Former Koos Inc. employee and friend, Randy Lain was talking about Koos on Facebook and requested a story about the old place. Since it has been so cold and miserable lately, this is the perfect classic to pull from the vault. It is about everyone’s favorite, Arno Schubert. To help jog your memory, here’s the quick thumbnail sketch of Mr. Schubert. As I wrote previously in “Arno: A Koos Legend”, he was a cantankerous old German who weighed in at about 230 pounds and stood 6’2”. His unkept hair was reddish-brown and, as was his scraggly beard and uneven moustache.
The man was a phenomenon at Koos and the stories about this unbelievable fellow have become quite popular on this blog. His seemingly unbelievable escapades are the things legends are made of. In fact, tales about Arno are so hot; I thought I would share one where he was on fire.
In the blog, “My First Labor Day”, I mentioned that Koos Inc. featured no running water. Most guys simply stepped to the nearest open dock door to relieve themselves. If you wanted to use an actual restroom you had to maneuver through the entire plant, walk down a long flight of stairs and go outside across the yard to the “Jap Shack”.
The reason there was no running water in the antiquated structure was because at that time there was, for the most part, no heat. There were only two areas in the old building that had any heat – the shipping dock office and a small room that housed a Hayssen packaging machine.
Unless you were operating the Hayssen machine or were going through orders in the shipping dock office, you had to deal with the temperature. If it was 10° outside, it wasn’t any warmer inside, so you dressed accordingly. The “layered look” was the fashion statement of the day - coveralls, heavy sweatshirts, flannels, parkas, long underwear, heavy boots… Anything to stay warm.
Needless to say, the crew at Koos Inc. was a sight to behold during the winter of 1975. But no individual was more colorful than that crusty Kraut, Arno Schubert. Topping a multitude of layers was his trademark bulky, cream-colored turtleneck sweater that had weird brown stains all over it. Completing the resplendent ensemble was a bright orange snowmobile suit that had seen better days.
Due to the lack of heat in the rest of the plant, the shipping dock office and Hayssen machine room were very desirable places to be. On especially bitter days, guys would find any excuse they could to spend time in either place.
Because it was slightly larger, the shipping dock office was the popular place to go to get warm, particularly at break time. The body heat generated by six or seven people jammed in the small office during a ten-minute break often made it feel hot. In fact, one time it was so hot that Arno was on fire.
Perhaps I should explain what led to this combustible situation. On this particular afternoon, the temperature was below 0°, so there was a mad dash to the shipping dock office for the two o’clock break.
Included were such Koos luminaries as Munk Ekern, Jim Weber, Danny Fliess, Chuck Huck, Harry Leipzig, Butch Krienke, myself and of course, the irascible Arno. Except for Huck, we were all rather large men so the quarters were more cramped than usual and therefore very warm.
But that wasn’t why Arno was on fire.
Because it got so cold inside Koos, often times the forklifts were difficult to get started. It was common practice to spray starting fluid into the forklift’s carburetor, especially in the morning. A few squirts and the forklift would typically start right up.
That starting fluid was some very flammable stuff and with good reason - it had ether in it. Did I mention that the cans of starting fluid were stored in the shipping dock office? Well they were.
So on this bitterly cold day there were eight large bundled up human beings, five of whom were puffing on cigarettes, crammed in a six-foot by twelve-foot room when Arno decided to have some fun with the starting fluid.
Hey, I never said Arno was a rocket scientist.
To entertain himself, the foul-mouthed German sprayed a small amount of starting fluid on the arm of Chuck Huck’s jacket and lit it with his cigarette lighter, producing a small blue flame. Chuck slapped the flame out and asked Arno if he was out of his mind.
Stupid question, Chuck.
Arno continued playing his little game of pyrotechnics getting similar responses. While most of us were getting annoyed with Arno’s moronic antics, Danny Fliess was up to some shenanigans of his own. As Emeril Lagasse used to say, Danny “kicked it up a notch”.
Danny was soaking the leg of Arno’s bright orange snowmobile suit. When I say soaking, I mean he was marinating it. Everybody except Arno was aware of what was going on. He was oblivious to Danny’s incendiary chicanery.
When he had sufficiently saturated Arno with the combustible liquid, he signaled to the rest of us to head for the door of the office. As we scrambled to get out of harm’s way, Danny tossed a match onto Arno.
The startled Arno’s snowmobile suit burst into brilliant flames. Arno was on fire!
The rest of us stood outside of the shipping dock office with our mouths wide open, not quite believing what was happening. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or just get the hell out of there. But I wasn’t leaving until I saw what the fiery Arno was going to do next.
A normal person would have rushed out of the office, dropped to the warehouse floor and rolled in an attempt to extinguish the blaze. Not Arno. Nobody ever accused him of being normal. What took place next was arguably the idiotic thing I had witnessed in my eighteen years of existence.
Rather than try to put out the flames that were engulfing him, Arno ran after Danny with a can of starting fluid while cursing at the top of his lungs. Using his lighter to ignite it, he was using the can like a small flamethrower. Remember, Arno was still immersed in a fireball while doing this psychotic, not to mention dangerous, act.
Arno never caught Danny and eventually the flame on his snowmobile suit went out. Remember I mentioned that I never said Arno was a rocket scientist? Well, he obviously wasn’t, but that’s what makes reminiscing about him so much fun. This really did happen, it honestly did.
I hope that you enjoyed this Arno Anecdote. If you 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.