My First Job

“See those six machines over there? They are automatic looms with tens of thousands of threads going through each one to create our product. Why don’t you spend your afternoons over there and see what you can learn.”

After three weeks of pulling covers over curlers I was happy to get a break from this mundane task that had my two co-workers in a perpetual trance. Instead of following their lead, I had chosen to treat my manual task like a dance and challenge myself to become as efficient as possible. As a result I produced as much product as the other two guys combined. This allowed me to be pulled away for half my shift without affecting the output of the unit.

When I moved back to live with my older brother and his family after quitting school, it was understood that I had to contribute financially. We lived in Bramalea, a planned suburb on the outskirts of Toronto, that had an industrial section at one end. One day I decided to go door to door at all the plants to seek employment. Wherever I went the waiting rooms were full of young people, waiting to fill out job applications. So I changed my approach.

I got up at 4am the next morning and by 5am was knocking on the back doors of these same plants. To my surprise, the third door opened. “What do you want?”, said a short, stocky, rough looking man. “To work,” I said as I watched his demeanor soften a little. He looked me up and down for what seemed like a long time. “Anyone who has enough spunk to knock on the back door of our plant this early in the morning deserves a chance. Come to the front office at 9 and tell them Jack sent you. You’re application form will be waiting for you. You can start tomorrow.”

Six weeks after starting at Canada Velcro I became the lead weaver on the graveyard shift. When things were going well, I tended the six looms by myself while the ‘foreman’ got some shuteye. When things went wrong and machines “smashed” we scrambled to get them back up and running before Jack showed up to run the day shift.

For my sixteenth birthday, my older brother co-signed a $500 car loan so I could buy my first wheels. He spent many an evening drawing up and explaining the mechanics of my new responsibility; from the internal combustion engine to the gearbox and brake system. I proudly drove my 1966 VW bug back and forth to work for almost two months before I finally passed my driver’s test.

At Velcro I earned $2.45 and hour when I started which increased to $3.50 when I became a weaver. With the exception of paying for my car loan and a little pocket change, my wages were combined with my brother’s income from Douglas Aircraft to support us, his two children and his wife’s dedication to their Waldorf education. Halfway through my teens I had already experienced the empowerment of my hunger to learn and the self respect that grows from taking on personal responsibilities.

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