By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]
For this Blog I am going to get away from the usual comments about battery machinery even though there is much more of that to discuss. We still have one major machine in the Top Lead series which is fundamental to the industry and a big part of Farmer Mold and Machine Works, Inc. That would be the FMMW Bonder or what some call the Top Terminal Burner. Today though I am going to describe some battery manufacturing people. The first ones I met.
The factory was in Mississippi. It produced about 1500 batteries a day and most of the year the production was all 12 volt automotive batteries. In the spring however there were many orders for 6 volt and even 8 volt batteries. This was for tractors. The farmers were getting ready for planting time. Many had learned that they could get by with using an 8 volt for it gave them a little extra umph for cranking purposes. Also the early spring or late winter production involved lawn mower batteries but in 1965 many people thought having to have an electric start lawn mower was just a bit too much on the lazy side of things. We certainly got over that didn’t we? Well hell! Look at it this way – it made mowing the lawn an equal opportunity chore with the women in the house.
Now many of the people working in this factory were also farmers at some level. Some had crops they grew for sale and some had land for raising cattle and the hay needed for feed. Many did both. So, most of the employees came to work in overalls and some kind of a cap or hat. Most all of them had completed chores earlier in the day and would still have others to do when the battery work was completed. It was not unusual for some of them to call in reporting they had to take the day off because of a sick cow. In fact, that was more usual than them themselves being sick for these were strong people.
It is the strength of these people that I recall now as I am writing about them. It is not so much the actual jobs they were required to perform in the factory that revealed their strength for with the exception of lifting pigs of lead or the batteries themselves the other work loads were more of a steady continuous motion kind of thing. Some did operate machinery like those for grid and parts casting and of course the paste mixing and the pasting of grids. A given battery of any size would be picked up and placed around 6 times: Off the assembly line. Onto the formation line. Off the formation line. Onto the painting line. Off the painting line. Into a truck for shipment. If you want to argue about this by saying, for example, that a lift truck is used to load the battries into a truck for shipment then you would be wrong. True, the lift truck was used to transport the batteries on a pallet into the trucks trailer but for some reason it was a big no-no to leave the batteries on the pallet. Each battery was stacked into the trailer with masonite dividers between the layers. Guess what, most of the truck drivers of the day had to – by hand one at a time – unload their trucks at the customers door. Tell me where you would find truck drivers like that today. Yes! Yes! I know those beer truck drivers still do it.
So, for the most part these folks, always all men, (women were not allowed), were overly stong for the job requirements. But before I explain that let me make a point about how they brought their farm machinery skills into the battery factory. It is simple. Hay bailing wire also works just fine in a battery factory. Anything that needs fastening has a sure and ready solution. Also, those of you that are learned in the proper alloy composure of a lead pot will know that some nuclients can and will settle out in the furnace if temperatures get out of range. If you are a farmer then you will know this can be corrected with a potato. One potato, unpeeled, put into a ladle with a long handle and forced down into the bottom of the furnace will cause a churning action that mixes up a fine batch of lead and all its assorted nuclents. Now also by using down home farming logic a furnace of lead can be improved to make it flow into grid casting molds more easily if you bring your empty tooth paste tubes to work with you. Un-ohh. These tubes today are made of plastic so this will not work anymore. You see, in the days of “lets just the job done” tooth paste came in tubes with a high tin content. Lead casting people love tin even if management does not.
Now what is all this about these workers being strong? Generally if for some reason work stopped and the production lines were full these workers would get restless. Now you need to understand that a given battery assembly line had a walking and working aisle along side of the conveyor but immediately behind it was stacks of boxes with battery cases and cell covers. Also, on the floor along with the boxes were metal barrels. These were not always the 50 gallon size for the smaller 30 gallon size was commonly used in the industry to ship litharge, (Lead Oxide). So, the lead parts casting department used these barrels, or drums, for their Pb parts. These parts were generally small. Only about the size of your fingers but a drum would hold thousands and the weight of a drum was in the many hundreds of pounds. Now the restless ones would without failure began making bets. A drum of Pb parts would be selected and the winner of the bet would be the one that could lift the drum and keep it lifted for the longest time. I never won such bets. I do not gamble.
As a young man these were the kinds of people that I first met in our industry. Since then I have met many other types but I do not know if I ever will be able to describe them. One of the reasons I will not be able to is because today if I find actual people doing the work then often they are bundled up in gloves, coveralls, glasses, helmets and the ever present face mask. None of all this lends itself to the art of barrel lifting or communication. Besides, today, we that have had to travel in the industry often find ourselves where we cannot even speak the language. Imagine, trying to have a conversation with an often times tired and irate machine operator while he is shouting over the roar of machinery explaining his points of misery with a language you do not understand and his face covered in a filterized mask. Here, you have to be very careful in how you respond. Maybe if there were a full barrel of lead nearby and you could reach down and pick it up his shouts would taper off.
Next time we will get back into machinery.