage area was primarily located up above the office where there were two floors of dark, quiet attic-like space. It was one of the few places in the foundry that did not have regular foot traffic. Some days when the shop was not pouring, I liked to sneak up there and sit at the far end, by a window, for a few minutes of solitude. Occasionally I would be reminded of being a school kid, when I would try to hide out in the snow (read me).
Bobby and I got along well. He was one of our better workers, always sober, a family man; he cared about the quality of his labor. He was one of the few we wanted to keep as the ranks began to thin out. I played softball and basketball with the men in the shop leagues. Bobby was one of the better players. I’ll likely write a story about the sports so I’ll save any further comments other than to say that he had a sense of humor and was generally light hearted. Unlike many of the roughnecks, he could take a teasing…..the perfect victim. I don’t recall how I learned this fact, but Bobby was scared to death of snakes.
The office building originally had been constructed in the mid-1800’s and had burned down I think in the very early 1900’s. It was rebuilt in brick, but the flooring of course was wooden. Eighty year-old floors creak a lot so if I happened to be in the office and I heard a creak upstairs, I knew Bobby was up there, either retrieving or putting away patterns.
This never got old.
I would get up and walk into the lab next door to retrieve a long piece of rubber tubing. Next would come the task of sneaking up the steps without being heard. I can still see the gray paint on the wooden steps, still see the double nailing in each step. I remember which steps I had to avoid, the ones that creaked no matter where a person stepped. The best place to put my feet was near the edges, usually right on top of a nail. There were only 13 steps, but it would take more than 5 minutes to sneak up them. Once up the steps, I had to listen before choosing my next step in order to figure out in which section Bobby was working.
The optimal location would be the area that had two more floors. If I was fortunate, Bobby would be up on the third floor. The third floor was not standard solid flooring – it was essentially a bunch of parallel planks so I had to be careful about moving about below Bob because he could see below to the second floor where I would be hiding. When the conditions were right though, I would be crouched, hiding in one of the aisles, waiting for Bobby to come down the steps and past where I was hiding. At the moment he crossed into my field of vision, I would toss out the ‘snake’ up into his face and I would emit a loud hissing sound.
Bobby would absolutely lose it. He would quickly drop what he might be carrying, would instantly reach to grab the snake and would toss it the ground while he was backing away, all in one terrified motion. I would nearly convulse with laughter.
Other than to exchange a couple of letters with Earl Thompson, (one of the owners), I lost track of everyone I ever worked with at Deuscher’s. The company was sold a year after I left to work for P&G and then folded in bankruptcy, closing the doors forever a few years after that while we were living in Louisiana. At one time there were over 30 foundries in Hamilton. Now there is but one, a small aluminum and brass shop.
Occasionally I used to dream about my early jobs with Taco Bell and Deuscher’s, sometimes even mixing up the two in my dreams. I wonder if Swede still has nightmares of insects in his pants or if Bobby sees snakes in his dreams. It’s been a very long time since I played a joke on another person. Sometimes I wonder where that person is today. Is this what ‘growing up’ is? If it is, I’m not so sure it’s all good.