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Random Thoughts from a Random Memory

Updated: Feb 3

By Edward Master

Once at some type of mini family gathering, my brother-in-law Larry (McCall) and I were reminiscing about working summers at the Quaker State oil refinery in Emlenton. Larry commented that for many local youth such as ourselves that the employment at the refinery was a 'right of passage.'

I agreed.

I claim several such 'rights of passage' over my youthful years. Chronologically, my first so-called right of passage was at the glass plant in Knox, PA. I received word of the summer work availabilty through Delores (Warp) Best who worked at the glass plant and for whom I worked as the attendent at her and her husband's (Ivan/Bones) small store.

Within a few days of high school graduation in June 1967, I clocked in for the four-to-midnight shift at the Knox glass plant. As far as I knew, everyone of my friends was going to a dance at the tennis courts next to the Emlenton pool. I promised myself that because this was money for college that I "would suck it up."

That introductory night I was exposed to placing 'filler' (cardboard dividers) in empty cartons which would later contain the dividers separating quart bottles for beer. We'd build up a backlog to an hour or so and then ride out the shift as the cartons went down a shoot to the bottle packers below. I really tore up the cuticles around my fingernails as I learned the technique of inserting filler dividers. A couple of times over various shift changes over the summer, I made clock-in with little room to spare.

The following summer the glass plant wasn't hiring summer help in the same numbers as the previous year and so I began as a construction laborer for J.A. Jones (my dad's employer) on its Snowshoe (PA) I-80 job. Dad was one of Jones' engineers; he was finished at Snowshoe and was working near Lock Haven on the Loganton job. About midway thru the summer Knox glass hired on again and so I returned to glassworks.

Ultimately though, the construction job was rewarding in a way. For one, I got to see up close and personal a different aspect of society.

Jones literally moved an 'army of men' from Kentucky to central Pennsylvania; this was its paving crew, including the batch plant (concrete). The job initially involved removing the top of one mountain to fill up the adjacent valley. I-80 was put down on top of the fill; the Snowshoe job eventually was given a smooth paving award from PennDot. Snowshoe eventually became a regular pit-stop on travels to and from out east.

After the glass business came the oil wars or, I should say, grass wars. I never did much work in the barrel house (loading cases of packaged cans of oil onto trucks or rail cars) or around the oil tanks. I cut (mowed) grass sometimes by hand. I reported to the 'yard' every morning as the yard foreman Ralph Myers designated our assignments.

Normally, I used a mower with an attached 3-edged blade. With an attached strap, I carried the mower over a shoulder. How it got heavier and dug into my shoulder as the workday passed, I don't know. I mowed rain or shine. And, too often, the mower functioned intermittently at best. I did the refinery for a couple of summers, until I graduated from college. I later heard through the grapevine, long grass was never cut like I did for those couple of summers.

Then my third right of passage was Bracken Construction. I began as a concrete technician on a Clearfield 322 by-pass. I had to read and learn the ins and outs of the job with help from a PennDot manual. Actually, it was almost like a science lab at times, but with, I discovered, some heavy lifting. I did a "yield" test with a metal bucket that weighed in the neighborhood of 170 pounds when full of concrete. We had a batch plant set up when Bracken put in ramps for the Grove City exit on I-80.

At times it was almost like working on the railroad, it seemed everything was heavy. A shovel-full of concrete wasn't exactly like lifting a dustpan of crumbs. On days we paved, if we were mixing the concrete, I reported to work early to run test on the aggregates such as water in the sand. We had a lab trailer for the testing. The trailer also had equipment for determine tensile strength to break test beams of concrete.

Once, following a day of paving, the paving crew commandeered some nearby field corn, built a fire, and had a corn roast into the evening. We must have done a good job paving as the ramps stayed smooth for years afterward.

Speaking of sports

How are the Steelers still winning? Pitt lost. Penn State lost (and fired its offensive coordinator). The Pens though have seemingly recovered to notch four wins. The NBA has begun, but I prefer watching WNBA as there's less dunking and more skillful shooting needed. I can give and take college basketball; again with the skyscrapers.

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