Nowadays our children shun these jobs mainly because their parents supply them with too much pocket money. Forty to fifty years ago if one wanted something special like a watch, one would have to work for it – not in some make work scheme at home but a proper job. We all had those types of jobs. In this blog I will relate the jobs that my brother and I had.
Main pcture: Blaine worked in the Port Elizabeth harbour as a Tally Clerk before he went to Varsity.
Packer at Solly Kramers
My first job was as a Packer at Solly Kramer’s Liquor Store in Newton Park Port Elizabeth. I must have been at least 16 years old because children younger than that were not allowed to work. I generally only did the Saturday shift from 8 to 1 but others with expenses such as girlfriends also worked during the afternoons.
To prevent the sale of liquor to shebeens, one had to record the liquor being sold and if it was more than a certain literage, one had to get the customer to record their details. Of course it was all a farce. Names such as Mickey Mouse and John Lennon regularly appeared in the Register along with impossible street addresses such as 105A Drury Lane. But that is what the system wanted.
One soon recognised who the alcoholics were. One guy in particular I can recall. He must have been no older than 35 but he looked as if he was 60 years old – frail and unsturdy on his feet. He used to purchase half a dozen demijohns of Oude Libertas wine every Saturday. With an effort he would pick up the wine and amble slowly to his car. In all probability he was drunk from the night before but Saturday morning was his day to replenish his weekly supplies.
Data Capturer at the Ford Engine Plant
My first holiday job was at the Ford Engine Plant. It must have been December 1970. Ford was computerising their inventory system. I never got to view their existing system but I suspect that it must have been on Kardex Cards. All stock movements would have been manually entered onto these cardboard Stock Cards by hand.
Naturally they were notoriously inaccurate and cumbersome but worse than that they were probably weeks out of date. Imagine having to place a replenishment order when the records were out of date or inaccurate. Apart from a lack of computers, there were no barcode scanning. That meant that the accuracy of the 10 digit part numbers was suspect at best. As the staff were unconcerned about neatness and accuracy, many stock issues could not be recorded.
Our role was to start at one end of the warehouse and record each part number, measure and weigh it. Some parts such as the differential were quite tricky. How does one measure that? We then had to capture all these detail into a computer, the latest state of the art IBM terminal if I recall.
After half a day of doing this, I was totally bored. I have never been able to perform a repetitive task without getting bored. As the boardroom with the terminals did not have an air conditioner, we all sweltered. By day 2 we invented a game in order to keep us going. Our target was to make a pile of forms to the ceiling. It might have been childish but at least it kept our minds off the tedium of the job.
It was with this money that I purchased a guitar.
Chimney sweep at Carbon Black Factory
As far as I can recall, Dad was in charge of a small construction job at the Carbon Black factory in Deal Party. That is how he got us a holiday job.
This was by far the highest paid holiday job in Port Elizabeth by a factor of three or four. On the first day, I found out why. We had to clean the chimneys. By night we were as black as the ace of spades, darker than the average Black person in South Africa.
Instead of a 5 minute shower after the shift, it took half an hour. Then one gave up. The tiny carbon black molecules had clogged up all of one’s pores.
After a week, all that a half an hour’s shower did was to slightly lighten one’s skin.
Blaine’s job as a Tally Clerk as recounted by him:
PE was experiencing a shipping glut when I left matric and Uncle Bryce organised me a tally clerk job during the holidays. I worked from straight after matric exams till the day before varsity. I did 2 hours overtime most nights and worked many Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays because they were so lucrative. Although the rate was low, the overtime hours and weekends allowed me to amass my stash. The day was 8am – 6pm but one had to report at 7:30am to the office near the entrance for allocation to your berth for the day. We took lunch but would forgo the allowable supper break when doing overtime so that we could reduce the length of the day. The peculiar overtime work rules allowed us to work 5 minutes into the 3rd hour and still claim the full hour. My day was hence 7:30 – 8:05.
Unfortunately the bus from the city left for Cape Road at 8:00pm and the next at 9:00pm and I would only walk into the house at 9:30 – 9:45pm, filthy dirty from a day on the wharves. Dad would kindly wake me up at 6:00am with coffee and lunch sandwiches and I would leave home at 6:30am. This was great motivation to get wheels of my own.
Those were the BC years (before containers). Everything came in wooden boxes and crates. Armed with a clip board you would note which crate went into which rail carriage. All very boring but incredibly filthy. I found to my cost one day that intelligent people must not be employed in mind numbing jobs. I remember that we were loading crates of car parts for VW. The crates were large and would nearly fill the carriages wall to wall. As each carriage was filled, the tarpaulin would be pulled over, made fast and the carriage pushed off to the side. At some point I noticed that the carriage number I was loading did not tally with my sheet. I did a quick check on a filled carriage and found to my horror that not only had I got the carriage numbers mixed up but that they were inconsistent. You fill 3 or 4 trucks simultaneously so I must have been dreaming and made a complete balls-up.
I got someone to cover for me while I went from carriage to carriage. Tarpaulins and their ropes look neat on model train sets but in real life is grease impregnated and black with years of accumulated soot. I had to loosen a corner and slide inside as best I could to find the crate numbers. I have never been as dirty in my life. I was more careful in future.
Tally clerks are an interesting bunch. You would report for work each day and would be allocated your berth for the day or not. If you were surplus to requirements then you would go to the bar for the day and play snooker (pool hadn’t been popularised by Hollywood yet. We were still a British colony after all). If you didn’t report for work for more than two days without a doctor’s note you would fall off the list. It was a permanent/casual arrangement which attracted a certain kind of slacker. It was first come first serve so if you needed to work you got there early.
I managed to score a job there again during my June vacation. I met up with Gavin Cowley there. He was the archetypal golden boy, literally and figuratively. Blond, handsome and well built, he had represented SADF at 6 sports and was currently playing cricket, hockey and rugby for EP. The warehouse foremen fawned over him and he could do no wrong. So I hitched my star to his wagon and tried to get allotted the same berth as him so I could bask in his reflected glory. Contrary to all safety rules we would sit around in only our PT shorts, sandals and suntan oil and one day we were offered tea and cake (or should I say, tee en koek). Although I played hockey in the same team as him, he was at another level and I was in awe of him. He was worldly, had a car and a girlfriend while I hadn’t finished squeezing my chorbes. Vaughan Jones (I think he was in Cheryl’s year) also worked there and I think our combined intelligence exceeded that on the wharf.
It is interesting to compare eras. He was a pukka sports star but was having to support himself in his holidays in a not particularly salubrious job.