Whitesburg KY

Summer jobs at old meat packing plant weren’t easy

Elva Pridemore Marshall provided the following Statement of Earnings that were provided to her father, Hiram Pridemore, when he worked for Wardrup’s Packing Company Inc. at Letcher in 1958.

Elva Pridemore Marshall provided the following Statement of Earnings that were provided to her father, Hiram Pridemore, when he worked for Wardrup’s Packing Company Inc. at Letcher in 1958.

Wardrup’s Meat Packing Company was located at the mouth of Pratt Branch near the old Stuart Robinson School campus at Letcher. Wardrup’s Packing House, as many people called it, slaughtered hogs and cattle, butchered their carcasses, processed their meat into such products as wieners, bologna, sausage, hams, and cuts of beef and sold their products under the Wardrup’s Pine Crest brand in local grocery stores throughout southeastern Kentucky.

Following are a couple of stories that my brother, Kenneth Blair, told me about Wardrup’s.

In today’s highly mobile society, most families own multiple vehicles. Teenagers with a driver’s license feel deprived if they do not have easy access to cars any time that they want them. In my (Tony’s) teenaged years of the 1960’s, most families had a single car. Some teenagers had access to the family car for a limited time on the weekends. Other teenagers, not so lucky, hoped to have a friend who had a car available for use.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, many families did not own a vehicle. Such was the case with my parents. My father, Monroe S. Blair, worked at Wardrup’s. To get to his work, he walked, no matter what the weather conditions were, from his home at the head of Letcher Drive behind the Letcher Elementary school downriver to the lower Twin Bridge and then across the hill through Saddle Gap by Coy Fields’s home into Pratt Branch. He then walked down Pratt Branch to Wardrup’s. Once his work shift was over, he retraced this route back to his home. It took him about an hour to walk to work and another hour to return home.

He had a long work shift from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. That is 14 hours with one hour allotted for breaks. To get to his work on time, he left his home about 4 p.m. and arrived back at home about 8 a.m. the next morning. Eight hours after returning home, he left again for another shift of work.

Dad’s job at Wardrup’s was a combination of night watchman and worker. Workers at Wardrup’s slaughtered cattle and hogs and cut up their carcasses during the day and Dad cooked and smoked the meat at night. The cooked meat had an unappealing tannish color. Smoking gave the meat a more appetizing color and taste. The cooking process took about 14 hours, thus the reason for his long work shift.

While still in high school, my brother, Kenneth Blair, and his first cousin, Rudolph Short, took summer jobs at Wardrup’s. My brother was assigned to what was called the Sausage Room where Lonzo Caudill showed him the ropes. In there, meats such as sausage, bologna, and wieners were made. The meat that had been cooked the night before was tossed into the hopper of a meat-grinding machine. Next, a machine mixed the ground meat with the ingredients specific to the type of product being made. Flour was one ingredient that was mixed with most of the meat products. Kenneth recalls that 60 pounds of meat was mixed with 40 pounds of flour to make 100 pounds of bologna.

Last, the mixed meat was taken to a machine that stuffed the mixture into the membrane in which sausage, bologna, etc., are traditionally sold. This stuffing machine had changeable orifices of different sizes so that meat products as small as links of wieners and as large as rolls of bologna could be made. Both ends of every roll were hand-tied with string.

The meat was moved from one machine to another in a tub with wheels. Two workers shoveled the meat from the tub into the machine with regular dirt shovels. My brother noticed that the workers were inserting only about a third of the shovel blade into the meat and then tossing only a small amount of ground meat into the link machine with each throw. My brother, a teenager full of vim and vigor and a strong work ethic, thought that he might be able to do a little better job. So when he had the opportunity to do this task, he shoved the shovel into the meat, completely covering the shovel’s blade. He then gave a mighty heave to lift the shovel full of meat and to throw it into the link machine. But, in spite of his best efforts, he could not lift the shovel of meat from the tub. The stickiness of the meat won that tug of war. After learning why the experienced workers were using only the tips of their shovels, my brother wiggled the shovel back out. Then, he, too, used only the tip of the shovel. The workers got a big laugh at my brother’s expense and inexperience.

It is good business practice to reduce waste and increase sales. To this end, Wardrup’s processed the intestines salvaged from the carcasses of the cattle and hogs by cleaning the intestines and rendering the fat on the intestines into lard. The lard and the resulting cracklings were sold. The waste product from inside the intestines was processed into fertilizer, bagged, and shipped to be sold commercially. Anyone who has been around barnyards and hog pens can imagine that this intestines cleaning job stunk to high heavens.

When teenager Rudolph Short was hired, he was assigned the unenviable task of cleaning the intestines. On his first day on this malodorous job, he decide that he would work long enough to save enough money to buy his grandmother, Elizabeth “Betty” Blair, who was instrumental in rearing him, a stand of lard.

A stand of lard was a metal bucket holding about four gallons of lard. Lard was important in cooking in those days before cooking oil and cooking sprays. And true to his word, the day he received the required amount of money for the purchase of his grandmother’s gift, he quit his job at Wardrup’s.

Kenneth Blair, a Letcher County native, is a retired educator living in Lexington. Tony Blair is a retired schoolteacher living at Jeremiah.

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