Libby’s Tomato Cannery

I financed my sophomore and junior years working at Libby’s Cannery in Leipsic,
Ohio. My college roommate George Ulrich lived with us and worked there for the second summer. We were told we could work as many hours a week as we wanted, as long as we were there at least twelve hours a day, seven days a week — for $1.50 an hour, with no overtime pay. I averaged 92 hours a week once the tomatoes were ready. One week, I hit 100 hours! There are only 168 hours in a week. Pretty easy to calculate my paycheck that week.

libbys_1024That was pretty well my life those two summers. We got up early, drove 40 minutes to work, did our 12+ hour shift, drove home, showered, slept, and got up in time to make the next shift. No social life those summers.

It helped that George and Pete Dauer, one of my Kalida classmates, worked there. George met his future bride Carol the summer he worked there. It was a very memorable experience. For several weeks, we helped get things ready for the
“pack,” when tomatoes flooded the cannery, 24 hours a day. There was some variety, we got to drive forklifts, clean equipment, repair machines. My first year, I was assigned to handle the labeling machine. I loaded labels as needed and fixed jams in the machine occasionally.

I just stood for 12 hours, with short breaks and time for lunch. That was the most boring week of my life! It did get exciting though, when I stupidly stuck my arm in the machine to retrieve a jammed label. My arm was instantly slashed across the inside of the elbow. Off to the doctor for stitches. That could have been very nasty! Lesson learned!

Fortunately, my supervisor, Leo, the husband of one of my Kalida classmates, took pity and arranged for me to serve as one of his maintenance assistants. That was much more interesting. I got do different kinds of repair work on the machines.

A few days after I received the “promotion” to the maintenance crew (and a 10¢ per hour raise) I was strolling the isle when two Hispanic guys got into a fistfight. They were usually good buddies, but something set them to sparring. I quickly jumped between them, wrapping my arms around both of their necks. They quit swinging, allowing other guys to come to my rescue, pulling the two “friends” apart. What was I thinking! Unfortunately, a couple weeks later one of the fighters was arrested in town for stabbing another man.Jan 6' letter

I had met a charming freshman student, Jan Davis, in the winter of my sophomore year. We dated steadily until time for summer break. I remember “I’ll See You in September” was a popular song that fall. It pretty well captured our situation. I did take the train over to Pittsburgh one weekend to see her and meet her family. We made few phone calls as long distance calls were pretty expensive then. But we did write— almost every day.

Occasionally, there would be a major problem in the production line, bringing the entire operation to a halt while the mechanics scrambled to repair whatever had happened. We had nothing to do, but were supposed to look busy. During one of those stoppages, I sought refuge in the restroom. I took advantage of the opportunity to write Jan — on toilet paper! It was six feet long. I folded it up, stuffed it in an envelope and mailed it. We still have it. In fact, we saved all the letters we wrote those two summers apart. Occasionally, on our anniversary, we read a few of them to each other.