I am a fan of yours. I’ve been watching your show since before you were the Color Purple. You’ve had Nobel Prize winners, cancer doctors, dessert chefs and exercise mavens, but you’ve never had anybody remotely like me tell their story. Perhaps after you read my take you will invite me to be a guest.
My name is Arby Eight. I am a National Acme screw machine and damn proud of it—for the last 51 years!
My story is the story of North American industry and today I’m feeling !@$#%# unappreciated. I started my productive life in 1968 when I was shipped from my birthplace in Cleveland to an ammunition plant near Minneapolis. Without any training or initiation they heaved me into a line with 30 guys just like me and started shoving leaded steel bars through me making fuze parts for big artillery shells that were lobbed into the Vietnamese jungle to kill people in black pajamas. They called them “gooks” then—at least that’s what I discerned by listening to the operators, most of whom knew Americans in “Nam” and wanted no part in fighting the war themselves.
After that conflict settled down, I sat idle for a while. Business in the early 1970s was crappy, but then the
oil boom came along and I started making sucker rod fittings for an outfit in Texas, ‘til that bubble petered 1980 out. Them ol’ boys in Dallas didn’t know anything about multi spindles like me, but I did learn to like Mexican food while I was in that factory.
The sucker rod play went away in the 1980s when gas sold for $.70 a gallon. I was sold at auction like a big piece of meat to a fittings company doing work for the farmers. That gig was okay for a while, but then the farmers stopped buying because $2 per bushel corn did not buy many tractors.
From there I gravitated to a job shop in Detroit that did work for the Big Three automakers. What a miserable time. They ran me like a slave and poisoned me with sickening soluble oil that made a mess out of my innards. They even mixed the coolant and lube oils. We all knew they were milking the place, looking for a holding company to buy them out, roll it up and go public. They never found a buyer, so me and the rest of the machines got old and arthritic.
The guys in the shop talked among themselves about the lunacy of the management. The founder of the company had retired and the family kept bringing in “professional” managers and accountants who said, “forget about the machines—use the shop as a cash cow.” The floors were slick and air was misty. What a dump.
And they never diversified into non-automotive work, so when American cars stopped selling all they knew was to lay off people and skimp on maintenance.
Oprah, I’m writing to you for the Class of 1968 National Acme crew that hit the shop floor running. We ran quality then. Now we sit idle, not because we can’t still cut it, but because the world changed. The owners got old and their kids became doctors and chefs and dropouts. The accountants viewed what we did as “input” not craftsmanship and artistry. A very small handful of my compatriots moved to China and Mexico, but most of us are here rusting, and a few have even melted away.
I know of a few RB8s who are still running next to some sexy CNC Swiss machines, but most of us just sit and wait for the car companies to start making cars people can afford and want to buy.
Oprah, I’m not anything that special myself, but my story is the story of 50 years of American manufacturing and the contribution we still make to this country. Your audience may think I’m already dead, but my lifespan is limited only by the availability of spare parts, the creativity of rebuilders and the ingenuity of the people who enable me to do what I do well.
Question: Will Acmes make a comeback?