The Foundry


by Don Gosselin

     It was summer of 1965 and I was hired by Mr. Robert Hoisington, supervisor of Foundry personnel at The Whitin Machine Works. Little did I realize back then that this job would be so challenging and demanding of my endurance. I met a tough faced man, who would be my foreman and immediate boss for the three months I worked there. His name was Arthur Broadhurst, and what I remember most about his appearance, (outside of his booming base voice), was his huge, strong and calloused hands when we first met. I would later learn that Arthur was the captain of an engine company on the Northbridge Fire Department and served quite a few years in a leadership capacity. He then introduced me to the "bench moulders" I would be working with. The Foundry was not the kind of work place I had dreamed about. It was hot, steamy, noisy, and the odors of molten metals permeated the open expanse of the sand-covered floors. Many parts of The Shop Foundry looked "old and grungy," but somehow, there was organization and sense of commitment to the crude tasks and heavy labor that had to be done. Each employee I met that day was helpful and courteous.

      My first day on the Foundry cat walk was unique as a "sand muller. " (My rate of pay was $2.90 per hour.) I had not expected that room temperature would peak at 124 degrees Fahrenheit around mid-day on the cat walk, where I had to spend most of my eight hour shift. My job consisted of supplying moist, blackened sand to each of a dozen "bench molders," who would use pre-formed designs to "cast" hot, molten iron into "castings" for machine parts, to be further processed nearby in the Core Room. I had to be reminded to ingest at least two salt tablets at the water fountain at least twice daily, and I was instructed in the proper manner to wear safety boots, which were easily slipped on and off, in the event of hot iron spilling onto my foot and burning its way through. The Foundry was not the safest department of The Shop to work in, but I managed with a great deal of effort and caution, to stay "accident free." I did need to pay my college tuition costs and to handle other living expenses, in addition to my car.
     On a particularly hot day in the Foundry, I recalled a certain bench molder named Al Lauzon, who had lived in Woonsocket, R.I. back then. He was a tremendously fast worker. He would wear a back supporter in order "to break the rate" and do "piece work" to get bonus pay and be way ahead of his fellow bench-molding companions. From day one I recognized his motives, and on this day, I devised a scheme to trick him. I decided to stuff an old rag in his hopper so it would get stuck and block the sand coming out of his chute. He looked up to see me laughing my head off and screamed back at me that I was a "son of a ___(in French Canadian, of course.) That was a day I'll always remember, because he did not make "his piece work rate" that day! In spite of the heavy, crude tasks, we had our lighter moments.

     Making animals of sand, however, was a totally different matter. This required much patience, skill, and attention to detail due to the fragile nature of the medium used. Among the hobbies of the mill workers of The Whitin Machine Works, there was an unusual pastime by a worker near the Foundry. Henry LaPlante of the Core Room, with the use of a file, hacksaw, and some paste, would turn broken cores (made of baked sand) into lifelike-looking animal heads: ducks, fish and other creatures as he saw fit to make them on his spare time. He had lived in Woonsocket, R.I., and as was the practice then, employees had one hour for lunch. So, being unable to go home at mid-day, he found and made use of his idle time by filing down on broken and wasted cores that had been piled up in a corner by his work station. One day an idea came to him at work about finding a creative use for the piled up cores. He began to create the head of a deer. Later, he made a bear's head. Then, he made many ducks, rabbits, fish and even a fishing rod and a rifle, entirely out of cast-away sand!

     Another employee of the Foundry's Carpenter Shop was James Connor, who was also its supervisor. He, along with Winifred (Sally) Jones, of the Pattern Loft, were co-founders of the Whitinsville Blood Donors' Club, begun in 1940. The members at that time, who numbered slightly over 35, had donated a total of 1250 pints of their blood to the community. It had also been documented that this Club never refused a call for help and had sent 775 donors to hospitals in Providence, Pawtucket, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston. Some donors had to travel as far as Portland, ME. The Blood Donors Club had never charged for its donations, and refused cash gifts that were proposed. The only exception to this policy was the acceptance of support from Mr. E. Kent Swift of the Whitin Board of Directors, who had arranged to have all blood donors in The Shop receive their full pay when absent from work. Well over 90% of the Club's membership came directly from employees of the Whitin Machine Works. Also, it was a fact that whenever a Shop employee was sent out to donate blood, his transportation and meal reimbursement was provided to him.

      "I suspect the best thoughts of old friends, come not on specific days set aside for remembering them, but from the things we used to do with them and from the special way we do things because that was the way they did them. The life they lived is now part of our own. (This is about the only sort of memorial that means so much.)"

"I was upset and disheartenend when I was told to clear and shut down all operations in the Shop Foundry.  It was a bad day for us all, but I felt really troubled when I later learned that the Blast Furnace and the building would all be taken down."----source, Mr. Alfred LaJoie, last Full-time Employee of The Whitin Machine Works Foundry, 1970 

Source: And More by Andy Rooney, autobiography; Atheneum Press: New York, 1982; Ch. VI: "Occasions", p-142.

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