Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cold Days of Summer

It's's Africa hot. With the temperatures pushing over 100 degrees this week, I can't help but long for the summer of 1984.

I had just finished my first year of college and was home for three months. Since I wanted to have a car to take back to school with me and my parents were willing to sell me my mother's black Chevette, I needed to find myself a job to afford it. Now, I knew I would be getting a good deal - my parents did something similar for my older brother four years prior (he worked a summer job to be able to buy a car from them). Unfortunately, I did not have the grill-cooking skills that helped him so well at places like the Ponderosa, Top of the Mark and the cafeteria at Lilydale.

This was in fact going to be my first job ever - outside of mowing the lawn or raking leaves and such. A real, every day kind of thing which would not mean getting paid by family. One option sort of jumped out quickly - Dunkirk Ice Cream was always hiring students in the summer. I filled out the application and was called not long after.

The job was actually working in the freezer section of the ice cream plant. The temperature in the warehouses and production line rooms was well below freezing. I'd often leave for work before 7am in the mornings wearing thermal underwear, jeans, and a sweatshirt - and bringing along my stocking cap, gloves, and insulated suit (think a snowsuit for adults complete with a hood) and boots.

The job was pretty straight forward. We usually worked in the production room near one of the roller-conveyors that carried product from the kitchens to the warehouse. This could be boxes of popsicles, fudgesicles and the like, or half-gallons of ice-cream wrapped in groups of three that would clack like bricks when they hit one another at the bottom of the conveyers. We would take the product, stack them according to specific patterns (by product) onto wooden pallets. In the case of the half-gallons, we'd do an intricate pattern of ten 3-packs per level, alternating the pattern each level so the stack was stable. After five rows, we'd get a second wood pallet and place it on top. Then five more rows, followed by wrapping the upper section in clear plastic. Once done, one of the supervisors would come by with the forklift and take the unit to the warehouse for storage.

Where things got tricky is when they would mix and match product on the same line coming from the kitchen. With the boxes, it was easy enough - just read the labels. With the half gallons, you had to watch which brand it was. You see, each grocery chain had its own brand - but if they were making chocolate for the morning, then we'd start with one brand and then that one would taper off while a second brand started up. Yup, you guessed it - it was the same ice cream that went to each of these chains. No difference whatsoever.

I was pretty efficient at this, so often I got assigned to work solo in one of the smaller off-shoot rooms. That meant it was a fixed run of items that did not require constant clearing out by the forklifts. Sometimes it would be in the box room (a solo line of boxed items). Sometimes it was in a special room where I had to stack round gallons in a pyramid type formation on each pallet. This was kind of nice because it gave me a chance to have quieter time on the job - without all the yelling that would happen if someone got the half-gallon lines backed up, etc.

We were supposed to get a break once an hour, for about ten minutes, to go out of the freezer areas and to the breakroom to warm up. Well, that didn't always happen. If someone called in sick, we would be short a person and the schedule lost the rotational nuance that was planned in there. We were lucky to get our lunch breaks on those days.

A couple perks did come with the job. One, we were allowed to have ice cream on our breaks if we wanted. That would usually be in the form of small cups from broken pallets (called 'peelings' - this was ice cream they could not ship out to the stores - eventually the 'peelings' would end up going back into the kitchen to mix all together for chocolate - I kid you not). But when its super-cold, who really wanted to eat ice cream? A buddy of mine brought his lunch in a cooler, so he'd stock up on Frusen-Gladje pints on his way out the door (yes, this small western NY plant was one place that made the famed "Swedish" ice cream of the 80's).

The second perk was coming home from work and having my body temperature still being lower than normal. This was great during the summer because the late afternoons and evening never felt as bad when you've been chilled to the bone all day. See we did not have air conditioning growing up (or when we did, we didn't use it that often).

So, on days like this, I kind of long for that after-work feeling from my days in the ice cream freezer. It was definitely a nice way to chill out.


Ron O. said...


I enjoy reading your blogs.

The funny thing about this post is that I'm the VP/Corp. Controller at Dunkirk Ice Cream, which is now Fieldbrook Foods Corporation. Things are still done the same way that you did them back in 1984. We could still use your expertise in the Cooler, if you're interested. (LOL)

Ron O.

Martin said...

Ron, hey - I didn't know you were the Corp. Controller there! Cool. I think I'll have to pass on the stacking-line job; I'm not as young as I used to be. (wink)