First Job

I got my first job at age 16 working in a food processing plant.

This was a full-time summer job and I was assigned to the “box room” as an assistant. Our job was to fold boxes into shape, staple them, and stack them in a manner so they could be used by the production line to package the products.

The whole production floor was kept at refrigerator temperature so we wore coats, even during the hot and humid Missouri summer. The production line moved fast and once it got going you had to keep it supplied with boxes. If you fell behind they’d have to stop the line. You didn’t want that to happen.

My job was to fetch pallets of flat boxes from the warehouse with a pallet jack and bring them to the box room. I’d have to organize them depending on what we were packing that day and make sure I had enough on hand for the planned production volume. I also had to make sure we had room for the stacks of assembled boxes ready to be wheeled out to the production line right outside our doorway.

Once I had all that done my job was to grab a flat box, fold it into shape, and hand it off to my supervisor who was running the industrial stapler that’d put two big staples in the bottom of the box. Once it was stabled I’d grab the assembled box from him, stack it, and start over with another flat box. We moved fast.

We usually did a single product a day. Some days it’d be potato salad. Others baked beans. The worst was the onion days. The room next to ours was a prep room filled with folks slicing onions all day long.

After a month I got promoted when my boss misjudged an operation on the stapler and drove a staple though his hand.

I started the next day running the stapler and now I had my own assistant.

The rest of the summer passed uneventfully and I never suffered a stapler accident.

I returned the next summer to find I had been replaced by automation. Instead of putting the boxes together beforehand, the production line had been upgraded with a bin you loaded the flat boxes into and the machine folded them into shape and taped them up as the products were loaded. Nifty.