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IN THIS ISSUE

VINTAGE LUNCH OR COMPASS
FOR THE FUTURE?
BY MARK NEELEY

The nature of our business requires that we often have to take business trips for inventory purchases throughout the year. We have been fortunate to meet some really nice folks over the years, and one of them who I have been fortunate to get to know fairly well over the last few years, had a unique item that brought back a lot of memories for me. It was a vintage lunch box. No, not one like I carried as a child, that one was a Scooby Doo from the early 70s, and after it wore out, I believe it was replaced with Speed Buggy. The lunch box I am talking about was all black, an industrial model built for a real man, one like my Grandfather carried.

As a child, I spent a great deal of time around my grandparent’s home in South Carolina. It was a “farm” to me, but it really was just a small place that had a couple of tractors, several out buildings, a chicken coop, woods, fields, and a vegetable garden. It was the kind of place a kid could get lost in. I use to love to explore the outbuildings and rummage through all of the massive tools to see what “cool” things I could find to possibly “work” with, though if my grandfather was around, I stayed clear of his buildings. I can still smell those buildings to this day, as I write this. It smelled of a mix of oil, gas, earth, and mustiness. Many of the tools in there had to have hailed from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, all of them American made and built to last. I spent many of my early years helping my grandmother, whom we called “Nanny”, gathering eggs and generally “helping” her around their place, though I am sure I was in the way more than I really assisted her in her daily duties.

My grandfather who we called “Daddy Bob” worked like a Clydesdale horse. Born and raised in Georgia, he was well versed in the ways of rural living. During my early years, I thought he was a living and breathing Paul Bunyan. The chainsaw, the axe, everything that Paul Bunyan needed, Daddy Bob had. He wielded a 1940s vintage Poulan chainsaw around like it was a sack of cotton candy. I still do not know how a man of his 50 years or so, could work like he did, without stopping.

Daddy Bob was a pipe fitter by trade. That is, he made a living by being a master pipe fitter, but classifying him as simply a pipe fitter would be very misleading. He, like a lot of men of his generation, could do a lot of things. If he needed a building built, he built it. He didn’t hire someone or ask someone how to do it, he laid the foundation, set the rebar, poured the concrete, leveled it, erected the walls, and built the building. If there was anything he didn’t want to tackle, which wasn’t much, he had family members or friends that could do it.

In the early 1970s, I remember Daddy Bob, worked at the Savannah River Plant Project. Though he and Nanny lived outside of Columbia, S.C., he would travel a few hundred miles round trip a day for work.  He car pooled with a few guys and they would switch out so the wear and tear was dispersed between several cars and the impact lessened on any one. Daddy Bob would leave the house early in the a.m., likely 4 a.m. or so, work all day and arrive back home around 4 p.m., then he would do a few hours of “farm “ work either in the vegetable garden with his Gravely Tractor, or some other laborious duty. He came in for supper and then went to bed to start all over again. Part of the daily ritual was that Nanny, prepared Daddy Bob’s lunch and had it ready every morning for him to take with him to the plant. His lunch was carried in the all black, industrial style lunch box, just like the one I happened upon last year.

Upon seeing the Lunch box, I mentioned to my wife, that it was just like Daddy Bob’s. His original one was given to my Aunt and rightly so, but I did end up with a thermos he carried along side the lunch box  that I recently showed a lifelong best friend on his visit to Texas. One thermos I have was one that Daddy Bob modified with a couple of large rings welded to the stainless steel cup, modified in an effort to allow for his large fingers to hold the cup comfortably. Daddy Bob’s large 1 quart stainless steel thermos also had an additional carrying handle added for ease of carrying around the plant at the various pipe fitting jobs he worked on and I believe this carried his coffee. As for the lunch box, it was manufactured by Aladdin and is identical to the one I remember him carrying his lunch to the plant in.  Aladdin undoubtedly manufactured millions of this model and as I pondered the story idea about this special lunch box and what it represented to me, it dawned on me.  This lunch box represents the working man, the men that built America and continued to build her through out their working days in the 1960s and 1970s.

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