Archive for the 'Back in the Day!' Category

Time to add another ‘back in the day’ post.

December 10, 2009

I was just reading a magazine article called “Aught to Be a Great Decade” in Fast Company.  I get Fast Company because I used to get Computer Shopper and that magazine went the way of the dodo so they send me Fast Company instead.  Anyway the article was opening a time capsule from 1999 – yes people we have come ten years since Y2K and all the hub bub that went with that “New Millennium” advent.

Reading about the things like Wonderful new car from Chrysler – the PT Cruiser was going to rescue the Big Three – oops that worked out different didn’t it!  Or how Al Gore was set to be the next President – well almost only counts in horseshoes. Remember the MP3 player that would hold two whole albums with a whopping 64megs of storage?  Well that is in the same place as floppy disks (and Zip disks for that matter.)

Looking at those things, going back to 1959 (I was eleven years old) might be fun just to see what fifty years have done.  Let’s see minimum wage was $1.00 by the time I started working in 1964 it was $1.25.  1959 was the year that Castro took over Cuba – he was like the energizer bunny – he kept going for almost 50 years – just stepping down February of last year, during that same time we have had 10 presidents come and go and the 11th is there in the White House now. Computers – well the closest thing to a “personal computer” would be the IBM Electronic Typewriter that was released in 1956 – this is the line from the press release – “The first electronic typewriter, an IBM electric typewriter which “reads” business forms and does all the tabulation setting for the typist electronically.” pretty neat!  In two years, IBM would get rid of the little striker keys and replace them with a Ball and typing would never be the same.

Cars in 1959 were much bigger than what we drive now but just one year later the Valiant, Falcon and Corvair (Ralph Nader’s favorite) would appear as the answer to the invasion of VW’s, Datsun’s and Toyota’s to our shores.  They were bigger than most of the off-shore competition but that was the american way.  Our cars today require computers to make them run, in 1959, the radios still had tubes in them and the battery was charged with a generator not an alternator.  Interestingly though, fuel injection was tried, in fact DeSoto had an electronic version in 1958 – that did not work out but a lot was learned.  Mechanical fuel injection was used on many sport cars including the Corvette.

Houses were simple then – but people still build the basic box house that was popular in 1959 – they called them “Ramblers” then – they have other names but they are still basic protection from the elements.

We ate a lot of animals and animal by-products – Lard was what most people fried things in.  If you asked someone what Tofu was they would not know what you were talking about.  The only decaf coffee we had was “Sanka” and that was an instant power that really did not taste a lot like coffee, more like dirty, gritty water.  My own family ate a lot of “hot dishes” made from hamburger and macaroni because it was easy and cheap. Diet beverages were still a way off so Sugar was king in everything. The only artificial sweetener was Saccharine which came in little pills that worked in Coffee and Tea.

Oh, we did not have the Sesame Street gang untill later in 1959, up to that time we had to make do with Howdy Doody and Captian Kangaroo.  Of course that was on a Black and White small screen TV without anything like Cable or Satellite.   Funny though the new digital antennas remind me of the old rabbit ears we used to have to get any TV and at times we had to attach tin foil to them to get better reception.  Cell phones were something Dick Tracy would use but not real life.  Telephones still used the round dial and went clickity clickity click when you turned them.  Oh and the Zip code was one digit then not the nine we use now.

Let’s see Computers, yes there were Computers in 1959 in fact our town of Duluth just had a new Computer installed in building near the Air Base – SAGE or Semi Automatic Ground Environment – this computer was a block building made of two foot thick concrete walls with a huge air conditioner along side the building.  It was about as powerful as a new Netbook but took enough power to run a small town.  It was floor after floor of tubes and relays all hard wired together to make what today we would call a large scale integrated processor chip – that was the building.  There may have been other computers around but that was the one we in Duluth knew about.  Check out SAGE – WIKI There were a few other computers around but the common theme was Huge, Power Hungry, Hand Wired monsters.  Personal and Computer was waaaaaaaayyyy off in the future.

Fifty years is not much time in the whole picture of our planet. But is is a better part of my life and I would not want to go back to 1959, I know better, been there done that!

The Pixie Dust Express

May 31, 2009

Yesterday, the 30th of May, Lynette and I rode the Pixie Dust Express – this was a train ride, fund raiser for the Duluth Playhouse and consited of an hour and one half ride on the North Shore Senic Railroad with delicious snacks and a birthday cake for Tinker Bell – the original that is –  Margaret Kerry.  Margaret was celebrating her 80th with family here in Minnesota.  Margaret played Tinker Bell in the Disney animated feature of Peter Pan. Lynette and I had a chance to visit with her and for about five minutes and she even gave Lynette a hug – so my wife has had a hug from Tinker Bell – cool eh?

Margaret told us how they filmed her doing everything with props and such so that the animators could get her facial expressions, movements and personality into the animated version of her. Margaret still has the twinkle in her eye when she talks about Tinker Bell.

The time was enjoyable Saturday afternoon on the North Shore Senic Railway with very active and charming special guest.  You can find out more about Margaret / Tinker Bell at TinkerBellTalks.com her official web site.

Tinker Bell on the Pixie Dust Express

Tinker Bell on the Pixie Dust Express

Target Foods, or Applebaum’s incognito.

April 1, 2009

After I quit Al’s Shell Service, I still was in need of money for school and expenses, I was going to drop out of College in the fall and start at the Duluth Area Institute of Technology.  That was what the original name of the now Lake Superior College was in the late 60’s.  DAIT was new and because it was run by the Duluth School System at that time, tuition was free if you started under the age of 21 – so I was going to be 21 in November and I saw a chance to get two years of free school – I also got a wife – what a bargain!

Back to my last “job” before my present employer.  I had heard that Target Foods (Applebaum Foods running in Target Stores) was a good place to work.  I had a friend tell me to go there and ask for Jack, tell him you are a student in need of work and he will probably hire you.

I really had never been inside of Target Foods, as my folks ususally bought someplace in West End not way up the hill in the Target store.  I walked all the way back to the rear of the store and walked up to a medium build guy that looked like he was important, he had the same white shirt and tie evey man working at Target Foods had but he was just outside the office and I asked him if I could talk to Jack.  He said “you are, I am Jack Wilder.”  I said something like, I hear you hire packers and stockers.  He said what is your name?  I told him, Mark.  He said, how soon can you start? I thought – wow! That was easy!

I started that afternoon in parcel pickup as I did not have a white shirt on and I got about four hours in out there putting groceries in peoples cars.

Target in Duluth is build on a swamp.  The site had a large creek running through the middle of it before they built the store.  They moved the creek and built the store – they built a five foot high five foot wide tunnel under the store from way back by the office of Target Foods across the front of the food part of the store and after a right angle bend out to the front South side of the store where a medium sized room was used to store buckets of bags of food till the customer came to pick them up.

Along one side of the tunnel was a roller track – you know like in factories with many ball bearing rollers that the buckets could roll on.  There was a slight slope to the tunnel to the front of the store so if everything went right (haha) the buckets with three or four bags of groceries would roll down a short conveyor at each packing station and then make a sharp turn at the bottom and get on the “main line” travel track.  They then had to make another sharp turn before the mostly straight shot to the front of the store.  The entire length of the tunnel was about 300 feet I would guess.  Oh did I mention that because the store was built on a swamp the tunnel had about a four inches of water in it most of the time.  I think Jack took one look at my size and though – this is going to be fun to send Mark down into the tunnel, I don’t really need someone to work right now, I just need a laugh!

When two packing stations would send the buckets down the chute at just the right time, one coming down would slam into one going by on the main line and knock both of them into the water.  If you were lucky the bucket floated and you only got your feet wet and could just put everything back and lift the wet bucket back on the track and send it on it’s way.

At the other end of the track where I was working the first day, they also had a problem with the up-conveyor, if the person taking the buckets off the belt at the top did not work fast enough (new guy) they would backup on the main line and start falling into the water.  This was even worse than back at the store because here the water was deeper – they actually had a set of waders for the guy (new guy) who had to go down and fish the buckets out of the water.

I won’t tell you how many times we had to call back to the store to send items that were destroyed by falling in the water, but it was a lot!  We always told the customer if something was missing to let us know and we would make it right.

Packing groceries is kind of fun, at least I tried to make it fun because if you didn’t you probably would go crazy!  Pick up the cans, put them in the bottom, not too many, put some lighter stuff in, put the bag in the cart or bucket – repeat – repeat.  Oh then you get the customer who just has to make you job harder – you put four cans in a bag if the customer is a little old lady – six if it is a big guy who looks like a football player.  But the little old lady has other ideas and is not afraid to direct your every move.

I used to hum or even sing under my breath (this was before Ipods) to amuse myself – I remember cracking up one of the checkers with singing the song  “Gimme Dat Thing (or Ding)” by the Pipkins under my breath, she could hear me as I would grab a can or box from her along with gimme dat thing in beat and she just lost it!  She started laughing, I don’t know if the customer heard me or not but Mary, the checker was laughing and tears were starting run down her face, I just looked like “What?” I alway do that! I have run into Mary over the years at other places and every time I do she still remembers “gimme that thing” and laughs. She was about ten years older than me so I don’t know if she will ever read this but I hope she does and smiles again.

I packed for a few weeks and then a night stock position opened up.  Night stock started around 10:00 pm as the store was closing and went till 7:00 am or earlier if you got done sooner – more sleep, yay!  We got an hour for lunch (most of the time we only took 15 minutes so we could get out of there faster.

Lunch was a treat however, we could pretty much take anything we wanted and we put a few bucks in the box in the office to cover it.  The night stock forman encouraged us to always put at least $.50 in the box to keep anyone from getting suspicious.  We ate good!  One of the other night stockers was a Mexican American who was a sargent in the Air Force (we still had a base at Duluth then) and worked night stock to make extra money.  He had done a lot of cooking before he enlisted and was famous at Target for his “Target Steak ala-mushroom” – I had never tried a mushroom and when the first night stock with Al Garcia came around, he asked how many bottles of mushrooms I wanted on my steak.  I said I really don’t like mushrooms.  Al said you will try them!

Al would put about three pounds of the cheap cut of steak called “Target Steaks” on the label in a foil package along with four – six jars of baby button mushrooms and about a pound of butter. He would add some spices and double wrap the whole thing in foil.  He then placed it on the heat sealer in the produce department which was just a big flat heated plate they put the wrapped packages on to melt the plastic and seal it.  This would happen around 11:00 pm or about three hours before we ate.  It was also after the last of the “important” people left the store.

The smell of the cooking steak spread and made you long for the lunch time – I tried one mushroom and was hooked!  Al always put a whole jar in for me when we made the steaks.  We did not do that every night but let me say, we got our money’s worth of great food.

During our stocking process, we would bring boxes on four wheel “flats” or trucks that we loaded in the back room.  The back room was about 60 feet wide by about 100 feet long and had an upstairs over most of it. It also had a conveyor to bring things down or send up.  This was a lot like the bucket conveyor only taller.  I remember one time the forman would go upstairs and start cutting boxes (removing the top or sides so we did not have to out in the store) he would pull from the shelves – place on the rollers and cut – then push towards the conveyor.  One time just as I was coming through the doors of the back room, a box of twelve Pine Sol came over the top of the conveyor and did a little tip-turn-flip and dropped the ten feet to the floor.  All twelve bottles of Pine Sol broke!  A wave of Pine Sol spread to everything.  It smelled for months back there.

That was not the only “wave” I remember, a long time friend of mine, Paul was usually responsible for stocking the Gold Meda Pop – this came in huge glass gallon jugs and was Orange or Grape flavor.  On this night in my memory, I was working the Baking isle as I usually did and was at the far end where I could see “flats” coming out the doors of the back room.  I heard the doors open and looked just in time to see Paul with an over-loaded “flat” of about 12 cases (48 gallons) of Orange and Grape Gold Medal Pop.  About half way through the doors something on the floor stopped the flat with an abrupt jolt.  The jolt caused the over-loaded boxes to start to fall and once started it was gravity that would win!  Here I am about 75 feet from the action and a WAVE of Orange and Grape pop heading my way!  I can’t begin to tell you what a mess that was.  Pop under shelves, coolers, everywhere! Paul and the rest of the crew spent about an hour with buckets, mops and other stuff to clean the mess up.

During the course of the night, we would make a whole lot of cardboard mess and damaged cans etc. and this stuff would pile up in the back room.  Someone would get the honer of feeding the furnace around quitting time.  Target kept a big incinerator in the far corner of the back room. This had an outer door and a large area between there and the fire door where you could pile stuff to feed into the foot operated fire door.  The thing was gas fired and made fast work of the cardboard.  Like I mentioned cans and other stuff we wanted to get rid of would end up going into the fire. A strange thing happens when you put a full can of something like beans in a roaring fire, they explode.  If you timed it wrong, you could loose your head to a flying can or bottle coming out of that furnace!  Some of those things made a pretty big bang!

I worked there at Target Foods for over two years.  We had a couple of Summer employee picnics and Winter always included a Christmas party.  They really treated their employees good and I never regret taking that job at Target Foods. The people were nice, Jack was a great manager but he left a few months before I quit and it was not the same with the new guy.  I don’t think Applebaum Food is in business anymore and Target Foods is only a memory but I am glad I learned about the retail food business from a great place to work.