East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Herb Henze (HH)
Interviewer: Sallie Maser (SM)
Interview date: September 16, 2009
Transcriber: Ileana Ionascu
HH: Good morning! It’s September the 16th, 2009 at about 11:45. What a wonderful Wednesday and I am recording for Sallie Maser at the request of the East Falls Historical Society – my impressions of East Falls and my experiences at that time.
SM: Good morning! This is Sallie Maser from East Falls Historical Society and I am interviewing Herbert Henze from East Falls. Herbert, why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about the beginning of your arriving in East Falls and what preceded you coming here?
HH: Good morning Sallie! My arrival and my family’s arrival in East Falls was approximately 1951. After the death of my father, my mother wanted to carry out his wishes and be closer to his business and she purchased a lot on Netherfield Road. Memories of WWII probably precede this – I was only a small child, I was born in 1937, WWII started in 1941, I was only four years old. Memories are kind of dim now, but some of the things that we recall were the food and gas rationing. We got coupons you could use at the butcher shop of at different shops, meat was rationed, sugar was rationed, fats were rationed.
SM: In PDF, I have to add, if it’s helpful, that if you knew a good butcher he would sometime slip you an extra piece of good cut of meat.
HH: Well, they did not ration the exact grade of meat, but sort of rationed the meat itself.
SM: That’s right.
HH: As a result you had to be quite sparing, you had to save things, you really didn’t throw much away. WWII took place after about ten years after the Great Depression and by then anybody who was still alive and viable financially of course had to save. So my parents were products of the Great Depression and then they were products of WWII. Rationing… we had little tokens, little fiber… red fiber tokens, with some kind of numbers written on them and sometimes you went to a place and you had to pay out with tokens as well as cash and sometimes you had some things that looked like green stamps. You had a book of them. My mom was not big on sugar so she would trade off with this wonderful Irish lady, who took a lot of sugar in her tea, I suppose, and she took our sugar stamps and she didn’t eat much meat and she gave us some meat stamps.
SM: I was not aware you were allowed to swap stamps with one another.
HH: Weil, it may be or may not be legal, but, since it’s 60 years ago, I am sure that whatever statute of limitations existed is long gone. (laughing)
SM: I think that probably right too.
HH: At any rate you had to save; one thing you had to save was your tin cans.
SM: Oh, yes, I remember that.
HH: And you had to save your cans and with your can opener you would cut the top out of the clean can – actually you had to clean the can first – and you stuck the top on the bottom inside the tin can and then you stepped on the tin can to keep the pieces together and this was separately tied with a string and put out with trash for recycling. So we were vigorously recycling. Also for some reason, when you had bacon, and inside the bacon you got the fat, you had to put the fat in a can or some container, usually one of the cans you didn’t smash up, and you put them out and they collected the fat. Then, what they did with this fat, I was told they made soap out of it, but that’s what you had to do. Of course we didn’t have the amount of trash we have today, you didn’t have a ton of cardboard, which by the way you had to save, you wrapped the cardboard up with string and you put it out. But we didn’t have that much in those years.
SM: Never said we didn’t! So there you were getting used to it, complying with rationing, (unclear)
HM: ….. the things with the war?
I’m going to our previous home which was Lawndale – Lawndale section of the city, which was off Oxford Ave, and so we were there, in my case, for the first twelve or thirteen years of my life. Other WWII things – having to go in to work with my father sometimes and then having – the men were talking about was happening, and they talked about D-Day, which was coming. Well, what was D-Day? Well, as you know, as a eight year old kid, by this time, I hardly knew what it meant, D-Day, and nobody seemed to know since it was a great secret and Eisenhower kept that under his hat pretty well.
SM: Under his helmet, right.
HH: Under his helmet, yes indeed. And at any rate, then we learned that D-Day was invasion on Normandy beaches on the continent of Europe and the subsequent assault on the German positions throughout France, we were the Western front, or our guys were the Western front, and the assault finally led into the German homeland and their surrender, I believe, in April 1945. There was a very big day, the D-Day, and everybody was celebrating that and was relieved and then, of course, there was several more months of attacks, the war in Japan, against the Japanese. We were down to the shore, because we could somehow still get to the shore, Ocean City, New Jersey. My father loved the shore, and the biggest celebration I have seen or known in my life was the J-Day which was in August 1945 and everybody just went crazy. People sat on their cars, they drove around, they had the lights on, everybody was talking, shouting, hugging, kissing.
Interviewee: Herb Henze
Interviewer: Sallie Maser
HH: …..with recollections of (fuzzy) and its place in the East Falls community. As I said before, my father bought the building at Hunting Park Avenue in 1943. I had to be, at that time, 7 years old. (pause) I recently said he had his machine shop and tool shop on the second floor, secondary machine was on the second floor, along with the (fuzzy) and other things. On the third floor, the folks would make some assemblies – in this case drag assemblies, ready for final assembly. Then there were other workers, about 8-12 people on the belt depending on how complex the item was. All the workers then would put their wheels together. When they finished at the end of the line, there was a quality control person to make sure everything was right. And his final mark was to insert a special screw in the side that marked that the work was done and it was checked. If it didn’t have a screw it wasn’t right.
As I said before, we did compression molding in the factory using phenolic material, basically only in black, carbon particle coloring or the natural brown so there was a rather awful looking red and awful looking green. Didn’t take well to dyes so you couldn’t get golds or pinks or blues or all the other magical colors that people like. However, the finished part was rigid and did not melt under heat and load.
Today we use injection molding which consists of putting a molten plastic into a closed mold under great pressure possibly 10,000 pounds per square inch. At that point molten plastic is flowing like water into the mold – cold water pipes into the dye will chill the dye into the cavity and in about a minute or so it’s at the point where it cooled and formed a solid. The machine opens and ejects the part. That’s no more plastic; it’s plastic when heating. We made the molds in the tool shop which is on the second floor, and that was fully equipped with tools and machines. We didn’t have the CNC equipment for sure in those days. We didn’t even have an accurate readout, so much had to be done by the skill of the toolmaker. We also make special machines for grinding spindles or most excitingly for forming the spools which is done by spinning. The skilled operator will place a raw spool which had been assembled from two flanges and a hub and then with great skill he would smooth this flange and basically work it into shape. This is the same process used for making cymbals, those Turkish cymbals that you see. They are all spun and it’s a very logical thing with the right temper and right working tools.
It was also used for pots and pans and many of them were spun. It’s an exciting technology that’s relevant. Most particularly things like tubas and trumpets were spun out of tubing and flat stock. For many years plastic side plates were trimmed with rings made out of what was called German silver. German silver was a name we called it before World War II during the 30s. During WWII they switched the name to nickel silver as the rings were made out of nickel silver. Actually nickel silver had a little bit of silver in it, I was told, like 5%. And when they changed the name they took the silver out and now its nickel silver.
Anyway, this is wonderful material because once the chrome wore off, which it did, this material was underneath the (fuzzy) and you can buff it up and it was a very rich looking material. Because it had nickel in it instead of zinc it was a little bit more expensive and harder to work with in the building which was the polishing and plating workshop. Here we had multiple buffing stands and they would take the various brass parts for example and buff them until they had a very bright shiny finish. Then they were sent into the plating room where they would be put on racks and dipped into the various solutions to make that chrome and nickel plating. What you had to do was first clean the parts very thoroughly, wipe any smut, grease and finger marks off of them. Then you had to rinse them in soap, then you had to rinse—dip it in acid to neutralize the soap. Dip that again to dilute and remove the acid, put it into a nickel tank and the nickel tank would put a very thick coating of nickel on the part. Nickel required—this chrome and nickel required agitation and essentially you would put a charge, a negative charge on this and take the nickel out of solution and out of nickel anodes. It’s kind of a reverse pattern; the acid removed nickel from the anodes and deposited it on the parts. Then after some period of time, some minutes depending on the process, you pull the part out and have to go through a couple of rinses to get the nickel solution remains off it and then you would put this in a chromic acid bath once again you would do the (fuzzy) and anodes would then transfer the chrome out of the solution points and into the part so the chrome finish would have a distinctive, brilliant and maybe slightly honey colored depends on what type of process you’re using but a much more durable coating than nickel and unlikely to corrode so when nickel was the base coat against the bare metal, and the chrome was kind of like the topping coat, like a clear coat for the nickel. After that you would rinse it a couple times and put it in hot water and then finally let it dry off. And put an air fan to blow the hot water off. Then the girls would come in and pick the parts up in special careful containers and that would go to assembly.
So we did everything there, we started with rods, sheet metal, we stamped it into parts, we processed the parts by cutting them or machining them, and then we polished-coated the parts for assembly. Along the way, we would make the plastic in house. I think it was really tightly integrated – what a marvelous, marvelous operation. For a kid, it was very, very exciting. I could play around with this and that I could come in on Saturdays. I had to sweep the floor once in a while, (laughs). It was always something. And it was a tremendous experience. The fondest moments were going in with father on Saturdays especially when it was cold weather then we would come back and mother would make hot lentil soup and some German spaetzle to go with that. I really enjoyed that. It was good – it wasn’t wonderful at the time but it was wonderful in retrospect.
I mentioned that when the war was going on, conversation among the men was about the progress of the war. D-Day was a really big thing. They all talked about D-Day and when it finally happened Allied Forces went into Normandy and started pushing across France to get to Germany. And it was a really good thing, given some major upsets like the Battle of the Bulge. It was a relentless war fought against the German army and the Nazi leadership and eventually Germany was forced to surrender. It was very traumatic, or should I say dramatic. While I was too young to understand (I was only about 7 and a half or something like that) but nevertheless it was something that absorbed everyone. It was astonishing how many men and women who were involved in the effort. It seemed like everybody had somebody in the war.
My cousin was 18 and once he was out of high school he was called out up. It was very traumatic for his mother. Fortunately the war was just about ending but since he was in the service with the others for quite a while. After the war, industry shifted into civilian production and consumer production. My father switched from war production and had his fishing reels designed and build and started in the market. People after the war wanted to go fishing again; the soldiers were coming back, and fishing was a great sport, particularly in Florida, California, and the Jersey coast. As a result, father had products to meet their needs. He kept expanding his line and going on sales calls around the country and even to Mexico. One time he came back from Acapulco and told us these enchanting stories about divers jumping off the cliffs. That was quite a thing in the late 40s.
SM: What was quite the thing?
HH: He made 16 mm movies of the divers jumping off these cliffs. One of his trips to California, he was on a fishing boat – the gasoline fumes blew up the boat and set it on fire.
SM: Oh boy.
HH: My father had a lifetime fear of fire and explosions right after that. He came back with his hair burnt off; he said he was bent out of shape.
SM: That is so sad.
The great tragedy was the death of my father in February 1949 when at the age 51, he had succumbed to a sudden heart attack and died. His death put the company in turmoil. After the funeral, my mother’s brother took over the reins of the company and ran the company until my mother remarried. She and her new husband wanted to take charge. Mother then ran the company as president for many years, I think the next 20-30 years (pause) assisted by her husband and assisted by her brother-in-law Henry Henze and other brother-in-law William Henze and for a while the former general manager of the company. During these times we endured stress from organizing attempts by various unions and NLRB elections. Not everyone in this country wanted a union. Workers realized that so many jobs even then in the 40s and the 50s were sending jobs down south. In 1959, I graduated from Lehigh University. I was about 22-23 when I joined the company full time and put in a lot of hours. We came out with many new products. They also had an extension on the factory building.
SM: Where was the company located?
HH: Well the company was still located in the same building except frankly we changed our entrance from one corner to the other. But we added then about 40,000 square feet. We put in a new office.
SM: What was the company called?
HH: Officially Penn Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Company, but popularly called “Penn Reels.”
Interview Date: December 16th, 2009
Interviewee: Herbert Henze (HH)
Interviewer: Sallie Maser (SM)
Transcriber: D. R. Widder, Sept 2011
Tape Description: Side A Tape 3 Herbert Henze – Memories of East Falls, Industry, Growing up, Factories Relationship with East Falls
HH: Take two. We talked about a pension plan to guarantee the retirement security of our people. And at first we had a single contract plan for each employee. This was a little insurance company; well, an insurance company plan, where each employee had his own, or her own contract with the insurance company.
The company paid the premiums, and at the end of a set period of time or at the normal retirement age the employee would get a pension. Typically at the time $50 to $100 a month.
Well that may seem trivial today, but understand that a good worker was happy to get $80 or $100 dollars a week. This was a skilled worker.
So a hundred dollars a month was not totally out of the question.
Because of the cumbersome arrangement of putting each individual employee on an individual policy together with the high premiums associated with the life insurance agent who wrote the policy, we thought we could do much better with a-
SM: Develop your own…
HH: Develop a plan with the assistance the actuaries, consultants and a trustee. And so in October of 1961, we established a defined benefit pension plan, as the really great companies had, and we engaged, Lukens, Savage and Washburn as actuaries.
SM: A defined… what was that called again?
HH: A defined benefit pension plan. And so we engaged actuaries. Actuaries who we retained, by the way, until well after the company was sold in 2002. We had investment counsel. We used Girard Trust Bank, which became Mellon Bank, and we got one the best people there, a Milton Neal; he was the executive in charge of pension trusts.
We gradually put money into it, and by the time my family sold the company we were well overfunded in the pension plan. “Overfunded” means that you have more money on hand than would be required to pay past service benefits if the plan stopped at that moment.
SM: So in other words, you were not only manufacturing it but you were helping with your employees lives or making, you know, insuring their lives, really.
HH: We were. We tried not to be paternalistic because that gets to be a little bit heavy handed.
HH: But we tried to provide them with a fair pay for a fair day’s work. And they gave us a fair day’s work. Oh you always have a few slackers and you always have a –
SM: Oh yeah for heaven sake that’s life. Trying to provide fair pay for a fair, for a fair day’s work. And you were known for that. That’s a good policy.
HH: Well, I think we were known for that. And the work by and large was not that strenuous. Nobody died on the job. Nobody got seriously hurt on the job. (laughing)
SM: But, ah, it was probably a very good place to work. And they responded.
HH: At the time there was a lot of union activity in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was a hot bed of union activity. Activity was so strong that many of the rag traders or textile workers were terminated from their jobs because the companies moved south or moved overseas or whatnot. Well our people didn’t move overseas, or at least our jobs didn’t. We did not send our jobs overseas.
SM: Not at that time. Well you didn’t maybe at all.
HH: Well much later we did because there was no choice. But at that time – 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s we didn’t do that.
SM: A lot of union activity here is just getting started in America.
HH: Well of course it really started in the 30s, as far as Philadelphia industry was concerned.
SM: Well alright.
HH: And then it continued-
SM: And having started in the 30s…. excuse me, go ahead
HH: And then it continued in the war years. Of course the government restricted during the war years because of production needs for the military. But then the 50s and 60s it started up again. And-
SM: Ok, ok.
HH: We had a number of these supervised elections. Probably four or five and in every case.
SM: Labor Relations Board
HH: In every case the employees voted to stay “not union.” And it was quite an interesting thing because the unions really wanted to have these 300 organized workers. But we managed to stave off the union and provide benefits for our people which were in excess union benefits.
HH: And also maintain the flexibility that we needed.
HH: Since we were paying union type wages we wouldn’t have been economically so distressed if a union came in, but what we would have lost at that time was the ability to shift workers. If a department got slow in those years you could not move people from a slow department to an active department. You had to lay them off.
SM: Is this what actually happened?
HH: Oh yeah it actually happened. You had to lay them off and hire other workers for the busy department. They didn’t allow flexibility. If a person was a mechanic or set up man you couldn’t ask him to go, let’s say, become an operator. That was beneath him; he wouldn’t do that. We couldn’t ask him since there was no work at all in that department to clean the place up and paint the walls or put in light bulbs or-
SM: Alright. In other words, ah, not trying to cut your verbiage down which I find fascinating, is that you didn’t need the so called practical aspects of the union. You needed the flexibility of being able to move the workers or people to where you needed them at the particular time.
HH: That was very important that we be able to move workers around. That we be able to cross-train people in other jobs. And we have the flexibility to account for momentary surges or declines in production-
SM: Alright. Alright. So that’s that aspect needed – flexibility, cross training, etc.
HH: I would have to say quite frankly that Philadelphia a very hostile union environment. Ah, and there was a great deal of agitation between the management-
SM: Does that have to do with Hoffa? Or is that later, or is that, or does any part of this story have to do with someone like Hoffa.
HH: Oh, of course obviously we never got the attention of Jimmy Hoffa. He was in the stratosphere of the labor union. He didn’t know that we existed. But it was part of the problem that the unions became so rigid and so demanding that the manufacturers or the employers decided to go to another area, particularly let’s say, the Carolinas where they had so called Right to Work laws, which meant an employee could not be forced, even thought maybe there was a union in the place.
SM: That was not nationwide? That was specific to an area, a state?
HH: The Right to Work laws were specific to each individual state.
HH: And they were typically in the South, where the powers to be – the political leaders – made sure there was no right to work provision in their state. Because they frankly wanted to poach employers, jobs from states that had mandatory or compulsory union management.
SM: Alright, well, okay, specific to each state. Do you want to stop the tape for a minute?
HH: Stop the tape.
HH: So as we tried to have good relations with our employees. And our customers, but that is another chapter. We also tried to have good relations with our community. The community being first of all the area right around the plant. We tried to keep it up. Keep in clean. And the neighbors responded. We essentially had good relations with our neighbors. When we put our addition on the plant, for example, it was never graphitized.
HH: It was never vandalized, although you know you get the occasional break in.
HH: But essentially we felt generally safe going there even at night. And the employees looked out for it. Some of the employees lived across the street. As wage earners they were not about to foul their own nest. And made sure that there work place was safe and secure and stayed there. We had good relations with our neighbors. Which was at one time Nice Ball Bearing Company, which was diagonally across the street. We also had good relations with Tastykake. Under first Paul Kaiser and then later Nelson Harns and his team. And these were very community minded people. In fact –
SM: Neighbors were generally community minded.
HH: Indeed. Bud Company was up the street. Had 8, or 10, or 15 thousand workers <inaudible>
HH: Let’s see, directly across the street we had Pep Boys. They moved into that giant building and they were good neighbors.
We also cooperated with the St. Joseph Orphanage, which was developed into a school – it was at one time an orphanage – but then it developed into a school, a vocational training school and in later years they gave the boys and girls training in various —I’ll call them mechanical or commercial – arts, and they turned out a nice bunch of kids who were willing to work.
We also had good relations with the City administrators. By and large they were appreciative of the fact that we had 2-3 hundred people providing, obviously, wage tax and other benefits and other benefits to the city’s coffers. And essentially we got cooperation if we needed any help with any issues. When we added on to the building we got excellent cooperation from the inspectors and the licensing and the approval department. And all these things went very well. We had a good harmonious relationship.
To be quite frank though, in the years that Frank Rizzo was mayor, ah the situation was not so good. Frank Rizzo first of all, increased taxes badly – very much. I recall one particular tax – well he said he raised it 2%. Well it went from a 2% to an unearned income tax, to a 5 % unearned income tax. That was quite a large 2% increase.
And Frank Rizzo essentially exacerbated the relationship between the different groups in the city, between, let’s be totally frank, between black and white. Let’s be totally frank, between haves and have-nots. Let’s be totally frank, between employers and employees. And it was a scary time to be in Philadelphia.
Coupled with that, the 60s were also bad years because of the hostility between the younger people and the federal government. Mostly over the war in Vietnam. Because they were upset with the war at the Vietnam, they took it out on all authority. And I would have to tell you there were times when it was pretty scary. This was –
SM: Ok, hang on, ok, STOP THE TAPE.
HH: No, I’m not going to stop right now. This reached a cap when Martin Luther King was shot. I believe it was 1968. And the city was frankly – as was the rest of the country – was stunned by the enormity of what this had done – this had been – this assassination. And it put a great chill on relations between – between the races. Between – people, between young and old.
And perhaps then it shocked the country in realizing we couldn’t go on like this. I have to tell you, with the student unrest, the labor unrest, with the resentment against Lyndon Johnson, these were tumultuous times-
HH: Together with the Ohio State shootings.
SM: And yet you were still able to maintain your business.
HH: We were able to maintain our business because frankly at a time like this, what do people do? Well they hunker down, they do their job, and they keep their head low. And they realize there is enough stress and hatred going around so they don’t add to it.
SM: But business was able to be maintained, right?
HH: Business was able to be maintained.
SM: And more than that. Was able to be maintained and, if not improved. What’s the word I am looking for?
HH: At least a continuing of satisfactory courses.
HH: We did have a lot of business with foreign countries.
SM: There you go.
HH: Our business with England was started in the late 40s —frankly the late 30s and into the 40s and 50s. After the war, our English customers did not have currency. So they could only buy from us according to the licensing requirements for permission of the British authorities. So to import anything into Britain you had to have a license.
SM: Alright, well so England was one example. Moving on to other examples.
HH: Other examples were Scandinavian countries, which were great fishing countries.
SM: (Sings Scan-da-navian)
HH: I’m talking particularly Sweden, Norway, Denmark. That is what it is of course. Not much in Finland. But there isn’t a lot of fishing in Finland. We didn’t get lt.
In Germany, there was almost nothing. In France, we had a lot of fishing in France. They fish both for tuna in the Mediterranean and the Sea of Biscay off the coast. Spain was very good, also Mediterranean, and also Atlantic. South Africa was a great country. Their fishing was mostly – because they don’t have so many harbors – mostly off the rocks.
And so our reels were particularly well suited to their local kind of fishing. And these guys would cast off the rocks. They’re anglers, they were called Spring Boks, after the famous jumping impala.
SM: Yeah right, thank you.
HH: So when you hear the word Spring Bark that means a South African.
SM: France, Spain, Mediterranean, and something else…
HH: Other countries were Australia, New Zealand…
SM: You know, maybe you might want to mention, I don’t know, a great friend in Australia that spent much time here, and-
HH: We had a wonderful friend. His name was Peter Goadby. He was an author, a really good fisherman. And was a conservationist. And he was certainly a great friend of Penn. We probably met him in the 70s; yeah, about the 70s. He came over and he needed special reels for fishing.
And we developed those reels for him. In fact I recall one wonderful day, he came in and he decided that a particular reel, a big game reel was a little slow in picking up the retrieve. So we said what did he want? And we thought about lt. And the engineer and I figured out what we can do. And so it wasn’t a great, a major change. So, the engineer came up with an idea; we cut some special gears for him. When Peter came in later the next day, it was finished! And he was frankly stunned that we would do something this fast and this quickly.
SM: And while we are doing this take, that would be a hallmark of the company. The ability to respond not only quickly but, what’s the word I am looking for? To respond –
HH: Expeditiously. Yeah, when we wanted to, we could get on something and go after it very fast. The problem with all American business, at least in those years, was the incredible inertia.
SM: WHAT? In what sense? From whom? Where? What? What do you mean?
HH: Inertia. All throughout the culture.
SM: Our culture?
HH: The American culture. And you saw that in the automobile business. It would take them five years to come out with a new model car.
SM: They pay for it now, boy
HH: No question about it. They paid for it, and they lost their market share. Um, and we were not different then. A person would come in. They would work from 8 to 4:30, and go home. That was it. If you wanted to, maybe you would have some expensive overtime. But essentially, they worked at one speed, which was slow. And the vendors were slow. So if you wanted tooling done, the minimum tooling would be four month, three months. You just couldn’t get it done any faster. Toward the end, we did have an excellent tooling department. They were a little quicker but it took a long time. And so the whole country lost their flexibility.
HH: But nevertheless, because we were concentrated, because we produced many things in house, when we wanted to, when we really had to, we could come up with something pretty fast and pretty good.
SM: Ok, press stop.
HH: So, we enjoyed being a manufacturer. We enjoyed being part of, to a degree, being part of the city. Because we were a small company, we were never really in the big leagues. The owners of Penn and <Inaudibte>. We were never in the big leagues.
SM: What do you consider the big leagues?
HH: Oh, well, obviously people like the Rohm & Haas. We were never there. We were essentially tradesmen running a plant. We subscribed to the old theory, you live near where you work.
SM: Good. Good.
HH: We didn’t live upstairs above the store for heaven stakes, but we essentially lived about 3 or 4 miles away. In the case of my mother and myself. We lived in East Falls.
SM: Living where you work.
HH: Yeah. I think that was a noble idea for much of Philadelphia because the management was near the employees. Now, I realize many people might say, this is blatant materialism, paternalism. And, we don’t like that the boss is hanging around and keeping an eye on us. Of course we didn’t do that –
SM: But you don’t mean it that way.
HH: That we were close and if there were any emergencies we could get in there. And many, many times I would come in the winter time. Or when my uncle was superintendent he would come in the wintertime and we would check out the boiler.
SM: To avoid any mishaps.
HH: To avoid mishaps in the morning. Curiously, there was one particular employee that was a unique Philadelphia institution, and this was the fireman or the boilerman or the engineer and these were men who kept the great mill buildings in Philadelphia working.
SM: The great what buildings?
HH: The mill buildings, the factory buildings.
SM: Oh, oh, oh.
HH: And these guys would-
SM: Fireman what and who?
HH: They would fire up the boiler, make sure there was always pressure in the boiler, when necessary they would clean it out, and take the clinkers and the coals out. And these guys were the custodians. And you rarely saw them but they were always there hanging around their boiler room. And they kept the place warm and in those years in the fabric trade where you needed high pressure steam for the irons and such. They would provide 125 pound psi. So they had to be licensed.
HH: And they came with the building. When the building was sold, the new owner would take on the old boiler guys. So they were almost like serfs who were attached to the real estate. And people laugh and chuckle that this is quaint. But frankly they were what kept the big buildings functioning.
SM: Before ‘modrin’ times
HH: Before modern times. They had a little guild. Our guy was named Joe Martin, and he had a buddy at the next factory, and they would trade off. So the buddy couldn’t make it, Joe go in and do his boiler work, or this guy would come in and do Joe’s boilers work. And they basically kept these places functioning.