The Anamosa Prison Press
May 2, 1902

The Making of Butter-Tubs

Contributed by 4782

The purpose of this article is to set forth in detail how butter-tubs are made. Some think our work is an everyday picnic; others think it is exceedingly hard. Read, draw your own conclusions.

The stock for making the tubs is shipped to the Prison shops by rail; including staves, hoops, and stock for bottoms and tops. All this material is black-ash. The cars are tracked to west door of factory. Here is where the labor of the prisoners begins.

Our old friend 3333 is the boss man at start and finish. He loads or unloads or engineers the unloading of stock and the loading of the finished product at the same door. This stock is stored in north room of factory. The dimensions of this room are 40 X 70 feet.

A man who runs a small planer wheels the staves from the storeroom into the factory. The first machine is a planer. This is at the extreme northwest corner of the shop. It planes the inside of the staves. As the staves pass through the planer they go about ten feet, where they are received by a man who runs a saw, or rather three saws upon a parallel shaft, the saws set just the distance apart necessary to cut long staves exactly in the center, and also cut enough off both ends to square and make each stave the required length.

There are two lengths of staves in the rough. One length makes two staves, the other, one. The man at this saw cuts 15,000 staves for the making of 1,000 tubs - about the ordinary ten hours' work. He cuts twelve staves at a time when cutting long staves, and six staves when cutting short ones. In making 1,000 tubs, using one-fourth short staves, this man makes 9,475 trips represent about ten miles of walking, or more properly speaking, hop-skip-and-jumps. This number of staves weighs approximately four tons. Thus it will appear that this man must carry four tons ten miles each day, besides the work of sawing.

After having sawed the staves, the planer-man places them upon a bench in stacks two feet high. These stacks are built crib fashion so each stave is held in the proper position for the next man to handle. This bunch is about eight feet long and extends to the next machine, called a jointer. As the piles disappear by the man at the jointer taking them away, the man at the saw pushes them along and builds another crib. At this jointer the edges are planed smooth and true so that they match snugly together. This jointer-work is extremely fast work, as the man can handle but two staves at a time. This man practically controls the work of the entire shop, his work is so very particular, and when he is sick or laid off for a day or two it is impossible to fill his place as it takes time to become accustomed to the movement necessary to do this work properly.

As the man at the jointer joints the staves he tosses them into a receptacle at his left, to a man who matches the pieces to make a tub. Each tub takes about fifteen staves, sometimes more, sometimes less, according to width of staves. This again is quick work. The matching is done by laying the staves flat one against the other in a semi-circle. When enough staves are in place to form a tub there is generally some over on the last stave, which, by means of a saw hung on an oscillating bracket, is cut off, thereby securing the exact width of stave for a tub. This man is between two men, the one tossing them to him, the other taking them away as fast as he can get them. It keeps him hustling. He, however, does no walking, but must turn around for each tub. Between him and the next man is but a few feet, probably five. In this place stands a rack resembling the letter-boxes in a country postoffice minus the glass. Into this rack the staves are placed form one side and taken out by another man form the other. The man that takes the staves out of the rack sets them up without the bottom, top, and hoops. His machine is called a 'former.' It consists in part of a large casting in the shape of a tub. Inside the casting are two projections upon which is laid iron hoops about half an inch in thickness, and very strong. One of these hoops is placed near the top of the tub, the other near the middle. Inside these rings the staves are set as they are to appear in the finished tub. The man who does this part of the work then presses a lever with is foot and part of the machine falls with considerable force upon the top of the tub and drives it firmly into the iron rings where it remains intact. He next takes the tub from the machine and places it into what is called the oven.

The 'oven' is about thirty feet in length built of brick, and is heated by steam. It will hold twenty-eight tubs. Inside the oven is a mechanism which carries the tubs south, the length of the oven. While in transit form one end to the other the tub becomes shrunk tight by the action of the heat upon the wood. When the tub arrives at the south end of the oven, a stout, tough, hardy man is needed, and here is where he is to be found when wanted. "Bobby,' the colored man, he who is so handy with the gloves on holidays, and is so well and favorably known to readers of The Press as the colored boy who "just picked singin' up." picks the tubs up and places them into the most powerful machine in the shop, called a press. Here they are pressed so the ends of staves are even. From the press the tub goes to a machine which finishes the truing-up process, and shaping. Next, to the man who cuts the groove to hold the bottom in and smooths and bevels the top, in the way of finish. 'Bobby' thus handles the tubs three separate times, and as they now have the iron rings upon them the weight is doubled, or about eight tons a 1,000 tubs.

After the man who cuts the groove for the bottom comes the man who puts the bottoms in. The next man runs a sanderbelt and sands the tubs outside. This man then places the tubs upon a runway twenty feet long and inclined to the hoopers, who are in the southeast corner of the shop. As the tub started at the northwest corner of the shop it will be seen it has now traveled just half-way around the room.

The bottoms and tops are carted into the shop by a man who delivers the stock to another man at another jointer similar to the one used in jointing staves. This is very quick work, as the man must handle six to eight thousand pieces separately. He picks up the board with his left hand - board being about eighteen inches in length- he joints one edge, transfers it to the other hand and joints the other edge. In transferring the board he turns it over so he is able to see both sides and can tell if it has flaws on either side unfitting it for use. He then tosses it into a box at his right where it is in reach of another man who, on another machine, makes a groove in one edge and a tongue on the other. Here the boards are taken by two men who glue them together, making nearly square boards out of them. Aside from occasionally gluing an eye shut or filing an ear or sticking fingers, and hair together, etc, Shorty says 'tis not bad work. In this shape these boards stand over night to let the glue set well, then they are planed. They then pass on to saws where they are sawed into bottoms and tops. The tops must be conveyed to a different part of the shop, where hoops are tacked around their edges, which finishes them.

We left the tubs upon the incline, going to the hoopers of which there are five. These men place the hoops upon the tubs, stack them in a bunch, and their work is done. The hoopers must work very fast to keep up their end of the work and not hinder the rest of the men. This is true of nearly very man in the shop.

Now comes along the man who carries the tubs away. He shoulders ten tubs at a time and carries them back into the storeroom form which, but a few minutes previous, the raw material was taken. For each ten tubs this man must walk two hundred feet, and as each tub weighs about ten pounds, he carries one hundred pounds each trip, or for 1,000 tubs about five miles each day that 1,000 tubs are made. Add to this the weight of the iron rings, which are knocked off at the different stations of the journey the tub makes and which this man must return to their starting point, and he has carried anther five tons about three miles. No boy need apply.

The task is 75 tubs and hour, or one and one-fourth tubs a minute. To make 1,000 tubs in ten hours there must be one hundred every hour, or one and two-thirds tubs a minute. At times, and for but a very few minutes at a time, the rate of 150 tubs an hour is attained; it cannot last long; like all fast things, it is the pace that kills.

Of course, here as elsewhere, men have their peculiarities. Some days one wants to work fast, and on other days, for reasons best known to themselves, work slow. As may be seen, any man from start to finish can hinder the output materially by not keeping up his part of the work; he may not feel well; hands sore, or something is wrong; in fact, just as it would be in the same kind of work outside. "Holding back," however, seldom occurs, as the officer in charge is very patient and generally manages to keep us in fairly good humor, thereby causing us to forget much, and keep at the work. Then, too, the overtime has its effect.

Two months ago we were making about seven or eight hundred tubs a day. At present, as stated, the output is in the neighborhood of 1,000 tubs a day, sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less. The biggest output of which we have any knowledge or can learn of for one day in the new shop was on Thursday, April 28, when 1,084 tubs were made and delivered to the man who inspects them before they are shipped. Each tub is subject to a very careful inspection, and the least flaw is remedied.

All together, we are as miserably happy, satisfactorily discontented, joyfully sad, peacefully faultfinding if we make five cents a day as we would be outside and making two or three dollars a day. - 4782