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I can’t resist @jameslileks‘s request for me to expand on my stint as a shingle maker.
Six years ago I was graduating college with a business degree and a seven-month pregnant wife. I had worked full-time at a local farm and home store throughout college but it wasn’t going to pay the bills once the little one showed up. Every day I’d check the job postings, applying for everything that would pay well enough and provide some sense of career opportunity. Numerous interviews and a few other offers but nothing quite like what I was needing or wanting.
Then one day I got a call from a prominent local shingle manufacturer about an entry-level production position. I had already interviewed with them several months prior for a corporate job but was turned down. The production position was going to pay over twice what I was making not counting overtime, benefits, etc. The company is one of the largest privately owned roofing manufacturers in the United States with its headquarters in southwest Missouri and several other plants across the country. While it wasn’t quite the type of job I thought I’d be landing, I figured there’d be a lot of room for opportunity considering my education.
I was wrong. Maybe I was an impatient millennial. I don’t think so though.
I was placed on the original line, the line that started it all back in 1945 out of a converted streetcar house. Today the line produces laminate shingles, the company’s most popular shingle. There are essentially two types of shingles: three-tab and laminate (or architectural). Three-tabs are simply cut out of an asphalt sheet. Laminates are cut in a pattern then glued (laminated) back together to form not only a better-looking shingle but a better shingle overall. Most shingles today are laminated.
The process started with fiberglass mat. The fiberglass plant across town produced big 4’x6′ rolls of mat which were trucked to plant. It was nasty, itchy stuff. The mat was unrolled and ran through the coater which applied a layer of asphalt and granules (the granules not only give the shingle color but are also what protects the shingle from the sun’s UV rays). It’s then cooled with water so it can be cut, laminated, and stacked into bundles. The individual bundles are wrapped, then robotically stacked onto pallets, and shipped out the door. One “square” of shingles equals 100 square feet. Three bundles make one square. Four guys worked on each shift and if the line was running well, we could produce over 300 square an hour. Bare mat to pallet, it was a single, continuous process. It was hot, dirty, fast-paced work.
I started as a forklift driver. Most days (or nights, the line ran almost 24/7 the entire time I worked there) forklift driving never stopped and you were always behind. After a few months of that, I was trained to be an inspector. Drivers took over at the robot, made sure shingles were moving out the door, waste dumpsters were dumped, and assisted with line breaks. Inspectors inspected the finished product, made sure the wrapper was working, and took care of the cutting, laminating, and stacking portion of the line. The other two positions were coater and floater. The coater took care of the mat and asphalt coater. The floater bounced around for breaks and helped out anywhere it was needed.
I was making really good money but was miserable. I worked five different shifts in nine months, all swing shift bouncing from days then nights each turn. I quickly saw there’d be little opportunity out of the plant, even for a business degree holder. Upper management/corporate operations were all either ex-military or engineers or both. A fellow employee on the line had a bachelor’s in math and was actively trying to get in the Navy’s nuclear program. He failed and instead joined the Marines. Another employee was a certified meteorologist.
I told myself to give it one year and start looking elsewhere. Nine months in, I got a call from a friend about an opportunity with his utility and, five years later, here I am.
It was a long, hard time but valuable experience looking back. I think I’ll keep it back there though.
Interesting note, the owner of the company is a major Republican donor and is infamous in Missouri for being anti-union and pro-business. Very Kochesque albeit on a much smaller scale.
This was not the company I worked for but here’s a good video on how shingles are made. Our machines looked just like that: