, Newburyport, MA

Local News

February 2, 2013

Lagoulis column: Leaving one's mark somewhere, somehow


Being a so-called wharf rat, I knew Tom McGlew. I always played along the Merrimack River in the area of the wharves, an area which was known to us as McGlew’s Wharf, where Tom McGlew had his own welding and machine shop.

I decided I would ask him if he would be kind enough to teach me to weld so that I could get a welding job. I told him I could pay him fifty cents each visit. He looked at me, hesitated, studying me. Then, he said, “If you can get here after 5 p.m. every night.” Every night for two weeks I faithfully showed up at McGlew’s Welding & Machine Shop and was trained to be a welder. In two weeks I had learned to do electric welding and torch welding and had been trained by expert welders. I was proud of my new skill.

With my newfound training, I returned one afternoon to the Portsmouth Navy Yard. Now that I knew how to weld, I was confident I’d get the welding job. Yet, again I was denied a job. I left. I was fully disgusted – sickened right to the heart. I learned that I didn’t have the connections that others had. So, I went my own way. I joined the Naval Reserves.

There was some talk in town about an oncoming war. I learned there were plans to build a new port for the modern submarines; the old, aging submarines were being done away with. The newspaper reported that the Aberthaw Construction Company signed a contract with the Portsmouth Navy Yard to get the job done.

I quickly approached Aberthaw Construction seeking work. They hired me because I knew how to weld. The first thing I did was to pay fifty cents to the Aberthaw Construction Company Union and became a member. They immediately put me to work as a Blacksmith’s Helper. I had a title, earned fifty cents an hour and was a union member. The work schedule was six days a week — sometimes six and a half days a week.

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