This post is in response to Fandango’s Flashback Friday question, “Was it a good year?”  The years shown were 17, 21, 25, 35, and 45.  I’ve chosen to use 17, 25, and 35 for my post.

My 17th Year

I spent my 17th year working in a grocery store between my junior and senior high school years.  I started working when I turned 16.  Now  I was doing extra hours to save for college.  My time at the Big Bear store in Ohio began as a bag boy and what they called a “carry out” boy.  By the time I was 17, I had moved up to part-time stock boy and cashier.  With the extra duties came extra hours, which I wanted to help me save.

We only worked until 9 p.m. because stores were not allowed to stay open later.  When the store closed, the stock crew came in to refill the shelves at night, sometimes working until 4 a.m.  Our weekends were the busiest time of the week.  People got paid on Fridays and came to the grocery to shop and cash checks.  My regular hours were from 4:00 p.m. until 4:00 a.m. on Friday.  The stock crew came back in the next day at 9:00 a.m. to unload the delivery truck (a 50′ semi-semi trailer) to get ready for the next week.

Was it a good year? That’s hard to say.  I worked hard and went to summer school to take a required Algebra II class to take Trig in my senior year.  I got caught sleeping in class after working a 12-hour shift the night before.  My teacher wasn’t too happy about it, but after explaining why I was so tired, he told me to go home and go to bed.  At least I wasn’t snoring.  I would say it was a challenging year – not necessarily a good one.

My 25th Year

Year 25 saw me married with two kids, working at a Rockwell Automotive plant in my hometown.  I went through a four-year apprentice program as a tool designer before being promoted to a full-fledged designer.  Those four years were a challenge in many ways.  I had to learn discipline and to get along with people from many different areas of the plant.  They all had their own particular needs that did not always coincide with mine.  To put it bluntly, I had to grow up.

By the time I turned 25, the plant had begun a modernization plan to revamp production.  Management wanted to switch from older style manual machines to modern NC (numerical control) machines.  I worked with a crew of eight people to develop specifications, tooling, and programming requirements for 72 new machines.  The programmers (six of us) also began to build criteria for a new computer system for programming.

Out of the 72 new machines, 13 were part of a new Flexible Manufacturing System.  This new $5 Million system would take the place of 30 older, worn-out machines.  The company picked me to be one of three people trained to run the new system.  I was excited but had no clue what lay ahead of me.  Besides having a young family to take care of, I spent countless hours learning to run the system.  Those hours cost me dearly in the future as my time away from home alienated my family from me.

Was my 25th year a good one?  I would say no.  I did learn a lot, but the learning came at too high a price.  I became so involved in the project it controlled everything else in my life.  Eventually, it cost me a divorce.

My 35th Year

My 35th year saw me moving away from the everyday running of the FMS line to supervising a crew of electricians.  After the modernization project closed, we had to go into maintenance mode to support the new machines.  From the electronics side, they required a higher level of skill than our union electricians had.  We sent twelve of them to the local community college to get advanced training in digital electronics.

When they completed their courses, we set up a repair lab in the maintenance area.  It consisted of a full-blown duplicate of the machine controls used in the shop.  Our troubleshooting method was to swap circuit boards (if possible) to isolate a problem, get the machine going again, and fix the board in the shop.  Our production departments were adamant about not causing them a lot of downtime working on a problem at the machine.  If we could take it off-line and get them going again, they were happy.

Keeping 105 (72 plus more new ones) specialized machines running was stressful.  I was being overwhelmed by it.  I came home from work dead tired, unable to function as a father and husband.  My family wanted to do things, but I was too tired to enjoy them.  All I wanted to do was sleep.  It got to the point I had to leave Rockwell and find another job.  I searched for almost four years before landing a position with IBM in 1985.

The bright spot of my 35th year was joining the local volunteer fire department.  The training and association with such a group gave me a respite from the stress of Rockwell.  It didn’t help matters at home, though.  My wife could not understand why I wanted to serve my community in such a manner.

Was my 35th year a good one?  I would have to say no for the most part.  It wasn’t good at Rockwell, but I wouldn’t trade my four years as a firefighter for anything in the world.  The job at IBM was one of those bucket list jobs you only dream of.  I found out they are just another place to work – no better or no worse than anyplace else.


It Was a Very Good Year? – A Guy Called Bloke

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