Workday Wednesday: Retirement Bliss

Retirement bliss is exactly what I call that smile on my grandfather’s face as he holds his first retirement check from Maxwell House in his hands in the photo below.

I’m not sure of his exact retirement date, but I do know he put in over 45+ years at the Houston Plant. Below is a brief write-up about my grandfather’s work experience through the years at Maxwell House that I found with the photo above. When and where was this information published? I have no idea. But if I consider the number of years he worked at the plant, I would say his retirement occurred during the mid to late 1970’s. As I look at some of the information printed on the back of this clipping, it appears to have been cut out of a company publication.


Retirement Bliss

Retired Plant Services Foreman Willie Taylor (l.) accepts his first retirement check from Houston Plant Mgr. Russ Cox. Willie began working in the R&S Dept. in 1930 for 35¢ an hour. He worked his way up to a shipper with a merit increase to 40¢ an hour, but a cost of living increase brought his salary to 45¢ an hour in 1941. Willie recalls  that the wages were good for a job that was “all muscle and manpower.” Willie, like many other MH employees, worked his way through the Depression, a world war, recession and inflationary cycles. After all that, he feels retirement is a time to do “nothing — just nothing.”

After 45+ years of hard work at some of the pay rates listed above, I agree wholeheartedly . . .  doing “nothing — just nothing” sounds mighty good to me too– LOL!

If you have my grandfather, Willie Taylor, in your family research, let me hear from you because . . .
I’m claiming kin!

Workday Wednesday: Jesse Earl Green, another Maxwell House Man in My Family Tree

My paternal grandfather, Willie Taylor, wasn’t the only popular Maxwell House Man in my family tree. My great uncle Jesse Earl Green from Chappel Hill, Texas, with only a third grade education, went on to become the “first” African American Assistant Department Head of the Roast and Blend Division at Maxwell House!

Jesse Earl Green, Asst. Department Head of the Roast and Blend Division of General Foods Maxwell House Coffee in Houston, Texas

Uncle Jesse, the youngest of seven children was born December 29, 1911 to Lula Routt and Jim Green in Chappel Hill, Texas. He was just 18 years old when he left Chappel Hill in 1929 and came to Houston seeking employment and a better life. He worked odd jobs consistently until he was hired at Maxwell House as extra help in 1930. Once at Maxwell House, uncle Jesse was on the move! He quickly moved up the ranks as porter, coffee blender, sub roaster, regulator roaster and finally as special roaster where his special blend was a mixture of Brazilian and Colombian beans. His final promotion made Maxwell House history — he became the first African American Assistant Department Head of the Roast and Blend Division! He held this position until he retired in 1977.

Photo was taken at the Maxwell House Houston Plant, May 19, 1972

According to the inscription on the back of the photo above, everyone featured represents 244 years of service to Maxwell House. Standing (left to right) is Jesse Earl Green (42 yrs), Lillian Riddle (43 yrs), C.W. “Tex” Cook (30 yrs), Willie Taylor (42 yrs), Frank Lenich (32 yrs), and George Curtis (35 yrs).

“Green House Coffee”

My uncle worked for Maxwell House for forty-seven years! Can you imagine working for any company forty-seven years? People just don’t work jobs for long periods of time anymore. Heck, companies don’t maintain internal departments long enough for anyone to work that long anymore! Well, forty-seven years is a very long time and his colleagues often said they were blessed to have had someone of his character for forty-seven years of service. At uncle’s retirement gala, his gift from Maxwell House was a batch of coffee of his own special blend — Brazilian and Colombian beans — put into cans labeled “Green House Coffee” with a picture of him on the label wearing his trademark — red bow tie!

While working at Maxwell House, Uncle Jesse went on to earn his Doctorate in Theology from Southwestern Theological Seminary. This advanced degree enhanced his service and leadership as Senior Pastor of Blessed Hope Missionary Baptist Church, a church he organized in May of 1950 in Houston, Texas.

Uncle Jesse Earl Green passed away on March 21, 1998 and was laid to rest in the Golden Gate Cemetery, 8400 Hirsch Road, Houston, Texas  77016

If you have my great uncle Jesse Earl Green, a real Maxwell House legend in your family tree, let me hear from you because . . .
I’m claiming kin!

Workday Wednesday: A Day in the Life of a Boiler Washer

With Labor Day 2012 less than a week away, I’ve been thinking a lot about the various jobs and occupations many of my ancestors were engaged in from Emancipation to the 1940’s. According to the 1940 US census, my paternal step-great-grandfather, Morgan Terrell Aldridge, was a Boiler Washer for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (M-K-T) Railroad Roundhouse in Parsons, KS. That makes him about the sixth or seventh male ancestor that I’ve identified (I’m sure there’s more) in my family tree that has connections to the railroad industry in this country!

When I stop and think about the African American railroad experience in the US, the first and only name that comes to mind is A. Phillip Randolph, the organizer, and president of the Pullman Porters (the first predominantly Black labor union in America). Beyond Mr. Randolph, what little I did know about our involvement in this industry came from seeing black train attendants and porters in old Hollywood films. But thankfully as I learn more about my ancestors’ involvement in the development and growth of this industry, those old Hollywood movies don’t begin to tell the story about the social, cultural, political, and economic impact this industry had on the lives of my ancestors and the African American community!

As I researched for information about what a typical day was like for a Boiler Washer, I had the good fortune to find and read, Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey by Theodore Kornweibel Jr. This EXTRAORDINARY book took me on a photo journey of the black railroad experience  — from slavery to Amtrak — I won’t soon forget!

So what was a typical day like for my great-grandfather at the
M.K. & T. Railroad Shop in Parsons, KS?

In the postcard photo above and below, you can see the interior view of the M.K. & T Roundhouse (or Railroad shop) in Parsons KS  was massive — 860 feet long and 125 feet wide! [1]

Roundhouses employed hundreds of workers who worked around the clock in shifts called “tricks.” The main focus of these shops was to repair and maintain existing trains, as well as develop new ones. Therefore, there were skilled craftsmen, their apprentices, and helpers working together on steam locomotives brought in from the passenger station or freight yard. These engines were fueled by burning coal, wood or oil, to produce steam in a boiler; this steam is what drives the engine.

While skilled craftsmen and their helpers performed repairs, engine wipers removed grime and then polished the upper parts of the locomotives. More laborers greased their moving parts. Locomotives received a washout by Boiler Washers every 30 days to remove sludge and scale that had built up from impurities in the water. Once servicing or minor repairs were complete, fire builders returned locomotives to steam while fire watchmen responsible for a number of engines kept them steaming sufficiently so that full boiler pressure could be raised in a short time to ensure prompt departure.” – Theodore Kornweibel Jr., in Railroads in the African American Experience [2]

Why was it important for the Boiler Washer to washout locomotives every 30 days?  Scale and sludge that would build-up from impurities in the water could corrode the boiler to the point that it would have to be rebuilt or replaced, which was very expensive.

How is a Washout done?

According to Wikipedia,  a washout is done by

. . . draining away all the boiler water through the “mudholes” at the base of the firebox and the removal of all the “washout plugs.” Scale is then jetted or scraped from the interior surfaces using a high pressure water jet and rods of soft metal, such as copper. . . .  At large maintenance facilities the boiler would have been both washed and refilled with very hot water from an external supply to bring the locomotive back to service more quickly.” [3]

This type of work was not only difficult depending on how accessible the boiler was for cleaning, but very dirty and dangerous as scale and sludge removed by high-pressure water jets ricocheted back on to the boiler washer in the process.

Have an ancestor who was a Boiler Washer, or other occupation that contributed to the development and growth of the railroad industry in this country? Let me hear from you in the comment area below!


Source Citation:

1. “Interior View, New M. K. & T. Shops, Parsons, KS.” Postcard. Railroad Line Forums.  2000-10. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

2. Kornweibel, Theodore. “Chapter 12: In the Shops, Freight Houses, and Offices.” Railroads in the African American Experience: A Photographic Journey. Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 2010. 309-310. Print.

3. Rabensteiner. “Sectioned fire-tube boiler.” Photograph. Wikipedia. n.d. Web. 28 Aug 2012.

4. “Fire-tube boiler.” Wikipedia. n.p., n.d., Web. 28 Aug 2012.