LEGENDS OF THE SHOP
This interview was done on June 23, 2007.
Born in 1919. He has run the dry cleaning business under the name,
Varky’s for well over 50 years! He was R.M., 3/c in the Navy during WWII, and
served from 6/28/44-2/11/46. He was on the USS Liguria, earning the Asiatic
Pacific and American Theater Ribbons and the Victory Medal. He had worked in the
Whitin Machine Works Foundry upon his return from WWII for 15 years, and he knew
Bob Hoisington and Arthur Broadhurst very well while he was employed there. He
entered the dry cleaning business as a gamble because there were 4 dry cleaning
businesses located in the area, and also because he knew very little about it.
With a bit of money he had saved up he started Varky’s as it is now still known
today on lower Church Street in the Plummer section of Whitinsville. His memory
is still sharp at 88 years young. He recalled Del Barnes, who became President
of the Whitinsville Water Company and many “supers” in “The Shop”. He joined the
Masons early and became a member of the Whitinsville Golf Club. He was a former
Selectman for the Town of Northbridge also. As good fortune would have it, this
writer now occupies his former residence in which he resided for 26 years ! He
has an open invitation to visit anytime, and no call is needed. Also, he knew
Dr. Kaufman who was associated with the former Kupfer Brothers Paper Mill. (It
is now the Riverdale Mill Corporation owned by James Knott Sr.). Dr. Kaufman
previously lived in this writer’s domicile with his 2 daughters while he was
employed as the Company Physician back during the 1940’s. Now Deceased.
2.William J. Spratt
This interview was done on February 18, 1999.
Born in 1921. He started in the Whitin Machine Works in 1939, right after high school. First, he worked in the Picker Job. Then he ran lathes on the Jobbing Department with Hank Hewett. He enjoyed the advantage of being able to switch machines. When WWII came, he entered the Armed Service. Bill came out as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. He served from 3/26/43-2/22/46. And was C-4, receiving the Asiatic Pacific and American Theater Ribbons. He also earned 2 Battle Stars, an air Medal with the Oak Leaf Cluster, a Presidential Unit Citation and the Victory Medal. Upon returning, he worked his way up to Assistant Foreman of his Department and worked under Jack Cunningham for 10 years. The night shift when he worked later needed a Superintendent. He remembers being congratulated by William “Gummy” Montgomery on his new position before he and others knew! His promotion was a good thing as Divisional Superintendent became eminent. Work began to slow down in the early 50’s because of foreign competition and job cut-backs. In spite of this, he had a good working relationship with his boss, Jack Cunningham for 10 years. He was a member of the Home Garden Club and used the garden plot at Pine Grove. He then talked about the “Rockdale Whitins”. Mrs. Paul Whitin , Jr. had an association with Bill, and he knew Richard Whitin. Courtney Whitin worked in the mill. He also knew Welby Whitin, Harry Whitin and his sisters, Cora and Sophie. He recalls being at a Town Meeting and taxes were the main topic. Mr. E. Kent Swift offered financial help. Another time Mr. E. Kent Swift saw Bill walking and offered him a ride. He later told of an amusing episode with his neighbor, Sydney Mason. In 1954, with the sale of the house, there were arbor vitae trees. They were to be cut down. Bill fought to save them and he accused and called Sydney a “George Washington”! As far as his sentiments about Whitinsville, It will always be home to him and he is seen currently around the town. He recalls the “five and dime” stores downtown during the 50’s, and also said the busses and stores were convenient, being on the main road. William J. Spratt ended his career with the W.M.W. in 1969. He had 29 years of service before working with other employers. Now Deceased.
3.Raymond Woodcome (Deceased 10/08)
This interview was done on May 13, 1999.
Born in 1914. He started in “The Shop”in 1933. Bill Morton was the employment manager of the Bolster Job. From there he decided to go as a “time Keeper” with Ken Benner and was there for 10 years. For more income he later went to the blacksmith shop for 6 years. But he was on the Planer Job for around 30 years. He recalls the roller beams and was in the Boring Department until 1980. In 1981, Sid Kovich bought “The Shop”. Half of the time he spent at the Arcade section and the other half he spent at the other end when he sought Guard Work then after he turned 65. He worked with Donat Brochu. His boss was Capt. Steve MacDonald. He had to have training in CPR and First Aid. His pistol (revolver) training lasted for hours and with luck and lots of practice he qualified as an Expert marksman on the Shop Guard Force. He spent 15 years also in Civil Defense and was an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Northbridge Police Department. He still enjoys reading as a hobby and music and the “turntable” as he calls it. He was involved for years with the former Bishop’s Fund for St. Patrick’s Parish and he served as a sexton for 10 years also. Ray has received numerous citations, certificates and awards. As a member of the Southern Massachusetts Police Association he got an award in 1973 for recognized service as Secretary for 40 years, and upon retirement later he received a clock when he was Secretary of that same group. On January 1, 1992 he got a Commendation from the Board of Selectmen for being the Director of Civil Defense and in the Auxiliary Police Force. The local VFW recognized him also with a Certificate of Appreciation. Two years prior to that, he received a citation from Tom Melia, Sr., Police Chief, for having been Captain in charge of the Auxiliary Police Force. In 1995 he had finished his 7-year term as a Notary Public. On September 9, 1997 he was cited for being Deputy Sheriff of Worcester County under John M. Flynn, then sheriff of Worcester County and had served for 20 years. He received a Certificate of Appreciation from St. Camillus Nursing Home as an award for Voluntary service done prior to April 19, 1999. He had received the sheriff Mike Flynn award on June 5, 1991. Also, Ray received a Massachusetts State Citation for 50 years service, and he got the Northbridge Auxiliary Police Association Badge at his retirement after 50 years from 1941 to 1991. Mr. Raymond Woodcome has served under 6 Police Chiefs, from Chief Cullen to Tom Melia, Sr. He retired after 48 years of service to the Whitin Machine Works in 1980.
4. Irving A. “Whitey” Belanger
This interview was done on August 1, 2000.
Born in 1921. He worked in the Screw Job for almost 45 years. “Whitey” served in WWII (1942-1945) in the Army Engineers. He left as a Staff Sgt. He was awarded the European and American Theater Ribbons, 2 Battle Stars, 1 Bronze Arrowhead, a Good Conduct Medal, and the Victory Medal. Upon his return from military service, he started filing as an apprentice on the screw machines. First, there were 6 spindle automatic screw machines, and then he made whirls for the spindles. The bars came in 15-foot lengths and all of the labor was done by hand. Tolerances for the parts were under 5/10ths of a thousandth of an inch! He related how Mr. E. Kent Swift would come around often to chat with him and other workers. He also said that Bill “Gummy” Montgomery was quite an baseball umpire in his day, as was Winifred “Sally” Jones also. As a second baseman Whitey liked the sport of baseball and was in a 4-team shop League, which had a lot of talent represented. He played with Arthur Broadhurst, Jack Ratcliffe, the Murray brothers and many others. They were all fast and very competitive. He recalled also Leo Brouillard and Louis “Chewy” Loucier as a pitcher, who tried out for the Boston Red sox. The old Blackstone Valley League had many stars. As far as how he was treated by the Whitin family, Whitey went on to say that he enjoyed a good living and was always well treated. He had a tenement near the Fire Station and he said that the rent was free if you joined up and served in the Fire Department. The amount of his rent then was $12 per month for 8 rooms on Main street. He lived there for 19 years before the Company’s housing units were put up for sale. Just before he retired in 1985, Whitey said that 6 spindle machines were removed, and moved from near the Town Hall to the Arcade Division. As a member of Local 3654 AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers of America, he knew both Joe Chabot and Ken Guertin very well as they sought to protect their workers who were left. Whitey went on to say that what he appreciated most about “The Shop” was that it gave him a steady income and he was so close to his workplace..
( Illustration: Whitey’s Special Lathe)
Born in 1922. SERVICE: 5 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Engineering HISTORICAL NOTE: He was the very first Armenian to work in this Department. (Warren Mooradian was the second one.) He is still active in church affairs and in the Town of Northbridge. He was the past Chairman of Northbridge Cable TV. A very capable film-maker and cameraman, Jerry has produced the 1972 Town Bicentennial Film as well as the film, “The History of The Shop” (4/27/99). (photo) Now Deceased.
6. Leo “Red” Brouillard
Born in 1911. SERVICE: 42 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Punch press Operator in # 412 HISTORICAL NOTE: He is a devout Catholic and a member of St. Peter’s RC Parish of Rockdale and still remains an avid Boston Red Sox and N.E. Patriots fan to this day. He once played in the Blackstone Valley League. Now Deceased.
7. Norman Flamand Born in 1924. SERVICE: 32 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Traffic in #447 HISTORICAL NOTE : He absolutely loves to live in Rockdale Village. He is seen around LeRoy’s Service Station, usually walking the dog. Now Deceased.
8. Rudy Gniadek SERVICE: 10 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Screw Job #411; also Tool Job # 454 HISTORICAL NOTE: His tenure in The Shop was interrupted due to Military Service. He stays “ mechanically inclined” and tinkers around.
9. Bernard “ Bunny” Howard Born in 1921. SERVICE : 45 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Gear job HISTORICAL NOTE: “Bunny” was a Flight Engineer during WWII and he made 23 bombing missions over Germany. He was a T/Sgt in the Army Air Corps , and he served from 6/25/42-10/24/45. He earned the EAME and American Theater Ribbons, 3 Battle Stars, the air Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Good Conduct Medal and the Victory Medal. His first boss in The Shop was George Dyer.
10. Joseph A. Larochelle (deceased) Born in 1918. SERVICE: 45 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Spindle Job HISTORICAL NOTE: he was the last President of Local 3654 U.S.A. A.F.L.-C.I.O. during April 1981-October 1981 before Kenneth Guertin. He was a very active parishioner of St. Peter’s RC Parish in Rockdale Village for many years, and very involved with the St. Vincent dePaul Society. (photo) Now Deceased.
11. Roy S. Lermond Born in 1921. SERVICE: 44 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Tool Job HISTORICAL NOTE: Roy is a WWII Veteran of the “Battle of the Bulge”. He served from 2/14/44-4/18/46. Roy has earned the EAME and American Theater Ribbons, 2 Battle stars, the Army Occupation Award, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Distinguished Unit Badge, the Good Conduct Medal and the Victory Medal. He has sung with Tad Wallace and Joseph Henry Gosselin (my father) in the Whitin Male Glee Club and he presently sings with other “Seniors” in Millbury, MA. as a distinguished tenor. (photo) Now Deceased.
12. Emmet “Pepper” Martin Born in 1920. SERVICE: 44 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Methods HISTORICAL NOTE : “Pepper” served 4 years in the US Navy from 12/16/41-12/22/45 as an A.M.M., 2/c. He earned the American Theater Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal and the Victory Medal. He sings and loves to live in the “Cotton Mill” apartments in the Village of Whitinsville. Now Deceased.
13. George Moran SERVICE: 45 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Tool Job HISTORICAL NOTE: George had 2 brothers John P. and Richard J. They had the VFW Post in Town named in their honor. Ralph Baker used to be his boss. Now Deceased.
14. Katherine (Baghdasarian) Sullivan Born in 1928. SERVICE: 15 YEARS DEPARTMENT: Engineering HISTORICAL NOTE: She still collects Civil War memorabilia with her husband, Ray. She remained very active in the Town’s Art and Cultural Council.
15. Thomas “Tad” Wallace Born in 1915. SERVICE: 46 YEARS DEPARTMENTS: (many)--Production; Traffic; Milling Job; Metal Patterns; Central Parts and Sales HISTORICAL NOTE : He is one of a very few still living with over 45 years in The Shop, (perhaps the last one) and he still sings with the “Men of Song” as a Baritone. He has sung with Joseph Henry Gosselin and Roy Lermond in the Whitin Male Glee Club. Its first concert was on February 13, 1950. He was also the General Chairman at that time. And he still “corrects” me in his emails ! He is only 92 years young as of 2007. Now Deceased.