Saturday, November 04, 2006

Stories from the bakery #6: The good and the bad

Looking back over the five other posts I wrote about my experiences in the bakery, it seems that there were a lot of bad things that happen. That’s not really true, but the challenging days do stick in my memory more than the regular "good" days.

Sometimes bad things even happened at daytime during the week as was the case one hot afternoon. I was over at the oven talking to John Z, when things started going crazy. All a sudden, the oven, proof box and cooler stopped. But the conveyors kept running. The de-panner was also running, but there was no vacuum and the bread wasn’t being pulled out of the pan. As John started pulling pans off the conveyor, I hit the horn and a mechanic came running. Both of us agreed it appeared we had lost air and we headed down to the compressor room. Sure enough, none of the compressors were running. By this time, there were calls coming over the intercom throughout the bakery with other people having problems. Not finding the problem, we ran back up into the plant and were shocked to find several conveyor motors on fire. I started shutting down everything (as soon as the power to the conveyors were killed, the motors stopped burning) as the mechanic went to find the maintenance engineer. Coming out of the shop, he realized immediately that we no longer had three phase electricity and pulled the main circuit breaker coming into the building. Everything went dark and a call was put into Carolina Power and Light. It took ‘em about thirty minutes to have the problem fixed and we had a mess to clean up as well as a lot of conveyor motors to replace. But our mess wasn’t nearly as big as the oen in the front office which also drew power off the same circuit. This was around 1980, and they had one large computer that lost power and data and it took them several days to get everything back running right again.

Not long after this, the company forked over some bucks to the power company and got them to feed the plant from two directions so if we lost power from one substation, another station would take over. This ended the problems with blimps in power which created havoc with the ovens as I wrote about before. Not being an electrician, I’m not sure if it also protected us from “single phasing,” but we never had that problem again. The reason the compressors and the ovens and equipment with big motors had stopped is that there were protection on all large motors that shut them down if there was a problem with the electrical power. But there were too many small motors and since they were a lot cheaper and easier to replace, they didn’t have such protection.

Another problem we had to deal with at the bakery was bad yeast. One summer, we changed from Fleischmann’s to a new brand, Dixie yeast. Supposedly the family owning the bakery had a stake in Dixie Yeast, so we were expected to use this product. At first, things went along smoothly, but after a few weeks, we started having problems primarily with bread made by the automatic dough-maker. And the problems got worse in the afternoons, when the temperatures soared inside the plant. The bread wouldn’t brown nicely and would have large holes in it, appearing as if it had been over-mixed. Most of us suspected the yeast, but the owners were reluctant to agree. They brought in a number of experts who were unable to pinpoint the problem. Finally, someone convinced management there was a problem with the yeast and upon checking, some of the processing at the yeast plant had been done in fiberglass which wasn’t able to be cleaned like stainless steel and had, over time, built up some kind of bacteria that affected the yeast. For a while, we went back to the yeast we had been using while Dixie Yeast worked out these kinks.

But life at the bakery wasn’t always one problem after another. There were also good times. Although we came from a lot of different backgrounds, we were a family. I enjoyed listening to the old timers tell stories about their career at the bakery or their lives growing up. At break, we’d crowd into the lounge for soft-drinks and the air would get stale from the cigarette smoke. I was one of the few there who didn’t smoke, but that was okay for everyone knew I was different. I was the “college boy.” Sometimes our friendship extended outside the plant. There were at least half a dozen parties during the years I worked at the bakery (like Linda’s, which I wrote about earlier). Looking back on these, it’s interesting that the parties (at least the ones I attended) had only white folks. But racial lines were crossed at the annual company picnic and some of us did get together to play basketball. While working at the plant, I hunted deer, rabbits and squirrels with Bobbie, an African-American who ran the bread slicing and wrapping area. Often we’d have to work on holidays and at Thanksgiving and Christmas; we’d roast turkeys in the back of the roll oven and everyone would pig out on their lunch breaks. One of my favorite treats of working night shift was having freshly baked bread with hot butter (used with the butter-top breads) and honey or molasses. Of course, when you worked hard and in such heat, you didn’t have to worry about the extra calories.

Other bakery stories:
The Perils of working on the Christian Sabbath
Bad things can happen at night
Frank and Roosevelt
Linda and the summer of '76
Harvey and Ernest


  1. Since your saying that there were a half a dozen parties like Linda's, does that mean that you cheated on your girlfriend a half a dozen times? ;-)

  2. Good stories, Sage. Hot butter and fresh bread? Heaven!!!

  3. hmmmm i love these stories. and fresh baked bread and butter.. nummy!

  4. Murf, For the final time, it wasn't cheating!

    Kenju and Keda, don't forget the molasses!

  5. Sage - she never gives up does she?

    One of the hardest things for me about working a job like that would be the weekends and holidays. I really value them and would hate to give them up. Perhaps I might reconsider if I had unlimited hot bread and a gallon of honey/molasses.

  6. I'm still impressed with your memories. Great storytelling. Thanks.

  7. Yeap. As others have mentioned, your stories from the bakery are simply wonderful. This installment is no exception. Thanks again for posting these memories.

  8. mmmmm, WARM bread..........mmmmmmmm

  9. Ah, yes. Reminds me of my days at the copper mill.

    No worries about weight gain. I weighed 163 when I quit there. And 187 about six months later.

  10. sounds like there is never a dull moment at work

  11. Like you, the more challenging moments of my life tend to stick in my mind more than the pleasurable. It's sad. I am trying to focus more on the good memories. I do have those...