Friday, October 24, 2008

Liveblogging My Grandfather's Tapes I

I'm digitizing 4 1/2 hours of my grandfather's taped interviews, and I'm doing it in a very short period of time. In order to keep myself busy (there's only so much solitaire you can play in one sitting), I came upon the revolutionary idea of LIVEBLOGGING my grandfather's interview.

Live, as in originally recorded on July 15, 1992.

The interview was apparently taped in their back kitchen, with my grandmother occasionally popping in. The interviewer was Frances Hoffman.

At the three hour mark he is explaining in meticulous detail the way the Schneider's factory and merchandising operated while he was there. He worked at Schneider's almost all his life, and continued to deal with the company long after his retirement.

There was a plant in Ayr for fried chicken and meat patties. It didn't do the killing, only the frying. When the fried chicken business caught on they started to buy raw product from other processors. Schneider's still had a chicken kill, but not sufficient chicken for fried chicken. This was for bucket chicken, nuggets, chicken fingers. Recent products since chicken "came into its own."

Schneider's also bought Bradley Brothers in Toronto. They went bankrupt, so Schneider's bought them out. They were mostly in hotel institutional business. They sold a ready made product, and Schneider's was already making the same products. If they hadn't bought it, somebody else would have, some "cut-rate operation." Schneider's ran it separately for a while -- Bradley's trucks would go into restaurants with a certain cut, then Schneider's trucks would go in an hour later with a different cut -- but since this was a hassle they combined the operations.

That plant was set up for Hotel Restaurant Institution, not sausage or cold cuts. Schneider's also made it a "patty plant" with new equipment, and therefore made all the meat patties. The hamburger and patty business increased to the point where the plant could survive. These were steakettes, hamburger patties, and special things for 7-11, Harvey's, Burger King, Dairy Queen. "Patty contracts."

In Kitchener they used to have a "beef boning" operation, would cut up, debone, and roll beef here. In order to have a sausage plant you needed both a pork and a beef supply (to make something like summer sausage). But were never large enough as a beef operator to compete with bigger companies. Became too costly and wiped out the beef killing and boning lines.

Now (1992) they buy boneless cuts from a firm called Carlisle in Calgary. They had over 100 people in beef kill so this was a big change. But they still butcher hogs there. In 1990 they had two hog kill shifts. A company called Hoffman was just cutting up hogs and sending them to Toronto for processing, ten to twelve thousand hogs away. But Schneider's killed 6000 hogs a day, purchased through the stockyard marketing board. That's the only way you can buy them, can't buy direct from farmers.

Now just killing 3000 to 3500 a day while the demand for red (raw) meat has fallen off with chicken becoming more popular. So Schneider's got into the hamburger business more, and dishes like lasagna, noodles, pasta. But they don't make those anymore.

He was in the shipping office when the Oktoberfest sausage hit the market, didn't affect much except just around Oktoberfest. It was just to be sold during the Oktoberfest parade, but Norris' bakery had a market for Oktoberfest sausage all year, and others too. Line was drawn at supermarket sales, however. They didn't make one-pound packages except for Oktoberfest.

Other than being in the shipping office, he also worked in Catering. The Schneider's catering was limited to roast ribs, roast tails, cabbage salad, scallop potatoes, pickles, cheese, and dessert (mostly pie, which they bought from Norris'). Also different fundraising organizations like the Stratford Hockey Club, who came twice a year to get catered meal for fundraising. Also had roast beef and roast pork (for a while) and roast turkey. But the only company they roasted turkeys for was for Pruitt's near the end.

He took care of catering orders. Goodrich's foreman's club ordered roast beef and roast tails. He also sold byproducts -- meat meal, bonemeal -- to feed companies. Would be mixed with chopped grain and be a supplement for animal feed. Feathermeal was for chicken breeders. Also sold bloodmeal for animal food, wasted very little.

INTERVIEWER: How was offal and waste disposed of?

It was run into the meat- and bonemeal. They had a lard rendering area to make lard and shortening. Shortening was part animal and part vegetable. Also rendered beef fat, sold to furniture companies as a lubricant. The hair was at one time exported to Germany for brush manufacture. The rind was sold for gelatin, possibly Jello. At one time they made a lot of gelatin products, but now all they make is head cheese (which contains very little gelatin). So they send the rind to Canada Packers, who has a gelatin firm.

The bone and intestines was dumped into a pressure cooker. The bones were cooked until soft. The oil was drained, sent by tank car to a soap company. The remainder was called "cracklings," similar to a rice cake. Was ground and screened then sold as meat- and bonemeal. This was tricky to sell because it depended on the supply of rendered material and the demand for it locally. Nothing was went to waste.

Also had a million-dollar water purifier. They were the second-largest water-user in the city, mostly used for cleaning. All waste-water was collected in a big tank, then agitated so that the fat comes to the top. Fat was removed with "sweepers" into containers, then sold to soap companies. Whatever wasn't useful was sent to the landfill sites, but the sites didn't want it, so they sold it to farmers for fertilizer. But if too much was used it became a contaminant.

The sewer commission had a standard that Schneider's had to meet before water could be dumped into the river systems. Checked daily now, are fined if the water doesn't meet the standard. If they DO meet the standard then the water supply was discounted, as encouragement.

He retired in 1977, but took tours afterwards. Schneider's always preached that they had an open house, so the tours was an advertising method. They had ten tour guides, the plant encouraged people to come through in groups. Took a lot of high school children, "they had to be a little bit responsible" (they still had problems, not too many, had to straighten out kids who wanted to show off and got out of line).

But when the recession hit they discontinued the school kids...they'll take an agricultural college group or a hog producer's association, also have Japanese delegations. The Japanese had a set up to send people to Canada to tour the operations, "it was a continuous type of thing."

Began running into sanitation problems. The USA was looking for excuses to blackball Canadian product. They found one package of wieners with bacteria in it so they blackballed the Canadian trade. Schneider's was just making headway into Buffalo, but the USA made a big issue so Schneider's stopped aggressively exporting wieners to the states. Still trade to Florida and Bermuda. But border shipping was stifled...

(The tape ended here, but if you want to know how WienerGate turned out, here's the next tape).


Anonymous said...

Well, I found a PC after all (I guess Chicago is somewhat civilized).

This entry reminded me of the muckraker classic, "The Jungle," which exposed the seamier side of the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century (coincidence: it focused on a Chicago company's operations, and guess where I'm vacationing?...)

That doesn't mean that Schneider's did anything wrong...but the description of their operations reminded me of Sinclair's fictional narrartive. This is especially true of the offal and entrails disposal.

Read (or re-read) Sinclair's classic, and you may see some similarities (minus the horror stories, of course.)

Adam Thornton said...

I'll definitely have to check out "The Jungle!" I'm particularly curious about refrigeration. When the interviewer asked my grandfather if the meat ever spoiled when being shipped by train, he said "Well, yes."

Thanks for the recommendation!

Anonymous said...

I don't recall refrigeration being mentioned in the book (of course, it was in the early 20th century).

I think most readers would infer that the meat packer would not care too much about refrigeration or any "quality" issue - this was a prime muckraking "expose" novel that clearly champions labor's point of view.

A good read, whether you identify with labor or management!