I have been toying with the idea of showing you our concrete manufacturing plant. The problem is where to start. Do I tell you the story of how it came to be? Do I tell you what it is now? How to do it? I will just start somewhere and ramble on as a thought about it pops into my head. I spent the better part of my life in this business. We started the business in 1979. I was a social worker and my husband worked for a plastic drain tile company developing the southern half of the US. We invested our retirement/savings money and never looked back. We leased a bare concrete slab at the local airport. That was our start-up location. The slab was all that remained of a barracks. The airport used to be an Air Force base. We bought a portable office building and built a storage building on the concrete slab, and we were in the concrete manufacturing business. We operated with old F-600 trucks equipped with rails and a wench. The out riggers were manual. We used readymix cement to pour the tanks in steel forms. We stripped the tanks from the forms with the same trucks that we used for delivery. This was manufacturing the hard way, folks. Many people still do it that way today.
When I drive into the business today, I see high chain-link fences with barbed wire tops. Two huge Rotweiller dogs guarding. Gates with locks. A private entrance with an electronic gate that requires me to push the right button on my remote to drive inside. We didn’t have fences when we started this business. Now, it’s impossible to avoid locks and fences and dogs. That’s a sad fact of life. Times change.
My office key still works, but I have to remember the passcode for the burglar alarm unless I want to deal with the sheriff. Survellience cameras watch me. Do I look like a burglar? I think I remember the password in case I accidentally set off the alarm. I no longer keep an office there. The old lawyer’s desk that I bought from an estate sale years ago still sits in one end of the big office where my daughter now occupies her dad’s chair. I laughed when I saw that somebody had swiped my ergonomic keyboard. I laughed until I realized I was the culprit! My faithful old Buddha is still sitting there smiling. I have to remember to bring him home the next time I go out there.
The offices are filled with paintings and etchings and antiques that I collected over many years. I like that. It feels like home. After all, they spend most of their lives there. The office manager used to cook wonderful lunches in the kitchen. Boy and his nanny spent a year or two there so that he could be with all of us when he was little. The office manager taught him to crawl by crawling beside him on the floor. He had his own nursery which evolved into a play room as he grew older. He still has his own “office”. Boy met lots of people. The guys who work there were good to him too. We took our dogs to work with us. They still take their dog with them every day.
When I arrived at the business with my camera, the only person in the plant was this guy talking on his phone. It was lunch time and everybody had gone to lunch . They all leave together sometimes. I don’t know why this guy was not with them. I didn’t recognize him, and he didn’t recognize me. I asked if he worked there. He said he did. I knew he hadn’t been there long since he wasn’t wearing a golf shirt with VPP embroidered on the front. He said he had been there for a week. He apologized for being dirty. He is learning how to do his job without getting the job all over him. I knew that too. I didn’t tell him that I used to do his job without getting a tenth as dirty. He wouldn’t have believed me. He is fifty-two. He came from Wisconsin to live with his son in a little town up the highway. He used to live in Texas. He went to the University of Texas. I stopped paying attention. If he is still there when I go back, I will make a note of his name. He seemed to be smart and interested in his work. He kept telling me that we had an amazing operation. I hope he thinks so after another week. I think he’s over qualified for the job. I liked him.
Directly behind the fellow on the forklift is the side of the break room adjacent to a welding shop. We built the break room building years ago while we were still housed in a cedar building no bigger than this one. We had a choice. We could build a break room for the guys or a new office for us. The choice was easy. A break room it would be. The guys had no clean place to wash up or to eat lunch in a comfortable, air conditioned building. They all helped to build it, and it still serves them well. I used to eat there with them …swiping homemade tortillas off their plates and snooping into their lunch bags to see what they were eating that I wanted to share. We laughed and joked and ate and had fun there.
Across the driveway and beyond the parking area, the old concrete septic tank lids that we inherited when we bought out an old cement business’s equipment and inventory many years ago are still there. We laid them in gravel to make a “paved” area in front of the cedar office. It was muddy when it rained on the dirt and gravel of the plant yard. They were old when we laid them, and they’re older still by many years now. Weeds have grown up between the pads since the old office was abandoned to storage when we built the new one. I smile when I remember how delighted I was when the boys laid them out so cleverly and attractively for me. I could get out of the car without stepping in mud that squished over my shoes. Life was good. I had spent the previous winter parking outside the gate and riding to the office porch in the bucket of a backhoe. An insurance auditor had to take the same ride when he came to audit that spring. He didn’t write us up for a violation of safety regulations although we didn’t provide a hardhat for the ride.
No, the porch roof is not falling down. It’s the camera angle. The old building was built by a contractor friend for me to use at the old airport slab location where we started the business in 1979. It replaced a small, portable office building that was very nice, actually. When we moved our business to the current location, we moved this building too. It was built on skids so that it could be moved easily. It has a bathroom, kitchen and very large office area that we converted into two offices. I prepared lunch in that small kitchen for years. I got really good at preparing food on a three-foot by two-foot counter space. You can see the very end of the concrete bench that Eulogio, the unquestioned head of production, made for me to sit on while I smoked on the porch. He was as good a friend as I ever had too. We often sat together drinking coffee and talking about the business or his grandchildren on that bench. He made a precast slab to cover the grave of the first of our dogs to be buried behind the office. I used to walk around to her grave and ask what in the world I was going to do with that new puppy who barked in the car and didn’t understand not to go onto the office porch. Eulogio died a good many years ago. I miss him still. He was old school. The boys in production said he thought he owned the equipment. I replied that he did.
This old building sits at the back of the property. Initially, it constituted the only storage we had for tools and supplies for the entire business. We moved it to this location along with the cedar office building. We stored chlorine in it because chlorine gas destroys metal. We sold a lot of chlorine in those days for our aerobic treatment units. I don’t think there is anything of use in it now. I don’t know why it hasn’t been demolished. Perhaps, nobody has thought about the old building since it sits almost hidden near a fence against which broken concrete tanks and scrap metal and wire are kept until they are hauled off to the scrap yard.
Some of the scrap materials from production are collected here in old steel precast forms and concrete tanks.
These old pieces of concrete are broken or unusable. They will be sold eventually for erosion control or for some other use.
Old conveyor belts from the cement mixer end up in this graveyard too when they break or wear out and have to be replaced. There are old concrete tanks stored around the plant that are not in regular inventory. There is nothing wrong with the tanks. They were probably built for some special application that never materialized or they are odd tanks that don’t fit any category for one reason or another.
Car parking blocks used to be made one at the time by shoveling cement into them. There were lots of them sitting on the slab where the guys walked around pouring cement into them. They were heavy to strip too since they had to be turned over by hand. It was dangerous work. Eventually, we bought what are called gang forms. That simply means that they are all hooked together and can be poured and stripped from the forms by equipment instead of by hand. Here is a leftover single form that is still lying on top of the parking block that was precast in it. I’d bet the parking block refused to come out of the form so the whole thing was dumped here. Eventually, the concrete block turned loose and separated from its steel form. They are still together.
In Part II, I will take up the production of concrete tanks and other concrete products. Now that I have shown you the old and discarded stuff. 🙂 Although it may seem so from these photographs, the plant really is not composed of rotting and abandoned buildings and equipment. It is not a storage place for the broken and the abandoned. It is very much a working concrete plant. Thank you for taking this part of the memory tour with me.