Saturday, January 5, 2013


The Chopsaw Girl


From 1972 to 1980 I worked in town at a cabinet making factory before the accident. I was a "chopsaw girl." The factory had all sorts of stations such as sorting, stacking, sanding, planing, inspecting, and chopping. The job involved looking at a long plank of wood as it came down the line and immediately deciding how many of certain length cuts could be made from it while eliminating (chopping out) flaws and cracks and knots. There were all sorts of lumber going through the molder, run by a man, including oak, basswood, poplar, pine, cedar and more. There were two of us chopping and I was front chopper. That meant that the first board was mine, the next was the girl's behind me, and the one after that was mine again. We had to go very fast so we didn't get behind. If I missed my next board it meant that the other chopper would get mine in addition to hers. Then I would have to go like hell to do two in a row! (Something like Lucy in the chocolate factory!)

When the molder man went to get a new load, we got a break to catch up if we were behind. A coincidence is that her name was also Geraldine May!!! TRUE!  We also could work at the other stations but at chopping we were the most competent. We had thick rubber pads to stand on, knee pads to protect the punch knee and wore goatskin gloves because splinters were horrible. Twice during the day we got a 10 minute break and 30 minute lunch. We punched in and out of the time clock for all.

The machines had a spinning blade and when I punched the knee lever with my knee, it would jump up (activated by air compression) and chop the board I held in place for the chop. It's hard to explain. To chop out a knot, it was chop! Move board. Chop! move board on to next chop. I pushed away the waste pieces with the board moving to the left, readying for the next chop. There was a poster board pinned up in front of us telling us how many pieces of a certain size we needed to get out of the actual order.  For instance, the order might read: 3,000 12" - 8,000 24" - 800 45" - and so on. 

We tossed our good chopped pieces to the left conveyer and they went on a roller trolley to a sorting roundtable that moved slowly so the sorter girl could stack the pieces by size, on separate pallets. Many times she would get behind with the table piling up like a pyramid, and wood cuts falling on the floor;  we would stop the molder and line and go help her stack and then start up again.

The shadow guard over our saw blade would come down when the blade jumped up to cut. Sometimes it got loosened by all the action. We each had a wrench on the saw table and we would tighten the nut often. One day my wrench slipped off the nut, hit the blade and pulled my hand into it. I knew it was BAD when it happened but felt no pain -  saw no blood -  I just grabbed the injured hand with my other one, ran up and over the belts away from the work station, while telling the other chopper I cut myself, and headed for the boss's office. He took me to the hospital. When I got there as an emergency patient the pain set in as they tried to see exactly what the injury entailed. My left hand that was holding the injured right hand would simply not release! They gave me a shot of morphine in my neck and I remember my legs both pounding up and down hard on the table. The next thing I remember was being in a hospital bed with my hand all wrapped up and pins sticking out everywhere. 

The local surgeon had pinned it together as a temporary fix until I could be shipped to a Philadelphia hand injury orthopedic surgeon in a large hospital for repair surgeries and therapy. They said our local man actually saved my thumb. The ring fingertip went up the waste chute at the factory, along with the tip of the glove. 

Dear friends drove me to the hand center at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and they had never even been out of our area! They were horse friends and truly country folks. My husband never even offered. Another friend drove me back and forth to the Philadelphia hospital for surgeries and therapies very often. It took over a year for me to finally be discharged. When there, I saw so many other severe and horrible hand injuries that I felt I didn't deserve to have so much attention to my small one. 

If you have never injured a hand severely, you can't understand how many things you do with your hands. Try hanging clothes on a clothesline, or emptying a pot of boiled potatoes or spaghetti into a colander. How about changing a sanitary napkin, or wiping yourself, shampooing, fixing hair, tying shoes! All were very difficult to do. 


Gerri and I were excellent choppers and worked the 7 to 3 shift. We both had kids in school and it worked out fine.  There were two other choppers who worked the night shift. We actually liked our job. It was both mentally challenging and physically active. After my accident, Gerri soon left and I went to work at a personal care boarding home, doing all the laundry for 30 residents and doing all bookkeeping, including payroll. I liked this job too. The owner is now in his late 80's and we are still friends. After 5 years there, I left to go to work for the County as the 4-H Coordinator, planning and executing programs for over 500 county youth and 200 leaders. I was already a leader and never dreamed I would be chosen as coordinator when I applied. I was also put in charge of the county horse and pony program, and was on regional and district and state committees, executing shows and activities. I stayed in that position until 1998 when I retired. 

TODAY Most of what we did at the wood plant is done with computers!!


3 comments:

  1. I am terribly sorry about what happened to you. Yes, we take our hands for granted. And don't think about what they can do.

    I didn't know that today what you did at the wood plant is done with computers. That is a big surprise for me.


    Greetings from Kaya

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  2. What an awful accident. You are so lucky you didn't lose a hand. I worked in a woodmill and know alot of the jobs. So interesting your life after the accident. I hope your hand is doing ok and no arthritis or cramping.

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  3. I just saw that you do a number of blogs so scooted myself over here to read a couple quickly. I tell YOU....you missed your calling, and I'm sure you've been told that before. You should have and could have been a major writer. I am serious. The talent you have for making the picture come alive and the turn of the word and phrase is outstanding. Maybe, MAYBE you should consider putting all of this into a book. I'd buy it, and I know a lot of people would. I am now officially in awe.......and of course, following :D

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