By Hugh Abner
[44 Years and Counting Manufacturing Batteries and Battery Machinery]
No! I have not lost it. I actually have seen lardbergs and I saw them in a battery factory. At the time they were a big part of my early on life as a factory manager.
Before I can tell the story though I have to explain that I have not forgotten that I promised a continuation of discussing Top Lead. In fact Top Lead III is going to exist. We, though, are going to take a break from it right now. Top lead is heavy and we – I – need the rest. It is important though and we will return.
The lardberg story took place back in a factory that was described somewhat in an earlier Blog. Yes, the same one where I learned through a revelation why I was sent to the battery world. Actually this story is just a bit more of the description of the self flagellation of the time.
I do not remember if I told you but this factory was in Kansas City, Missouri. The name of the company was American Battery. Our company, C.Graves, Inc. had purchased it and allowed it to keep the name. Through other mergers and acquisitions it has survived across the river on the Kansas side as a modern factory and it has been under many other names since – Chloride, Pacific-Chloride, Exide, GNB and Enersys. Our factory was located in a heavy industry area and it was just on the outer edge of a huge meat packing plant. In fact, when you had to or when the weather allowed we had a view from our front loading dock of cattle walking up a long and twisting ramp to the top of a multi story building. The cattle used their own power to climb to a summit in order to save energy as they were turned into beef products. Up as cattle, down as beef.
Our little factory was one story but with a basement level floor being the production area. Our offices and shipping were at street level.
Next door to us and across the street was a huge three story building but it too had a basement level. You could tell this from the outside because the windows of the lowest floor bottomed out at the side walk. This building was owned and operated by the Colgate-Palmolive Company.
By now you should be getting a lardy kind of feeling.
I never did meet anyone from the packing plant, actually it was quite a ways away but the view was open because there was nothing between us but railroad tracks. The soap factory though was just a narrow street away. I met some of those very busy people. The first ones I met was because we shared a little sandwich shop on our side of the street and just behind us.
When the area lunch whistle blew a crowded line immediately formed at this shop. My first time there was a learning experience for me. I had used the waiting time to pick from the signs on the wall the kind of sandwich and drink that I wanted so when my time came I felt more than prepared. I did not want to bring attention to myself and I was well aware that a rush was on because of limited time and the overload of people. I started out by telling this lady behind the bar like counter, “I want the cheesebur—–.” That was as far as I got for she snapped, “You will take a goddamn pork loin like everyone else, now what kind of beer do you want?’ Again, I began with the full intention of explaining that I do drink beer, I did not want to seem like I was a kid or something, but that I do not drink during the working hours. I got as far as, “I do —— “, before she shouted to someone behind her, “Find a coke for this boy.” She then greeted some guy right next to me by using his name and a smile.
Okay, so the pork loin was good and so was the coke and it did not take long before I did not even have to tell her what I wanted anymore. It was just there as soon as I got within arms length of the bar. Even though I began to recognize many faces I never did learn any names.
One morning I came to work on a day after it had been raining all night. There was not any lights on inside the factory even though I knew the maintenance man was at work because his truck was parked out front. I felt my way in through the door up at the street level. I heard water sloshing around. I saw ripples of water over in an area where the maintenance man was moving about with a flash light. I saw little piles of white stuff that seemed to be floating on the water. They were so white that even out in the dark I could see faint blotches here and there.
When you worked in any battery factory in those days you had a pair of rubber boots or else you would often be buying shoes because of the common puddles of battery acid. Puddles of acid performed an undocumented purpose: They kept out the elites. So, after I got my boots on I was able to wade out and join my maintenance man. He was trying to round up these floating white piles. As soon as I asked him what they were it dawned on me that it was in fact — lard. Little floating piles that looked like icebergs but were in fact lardbergs. It was explained to me that this was a common occurrence after a rain like we were having and the only thing we could do was to try and float the little bergs over into a place near the main manhole drain at the street wall. This way when the water went down we would have a big mess near the drain and not little piles of lardy messes throughout the factory.
Now during this period of being flooded we lost much production time and if you read my earlier Blog where I explained that all the electrical power for this factory came from a team of Caterpillar engines which turned their attached D.C. generators. This had to all be shut down during a flood or the entire place would have been an electrical hazard plus the engines were water cooled so the cooling water flowing through would have just added to our problem.
Anyway, after the flood and the following cleanup I decided to visit our big soap manufacturing neighbor across the street. I wanted to know how they handled what must have been a similar problem. I was also sure that the lard came from them in the first place but I was not sure if they knew it was being emitted from their place and so freely being sent over to us.
I went over and asked to meet with their maintenance manager. I was passed on to a person from maintenance. I cannot swear he was the manager but he was very knowledgeable about the lard issues. I told him how lard flowed into our building from the street drain and then I asked, “How do you keep it from draining into your basement level?”. He was proud to have a chance to show me. He took me to the basement and to a row of pumps that were in line against his street wall. He said, ” Well of course the lard comes from us but we too have a problem when the sewer is full from rain water so we have these pumps that are used to force the water back out into the street and I guess over to you. You got to get yourself some pumps. They really work well.”
Now if you have been reading my stuff with understanding then you already know that we did not have funds for pumps of this magnitude plus we were leasing the building — it did not belong to us. The building belonged to a Mr. Hoyle. He, his family and a partner had established the place as a battery factory many years before. The apparatus in this building was dear to him. He, being older, seemed to forget after each of our meetings that we had ever met so each time he visited he gave me a grand tour of the place. But, each time I learned something new. With pride one day he showed me two rows of automobile radiators that were mounted up in the ceiling area. Behind each radiator was a D.C. powered fan. These radiators supplied heat for the factory, (Back when they were not worn out), because the cooling water that was used by the Caterpillar engines flowed through a loop of connecting piping which connected the radiators and “in the day” the cooling water was recycled back to the Caterpillars.
Now I took the liberty of explaining about Mr. Hoyle and his building because I wanted you to understand Mr. Hoyle and how his very character represented a time gone by. He always wore an old kind of suit with a white shirt and, of course, a dark tie. he wore a hat. he had to walk with a cane. In fact he could walk with his cane through this factory and neither the soles of his shoes nor the tip on this cane would get wet. He was able, somehow to bob and weave like an athlete through the narrow aisles. He was very pleased with us being the new occupants because it seemed to him we were making progress in cleaning up the place from the way it had been passed on to us. I also want you to understand that we are talking real time conservative attitudes here. This way you will understand that the idea of pumps, or even a pump, being purchased to keep out sewer water just was not going to happen.
But when I was able to explain to Mr. Hoyle how the big guys across the street loaded us up on the rainy days, (Yeah!, Like he did not already know about it but I do think he was impressed that I had learned about it), with gigantic pumps. It turned out that he was all ears to any suggestions. The only thing I could come up with was a check valve that would close as the street water level rose but I knew it would have to be big: the drain pipe was fourteen inches in diameter and I knew it would have to stand up to some god-awful effluent. Mr. Hoyle though jumped right on it. Men were working on our drainage system by the next day. My maintenance man assured me though that it would never work but fortunately it did. At least it did for the remainder of the time I was there: We just had to make sure on the rainy days that we did not flood ourselves with our own water because it certainly was not going anywhere for awhile.
Now in order for this specific Blog about Lardbergs to have meaning is for it to prompt any readers to submit their uncommon battery factory stories. In fact they do not have to be battery factory stories but lets do restrict them to industrial production related stuff.