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On the Job at Cushman


The Plant

What we call the "A" Building, when I went to work here in 1941, it was on the east side of 21st Street. There was a big door that went upstairs to the offices. It had the date that that building was built, which I believe was 1917. Then you went in that opening upstairs and there was one opening going into the factory. There was always a guard there. You had to have the badge to get in. And then if you went left, the assembly line was along the north wall. From there you went up a few flight of stairs to the engineering department. Then if you took a right, you would go back into the machine shop that ran clear to 22nd Street. On the north side of this building was the automatic machines, the ones that primarily during the war made bomb fuses.
          Now after the war they built the "B" Building. The "B" Building stretched out to the parking lot on the south and went west quite a ways. I would guess offhand, God, I walked it many times, it was probably about 600 or 800 feet. On the north side of that was the old foundry which was next to the railroad tracks where they brought in their sand or whatever they needed. The foundry ran from 21st Street clear back to, I would say it ran back maybe not qute as far as the "B" Building...maybe a half block short of what the "B" Building was. It was a hot, miserble, noisy place. It realy was bad. It was a tough place to work. --Charles Palmer

I remember this was a huge place. Of course, you're always shy when you first start to work someplace. I guess I wouldn't call it shy, because I've never been shy in my life. But anyway...you could get lost in this place, if you didn't know your way around, in a heartbeat. You had to learn these paths to get from here, to here, to here, to here. You had to memorize them, because otherwise you could spend hours trying to figure out where you were supposed to be... you had to have the path down or you could spend hours finding your way. --Sharon Burcham

I remember that in what we used to call the sand sheds out along the north side of the building...Years later, like ten years after it was all closed up, go out there and you could bump the wall and the silt of the sand would still run out of the wall. --Stan Talley

That was the first factory I ever worked in so I was pretty scared, but it was a great bunch of people. They made me feel welcome when I got there and so it wasn't too long that I just fit right in with them. But I started out on punch press, running those great big, old machines... And grease would splatter all over your face when you'd push down on the pedal. And in the wintertime they'd open up the south door and the north door to bring in steel, and the snow would blow all through, and you'd have to run in the office or the bathroom to keep warm. --Marge Cooper

time-study
Einar Christensen, third from right from the time-study
department leading a tour of the foundry, 1956.

The Foundry

They had a lovely factory there. They had a foundry that was outstanding. Best foundry on this side of the Mississippi River. They were making cast iron engine blocks and aluminum parts for pistons. That foundry really had a good name in Nebraska. I was just out of college when I went to work there. We had a foundry at the University of Nebraska and I was familiar with making castings. We used to go on tours at Cushman to see their foundry because it was really an outstanding foundry. --Bernie Dow

The foundry was quite an interesting place. I used to like to walk by and look through the windows and watch them working there. It was real tough work. Real hot, miserable, dangerous work. I will never forget the smell. They used to use molasses mixed with corsan to make the cores for the molds. Of course, when they poured the hot metal in, you could smell molasses...It was not an unpleasant smell. It smelled kind of good. But I remember it was a dirty, hot place to work. (In the welding shop) I remember a lot of noise...They had a lot of smoke. And, of course, the punch press was right next to the welding department and that was a lot of rattle, clatter, bang. It was just plain noisy. --Richard Pearce

The thing I remember with the foundry-my parking place was just a short distance from the foundry, and every afternoon when I came out, it would be coated with black soot. The whole car. And it was just a mess. --Lois Clagget

We made tons of hydraulic castings. We made thousands and thousands of power steering units for Buick and shipped them to Joplin, Missouri. We made all kinds of hydraulic pump castings for Vickers in Omaha...We had quite an operation going because this foundry was the most modern foundry west of the Mississippi at the time that it was in operation. --Stan Talley

I did not work in the foundry, but I was standing by the window, facing 21st Street running a grinder and one period during the first week I was there, I saw as many as seven people an hour leaving the foundry to the first aid. They put some ice on, let them rest a little bit, and sent them back to work. It was about 135 degrees in the foundry. --Bob Debus

Pattern Shop  
Foundry Pattern Shop. The foundry had the facilities to build or repair both wood and metal patterns, insuring more acurate castings.
Charging Equipment  
Cupola Charging Equipment. The foundry could produce up to 30 tons of gray iron castings a day.
Molding Floor
Molding Floor. The foundry had mechanized sand handling and pouring equipment.
Power Shake-Out  
Power Shake-Out. The shake-out removed sand from the castings. The sand was then stored and reconditioned for further use.

Medical Care and Emergency Services

All factory jobs using heavy, sharp machinery are potentially dangerous. Cushman had a full-time nurse and a doctor, Doc Neumeyer, who came virtually every day. Injuries were not uncommon, but fatalities were rare.

We did have a guy get killed down there. Back in the automatic department, there was an old-type elevator... he stuck his head over the side of the elevator or something, and the big weight came down and hit him. It killed him. I remember that. Yes, he got conked on the head with that big weight...once, I was taking some of the weld off, and I had glasses on, but a piece of hot metal shaving got into my eye and I had to go down to the eye doctor and get it out. But that was about only it. You'd get cut once in a while on a shaving and have to have maybe a couple stitches. But other than that, why, it really wasn't that dangerous...We always had a good health care down there. --Lucille Brittain

This John Ickler, he was punching, letting it out, and somewhere or another the iron tub fell or something. I think it fell on somebody. I think John Ickler...and they said Stanley Talley-oh, he was a big, strong man-he lifted that tank off of him some way and they said they don't know how he ever did it. But he got that off of him. --Clarence Osborne

I was changing weights one day, and I pulled the jacket too quick and the iron hadn't set up yet and it came out through the sides. And I had a pair of work shoes on and it filled my shoe and burned right down to that tendon that is on the top of your foot and round the back ...It was a little hot. So anyway, I naturally, somebody yanked my shoe off right away and got that iron off of there and went to Doc and he wrapped it up and I went home for the rest of that day. And the next morning I called one of the guys that was working upstairs and [said], "I don't want this staying home business. Come and get me." And I went to work. --Stanley Talley

nurse's station
The nurse's station at the plant, 1948

The Paint Shop

I really didn't like painting the day I started it, but it was a job....I had a family, so I stayed there. And I got a check every week. And the reason I stayed there, because that was the first inside job I ever had, and I was there whether it rained or snowed or sleet. I had a job. I had a check every week...In the wintertime it was really the best because it wasn't so hot. But in the summertime, it would just get scorching hot. We had kind of a tin roof on it and one day it got so hot, they poured water over the top to try to cool the room down. And the steam would just come right off the roof.
          When I first started on the paint department, I was painting and the fumes just gagged me. They almost made me sick for the first week or two. But, you know, you got used to that smell and it didn't bother you no more...When you worked there, you had to put coke on your face and on your hands so the paint wouldn't stick to your face and your hands. And you had to wear a little white mask, but I never thought those masks were worth much, but that's what they had. --Bill Douglas

We had to clean the paint booths on night shift. I was never too fond of that particular job. You'd get sticky paint in your clothes and it would never wash out...We had a big exhaust fan that would pull all the paint fumes away and it would get dirt collected in with paint...So it had to be cleaned about once every three weeks. It was a squirrel-cage type fan. The fan blade was probably 5 foot in diameter. You had to crawl up on a ladder about 8 foot off the floor and there was a trap door in the duct work right above this fan. You take this door off and you climb inside and scrape this paint, clean it out... you had to crawl around and squirm on the back side of the fan and scrape the paint off of that, too. I remember one of the first times I did that it was at night and ... I got to thinking if the security guard is going to push that button and start that fan. That really would have made mincemeat out of me. So after that, I got to checking with the maintenance foreman and there was a main switch we could shut off to insure that that wouldn't happen for sure. --Jack Rippe

paint line
Installing a paint line in the "B" Building. A vehicle part, hanging on a hook, travelled on a line into the paint booth. Painters in the booth painted toward a waterfall to catch overspray. The line then moved on for further assembly. 1950s
paint booth
The paint booth. Painted parts received two coats of paint in the booth after which they were dried for 20 minutes in an infrared, gas-fired oven. 1950s
 

The Assembly Line

[T]hey had everything mounted on carts. We'd work on it and then we would push it up to the next station. Sometimes they didn't have the parts sitting there where you had to get them. You had to run down and get them and bring them back and put them on. Sometimes they'd run out of parts as we worked along. Then they came up with this new-fangled deal that this was going to be the turn-of-the-century assembly line. Everything came down on hangers. They would put the frame on upstairs, they would swing around and connect and then come on down and split. We'd get the scooters on one side and they'd get the trucks on the other side. That was the new-fangled assembly line that was supposed to be the number one assembly line. --Dick Frey

The beginning of the day was to clean your machine and oil it and get it ready to go. About noon we would clean the machine out with the air hose and oil again for the afternoon. Get your material laid out and start making seats, or doors, whichever one you were assigned to that day....Most of the time I was sewing seats and then once in a while I would run out of those, then I would help the other girls who were sewing doors. But they were cut and brought from the cutting table and put right on our benches. --Doris Dennis

And regardless of how the testing was going, it went into production on that date. And that was not always a good plan....At Cushman, it was always a crash program, and we put some things into production that should not have gone into production because they weren't ready, but management said, "This is the day it's going to go into production." So that always caused us grief in that we would have to go back and try to fix things after they were in production. And that is obviously much harder to do. --LaVon Hansen

I was test running engines on the third floor...there was about six or eight people assembling the Cushman 18 hp engine at that time, on the assembly line. And then they'd test-run six of them for a half an hour to get them broke in nice, running right, how they'd perform in the field and more or less find out if anybody had made any mistakes in the assembly process, because if they had, it wouldn't run or it would be noisy. And after they were done test-running them for a half an hour, I would get them and run them individually on a test stand. And we'd check the vacuum to make sure none of the seals were leaking and everything was seating in right. We set the ignition and set the idle and got it running tip-top before we sent them down to the assembly line. And the last step is we land them on a big roller rack with paper underneath. And we'd let them sit there for-most of the time they'd sit there for 24 hours and before we sent them down, we'd check them to make sure that there was no oil leaks in the engine before we sent them down. We did quite a few checks on them. We had to send quite a few back to the line to be checked, which didn't always make me very popular with the assemblers because they would just as soon seen them gone the first time. But we really had a great product going out at that time. So that was my first job with Cushman. --Stephen Lucas

I didn't work on the line other than inspect all the products on the line. I did inspect everything right on down the line from building the engines, to wiring, things such as that...It got to the point where Stan Talley hated to see me come because I would shut his line down, and he hated that, when things weren't as good as they should have been. --Bob Debus

3-wheel line
3-wheel line, first assembly station in the "B" Building, 1950s 
final assembly
Truckster frame being placed on a carrier for final assembly, note the two-person team. 1950s 
parts conveyor
A parts conveyor with an Eagle coming down the line, 1950s

Engineering

My first [golf cart] project was the form gear differential that was first installed in the gasoline-powered 735 golf cart. And then later I was involved in the various phases of the golf carts as they evolved through the years...I guess I liked mostly the development of a project, from concept to when you actually saw it coming down the line to be manufactured and sold. It is very rewarding to see something you have worked on, like the one rear differential that I was a project engineer on back in the '50s and is still being used. --Marv Goodding

Ed Hall hired me for two weeks' trial, so each time he came in the engineering department, I knew he was coming to let me go. But I guess God knew how much I needed the job because I stayed eight years. My husband was Air Force and was sent to Casablanca, Morocco, or I probably would have retired from Cushman. During my employment years I worked in engineering and was spoiled rotten by my fellow coworkers. Leaving this job was one of the hardest things I've ever done. --Lorna Kenney

The introduction especially of the computer in our department, where everything used to be hand-written, all hand done on paper...I think that is a big advantage and help for everyone around. --Glenn Schuette

That was about the time when in my career that I could see that technology was passing me by in a big hurry. It was time for me to start thinking about retiring. I'd have to say, that they probably gave everybody in the department the opportunity if they wanted to try it and learn it. Anybody there at that time could have. --John Hicks

Daniel Hedglin and Jerry Ogren remembered one new product introduction that flopped. The Cushman Eagle had to be taken back to the drawing board. Unveiled in 1986 as a multi-purpose small personnel and load-carrying vehicle, it was available as either a gasoline or electric model.

Ogren: Not all of our products were successes. Sometime you have to kind of laugh at yourself, but I remember the introduction of the Eagle in Asheville, North Carolina.

Hedglin: That was a fiasco, as I recall, even as badly as the product performed at the field day demonstration, we still sold hundreds of them.

Ogren: It was like you could put the Cushman name on something and it would carry it.

Hedglin: Our dealers had the confidence in us that even though the product bombed at the demonstration, it wouldn't even climb the hill, they knew that Cushman would make it right.

Marketing

So we introduced both the core harvester and the GA 30 at almost the same time. And our salesmen would come back and say that when they took those two pieces of equipment to the golf course, they sold both of them almost every time...And of course, every year when you introduced a new product, you got to go to the golf course superintendent show, wherever it may be. And it was always in a warm part of the country in the middle of winter. So we looked forward to that-having a new product coming every winter so we could go to the golf course show. And then we would hear all the good reports about these products, and it was really rewarding. And I think we had a lot of freedom to design new products at Cushman, a lot of opportunities. So for me, it was a very rewarding time in my career. --LaVon Hansen

We would use that show to launch a new product. When we would take that new product to the show, in most cases we would take the assembly people that put that product together to that show. It was this kind of spirit throughout the organization. Obviously the people that had the opportunity to go to that show, see the product they were building on display, see the dealer reaction to it and the end user reaction to it, and rub elbows with these people, was a shot in the arm for them. --Daniel Hedglin,

We had training sessions for their sales people that were second to none...We had specialized products and the sales people selling the products had to be knowledgeable on the product and they had to feel comfortable with demonstrating the product and...we placed a great deal of emphasis on sales training and product training, service training. And as a result, even though we weren't the major product line in many dealerships' houses, we were getting the majority of the selling time and they were making more money selling the product for profit. --Daniel Hedglin

The Machine Shop

The supervisor put me back on the automatic screw machine for our shop. I really liked the challenge. It was something else. You really had to be careful about what you were doing and how you put it together and the set-up was a challenge. And I liked that...I stayed as a machine operator in the automatic screw department. I think I had close to 20 years in, and almost (all) on the same machine. In fact, they still have, which I called Bertha, a big 4-inch, 4-spindle job. And they still have it in the machine shop and they operate it, but they only run one part on it. But that was the machine. I operated it. --Elmer Vosta

I'd have to trouble shoot anything that was not functioning right, and I had about 14 tool and die design engineers working for me. And I'd take one of them and we'd go out to the factory and trouble-shoot, and then I would turn it over to them to try and cure the problems that were existing and try to keep the factory going. --Bernie Dow

One of the things we worked on was a Truckster that came from Portland, Oregon. The fellow was driving the Truckster to New York. He got as far as North Platte and it broke down. Got it picked up by a truck and brought into Lincoln, and we went clear through that vehicle and rebuilt it for him and seems like it was at a well-reduced price, and he was able to go on to New York. I can remember it because it had a Cushman tarp on the back and bows, to keep his suitcases dry... --Art Dowling

Women at Work

While women first came to work at Cushman in large numbers during World War II, continuing in both factory and office jobs thereafter, the plant was hardly a hotbed of women's liberation. The 1947-48 contract between Cushman Motor Works and Local 907 of the United Auto Workers spelled out a stark wage differential, "Starting Rate per hour: Male, $.80; Female, $.76." Men who took the less desirable foundry jobs started at $.86 cents an hour, but women who worked in the foundry were stuck with the same $.76 hourly rate as other women in the plant.

I worked on that considerably. There was a gal that worked side by side with me on the turret lathe...What she was making [was] considerably less than I and doing the same work and as good of work. We finally got that pretty well straightened out over the many years of working at it. --Charles Palmer

I know people would ask me how much I made. I would give them a ballpark figure. "Oh, my. You make that much?" I'd say, "Yes I do, and I earn every dime of it."...That's what kept the people there. (On the day I retired, in 1992,) I held back those tears till I thought I was going to choke. I got all my work done and I was talking to Shirley Mahoney, at that time. I said, "I'm all done. What am I supposed to do?" She said, "Go home." "I can't do that." She said, "What are they going to do? Fire you?" --Jan Fleck

[Cushman] was very interesting and just my kind of work....I enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed all the people. We got along fine and I cried most of the day when I retired, which tells you something. But I was also glad to get out of there and have someone else take over my job. --Alice Wright

Office employees
Office employees, ca. 1930s.

 


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