Mill worker makes video documentary of shutdown

Published 10:17 am Saturday, May 29, 2010

FRANKLIN—For anyone looking to catch an inside glimpse of the final days of the International Paper Co. paper mill, let Ken Brown be your guide.

Brown, a former employee at the paper mill, has posted several slideshows of the paper machine shutdowns on the social networking website Facebook and set them to music.

An IP employee for 34 years, Brown started his career with Union Camp working in the quality assurance department. When that department folded, he became an inspector for the No. 6 paper machine. For the last eight or nine years he was also a “learning leader,” whose duties were to write training manuals and serve as document manager.

Brown, who was laid off from the paper mill one month ago, said he was promoted to become the full-time learning leader for the paper mill on Oct. 16.

“That job lasted four days,” Brown laughed, pointing out that IP announced it would close the paper mill on Oct. 22, the Thursday after his promotion and pay raise. “After they made the announcement, I went to my supervisor and said ‘Hey, I know I’m obviously not going to be creating any training manuals or doing any training. Why don’t I go out and take some pictures?’”

And with his supervisor’s approval, Brown began taking pictures for a registry of the paper mill workers.

“It was going to be a kind of yearbook,” Brown said. “That’s where all of the pictures came from.”

Brown was there with his camera when the No. 6 paper machine, the one he had worked on, was shut down in November. He also photographed the No. 1 paper machine getting shut down at the end of the year, and then finally the Nos. 4 and 5 machines being switched off in April.

“I got some shots and then some more area shots,” Brown said. “Then I just threw them into a PowerPoint slideshow.”

It was at that point that a little controversy arose. According to Brown, the slideshow he created was to be shown at a steak dinner for employees, but management didn’t like the music he had picked out to go along with the slideshow.

“We eventually played it, but the music was turned down,” Brown said.

But paper mill employees were still able to see Brown’s slideshows, uncensored, on the company’s intranet. Some contained edgy lyrics, like those from the Steely Dan song, “Everything Must Go:”

It’s high time for a walk on the real side

Let’s admit the bastards beat us

I move to dissolve the corporation

In a pool of margaritas

So let’s switch off all the lights

And light up all the Luckies

Crankin’ up the afterglow

‘Cause we’re goin’ out of business

Everything must go

“It became about the music,” Brown said. “Everybody was really infatuated with these left-of-center eclectic songs that I was picking out to put with the videos. Everybody was really excited about it and everybody wanted one. I was burning them (onto CD) for people, but it got to be so many and I couldn’t fill all of the requests before I got out of there. So I just posted it on Facebook for everybody to see.”

Brown said that although he has received positive feedback from about 40 people and his slideshows have been viewed about 400 times, he believes his former employer will soon ask him to take them down.

“I’m waiting for IP to tell me to pull them,” Brown said. “If they knew they were out there, I think they would ask me to pull them. They’re real strange. They don’t allow pictures inside the facility. It was OK for us to be taking our own pictures, but they probably were never intended to be posted on Facebook.

“But I’m going to leave them on there until they do.”

In the meantime, Brown is assisting his wife with Heave Ho Promos, a screen printing business she has run for about two years out of their Franklin home.

“We print anything on anything,” Brown said. “Screen printing, vinyl signs, storefront signage, buttons, embroidery, pad printing. We’re doing real well. We’re going to try to make a go of it.”