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Al Almer was born in 1931 in Worden, Montana, 25 miles east of Billings. His parents were Henry and Elizabeth Almer. He had 8 siblings, 2 half brothers, and stepbrothers and stepsisters. His father was born in South Dakota and his mother was born in Odessa, Russia. They met in North Dakota, and they both spoke German. His father worked on the railroad, while his mother was "a homemaker who took in washing sometimes to supplement the income." At age 10 and 11 it was Al’s job to go pick up it up and bring it back.
Al lived in Huntley, Montana for six years where he attended the 1st and 2nd grades. In third grade he lived in Harden, Montana. “We lived on a farm and had to go into town to go to school. But there was a hail storm there and we lost all of our crops so we moved to Vancouver, Washington where my aunt lived," Al graduated high school in 1951 there also.
Al did not go to college, he was drafted but volunteered to join the Navy. He served from June 22, 1951 to June, 1955.
Al and Margaret. This photograph was taken in Lake Tahoe, California near her parents property while Al was still in the Navy. Photograph courtesy Al Almer.
Al met Margaret in Auburn, California. "Before I was sent to the ship, I waited in San Francisco.” He had friends that were in the Seminary in Oakland and he went with them to a church service in Auburn where he met some sisters and got their address. He wrote to them “but Margaret was the only one who wrote back." Her letters were very positive, compared to his mother’s letters, and she sent him some pictures when he was in Guam. "Her name was Margaret but sometimes she signed her letters Peggy which confused me.” “When I came off on leave I visited her family (her mother, father and sister) at their cabin in Lake Tahoe.” “I remember that we had to sit in the back of a pickup.” “Later on I had a couple of 30 day furloughs where we got acquainted.” I asked her to marry me in her parent’s kitchen in Riverside where her sister was going to college at CBC [California Baptist College]. In 1954, they were married in Auburn, California, during Al's leave from the Navy. He liked Riverside, so he decided to stay and get a job at Rohr. Al and Margaret have four kids (they all graduated from Norte Vista High School), and nine grandkids.
"I had just gotten out of the Navy in July 1955, and applied at Rohr to work for them.” He went to work at Rohr on August 1, 1955 “because I needed to make a living." “I applied for it, they hired me. I got laid off for 3 weeks (in 1956) and got a job installing insulation." He never actually went to work for them because he got a call to come back to work at Rohr. "I am glad I did."
The first department that he worked in was Shipping. In Shipping he "got things ready to ship, packed up finished parts and sent them out to companies like Boeing and Lockheed."
"With the exception of six months I worked days. For six months I worked 2nd shift. I did it to give the other guy a chance to work days. But I got tired of it, he didn't like that too much and he went to the union but I had seniority so I got my way. They union came and talked to me to try to change my mind." “I worked 40 hours a week most of the time."
Al occasionally worked overtime “if I felt I needed to but I didn't like to. Usually at Christmas. The pay was good. I got paid triple time.”
His family “didn't approve of it too much" when he worked 2nd shift.
Did you have the proper training or skills?
"I had to train for all of them."
How did you get training?
"On the job training."
How long did it take you to learn your job?
In Shipping. Not very long, two to three weeks.
Who trained you?
Shipping clerks. I learned about the shipping tags.
In the 50’s he was in charge of the boys club at church, and had fun with different activities and going places, including taking trips to the mountains for a few days. He “had a lot of fun there along with work.” And “in the 50’s and 60’s we played a lot of shuffleboard, and we would take lunch early to play” in the aisles at work. Julie Reyes called Al “Rusty Pipes” because he never knew Al’s name. In the late 50's Al worked in the Cutting Department. He ran saws. “Two different saws, a small one and a 20" saw for cutting material out. When that faded I went into Assembly. “
What did you do in your longest-held job there?
What was made in your department?
The F14 TomCat, a fighter plane. “We built parts for that during the Vietnam War. It was busiest in the 70's, and then it tapered down.” A lot of people got laid off when things slowed down.
What happened after it was finished?
It was built for the Air Force. It went to Grumman possibly or for Boeing, the 707 AWACS and the 707. We built parts for about 20 different aircraft in Sub-Assembly.
How was it transported to the customer?
They built a train line into Rohr, or by truck.
Who inspected the parts?
"Inspectors. Each department had an Inspector. You put your stamp on it and the Inspector put a stamp on it."
What happened to rejects?
"Rejects? I did not have very many." If you did you would "do them over or repair them to pass inspection. I was fortunate I didn't have too many of them."
Where there repercussions for the workers?
"I didn't have any. One worker got transferred."
Where there quotas?
"You had time limits. By the time they needed a part. Sometimes you had emergencies. Ones that came with a red tag and then you would try hard to get them out."
What happened if the quota was not met?
"You had to work overtime. Saturdays, Sundays, whatever it took."
Was there ever a shortage of workers?
"A lot of times. That's why we had overtime."
How much time was allowed to do the job?
"Each job had a time limit, the time they hoped you would get it done."
Who set the time limits?
How did workers handle this?
“Best they could. There were things that would come into play that would delay you, like lack of parts.”
There was a shortage of materials then?
“At times, yeah.”
Were there any skills you got during war production that were useful during non-war production?
“You learned different ways of doing things, and learned from different people. I learned a lot of shortcuts, you put a lazy guy in there and he will find an easy way of doing it. I had some good workers and some bad ones.“
How many co-workers were you working with?
"It varied, 20 to 25 or more."
Did you work with any women?
Yeah, we had women Sealers. Mercy was one of the best. You could always count on her. She was one of the nicest ones too. They had some women Assemblers too. Some women wore clothes that got them attention in the factory.
Did you have family members working in the plant?
No, all of my family is in Washington. I have a granddaughter that is studying engineering though.
Did you see your fellow workers outside of work?
Yes - at the breakfasts now." [Rohr retirees still get together for weekly breakfasts. "Then - a few occasionally."
Did you go to any Rohr company picnics?
"I went to several of the picnics at the parks. But I was a homebody."
How were new workers treated?
"Mostly good. In 38 years I only had 1 or 2 supervisors that were lousy, and I had one really great one."
Were male workers treated differently than female workers?
"Depends on who the supervisor was."
Did co-workers help each other out?
"Oh, all of the time. There were a few you couldn't depend on. But there was always someone you could count on."
Did you make friends working in the plant?
"Oh, yeah a lot of friends. A lot that are my friends today."
Were there any celebrations at work for birthdays or anniversaries?
"At Christmas they had big dinners. And one department barbequed a pig."
Were there any social events or places in town that workers went to regularly?
"A lot of them liked the Spaghetti Factory. I went there a couple of times. We had a couple of dinners there for Rohr employees. A lot of them went to the bars on Cypress.” The Whip, and The Harbor.
How was your family affected by the hours you put in at Rohr?
"One time it affected them when I worked the night shift. I did not see them that whole month."
What would you say was the Rohr management’s attitude towards the workers?
"Majority was good. A few knuckleheads."
How did you get along with the managers?
"All but one, I got along with good. Some of them used to come to the breakfasts."
Were you ever in management?
"I was a 'working Leadman' in Sub-Assembly just before I retired." I liked working out in the factory with the guys instead of being in the office.
What would a worker have to do to get a raise?
"Putting time in. One old-timer did not want to give the guys raises so he gave them a penny raise." "You would advance from C to B to A [A being the highest level.]. If you got paid more you would advance to the next level. If you had a good supervisor you would advance."
What company benefits were provided to employees and their families?
"Good vacation. Most time I got 5 weeks vacation. 5 days sick leave but I don't ever remember taking it."
How was a personal disagreement between a boss and a co-worker dealt with?
"With the union representing you. That's how I went from nights to days."
Were there things the management could have done for the workers?
"Could have given the workers more help, sometimes they let you suffer through it.”
Did you belong to the labor union? What was it called?
"Yes, The Machinists Union. I joined in the 60's."
When did you leave Rohr? And why?
February 27th, 1993. I wanted to get out of there even though I wasn't eligible for Social Security. I think I was 61 years old.
In August of 1970, Al celebrated 15 years with the company, at the time he was working in Material Cutting. He also received an Employee of the Month award. He worked in Assembly from the early to mid 70's. He started working on the 707 passenger airplane and the 707 AWACS, a modified military 707. For twenty years he worked on different airplanes in Sub-Assembly and Main Assembly. He also worked in the Tooling stores cutting parts for them.
He went to work at Rohr-Moreno Valley from 1985 to February 1993 when he retired. "I can’t say I worked there for 38 years, but I was there for 38 years!"
Interviewed by Sue Poole, July 13, 2006, September 28, 2006, October 26, 2006, November 9, 2006; March 5, 2007; May 17, 2007; other sources: Rohr News, August 10th, 1970
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Last updated: 01-05-2014