|By Vivianne Draper
This is the first in a series of interviews featuring Southwatch workers talking about their jobs. The interviews are recorded by a Windup Scribe, and presented here with a minimum of editing.
*We intend to publish the collected set as: “On the Brass Clock: Work in the City of Southwatch.”
Well, Mr. Delbert’s shop was the best one, probably. I worked there as a young man. We put in our twelve hours, sure enough, and we was all hard-working lads. But there was breaks during the day, times when the work was slowed enough to allow a body to talk.
Lunch time we’d set down, we’d all have our lunch and a pint together. Often times, Mr. Delbert himself would come out and join us.
We did some fine work in those days—small boilers and such, for concerns that needed a bit of steam or apartment buildings that used them for heat. Well made, they was. I’ve heard tell some of them are still in service. Makes me proud, really, to think something I made been around that long.
I was fitter. Working with the pipes. Fitting them together, you see. Yes, that’s where the name comes from.
I worked with all different kinds of pipe. Copper for water supply — slide the nut over, splay the end and crank her down so she seals, you see. Had to weld for the steam, though. High-pressure stuff was tricky, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and did a lot of good work. Both for Mr. Delbert and later for Mr. Corkington.
Delbert had to close up when he couldn’t get the orders any more. Folks preferred the cheaper models from Mr. Corkington’s works. I was sad to see old Delbert go, but truth be told, I understood. Mr. Corkington was making them cheaper and they was better. That’s all there was to it, really.
Corkington was putting in things like anti-bursting valves that we couldn’t match, not at that price.
So I went to work for Mr. Corkington. No question it was a harder-driving shop. No sitting down together for lunch — just grab a bite when you could. They had a little assembly line there, where they pulled each piece of work though and you did your bit on it, then passed it on to the next lad. If you didn’t get your pieces moving, you found yourself out on the street, that was sure. But the pay was better, so I didn’t mind so much that the work was harder.
But then there was Consolidated Boiler. Big affair down in the Steamworks itself. They was turning them out even faster than Mr. Corkington. In the beginning, they was about the same as Mr. Corkington’s work, quality-wise. We tried to keep up with them, finding places where we could be faster and better. Sped up the lines, we did, but it wasn’t enough. Mr. Corkington lowered our wages, trying to make it up, but in the end it was no good for him, either. He closed up.
I drifted around a bit, did some odd jobs, took what work I could. Fitters are needed on repairs, and there was the occasional construction job, but nothing steady.
I always kept a positive attitude, though. Foreman look for that. No one wants a long-faced lad on the site.
When I got the chance to get on at Consolidated, I jumped at it, of course. It only paid half what Corkington had paid, but what choice did I have, eh? Go back to not knowing if I’d work one day to the next?
Consolidated was hard work, too. No two ways about it. Working with them mechanicals, that was strange business. They was all somewhat manlike, even those that was built right into the line. Them were the ones that gave me the creeps — fastened to the works right there where a proper man would have his waist. Fastened to the line or walking about, them things don’t even stop to take a piss, so you keep moving to just to keep up with’em.
The line was always getting faster, too. No time to stop and fix what’s wrong, just send it down and hope the QC inspector down there doesn’t see and have it come back to you.
It seemed like every day there was fewer people. In the beginning, we’d have a rigger to help us when one of them big custom boiler jobs had to be moved across the factory. Now, we’re just supposed to move it ourselves with a few lifts and jigs.
Then finally, they said they had a mechanical that could do the fitting, and I’m back to scrounge work. But I’m optimistic. Nothing accomplished without optimism, I always say. I’m trying to, what was that expression? Oh, yes, I’m trying to “Embrace change as a positive force in my life” like that office fella said when he came to give us our notice.
So, though I may be an old mill rat, I’m looking out for the new and finding a place for me to fit in. I’m sure I’ll find it OK. I really am.
Unfortunately, since this interview was taken, Mr. Quigly was scalded to death while attempting to repair a defective boiler in a Brockton apartment complex.