Chapter 22 New Boy 50 years a Watchtower slave
The Machines conquer all
After Doweling’s committee meeting many of us got job changes out of the laundry. I guess they wanted to bust the trouble makers up. They asked for volunteers for a night shift in the factory and even though they don’t usually sent “home boys” to the factory they sent us. I had no idea what was wanting for us over there.
If the laundry was the penal institution of the home than the bindery was the penal institution of the factory.
Welcome to hell. Abandoned all hope who enter here.
I was sent to work nights in the sewing department. The smyth sewing machine was a machine that was designed by the devil himself. You would sit on this chair and throw thousands and thousands of these sheets over a saddle where they were sewn together. The good thing about the machine is you could always stop it. On the bindery lines there was no stopping the machines. You were like Charleston Hesston the galley slave in Ben Hur everyone rowed together. They had everything but the drum there and it was always ramming speed.
It was the bottom for me that winter 71-72.
After that I was sent to the bindery 5th floor, Building 3, bindery line 5. It made the laundry look like heaven.
Welcome to hell. Abandoned all hope who enter here.
Standing in the same spot, 8 hours and 40 mins a day. Your job was to take a book out of one machine, the “rounder” and shoved it into another machine called the “back liner.” Your job was to take a book out of one machine and shoved it into another machine. Your job was to take a book out of one machine and shoved it into another machine. You get the Idea. Yes, you would do this same motion 15,000 to 17,000 times in one day.
If you begged your line overseer, he might give you a 5 minute break to go to the bathroom every four hours. That means he would take over your position. Since he didn’t want to be standing between two machines either, you needed to get back to your spot as soon as possible. Of course, they could have bought a machine that did same job for $5,000 but it only cost them $22 a month for a warm body to do the same thing. Do the math.
One time an army general come through on a tour of the factory. He was shaking his head. The tour guide said "I'm sure you could get your troops to do the same thing" He said "Are you kidding? No way."
Of course there is no racial prejudice in the Lords house. Yet about 20% of the Bethelites were black but about 60% of the guys in the bindery were black. It seemed odd to me. So I asked Calvin Cylik why that was the case? He was assistant factory overseer at the time.
He told me. “The black brothers had a natural rhythm that fits well with the machines.”
I guess this is one time you didn’t want natural rhythm.
Ronnie Klineman from Ruston Louisiana. Told me my favorite story about Brother Swingle who was on the governing body. Ronnie set on Lyman’s table. This new black kid was sitting there feeling pretty good about himself as most new boys do.
Lyman said to him. "Boy would you pass me the potatoes?"
The black brother looked at Lyman in the eye and said. "I'm not your boy!”
To which Lyman said, not batting an eye. "Nigger pass the potatoes."
Hard to believe isn’t? Yes, Bethel was not the place to try and be uppity.
This was the early seventies and the “black power” thing was happening. A lot of black brothers went there had a little bit of an attitude. If they didn’t, some pick it up after they got there. I can’t say I blame them.
Anyway back on the bindery line. Many guys there would get the "1000 yard stare." The same one you would see in the war movies, the same stare that guys would get after they have seen too much.
To fight off the boredom you would play mental games with yourself. The first week there, I thought about everyone I had ever meet. The next week you would think about every movie you ever saw. The next week, about every place you would like to travel to. The next week you would think about every mistake you ever made. And then there was the girls, lots of thinking about girls. Then it all stopped after that. Someone would walk up to you and ask you. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing." You would say and you weren’t thinking about anything, you were brain dead.
There was just the groaning sound of the machines. Days drifted into weeks, weeks into years.
There is eternality! Some hours in that factory feel like it an eternity. There were days you looked at the clock and it would say 2:13. You would look again and it would say 2:26! So yes there is a hell, the fifth floor bindery.
Jim Pipkorn, ended up in the factory too. He got shafted to the bindery also, to the "End Sheet Gluier." In the bindery he got so depressed that for months, he would come back to his room at night and make himself some dinner and then go to bed, at about 7:00 p.m.
I asked him why he was doing that, he said "It makes the days go by quicker."
We were counting our time. It was just like Viet Nam. You would ask a guy how long he had left. He would say "3 years 2 months to go" We would say "You Poor bastard......that is after 1975, so you will never have any sex." You should have seen the look on his face.
New Boy, there were 2 types of sewing machines: one used for sewing Bibles (free sheet) and the other for the hard back books. I think John Adams was Bindery overseer at the time, and after you left Sydlik was the anointed brother they put in charge. I don't remember his title. You could not have said it better, those Smythe machines were torture devices and would have broken "Cool Hand Luke" himself and time stood still working on them: "break your backs" when fliping those signatures on the saddle or you could get a jam and break needles. And don't forget to -hit that glue bar! The end sheet gluer was engineered inhouse and took a couple of brothers to run it -if I recall. Don't forget card cutters. Did you work on 3/5 or on Building 2? After you left, I remember Smyth machines on 2/7 and bindery lines on 2/8. Long time ago. Hard to remember. I also remember Bibles and Aid Books being sewn on 3/5.
..But those lines on the 5th floor are as you describe; the monotony was hard to endure Just the thought of working there was sobering. -Spaced out but no chance of faking out. But the cream of all jobs in the bindery was bindery maintenance, fixing and servicing the bindery machines because it didn't involve production.
Good stuff Keith looking forward to the book. I'll say it again your New Boy Stories got me out of the cult.
One Bethelite I knew said he would hum 'Proud Mary, keep on turnin'' while working the sewing machine, to fit the cadence.
I don't where I was at in the sewing department but I was the 5th floor building 3 when I was on the lines
Glad I was in the press room! Did you know Joe Gotez? He told same stories as you.
Pressroom: Demosthenes, K. Hamilton
On 3/5 they put the slower sewing machines that did free sheet. It was the first place they put generic new boys coming into the factory first time to work. The loud gatherers with the brothers wearing ear protection was just outside the sewing area and walking towards the elevators. Those sewing machines were indomitable. I knew one young Jewish brother that conquered the Smythe. He got a job change to work in dispatch. Weren't you missing breakfast all the time and getting your name called to get your allowance? - Just kidding.
one young Jewish brother
I didn't know you could be a Jew and JW at the same time!
know you could be a Jew and JW at the same time!
You shouldn't practice Judaism if you are a JW but chinese, black, Mexican, Jew, arabic are descriptions that can be used used to identify ethnicity. So, asking this brother what was his ethnicity, he did not tell me that he was black or Irish or Spanish. He said that he was Jewish but it was axiomatic that he was of JW religion.