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Sale of Arkansas Whirlpool site felt in Oklahoma

The Arkansas Whirlpool plant meant hard work and sparked hard partying for college boys in the ’80s. Some workers crossed over from Oklahoma to join the assembly line.
by Richard Mize Modified: May 10, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: May 10, 2014

Call me a softy, but it’s nice when old girlfriends find true love, traded-in vehicles have second lives and old closed-down workplaces have the electricity turned back on.

Good on you, Leona! (For example).

There goes a kid driving my old truck! (For instance).

Hey, somebody bought the Whirlpool plant! (Well, it’s under contract. Part of it).

Ah, Whirlpool factory, old friend. My one summer spent working there in Fort Smith, just a hop across the Arkansas state line from home, did more than any high school guidance counselor, youth minister or scare story from the welfare line ever could to keep me in college.

The pay was great in the mid-’80s: $10.85 an hour, plus time and a half for overtime, and there was lots and lots of overtime. I did not make as much in the newspaper business until the mid-’90s.

The after-hours were, ah, memorable at the Henry the 8th Club after second shift. They were a tad too, ah, memorable sometimes for some of the college boys brought in at Whirlpool for summertime peak production. Henry the Eighth was no Regal Beagle. It wasn’t quite a road house, but Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliot would’ve fit right in. The beer flowed, the whiskey flowed and the devil-in-the-bottle took his toll the next afternoon.

Hot, hard work

The work I did was hard. Lord, it was the hardest, hottest work I have ever done — and that includes hauling hay. It was 125 degrees at my work station.

I did the math once. It came to something like 83,000 refrigerator boxes that I single-handedly wiped down with an alcohol-soaked rag, after single-fingeredly gouging out the hot Permagum, an industrial sealant, from each refrigerator as it passed by on the assembly line. A big gray glob of the stuff was along the bottom of the back of each unit poked into a space the huge industrial die a few yards away made for a hose.

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by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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