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Home » Kid stories » JEAN SHEPHERD Steel Mill Legend

JEAN SHEPHERD Steel Mill Legend

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I was working in the steel mill, see.  I was just a kid, I was about sixteen at the time, the summer time, and I was working as what they call a “mail boy.”  This is not what it sounds like.  It’s a highly complicated job, because the mill covers about twenty-seven thousand guys who work there in three shifts and it covers about a hundred square miles.

It’s an enormous place.  The thing a mail boy has to have after about four or five months of training—you have to know every last office, little offices, little bitty weighing scale offices.  You know every place in the mill like the back of your hand, and even the important supervisors and the big superintendants don’t know that.  They know their own mill.  But the mail boy knows every last thing about this place.  Fantastic place, and it becomes very intimate to you.  You know every place where hot air would came out and blast you in the back of the neck if you don’t look right, and you know where to be careful and where not to be careful and where you can run, where you can walk and all this stuff, and of course you have a million different things happen to you that you learn in the mill.

The whole idea was—where they were going to send you.  They’d assign you to a job in a regular place once in a while, so one day, down in the mail room Mr. Moss said, “Good morning.”

I said, “Good morning, Mr. Moss.”

“I want you to go work in the tin mill for a while.”

“The tin mill?”  Because the tin mill is a kind of special department that was kind of groovy to work for.  So I said, “The tin mill, Mr. Moss!”

“Yep, they called us to go down to work there in the tin mill assorting office.”

I knew the tin mill assorting office.  This was a very glamorous place.  Why was it glamorous?  For one thing, it was indoors.  That automatically made it glamorous because there was nothing worse than an outdoor office.  Little shacks sitting next to a railroad track with the sun beating down and the temperature a hundred and forty degrees, counting railroad cars going back and forth and switching in and out.  That’s not the kind of glamour job you want.

The tin mill was particularly glamorous because the tin mill had thousands of girls working in it.  They worked in a department called the “tin mill assorting” and these chicks wore blue uniforms and they worked under fluorescent lights and they would examine these big sheets of tin that were about thirty by thirty-six and they wore big gloves and they’d flip the sheets over like playing cards.  They were flipping them under special lights looking for flaws in the tin.  Man, these chicks were something else!  All kinds of fantastic girls working there.  Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian chicks.  Fantastic!  They all looked a little bit like Sophia Loren’s kid sister.  Earthy peasant.  Every time they would flip they would radiate animal vitality.

I had been running through the tin mill with my bag of mail over my shoulder for about three months, and I’d see these girls.  And right in the middle of all the girls was this office about forty feet by twenty-five feet, with glass windows all around it and that was the tin mill assorting office, surrounded  by this great field of feminine passion.  And I would deliver mail to this office.

There was a guy named Chester Gotch, who was always eating a salami sandwich.  Chester Gotch must have had thirty or forty salami sandwiches with him a day.  He just mainlined salami.  I’d come in and old Gotch was sitting there eating a salami sandwich on rye, a little touch of mustard, and he was sitting there looking out of this glass cage at all these bimbos flipping the tin.  They’d flip the tin and look in at Chester.  In those blue uniforms.  They were especially cut uniforms because, if they were loose, it was kind of dangerous because they would catch a sheet of tin on it, cut them all up.  Real tight blue uniforms.  And these girls were extremely glandular.  Chester was sitting there all the time eating a salami sandwich.

Much more tin mill assorting to come

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