By Stephen C. Schultz
The banging on my bedroom door was sudden and loud. I was jolted out of my sleep, eyes wide open but seeing nothing. My head turned from side to side in an effort to make sense of the thunderous noise. No, this was not one of those slow, groggy wake ups. This was a fight or flight, increased heart rate, and covers flung off type of wake up!
Still dazed with confusion and now sitting on the edge of my bed, the door knob started to turn. Then my dad poked his head in the door and said,
“Steve, get up! Get up now! You’re going down to Oregon Rubber Company to work today!”
I thought I was going to spend the day in the back pasture cutting up fallen trees with my dad. I turned to look at the clock next to my bed and I had to wipe the sleep from my eyes before it came into focus.
Thoughts raced through my head,
“5:30am! 5:30am on a Saturday no less! Doesn’t my dad know that a sixteen year old adolescent boy needs his rest? Apparently not!”
As my dad stepped in the room he said,
“Dave called me and they need some help down at the shop. He asked if you would be willing to come in this morning and help out.”
Dave Lowe was the founder and owner of Oregon Rubber Company. He and his wife Shirley and their daughter Julie were our neighbors and good friends. Oregon Rubber Company manufactured rubber to make retreads for truck tires. They would actually mix the ingredients, extrude the rubber into long sections and then press out the tire treads on large hydraulic type presses. These presses were essentially large waffle irons with customizable tread patterns. They took orders and shipped tire treads to tire shops all across the country including Alaska and Hawaii.
A week or so prior, Shirley had asked me to come down to the shop and do some weeding. It was the beginning of summer break and I certainly had the time. So, I would drive each day down to the shop and weed the flower beds and rake the bark mulch so it looked nice. Shirley told me to simply put my hours on a time card in the office.
It was a two or three day job so I brought a lunch with me. Each day, the guys would come out beside the shop to eat their lunch. I sat there with them and got to know Carl, the shop foreman and Smitty, the beloved, good natured, always smiling gentleman who ran the mixer. Smitty had the distinguished mantle of being the first employee with Oregon Rubber Company. There were others who came out to eat as well.
Evidently, the short time I spent eating with Carl is what lead to my father bursting in my bedroom door that particular morning. You see, Carl approached Dave and said they were getting behind on filling the orders. While business was good, they needed to hire someone else. In the course of the conversation, Carl said to Dave,
“Why don’t you call that neighbor kid of yours and have him come down. He can trim up these treads as they come off the press.”
So began my work at Oregon Rubber Company. I came down that day and stood trimming tire treads for 12 hours. For the next few weeks I would start at 6:00am and work until 6:00pm. They were long, dirty, laborious days. However, it wasn’t long before I was being trained on the buffer and learning how to bag, weigh and stack the treads on pallets, preparing them to be loaded on a truck for transport. I learned to drive a fork lift and found myself enjoying my time at work.
I was able to continue part time after school started again in the fall. I would work from about 4:30pm to 10:00pm. At 5:00pm, the rest of the crew would go home and I was there with one other guy. He would work the presses and I would run the buffer and fill orders. Even at 16 & 17 years old, I always knew there was a level of trust from Dave and Shirley and I didn’t want to damage that trust in any way.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity to learn the skills of working hard, being trusted, customer service and managing co-worker interactions and communication. I learned problem solving and developed critical thinking skills. The job that started out as a job weeding for my neighbor turned into a part time work opportunity throughout High School and full time work during the summers. There were even a couple of summers between semesters at college that I was able to help out at Oregon Rubber Company. I will forever be grateful!
So, why do I share this experience? Because, there is an aspect of work that is good for the soul. Well, what does that mean? It means that as we work through difficult situations in life, we are simultaneously learning. While the work may be hard, we actually feel good about ourselves. For example, the first day I was there trimming tire treads, I thought I was going to die. It wasn’t the most intellectually stimulating work and it was physically tiring to stand up all day for twelve hours. However, I exhibited the skills of persistence and determination, skills that hadn’t really been tested until that day. I gained competency in my ability to actually do the work. I was able to develop a sense of accomplishment over time and when I was trained on new aspects of the operation I developed confidence in my ability to learn new skills.
Did I know this was happening at the time…no. But, I know now, in hindsight, that this was a very important aspect of my adolescent development. It taught me the value of work. It taught me the value of earning money. It provided perspective on the realities of everyday life and I walked a little taller and I interacted with others in a more confident and competent manner. It is something I realize as a parent, I need to pay attention to with my own kids.
Are teens today able to have these same experiences? Do parents provide the opportunities for kids to work? What effect is technology having on adolescent physical and emotional development?
I am interested in some of your experiences with work. What did you learn? Was it a good experience or bad? What have you done with your own kids to help them learn about this principle called work?
Check out my other posts entitled “The Stinky Side of Summer Jobs” and “Opportunity looks a lot like work”