IP worker writes ‘For Paycheck, Ton of Paper’

Published 7:55 am Friday, May 7, 2010

Franklin’s Jerry Vinson, whose last day at International Paper will be Friday, May 15, wrote a poem about the local mill.

“It’s from the heart,” said Jerry, who has worked at the mill for nearly 32 years. “It’s to honor the years of service for the people that have been there.”

The 49-year-old began working at IP right out of high school.

“Back then if you knew somebody, you got a job there. It’s all I’ve every done,” he said.

Now for Jerry’s poem:

For a Paycheck and a Ton Of Paper

He missed his daughter’s second Christmas

The third the fourth and the fifth.

They’d usually had money to buy her nice things

But he couldn’t be there to watch her open her gifts.

Last Fourth of July was beautiful,

A great day for family and friends

Unless you were working 3 to 11.

It was pretty much over by then.

Move up as far as you can,

Go just as high as you can go,

But bare in mind that during the summer

This may mean working 10 weeks of night shift in a row.

We’ve missed so much over the years.

Was it worth it — I don’t know anymore.

Some are apprehensive about leaving

And some have already hit the door.

What does the future hold for us?

It’s really a scary thing.

Will this little town survive the stress,

Or will she be washed up and go down the drain.

I know we’re not the only ones.

Industries are shutting down at an alarming rate.

But on Oct 22 at 9 a.m.,

It hit us like a slap in the face.

I saw grown men shed tears that day.

Not me, I’d be damned if I would.

I did okay until looking in my wife’s eyes,

I’d held back as long as I could

How do you tell your family

Life as we’ve known it is a thing of the past,

The steady paychecks and health insurance

Are just not going to last

Gone are the commercials on TV

Bragging about “American made.”

Now a lot of Hershey’s chocolate

Is shipped in from Mexico way.

Some folks think we’ve been spoiled.

They’ll be glad to see the mill go.

But it takes a ton of work to make a ton of paper,

As only a mill worker would know.

I saw a man get overheated once,

It was really a terrible sight.

He sat there and shook like a leaf in the wind,

Waiting for the aid of that angel in Jim Wright.

Now there’s a permanent fixture.

One we’ve all been proud to know.

He always knew what to say or do,

That is until a few months ago

Pete Carter, David Council, Harold Cook and Fenton Holt,

Just to name a few.

Nobody ever said a mill runs perfect

But they always figured out what to do.

So many ghosts will walk this mill

When we shut her down for the very last time.

So much knowledge will be wasted;

It really seems like a crime.

Whoever heard of checking a bearing

With your ear on the end of a broomstick.

Well that’s the way the old-timers did it.

Really a neat little trick.

How many knee joints have been replaced

On those who weren’t that old.

As many a mill worker can tell you

That concrete really takes its toll.

How many of us can’t hear that buck coming

Until he’s well within our sight.

The mill noise stole something from us,

We’ll never get it back, try as we might.

How many have breathed in chlorine

So strong you thought you would die.

You went to bed the next morning

And a strong deep breathe just wouldn’t satisfy.

When your chest just felt like it wasn’t wide enough

You couldn’t quite get in enough air

And after a long hot shower

Your wife still smelt it in your hair.

For those who have fought a lime ball

My hat goes off to you.

There’s no use trying to explain it,

But we know what you went through.

Our maintenance crews have put in long hard hours.

You were so tired but you didn’t waiver.

That beating you took and the sleep that you lost

For a paycheck and a ton of paper.

So many of us have never even seen the wood yard

She lies along the Blackwater River.

Hot in the summer and cold in the winter,

So cold it would make you shiver.

No matter how frozen those chips became

In the silos in the dead of winter,

The K one digester stayed hungry.

And those chips you always delivered,

The power plant kept us steam.

Without this the mill couldn’t run.

A 600-pound steam leak can cut a man in half,

Certainly that was no fun.

So many more jobs that I know nothing about.

Literally thousands of years of service.

I’ve a pang of guilt for not mentioning them all,

For I’ve not even scratched the surface.

A shift-worker’s wife must be special,

Her life is not an easy one.

She raises the kids pretty much by herself

And makes our house a home.

Yeah we mill workers may have been spoiled

A little along the way,

But with that spoiling we paid steep prices

And that I can honestly say.

Some of us have already found new jobs,

Hopefully all of us will.

God bless us and our families,

We workers of the Union Camp mill.

Siblings Amy Porch of Southampton County and David Council of Windsor both found work since learning International Paper’s Franklin mill would be closing.

Amy, who worked in IP’s sheet plant, got a job with Lipton Tea in Suffolk. David is working in the shipyard in Newport News.

The siblings’ grandmother, Dorothy “Dot” Pugh of Franklin, is proud of her grandchildren and the rest of her family members who worked at the mill, including her husband, who died at the mill from a massive heart attack.

Donald worked in maintenance for 27 years. In 1979, at age 49, he had the heart attack while having lunch.

Dot’s daughter, Rita Pugh of Franklin, worked at the mill after her dad died.

Another daughter, Alesia Williams of Franklin, worked at the mill. Her last day was April 30. Alesia’s husband, Doug Williams, also worked at IP. He got a job as an electrician with Georgia Pacific in Emporia.

Dot’s son-in-law, David Council, worked at the mill for at least 20 years. His last day was April 30. Dot had a half-brother, the late Romie Holland, who worked at the mill.

Dot, who is the only survivor among her 12 siblings, also worked at the mill. The 74-year-old retired in 1999 after 16 years in the roll finishing department.

“I remember when we were all of a bunch of shift workers,” she said. “We all gave Union Camp our best shot and in the end, it paid off for us. I know in my heart Union Camp gave us all a job so we could have a better life. May God bless you all.”