Summer of Love


The official poster.

Apollo astronauts landed on the moon. Two hundred thousand showed up for Woodstock. It was 1969.

And I was making hand grenade fuses in a small factory in rural Pennsylvania.

In spite of cutback promises by President Nixon, the conflict in Vietnam was escalating.

I needed a summer job.

The company was Penguin Industries. Their office sat on a rolling lawn decorated with ceramic penguins. I had no idea what they made. And then I did.

If there was conflict over a “war effort” employer, it was soon resolved. There was a generous base salary and bonus potential for exceeding the minimal quota.

We were highly motivated… poor, mostly broke, facing college expenses and student loan debt.


Courtesy. Wikipedia

On a moving assembly line, we built fuses for the M26 hand grenade, thousands of them.

Metal plug bodies, small springs, pins, and handles were assembled over a tube that went deep into the ground.

If the small tools slipped, the ignitor was activated, and blew into that tube.

It was loud, there was smoke, but the real danger was in a remote building where gunpowder was added.

It may have been the Summer of Love, but not for me.

***This is Day 5 of the 5 Days- 5 Photos challenge.***

Thanks to Colleen at Silver Threading for the nomination.

5 Days – 5 Photos: Foggy Morning in the Field





This entry was posted in History, Work and Career and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Summer of Love

  1. Intense story, Van. The military industrial complex continues to employ hundreds of thousands. I think that’s part of the reason it’s so hard to end war. When I lived in Connecticut (where people made helicopters, jet engines, and submarines) even our liberal politicians who were anti-war, would never suggest that those industries shut down. Every state has a finger in the war pie.

  2. LaVagabonde says:

    Ah,the industry of war. Where would it be without desperate people?

  3. Your summer of ’69 was so serious. Mine was just the opposite. I spent the summer working on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Your summer of war was my summer of ultimate peace. No parents, no rules, just love and laughter and lots of fun. Wish you had been there!

  4. whoa, bet you take that job off your future resumes Van! My grade nine summer job was preparing nerve gas detectors for army use. When I took that off my resume a few years later, it seemed people were more willing to hire me! ❤
    Diana xo

  5. George says:

    That’s an interesting story, one I haven’t heard anyone doing before. But it was ’69…everything was different and chaotic then.

    • You’re right, George, the whole decade was a bit of a mess…turbulent times and a lot of personal security was sacrificed…the early 60’s and the nuclear fire drills, for example.

  6. Well, that has to be one of the most interesting summer jobs I’ve heard about.

  7. Great piece, Van. Very telling of the times. Even still of our times. Still at war in far off places.

  8. Nurse Kelly says:

    This is so interesting to learn about you! A few years before I was born, but so interesting still 🙂

  9. lbeth1950 says:

    I am jealous of your cushy job that summer of ’69. I’d just finished my freshman year at a community college. We lived on a farm 22 miles from the nearest town so there was no possibility of getting a summer job, since I didn’t have a car. I spent that summer, just like I had every other summer of my life, working on the farm, gratis. “Them that don’t work, don’t eat.” The good thing about farm life was the motivation to do well at my studies. I didn’t want to have to spend my whole life on the farm.

  10. Angie Mc says:

    My similar summer story came 10 years later when I worked in a rag factory. Sorting rags. Inhaling toxic textiles. You blew yourself off with a ginormous blower before leaving. Working side-by-side ladies who had worked there for 30+ years was eye-opening. I would be the first in my family line to go to college.

    Great writing and story as always, Van ❤

    • This factory had a big turnover, but the next summer, I was at a Pepperidge Farm bakery, they paid well, the smells were much more pleasant and folks stayed forever. Still…it was really hot and physical, and motivated me back to my studies each fall. I met some great people there. ☺

    • and toxic textiles. Ugh. We have kids here who opt to work in battery manufacturers, they pay top dollar, no degree needed, but you have to shower before and after work. There’s a price in that.

      • Angie Mc says:

        Delay of gratification can be tough sometimes. Especially now when a college degree doesn’t come close to guaranteeing you a good paying job. I understand their choice but wonder if it is really informed consent? Can a young person who thinks they’re invincible anticipate the long-term consequences of such work?

      • They are almost exclusively 20- somethings. That says a lot. Many seem to figure this stuff out by the time they start a family, and go work for less $$.

  11. mandy says:

    That is fascinating, Van. 1969 caught my eye–the year I turned 16, escaped home, married a Vietnam vet, jumped from the frying pan into the fire. And there you were amidst the gunpowder. Both innocents. Both playing with fire . . . whew! Glad we’re both here to talk about it 😮

  12. Jim says:

    I was playing baseball and tag and going swimming and girls were something we were scared of.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s