Factory Tails — Short Story Five
by Barbara Anne Helberg
Charles, second shift quality inspector at the Big Blackie Biscuit and Specialty Items, Inc. Henry County, Ohio, plant, recognized Chuk’s mood as testy before he’d heard Chuk’s second sentence. Chuk’s first comment seared: “Hey, Charles. Ready for another sparkling day at the millstone? Bad dough. Bad parts. Bad operator.”
“Get loose, Chuk. You can’t be having a bad day already. It’s just three-fifteen, fifteen minutes into your shift.”
“Yeah. Whoopie. Eight hours and fifteen minutes to go. It’s the same old thing, you know. Six checks and gauges and tests per shift. Check that. Test this. Gauge it again. If it checks out all right, toss it into the ship bin. If it doesn’t check out, hit it with a tenderizer hammer, make it two — partials — and send it out. Cram it on the gauge, stomp on it, straighten it, ignore it, but send it out the cotton-picking door! And don’t even think there’s a chance of doing it right because first shift sent it out perfect and you second shifters are second best rift raft who can’t even pick up your scrap!”
Charles, a strikingly large St. Bernard with a close cut that made him appear longer and lankier than the normal male member of his breed, had been in quality control for five years. He’d seen it before, heard it before, and wasn’t put off by hyper types like Chuk. They just made his rounds more interesting. Chuk was a medium-sized mix with shepherd and chow-chow features, including a stubby nose through which he snorted frequent displeasure. Charles had encouraged him to train for a quality control position. Some superiorly intelligent mixes sometimes made the grade for such promotions. But Chuk seemed bent on remaining a press operator so he cold complain without having to take the responsibility for improvement that a higher position would demand of him. Chuk denied that, of course.
Chuk’s forepaws shook a bit as he hopped tailend onto the metal stool most operators preferred at this station. The press was higher off the concrete than most, and operators needed a boost to reach the paw-push buttons.
Chuk’s nervous shake, Charles thought, had less to do with anxiety than it did with anger. The shake became noticeable when Chuk got on a disgruntled binge. Parts quality versus production quantity went around in Chuk’s head until he became dizzy, apparently. Charles had heard Chuk’s fellow workers refer to it as Chuk’s revolving migraine because there was no resolution to the problem, only a new day and a new headache.
Chuk snorted and pushed the paw-push buttons three times and looked through the protective plexiglass shield.
Charles peeked at the freshly pressed parts from behind Chuk’s shoulder, only to see the first three Q-Three biscuits had fallen into the chute with underdeveloped tops.
Chuk groaned. “I can’t gauge those,” he complained to Charles.
“Nope, you can’t,” said Charles. And he couldn’t approve them to start the shift’s operation at this press. “Run three more,” he told Chuk.
Chuk tightened his dry lips, snorted — it was hot in the plant — and paw-pushed three more parts with the same result: the top half of the “Q” was missing.
“Down time, my friend,” Charles declared. “I’ll tell Supervisor Quincey.”
Chuk, black, white, and bronze, slithered off the stool butt first and padded to the test stand, where he grabbed his timecard. “Well, Quincey can’t say ‘run’ on parts like that,” Chuk growled.
Charles winked. “We never know,” he said.
“Oh, filth!” Chuk screeched, not appreciating Charles’ attempt to humor him. Chuk snorted and shrugged back down to all fours and trudged off toward the time clock. “Partials,” he muttered.
Probably right, Charles thought. Supervisor Quincey would just say break the bad parts into partials and keep running, instead of fixing, or adjusting, anything on the Q-Three on a busily scheduled day like today. Partials boxes didn’t make money. In fact, they were donated by the bin to the Golden Societies, homes for aged, plant-retired canines that dotted the landscape of industrial Northwest Ohio. Supervisor Quincey, Charles thought, shouldn’t settle for partials so often. It was flirting with the capital strength of the company.
But Charles knew he wouldn’t have the final say. He over-looked the press operators’ work. He didn’t decide.
He looked after Chuk, heard him snort his displeasure as he leveled his timecard and watched the time clock punch out his down time.
Three-twenty-five. That hadn’t taken long, Charles thought.
Story and Artwork from the personal and copyrighted collection of Barbara Anne Helberg