In a Pickle
In the summer of 1958, I started working annual summer jobs at Nalley’s Fine Foods primarily to earn money for college. I was employed as a "tank rat," which means that I worked both above and below the gigantic pickling tanks. As part of my "above" duties, I pumped brine into the tanks, emptied bags of salt into the brine and tested pickles for firmness and fermentation. My "below" duties included knocking out the stoppers in the base of the tanks to drain them of brine (and then rushing back up the ladder to avoid swamping my boots!)
One day, my boss went on vacation and left me in charge of maintaining the vinegar level in the large tanks positioned on top of the plant. Each of these tanks was large enough to contain thousands of gallons of vinegar. As I describe in Growing Green Two Ways!, one day I heard cries and screams floating over the rumble of machinery ...
The anguish seemed to be located in the adjacent packing department. Right off, I judged the screams to be those of women in the packing line, where jars were filled with pickles and juice. I rushed over to their stations. They looked at me and yelled “Vinegar. Vinegar.” Gamely, they kept stuffing pickles in jars even as vinegar dripped from the ceiling above. The superintendent of the pickle plant appeared, and by this time the vinegar flow had increased into a cascade. He put two and two together immediately and knew that a tank was overflowing on the roof ... I ran upstairs to the vinegar tanks and realized with an emotional thud that I’d miscalculated the number of gallons I’d pumped into the vinegar mixing tank.
The bad news? Though I rushed to turn off the pumps, supervisors were forced to shut down the pickle canning line and send the employees home for the rest of the shift. The good news? They were generous with me, and I kept my job!