Voices of Niagara: Richard Chapman, former Carborundum factory worker

Chapman screen shotWe interviewed Richard Chapman, now retired, on 17th October 2018, about his experience of working at the Carborundum plant in Niagara Falls, where he was employed for ten years.  

“I got out of high school, I mean it was all right.  Like I said, the people who lived next door to us, Mr. and Mrs. Slish, they had three sons, but two of their sons worked for Carborundum.  And Marty and David said, take the summer off, but see me in September.

So, September came, and I talked to Marty or David, and they said, just go down to Carborundum.  They’ll hand you an application, fill out the application, and at the bottom of the application say you know Marty and David Slish, and hand it in.  So, I hand it in, like a week or two later they call me for a physical, and then I think like a week after that they called me in for orientation.

You needed steel toe boots, and Dickies work clothes.  So, I started with Carborundum, and the first job I got there… So, I didn’t think I was going to last at that, but at the time they made grinding wheels, they used pottery clay.  Pottery clay and feldspar, and a bunch of other stuff, so my job was filling the drums with this pottery clay and feldspar.

Well, I’m all of 123lbs, and these drums are 400lb drums.  So, they had a hopper, and I’d take the shovel and load these drums four on a pallet, roll them on a pallet, take the hand fork truck, move them to one side.

When I got maybe four palettes of drums finished, I’d take them, go over to the elevator, put them in the elevator, take them down to the first floor, and then take them to the storage area.  But, like I said, I’m 120lbs and these drums are 400lbs, I thought I was going to die.  But the guys I worked with were pretty good, and they helped me, and they said use your legs more.

So, I did. I worked in Abrasives for a while, and then they had a shake-up, and they moved me to where they make small grinding wheels.  So, I went over there, and the first job I got over there was putting lead bushings in grinding wheels.  They send the wheels down, they’re somewhat cleaned up to thickness, and you put them on a jig, and then two little forks come down and hold the wheel down, and then you pour lead around the arbor.

And then the next wheel, next wheel, next wheel.

So, I did that, and then I did several jobs in the small wheel plant.  Working on a lathe to make sure they’re eight inches round, because at the small wheel plant everything was four to fourteen inches, so I worked on the lathes.

I worked putting steel plates on grinding wheels for polishing and grinding floors, I enjoyed that, and then making… I didn’t know at the time, but they mix abrasive with rubber to make rubber grinding wheels.  And they’d have these great big 12-inch wheels, and I would put the steel backs on them, and then put them in a hot press for like 30 minutes.  And then take them out, trim them, set them aside, put two more in there.

And the nice part about that was no-one wanted the job because you smelled like rubber vulcanizing, burning.  And it was kind of stinky and your clothes smelled of it.  Not too many people wanted that job, but I enjoyed it because most of the time they left me alone.

I moved around the abrasive plant, I went to the diamond wheel plant where they make the little bitty abrasives on the end of little bits, for doing fine work.  Like your dentist would have.  I worked there for a while, and I worked in a warehouse which I kind of liked, because they were always doing something in the warehouse, loading a truck or unloading a truck.

And then we came into work one morning and they said, after 9 o’clock, which was usually our break time, everybody meet at one end of the building.  And we had a suspicion that maybe there was going to be a cutback or something like that, and it was worse than that, they said that Carborundum was going to close in ninety days.  The abrasives business was done.

So, they let us – I mean they were nice about letting us go.  They gave us counselling and how to fill in resumes and do interviews.  So, they let us go and I worked for a temporary service for a while, which I didn’t like, because it was nice to go in different places, but you never fit in at one place.  You were just like a borrowed person for a while.”

This is an extract.  A longer version of this interview will soon be available on You Tube.

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