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Remembrance of Things Past: Working for MJ Fox always a reliable summer job

I didn’t plan to start my summer job by going on strike, but that’s what happened on July 1, 1965. I had worked in the EB shipyard for a total of seven days, not even long enough to have joined the union, and I was out the gate. Oh well, I thought, back to Williams Beach!

Before I could even get a start on a decent tan, a good friend, Don Wood (who, of course, was called Woody by everyone) informed me that the MJ Fox Company, a factory in the old Durham Enders razor blade building near the beach, was looking for temporary help for a second shift. So, along with Woody and Cliff Sebastianelli and a couple of others from our Explorer Post 34, we joined three older men, sailors from the Sub Base, working in the evenings on a special rush project.

MJ Fox built products out of Ethafoam, a medium density, polyethylene foam that differs from the more familiar Styrofoam in that it is soft and flexible. What we were building, so I was told, were nose cone protectors for missiles.

They were produced in pieces, and our job was to glue them together. Despite their eventual use, this was not rocket science, and for the most part we worked without supervision. We did a pretty good job and everyone got along well.

One night the sailors didn’t come to work. I’m not sure if it was because of Navy obligations, or because, as someone pointed out, it was Navy payday. In any event, in their absence, we decided to try a different process and set up an assembly line.

That night we produced more than we had in previous nights with a full crew. When our older co-workers returned they were not happy. What they explained to us was that we were all getting paid by the hour. The longer the job took, the more we earned.

Eventually the order was finished and the need for a second shift ended. Mr. Fox offered Woody and me daytime jobs, at least until the EB strike ended. We essentially were “gofers” and odd job kids.

One day we were told to load all the scrap Ethafoam into the company truck and take it to the Stonington dump on Greenhaven Road. The truck was an early 1950s vintage Chevy stake body with a dual speed rear end, which was stuck in low range. Suffice it to say; the vehicle had seen better days.

Don and I loaded the truck and covered the scrap with a tarpaulin, which had also seen better days. I started the engine, put it in gear, and was about two feet from the building when Woody shouted, “Bob! Stop!” It seems that the right front fender had fallen off. As I started to get out of the truck, my foot went right through the running board.

The trip to Greenhaven Road was uneventful. I was able to get the truck up to the speed limit on the Stonington flats!

We eventually made it to the dump and found a Stonington police car right behind us. The officer got out of the cruiser holding a piece of Ethafoam. Apparently our tarpaulin had so many holes in it that we had left a trail of scrap from Mason’s Island Road, all the way to the dump.

Since I was the driver, the policeman offered me two options; get a ticket for littering, or go back and pick it all up. We chose the latter and returned to the factory with almost as much material as we had left with. The company bought a new tarp.

When the EB strike ended, I returned to what some called the University on the Thames, and began working seven days a week. With time and a half for Saturday and double time on Sunday, I made up a lot of what I had lost during the strike and I joined the International Association of Machinists.

Another summer EB wasn’t hiring and after a short stint pumping gas at the Phillips 66 station, I once again found myself employed by Mr. Fox. By this time the company had moved to Gold Star Highway in the building that later housed Ted’s Sales Room.

My job there was to operate a drill press boring 16 holes in a small cube of wood to be used for holding blasting caps. I had a jig so that all I had to do was move the block around and pull the lever down.

The machine I operated was belt driven and was pretty old, even 50 years ago. I recently saw a similar device on an antique machine web site.

I faced two problems with the drill press. First, at least a couple of times each night the belt would come flying off the pulley and I’d have to stop and put it back on. I was always glad I didn’t get hit!

Second, the spindle holding the drill bit tended to wobble.

There was a lot of spoilage in the production of these holders, primarily because the wood had not been seasoned and often split. I explained this to Mr. Fox, and he told me, quite frankly, that my wages were cheaper than buying seasoned wood. I know he had a fireplace at home, so he probably had a lot of kindling!

All told, working for MJ Fox wasn’t a bad summer job. I’m sorry that more youngsters today can’t find industrial work during their school vacations. If nothing else, it makes a student appreciate getting an education.

Robert F. Welt of Mystic is a retired Groton Public Schools teacher.

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