Monday, August 03, 2015

Western Electric

Chapter Three

Wherein I move into relatively well paid employment, discover what a chicken checker is and quite accidentally make some career choices

By 1967 I had moved one step forward and some steps back. I was no longer in full-time education and, therefore eligible to be called by my fellow citizens to swear to protect and defend the Constitution.

I had grown increasingly disenchanted with 7-Eleven. Following my adventures at the hands of Mr Robber, I felt that the HR section of the Southland Corp left a lot be be desired. Apart from having to undergo a lie detector test to ensure that I was not a party to the hold-up - little was done to get me back in the saddle.

When my sister Ruthanne said she could get me a job at Western Electric, I jumped at it. Western Electric make equipment for Bell Telephones. It's a big operation. (from the History of Lee's Summit: 1957 Western Electric announces it will build a $20 million factory for vacuum tubes in Lee’s Summit, if the city can provide sufficient utilities. The property has since changed owners and became Summit Technology Campus which today houses data and call centres. The plant, opened in 1961, employed about 3,000 workers and started Lee’s Summit’s transformation to a fast-growing suburb.”)

I was not blindingly excited by factory work. I did a bit at KC Booth Manufacturing. Western Electric was a different kettle of fish altogether. It was well paid and very secure employment. Although it was a factory, it was very clean and quiet. Making sensitive electrical components does not lend itself to dirt and noise. I managed to get on the evening shift – from 4 till midnight. I struck it lucky. I was in a department of one when the day shift logged off. I went in, saw the supervisor, got my instructions for the evening and that was it. No-one else about at all.

I know what you are thinking, “Why not just goof off or do a little bit of work and then have a nap?”

That's where the chicken checker comes in. The nom-de-guerre chicken checker was not official. Officially they were time and motion study operatives. Their job was to randomly check what you were doing and write a report. Essentially, it was a game. The word would go around that the chicken checker was about so you made sure – as far as humanly possible – that when he saw you you were doing something productive. This was difficult when you are working on your own, but I got quite good at it.

Western Electric had a complex bonus system in place. The basic salary was OK but each separate department was judged (somehow) on its performance every month and that judgement became a bonus paid in addition to the hourly rate. In some months it could be as high as 20% of your basic salary. The non-production employees (like me) contributed by scoring well in the chicken checker marks. Very complex but it worked.

I looked forward to lunch breaks in the canteen when I often met up with Ruthanne and Alan. Official break times (10 minutes) were signalled by a bell. Smoking was not allowed in the plant but at break times you could smoke in designated area. The whole plant was surrounded by a chain-link fence and you has to have a pass to get through the gate – which was permanently manned.

At the same time, although I was in full-time, relatively well-paid employment I was conspicuously not very well off. Looking back it's difficult to remember where the money went. I was driving an old Chevy. A good night out consisted of going to the Drive-In movies by myself and there seemed little incentive to do very much. I was, in truth, just hanging around waiting for Uncle Sam to send me an invitation to serve my country. My lot in life had become quite tedious and altogether unrewarding. That's the way I remember it.

One interesting evening did occur when I came home from the Drive-In movies and found cop cars swarming all over Hidden Valley Rd and a helicopter circling overhead. I was stopped and had to prove I lived there before they would let me go home. The OM explained that somebody had beaten up a cop and they were advising everyone to stay indoors and lock up whilst they tried to find the perpetrator.

Guns and gun control are always nowadays in the news. Down on Hidden Valley Rd in 1967 nobody ever locked their doors. The OM had a .22 rifle which he used as a bird scarer. He would sit at the kitchen table with the door to the adjoining garage open a shoot at birds – which he considered as pests. He seldom hit one. Nobody worried about a break-in or strangers shooting you.

When I was about 12 or 13 the OM would take me squirrel hunting with a buddy of his at the Dairy. Off we would go somewhere down in South Missouri, near the Kansas line, and shoot a million squirrels. Even then they were considered as pests and there was no limit to how many you could kill. So we killed them. Very occasionally, I would go with Stoner to Uncle RT's and shoot rabbits with the aid of his pack of beagles and a 410 shotgun.

Squirrels and rabbits are good eating. So is deer. I have no problem with using rifles to shoot them.

Neither do I have a problem with folks who enjoy hunting and fishing in the wonderful outdoors nature has blessed us with.

I just do not think that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to obtain, store use and carry any weapon they choose.

The exception, of course, is in the defence of the country, so after spending the fall and winter of 67-68 at Western Electric I eventually received (on St Valentines Day 1968:


The President of the United States,

To _________________Malcolm____________Rodney____________Kauffman______________________________
(First name) (Middle name) (Last name)

Order No.______281_______


Having submitted yourself to a Local Board composed of your neighbours for the purpose of determining your availability for training and service in the armed forces of the United States, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for training and service in the___Army_____________________

My Dad took me down to the induction centre, quite close to Union Station in KC. He gave me some good advice (some of which I took). Never volunteer for anything except get paid or go home. I breezed through the physical examination and was very soon thereafter swearing the oath.

The put us on a train to Fort Polk Louisiana.

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