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  • The Union was strong at the plant. The Diamond Company had a reputation for taking care of it's employees. If an employee got hurt or sick on the job it was assumed the family to get lifelong and beneficial support.

    For most of the summer I was assigned to the plant railroad crew of four men. We maintained twenty miles of track inside the gates. Dave was a club footed short portly man who's gait was exactly the same distance between railroad ties. He was the boss. He chewed tobacco and spit long. I never saw him leave a chew where someone might step. Paul was an ancient skinny man who smoked Pall Mall cigarettes. Next was a Puerto Rican named Jose. Muscles were his friends. His body was hard and was very fond of the word "arriba" which he would exclaim right before shaking the vending machines for free candy bars. Then there was me. A little guy by anybody's standards.

    That was the crew. We were deformed, old, strong and runty.

    The summer was a lazy string of dog days and trips to the coal cook plant. Coke is made by baking coal in an airless furnace at temperatures close to 2500F. Under the ovens were quenching cars and the hot coke would push out into the awaiting car. Hot fuel breathing in fresh air flamed on the way to quenching. Some of the brimstone missed and fell to the tracks. It was up to us to remove the stray rocks from between the ties. One day Dave came hobbling down the tracks. Since his gait was well suited to run between the rails he was making good time. He was yelling "throw your shovels into the bushes!" I thought ... how weird!. "Hide the shovels... now"

    Ten minutes later the union boss came in his green Ford pickup. Dave and the man spoke for a while and when the man left I had questions... All answered with a single statement.

    "There's no place for a round tip shovel on the railroad." Union Rules
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