Catasauqua Press

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Left: The Penn Dixie Cement Company had 10 plants and various sales offices. Left: The Penn Dixie Cement Company had 10 plants and various sales offices.
Above: This Penn Dixie advertisement detailed the employees’ retirement package.Photos courtesy of Larry Oberly, Olev Taremae and Lehigh Lines Above: This Penn Dixie advertisement detailed the employees’ retirement package.Photos courtesy of Larry Oberly, Olev Taremae and Lehigh Lines

Remembering: Office secretary recalls working at Penn Dixie

Wednesday, October 2, 2019 by Ed Pany Curator, Atlas Cement Company Memorial Museum in Columns

Remember when our high schools offered courses in typing, shorthand, office machines and bookkeeping? Today, offices have been transformed by computers and modern technology. A number of years ago, Kathy Unger, a friend and former secretary at the Penn Dixie Cement Company, wrote me a description of her position.

Kathy graduated from Nazareth High School in 1956. An excellent student, she was hired and trained to fill in for other secretaries during vacations, maternity leaves and illnesses.

“My first duty was to learn the switchboard,” she said. “It was an old cord board. We typed letters on a manual Underwood or Royal typewriter.”

I wonder if they are still being made.

“We used carbon paper to produce multiple copies,” she noted. “The carbon usually got on our clothes, and the paper stuck together in humid weather. When making a typo, we had to erase all the copies, sometimes as many as 10 to 11 copies. There was no Wite-Out!

“We dreaded contract time when we had to type copies for all 10 Penn Dixie plants — pages and pages of text with many carbon copies. We had a wet Verifax copy machine, which was messy, smelly, and I had to wash it every day.

“In the attic was an old mimeograph machine, which had a hand-crank drum using stencils to produce large numbers of forms. The engineering department had an Ozalid machine, which used an ammonia process to make blueprints. This also had a unique odor.

“We had a unique way of transporting correspondence between the two floors of our office building — a mail elevator. It was a wire basket attached to a rope, which pulled up or down between floors carrying invoices, teletype messages, etc. We had a teletype machine, which sent and received messages from our plant offices and the local packhouse.

“There were no air conditioners in those days, only floor fans, and the windows were wide open. There was no temporary services to call on if there was an extra load. We just all pitched in and got the job done. No one ever said, ‘That’s not my job.’

“We used hand- operated calculators, and accounts receivable and accounts payable were entered by hand into large ledgers.

“As I drive by the former office on Route 248, I wondered what happened to a company that we thought would last forever. How could a corporation with 10 plants and various sales offices cease to exist?”

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In two weeks, I’ll be on Penn Street in Bath with another old Penn Dixie employee who will share his memories of the Great Depression.