It’s time for another Arno Anecdote. You remember Arno Schubert, the cantankerous old Kraut who was known in every watering hole from downtown Kenosha all the way out to Paddock Lake. The only time he didn’t have a cigarette in his mouth is when he removed it long enough to quaff a beer or spew an obscenity, both of which he did with great regularity. His beer of choice was Pabst Blue Ribbon and his favorite expletive rhymed with rock-tucker.
Last month I wrote a blog about the Koos Inc. icon that was titled, “Arno Was On Fire!” Today I will share with you a story about when Arno got his lunch.
In “Arno Was On Fire!” I mentioned that Koos Inc. was extremely cold during the winter months because the antiquated structure was, for the most part, unheated. There were only two areas in the dilapidated building that had any heat – the shipping dock office and a small room that housed a Hayssen packaging machine. If it was 10° outside, it wasn’t any warmer inside, so you dressed accordingly.
Well, I lied. Sort of.
Around the bagging areas we had salamander heaters. For the uninformed, salamander heaters provide heat for outside workers and are generally found at construction sites. They are portable and provide warmth and are gas-powered (although there are now electric types available for use).
Depending on which type of unit you have, they can use natural gas, propane gas or kerosene. Whether you are a construction employee or an employee of Koos Inc., the salamander heater can come in handy.
Check out the photo at the top of the blog to get an idea of what a salamander looks like.
Besides yielding a modicum of warmth, salamanders also provided several other “benefits”.
The old, obsolete models that we used at Koos Inc. were kerosene fueled, so they spewed out an exhaust that left a black, sooty film on everything it came in contact with, including your lungs. I ruined many a bath towel by blowing my nose into it after a 10-hour shift in that filthy ice melter plant.
The other service that the salamander could provide the ability to warm up a frozen TV dinner in about an hour. Put your Swanson Hungry Man dinner on the top of the salamander at 11:00 o’clock and by noon it was piping hot, ready to eat. It really worked. Honest.
Now, I want you to venture a guess who cooked more frozen TV dinners on top of those salamanders than anyone else at Koos, Inc.
That’s right, Arno Schubert.
Because he drove the front-end loader downstairs by the raw materials, Arno made it a point to get his TV dinner on top of the noxious fume-emitting heater before anybody else would.
You knew it was 11:00 o’clock when you saw that crusty, old German in the raggedy orange snowmobile suit putting his lunch on a salamander. He always told the bagging crew to keep their f#cking hands off of it before disappearing downstairs to his front-end loader.
On one particularly chilly February morning in 1976, we were working on line #3, bagging 50 lb. bags of ice melter. At 11:00 o’clock, like clockwork, Arno popped up out of nowhere to start “cooking” his lunch. I believe meatloaf and mashed potatoes were on the menu that day. Then, just as quickly as he appeared, he cursed at us and vanished.
Pretty much business as usual until our supervisor told us to finish the pallet we were working on and go down to line #4 and start doing 25 lb. bags. No big deal, all we had to do was drag the salamander down there with us so we had our little bit of warmth.
That would be the salamander with Arno’s meatloaf dinner on top of it that we were dragging.
As you might guess, a salamander gets very hot and as you can tell by looking at the photo, that there are no handles to grab onto. What you had to do was loop a length of twine around one of the supports on the base and drag it, being cautious not to spill any of the flammable kerosene contained inside.
This was no easy task because the floor at Koos Inc. was tremendously uneven and depending on the weather, it was covered with slimy mud or with an inch of dust. On that day we were dealing with the dust factor.
Again, please keep in mind; Arno’s meatloaf is going along for the ride. Unfortunately, none of us did.
Halfway to line #4, Harry Leipzig hit a rather deep pothole in the severely pitted floor and the salamander bounced, nearly tipping over. Luckily, it did not. Regrettably, Arno’s TV dinner didn’t make it, landing on the grimy flooring.
Yes, it fell upside down, spilling meatloaf and mashed potatoes all over the place.
After we finished laughing hysterically, we realized that we had a problem on our hands. A big problem. If Arno discovers that his precious TV dinner had met such an untimely demise, there would be hell to pay.
What would we do?
Jim Weber, thinking quickly, grabbed a shovel and scooped up the meatloaf and mashed potatoes back into the aluminum tray. Granted the shovel was rusty and was used to clean the filthy floor, but our options were limited. We didn’t want to incur the wrath of that cantankerous Kraut.
We checked the clock; it was nearly noon so we had to work fast. After Weber had gotten most of Arno’s lunch back into the tray, we pushed it around to make it look as presentable as we could. Fortunately the gravy was dark, which made it hard to see the dirt. We carefully covered the sloppy mess with the foil before returning it to the top of the salamander.
We could only pray that he wouldn’t notice.
We had just finished moving the salamander into the line #4 area when a hungry Arno showed up. Grabbing his TV dinner, he sat down on the conveyor belt, ready to eat his lunch.
As he pulled a spoon out of his pocket, we watched breathlessly, not knowing what to expect. He smiled his toothless grin, pulled back the foil ready to dig in.
He scooped up a big spoonful of the brownish slop and brought it up to his scarred lips. Was he really going to eat it?
Just as he was about to put the disgusting mixture into his mouth, Weber blurted out loudly, “Don’t eat it Arno, it fell on the floor!”
After throwing what was supposed to be his lunch against the wall, Arno let loose with a string of expletives that was legendary. Without going into a lot of detail, most of the words contained the hard “k” sound.
The story did have a happy ending because Arno got his lunch. Weber graciously offered to run over to McDonald’s and buy Arno a Big Mac. After carefully pondering the proposal, Arno called Weber a rather offensive name and said, “Make it two.”
If you enjoyed this Arno Anecdote and would like to read more about Arno Schubert and his hijinks, click on either Arno or Schubert in the Labels section below this blog.
Until next time…from the booth.