Collection Name: Drachen Foundation Collection
Collection Number: 2499
Post Type: Book
This item was entered by Matthew Sutton. They assume full responsibility for all content.
Artist or Author: Lydia Ingle
Creation Year: 1980
ISBN: 0 Language: English Description: Salmon Cannery at Port AIthorp, Alaska, 1928.
The summer of 1928 produced a salmon catch such as had not been seen before by any of the regular cannery workers. The sea teemed with salmon and the hauls were brought in extraordinary quantities to be dealt with by cannery men exhausted almost beyond endurance, forced to work on two or three hours of sleep in each endless day over a stretch of more than four weeks.
Every man was under contract to work until all the salmon of the season was canned. The essence of their existence was simple: no part of the catch must be permitted to lose the freshness of salmon in its prime.
The cannery was hectic with activity, though the workmen moved like automatons; their actions hung on the slender thread of frayed will power. Each man craved the one thing he could not have--sleep.
Built like a Muslim's house on sea-planted stilts, the large work area contained the various machines needed in the process of canning salmon. About a foot above eye level was a moving canvas belt that conveyed the fish to a huge metal bin so cunningly devised that as the fish slipped through a central aperture at the base of the bin, an axlike tool came down with relentless precision to sever the heads with the efficiency of a guillotine.
The fish heads immediately dropped with other waste matter to the sea below where a swift rush of water carried them far off shore, but the decapitated fish continued their journey to a machine that deposited them one by one into cans. The filled cans were then conveyed by another belt to a machine that hermetically sealed the contents with metal lids.
Two men ranged the sealed cans between the iron slats of an enormous tray with a capacity of a hundred cans. The filled tray was then lifted into an oven; its fierce heat of 200 degrees centigrade cooked the fish, bones, and all.
Suspended high above the conveyor belts and the various machines was a catwalk, roughly two feet wide. Here the Filipino foreman paced up and down, keeping watch over the activities below. This man shared the sleepless lot of the people he oversaw. Up on the catwalk the pacing stopped; the foreman's body involuntarily assumed a sitting position. His eyes glazed as he felt gently swathed in silken clouds of sleep. The limp form drooped lower and lower directly over the great cutting machine and the rushing water that carried heads and viscera out to sea.
A cry rang out from below, brutal in its urgency. "You there! For Christ's sake, wake up! " The piercing sound penetrated the consciousness of the man perilously balanced on the catwalk. Henceforth, this man would never permit himself the luxury of being still for long; the penalty of somnolence was very close, very real.
The life that had been spared a mutilating death was that of Victorio C. Edades, whose survival allows this story to be told.
Copyright, 1980, by Lydia Rivera Ingle
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