Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dad's method of babysitting

My father was a mechanical design engineer.  He was about 40 when I was born many years after my siblings and the only girl.  Uniquely Dad hit upon a babysitting plan that amused both of us and indulged our curiosities.  We did factory tours.  Now come on; don't make a face and poo paw the notion.  Think about it for a minute.  He started us doing tours when I was young.  What kid wouldn't be fascinated by Pendalton Woolen Mills, or Boeing, or saltwater taffy making?  Think about all the moving parts.  Think free samples.  Even if I didn't understand what was going on, it was pretty cool.

When I was eight he got the great idea for us to tour the Bumble Bee Tuna cannery.  Pause here to sing the song - bum, bum, bumble bee; Bumble Bee Tuna.  As I recall it was a drizzly overcast day and the tour started on the docks.  For those of you who have never stepped foot in a fish processing plant please do the following in order to grasp the full sensory effect.  Get a whole mess of fish.  Shut all the doors and windows of your house.  Put all the fish boiling in pots on the stove, every burner.  Now multiply the smell factor by a thousand.  The word overwhelming fails to convey the aroma.

Meaning no disrespect to Bumble Bee Tuna for in all honestly it was a very, very clean facility.  But Dad's wonderful idea backfired.  I have not eaten tuna, or most fish since that tour.  It had nothing to do with watching them clean or cut up tuna.  Believe me; it's all about the smell.

As I grew older Dad was both surprised and delighted I wanted to continue our habit of taking factory tours  when visiting new cities, states or countries.  You have to understand, Dad was an engineer and he was a friendly, polite man.  Quite often the tours we got went above and beyond those given to the general public.  For example: northern Arizona, a brief conversation at the pumps led to an invitation to "come see our operation".  We followed this guy out into the desert to a silver mine. Turned out the guy was co-owner/foreman.  I was 14.  They asked if I was claustrophobic.  I said no but I'm scared shitless of elevators.  Next thing I knew I was being strapped in a harness and lowered down a [like a dumbwaiter] shaft.  Dad took the elevator with the guy.  Silver mines are interesting.  They wouldn't let me blow up anything - bummer.

The next day we got a behind the scene tour of Hoover Dam.  There at the dam I realized a main factor in us getting preferential treatment was it gave our guides a chance to brag.  They enjoyed their jobs.  They loved having the opportunity to share their workplace not only with a peer but with a kid who found it as wondrous as they did. 

Dad and I had a list of factories, of things we'd love to see how they're made.  Slowly but surely we were getting them checked off.  Which brings this story to my late twenties, Salem Oregon and the Agripac cannery.  Think the Diamond A food brand.  A sign said they give free tours.  The lady at the desk said they won't give one person a tour, I had to come back with a few friends.  So a couple days later I returned with a few friends.  Note: she did not specify how many constituted "a few".  At this point however she stated we needed to number no less than twenty-five.  I didn't know twenty-five people in Salem.

On my way out I spotted another sign.  They were hiring.  Being an ornery person I took personal time off work and applied at the cannery.  I got drug tested and had a physical.  I sat through safety courses.  Each step of the way I openly told them "I have no intention on working.  This is all about getting a tour."  When they issued my gear I told them.  When I got assigned a shift and team lead, I told them.  Apparently they didn't believe me.  I got put on the corn line to pull out rejects.  Yep, I drove them nuts.  Where do the good ears go?  What's over there?  What happens to the rejected ears?

The team lead wanted to bang her head, or mine, against a wall.  Whenever she wasn't hovering over my shoulder I took off to see what the next crew was doing or to get a look at another processing zone.  Repeatedly the team lead chased me down and declared my wages would be docked.  I just laughed and asked how they made cream corn.  Finally one of the supervisors clued in.  I wasn't there to work.  All I wanted was a tour.  I got a tour! 

Footnote: a while later I happened to be driving by the cannery and saw they'd put up a new sign.  "Free tours to groups of 25 or more". 

I'm sorry to say Dad died before we could check off the most desired factory tour from our list.  Maybe on my way back West I'll be able to stop off at the GE plant that makes locomotives.  Cross your fingers that they don't have a tour group limit.  There's no way I can bluff my way into employment there.  Do you think they'll believe I've come to buy a train?

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