Yar-craft

Discussion in 'Jobs I Have Had' started by Ken Anderson, Sep 10, 2015.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    When Klenk Chemical Company came to an end, I found work at Yar-Craft, a fiberglass boat company that produced primarily small fishing boats. At our facility, we produced the hulls and the decks in two pieces, then merged the pieces before doing the finishing work. The motors were added elsewhere.

    At times, we would get orders for row boats, canoes, or kayaks. I think they would lease the molds for those, as they were not generally available.

    Like most people, I began in the position known as roller. After the chopped fiberglass, resin, and catalyst mixture was sprayed onto the molds, it would have to be rolled flat, fairly quickly, for the purpose of producing a smooth surface and removing any air bubbles before the mixture dried. There was a little bit of skill involved in this because if you exerted too much pressure, some of the fiberglass would be displaced, but if the pressure was too light air bubbles might remains. But pretty much anyone could learn to be a roller.

    When a position came open, I applied for the job of chopper. The chopper would operate the chopping gun. A fiberglass roll would feed into the chopping gun, like twine, where it was cut into specified lengths (which would differ depending on the product being produced), and it was mixed with resin and catalyst. The ratio of fiberglass to resin and catalyst was controlled by the pressure placed on the trigger. Depressed only part way, it would spray only resin and catalyst, which would be used at the beginning and the end of a chop. Depressed all the way, it would begin feeding in the fiberglass.

    The chop had to be done quickly and evenly so that the thickness of the chop was smooth throughout the hull or deck. This was particularly difficult in corners, where there was a tendency for it to build up, and on the decks, which included compartments for fish and for bait. A good roller could fix problems with unevenness to some extent, but on a very limited basis.

    A few others tried out for that position, but they couldn't get it, and the company was not eager to ruin too many hulls or decks during the learning process.

    For some reason, I was able to figure it out quickly. It was necessary to get a feel for the trigger pressure, and there was almost an art to applying a smooth spray. So I was the chopper operator. In fact, when they had orders that required a second shift, I worked a double because they didn't have anyone else who could do the job as well.

    Yar-Craft was also a small company. My older brother worked there for a time, despite his Master's degree in Social Work, and a couple of cousins worked there. Everyone had a key, and since we all knew what we were doing, there was no supervisor other than the owner. The company had a couple of motorized fishing boats at the Menominee Marina that any employee could check out simply be signing up for the spot on a calendar in the lunch room.

    We could come in weekends and make boats for ourselves, paying only the company cost for materials, which was $15 for a canoe. Of course, that required having people there who could do all levels of the operation, since it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to do the chop and still be able to get it rolled out before it began to dry. After the chop was applied and rolled, it was moved to a baking station, where it hardened completely, then the grinding booth, and the finishing stations.

    One winter day, a few of us came in to work to find a note on the door saying that it was going to be closed due to snow. Well, since we had already driven there, and we had keys, we made canoes for ourselves.

    As the chopper operator, I would get the brunt of the fiberglass, and the only safety gear that I wore was a paper mask over my nose and mouth. I would get high from the fumes. At first, it was very noticeable, then I got used to it, and would only notice it after being off for a few days.

    I didn't have a problem with itching, since I worked with it when it was wet. My poor cousin in the grinding booth got the brunt of that. Having tried that once, that wasn't a job that I wanted.

    As the chopper operator, I would get so much chop on my pants that I would just roll it out periodically, so that it was essentially a fiberglass suit of armor that was loose only at the knees, where my movements prevented it from forming a seal. At the end of each shift, I would change into my regular clothes and lean my work pants against a wall.

    In order to keep fiberglass from building up on our hands and arms, we would periodically dip them in a chemical that removed it completely. Interestingly, that chemical was toluene, a colorless liquid that was used as a solvent. As a joke, when we had a new employee, we might hand him a styrofoam cup and ask him to get us a cup of toluene. Once dipped in the vat, the cup would disintegrate completely and immediately.

    Probably a dozen times a day, those of us who worked with wet fiberglass would dip our arms in toluene in order to remove it. Toluene was later found to be a major carcinogen.

    I was in my late teens when I was working for Yar-Craft, and I wasn't yet thinking about settling down to a job. I left without notice one weekend, hitchhiking to California with a friend of mine, staying for about a month.

    When I returned, I went in to pick up my last check and they offered me my job back, which surprised me since I hadn't given them any notice. I worked there for a few more months before moving to California, where I lived for twelve years.
     
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  2. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Veteran Member
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    For some reason, I did a search on Yar-Craft online, thinking that the company had probably gone out of business long ago, given that it was a very small company when I worked there long ago, as one of my first jobs. The company was only a couple of years old when I worked there.

    Interestingly, I found that Yar-Craft is now based in Arkansas, after having changed hands a few times. At one point, long after I left, a guy I went to school with, who had won millions in the lottery, had bought it, while it was still in Menominee, Michigan. After he sold it, the company moved to Arkansas.
     
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  3. Ike Willis

    Ike Willis Very Well-Known Member
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    Interesting. Many of my old work places are either gone or under new management now. Some were very large companies, like the International tractor plant (Farmall) in Rock Island Illinois.
     
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