July 1974- union strikes, major flood, trailer camping

Summer ’74 is definitely with us now, and for me an unusual experience, working as a helper on a line crew.  A line crew installs and maintains the wiring from the electrical distribution system to the last customer.  Was this due to a reversal of fortune, being downgraded from a manager to a “grunt?” No indeed and the story follows.

PP&L, my employer, was unionized though this was not part of a national union, instead it was what is commonly called a company union.  That is, the union membership is restricted to employees of PP&L.

PP&L office building

PP&L office building

 The contract was up and negations were going on between union and management.  The one sticking point was that the union insisted on having a cost of living adjustment added to the base wage.  This was anathema to management and neither side budged so there was the strike, first in the company’s history I believe.  Personally, I did not think the union was being unreasonable, but nobody asked me and I didn’t offer my opinion.  Zooming forward to 1980 when I joined Nevada Power, that company did have a company wide cost of living adjustment and this was nothing new.  

So, resulting from the strike, PP&L assigned management employes to jobs formerly done by  union workers.  I joined a line crew composed mostly of foreman, perhaps an engineer here and there. I am not a scab. I had no qualms about this as I did not consider myself a strike breaker or anti-union. The power company provided a vital service to the community which I firmly believed in.  After a few days of physical work, it wasn’t too bad, though we worked 12 hour shifts.  The good thing about this was that our monthly salary was recalculated to an hourly basis, resulting in much more pay for the added hours. The crews did stop for a doughnut break, lunch and we paced ourselves.  After about a month of that, I went back into the main office where I was primarily a runner giving and getting information from the field to my manager.  Eventually the strike settled and things went on as before, though the union was now subsumed into a national union.

Louise’s birthday was the 5th and I don’t have any notes about how we celebrated.  I think, and emphasize think, that we all went to a matinée and followed that by going to an ice cream restaurant that sold sodas, banana splits, etc.  We did do things like that so it is likely, but I have nothing in writing about it.

I have no notes, just memories of our response to a storm “Agnes.”

Typical flood damage

Typical flood damage

I thought this flood was in 1974, but checking dates on Google I found that the storm and flooding of the Susquehanna river was in 1972. We had steady rain and storms from storm Agnes for at least a week and the Susquehanna river flooded many cities, including Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Someone in our area  asked for volunteers to join him in a school bus ride on Saturday to Wilkes-Barre to help in the cleanup.

 I volunteered to join the group and a few days later, Marge drove our station wagon to that area with food.  We did what we could and were very glad we did not live on the river bank, as we did in Vestal. Louise would become very disturbed when we had a heavy rain, and one day I asked her as tactfully as I could what was she afraid of.  We discussed this, and this led to her telling me she was afraid that our house was going to slide downhill.  For a child seeing all the pictures and TV coverage of Agnes, this was not unreasonable.  I gently told her that we were not near a river and didn’t have to fear the damage from rainstorms such as Agnes.

Aristocrat - 3

Aristocrat trailer

I mentioned the camping group we joined.  The name of the club was Christian Campers.  Eastern PA was home to a  bewildering number of denominations, mostly fundamentalists.  The club members were decent ordinary people and we got along with them and they offered, but did not make an issue of their own belief system.  Our first meeting with them turned out being a short-lived mini disaster.  Every camper would bring something for a pot luck which we would all share.  Marge made some simple casserole, franks and beans maybe. We put it in the refrigerator to hold it until we set up the trailer, thinking we would then take it out and warm it up in the oven.  However, our site was a bit uneven getting into and we did pitch a bit.  The refrigerator opened up and down came the casserole.  When we opened the door, Marge was heartbroken and cried copiously.  Fortunately the wife of the club leader came over to say hello about that time and consoled Marge and helped her to stop crying.  Her words were something like ” we always have more than we can eat, that could have happened to any of us, you did your best and do you need help in cleaning up?”  All became well again and we did enjoy ourselves and since the group didn’t try to convert us, we got along well.  

One sad thing that happened, I think around this time was that there was a severe wind storm in the area where the camp leader lived. This took down power lines in different places, one near his home.  Of course with no electricity you had no radio or TV unless you had a portable radio. John, the leader was rather type A and fidgeted because he had no power or information.  He asked his son, “Johnny” to go out and see if he could find anything out.  Unfortunately “Johnny” touched a downed line and was electrocuted.  He was a nice kid, only 15 then,  and would have been middle-aged now, but for that.  We went to the funeral, offered what support we could and at the next get-together, there was a pall but things soon moved on.

My Clock

Finished Clock

The extra money from strike pay came at a good time. It helped pay for the new drive construction, the Scout and finally, new furniture. We did have new furniture in the family room, but the living room stuff from our first house was showing its age. After much searching for material designs, etc, we decided to get a set that matched the family room but with a different patterns so the house would not look too monotonous. This would arrive in September. Marge and I thought that we would give the furniture to our children when they set up housekeeping.  This worked for Ingrid, but not Louise.  I still have one set in the rather small living room here.  I replaced the cushion foams  3 times, and the fabric at least 4.  I do have a few real antiques, as well as replicas I built mostly from kits and the “Early American”  furniture design, though dated, fits in with the antiques.  My grandfather clock project is almost finished. The case is complete and stained.  I was applying an oil finish then and would install the clock works when the finish has soaked in and dried.

Both girls went to the YMCA day camp this summer. They first went for a 2 week session and enjoyed it so much they went to a 1 week session as well. They both enjoy this and being with other children, play and swim and Marge and I were happy for them. Louise came down with the chicken pox and has a few cock marks but I think they will fade with time. I felt her resistance was down, as the last time we were camping she had a bit of a fever the following Monday.  Maybe this is related to her extreme fever at Easter, but who knows, just a guess.  She could not take too much activity and late nights.  Our sole recreation has made the Christian Campers meetings and going to a few movies all we did . 

The weather at the end of the month is in the 80s and very humid. Fortunately our house has central air conditioning which is fine, but when we go outdoors, the difference is quite marked.  New York summers were a bit cooler and we could get by with window fans. The grass is a bit brown, and we keep the garden and flowers watered.  Marge and the girls have been working to keep the weeds down.

As I write this, a dim memory is coming back, I think from around this time. Marge was not feeling well and for some reason I went to the Lancaster area to go to a local craft fair.  I hoped we could go as a family and Marge was not so sick that she required constant care, so I went by myself.  I don’t know now why this was so important to me, I guess I had planned on us all going beforehand so I left.  I bought some local trinkets there, and stopped at a shop of a local candy maker and bought some.  I believe it was some form of chocolate candy, something we could all enjoy.    


About R. F.

I am a retired Professional Engineer who spent my working life in the electric utility industry. I am now a volunteer instructor at the University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).
This entry was posted in 1970-1980, Allentown and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to July 1974- union strikes, major flood, trailer camping

  1. Allan T says:

    Hi Robert, I never was in management, except for a few months at the time that I was thinking of becoming either s manager or a union rep. I was not really wise enough to realize, that Management did not want me it either or. So, there method was to train me in management for 6 months, then put me down. This I later learned prevented me for becoming a union steward, as I already “showed my true colors” by being in management.
    I sat out my time, turned around got into the union, became a pain in their ass, and eventually ended up running( president) of that local for 6 years. Actually, I really wanted to write, how I understood what Louise might have been going through. My cousins, that lived in Pine Rock Park, Bridgeport CT; how a house on the river, one night after swelling rains over ran the river, their house started( and did) float away. OF COURSE they all got out safe, but none of them would ever live close to a river the rest of their lives.

    • R. Johann says:

      So, were you a pain in the ass to management, or to the union when you Presided, maybe both eh? As you well know, though with the flood control here, we don’t see as many houses, particularly mobile homes going down to Lake Mead. Good to hear from you again. Hi to Janice.

  2. Louise says:

    I don’t know if it was Agnes or not that made me so afraid of rainstorms because I thought our house was going to slide down the hill. But it’s as good a theory as any I guess. I still to this day don’t like heavy rain and I can feel very agitated if there’s a big storm.

    • R. Johann says:

      I don’t know for sure either, but the Lehigh river would flood in Binghamton, our home on Vestal was on the bank of the Susquehanna. Even though it had a high bank, even that was a warning of the power of the river. So, it is not unreasonable to feel uncomfortable about storms.

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