Making Cheez Puffs

A continuation from yesterday’s post. An excerpt from my book “I thought I’d Died and Gone To Heaven.”  You can get this book through Amazon. Just click on the link above and follow the directions.

“But there was one job I had that really took the cake. While working for Moo Millers, I noticed a help wanted sign at a factory not far from the milk emporium. I took note and at the end of my shift, around 2pm, as we started very early in the milking business, I drove up to the factory in question. It was called “Sherriff Confectionary”. They were looking for an operator of some sorts in their factory. I applied and on the spot was hired. No experience required. We will train. I accepted their offer but told them I couldn’t start until Monday as I had to clear up some loose ends…quit my other job.  This I did in short order and left the milk emporium to a chorus of shouts, curses, arm waving and one finger salutes. I gave them back five of the best of mine.

I was somewhat relieved to be free of that place as I couldn’t stand starting at 6 am in the morning, which meant I had to up and about around 5. For a young buck like me this was not good.  So I quit always thinking of course that the employment grass is always greener on the other side. Often times it wasn’t.

I reported to the Sherriff at the appropriate time on Monday morning. It was an 8 till 430 pm operation with a half hour for lunch. Okay. But what I didn’t know was that the Sherriff office was HQ, the mother ship confectionary, headquarters for the entire operation. I was duly sent to another planet, plant, about a 20 minute drive away. Imagine my chagrin, disbelief and amazement when I arrived at the address given to see a huge, fat animated egg-man with thin black anorexic arms with tiny four fingered white gloves and long spindly black equally anorexic legs with tiny black ankle height boots dangling off the oval white egg shape that was perched precariously but on a slight angle from the roof of a very large building.  It was THE WALL!  Its facial features as hideous as a clown’s with that wide grinning smile, red ruby lips and a Feldman like gaze.

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Oh noooo, I cried and thought out loud. I’m working at Humpty Dumpty potato chips. Then it dawned on me. Sherriff? Yes, Sherriff made various brands of potato chips, cheese-corn and other delectable delights.  Humpty Dumpty was one of them. Oh noooo, What have I done. This was definitely not a career move that I imagined. Not career worthy in any stretch of the imagination. I will be a laughing stock I thought to myself.

“Where do you work?”

“Uh, Humpty Dumpty Potato chip factory”

“No Shit?”

“No… Sherriff”

Nevertheless, being the dependable sort that I was I duly reported for duty. The plant manager was at reception waiting for me. I guess to ensure I didn’t high tail it out of there.

“Don’t mind the sign, or the name” he chuckled.  “But the kids love it.”

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I didn’t dare tell him that I had a phobia with clowns, or nursery rhyme characters for that matter. Brother’s Grimm added an eerie essence to those fantasy stories.

We shook hands and introduced ourselves. He then proceeded to take me into the plant. The very first thing that we saw and that came into focus was this huge contraption of a machine: high, long and very narrow, that made some confectionary I guess but he just brushed it aside without saying a word. I looked at it quizzically as he was ushered me across what was a very large rectangular shaped room with an opening at one end that led into the shipping and receiving departments.  Here a large shipping dock was situated with a number of open bays. I could see some of the trucks parked just out and off and to the side of the main building with that innocuous looking “Humpty Dumpty, sitting on a wall” logo of the sides of the truck. Innocuous to whom I thought.

“Most of the trucks are off on delivery” the plant manager offered.

“We have to be up and running with trucks loaded by 0700. The day’s production has to be completed by midnight, giving our shipping department seven hours to get things organized for delivery. So two shifts running full tilt. This area here is sort of the hub of our operational wheel with our production and preparation rooms branching off from this central area in three directions”

“Hmmm or Mmmm” I thought, as I was getting a little peckish.

He then showed me where they received, distributed, cleansed and shaped the potatoes and corn meal. We glanced at the huge potato chip making machines, as they had about 4 running in parallel to one other with women in those unflattering uniforms of white, sorting and discarding the good chips from the bad, the bad being directed to a whole different conveyor.

“We don’t waste a thing” he said

Wonderful I thought.

“Where do the discarded ones go” I asked

Silence. I guess it was a trade secret. I didn’t dare repeat myself though.

The whole scene was eerie. It was dark and cavernous in that large space. Bare bulbed, dim lights hung low from an obscured bare metal beamed ceiling. They were all aglow over the entire operating machines that had a cold water mist induced conveyor belts running off from a huge deep fat fryer that was connected to a massive cutting and peeling machine that was tied to an enormously high and deep hopper. I wouldn’t want to fall into there I thought. Just then the thought of those charcoal broiled burgers came into my mind for a moment thinking that I knew all of the trade secrets but I shook that thought off immediately. The finished product: those paper thin, curved smooth confectionary delights came down another conveyor flopping, turning and flipping as they made their way to a packing dock at the end of this line. The motion of those chips moving down that conveyor through a fine mist of salt and oil reminded me of fish gasping for oxygenated water, jumping and jerking in their final death throes.

He then took me back to the first large cavernous room.

“This is where you will be working” he offered. “This your machine John, your baby, so take good care of it and she will reward you a thousand fold”

“Hmmm,” I thought in shock and awe!

“George here will train you. Don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be up and at her in no time at all”

George Gallant was a Maritimer.

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His diction was slightly clearer than the other Maritimers I met over the last few years.

“Hi George. Nice to meet you” I said, wondering why there were so many Maritimers here in the city.

“Okay,” he said, shaking my hand. Without losing a moment he continued on:

“Letter be dere. Aye, letter rip” And with that he went over to a control panel and punched a few green buttons. Green for go, red for stop. How do they know I’m not colour blind I thought.

“If you was coloured blind” George said, “the greens is always on top, da reds at da bottom.” No his diction was okay, grammar not so good.

All of a sudden this huge monstrosity of a machine came to life. At one end by a set of stairs, or ladder, was a huge hopper, which was very wide at the top, narrow at the bottom. George was yelling now.

“Take dis here bag of corn meal, corn mix and drop her in da opper. You need about ten bags in”

I helped him here as there were a stack of bags on a platform at the top of the stairs just below the hoppers, er opper’s opening. Once that was done George then descended the stairs, went to another control panel and struck one green button. Whoosh, was all I heard, then orange and yellow flames contained within a large square shaped furnace came to life.

“Don’t touch dat” he said. “Or you will be crying for yer mommy and cursing the daze you was born”

Okay, I get it. The furnace.

“Now we has some time but when da heat heats up da corn meal into da corn mush or almost like a liquid corn soup – kinda like da corn chowder I gets back home I tinks. But don’t taste it or she’ll burn your mouth off to the devils lair I tink, or so my brudder tells me.  My brudder Henry works here in shipping now. At night. He used to run dis machine.

“Great” I thought

“So now we attached dis black wheel to dis shaft and attach dis blade to da side of the wheel on dis cranshaft, like so. You have to do dis with every batch, to clean her off like a gutted cod, and sterilized her like to ward off those nasty gastro-intestinal critters.”

Oh I knew about them alright.  I was fascinated by what I was seeing and what he was telling me. Who on earth would have thought of a machine like this? Whoever it was is probably hold up in some insane asylum I thought.

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“Yes bye,” he continued. “Dis here black wheel here, you will notice, has 10 small holes bored through it. It will remain stationary but dis here black blade here will spin around da outside of the wheel and cut off the nibblies as dey came out from da udder side. De udder side is as hot as my ole lady’s temper but on dis here side as cold as my sister’s embrace.”

“So what are we making here” I yelled

“Cheezies” he yelled back to me, spittle flying everywhere

Cheezies? Good gawd I thought. What are my friends going to think?

“Where do you work John?”

“Humpty Dumpty potato chips” I say

“Doing what?” they ask

“Making Cheezies” I say.

“Oh” killing themselves laughing. I was doomed. Back to George.

“So now da corn meal gets heated up into dis soup den, and dis is da best part, she gets sucked out down dis here tube to dis here manifold where she gets pushed into dese 10 holes in da wheel here den is fired through and when she hits da cold air temperature on da udder side expands and curls up like a Newfy fart then gets cut up by dis here blade to fall into dis here tray. Each piece here is da same.

“Wow” I thought. Unbelievably simple yet effective. Genius really. There they were. Perfect cheezies, slightly curled at both ends to resemble small edible canoe shaped puffs of cheese coloured corn.

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“I know, I know what yer tinking.” George was getting excited. “How do dey become orange in colour? Now dis is da second best part.”

He ran over to a third panel, punched two green buttons and all of a sudden this long hollowed out tube like tunnel begins to rotate, somewhat like a cement mixer on a cement truck. On one side are three small shutes and Jim, overly excited now, pours some salt, oil and orange cheeze powder into these shuts separately.

“Dese mixtures are made up separately” he tells me. Over here in dese tree bins. Marked and labelled, dey are da ready mixed cement?  Ha, dat’s a joke, just kidding. You do not do anyting. Dey are made up for you.  It’s our secret recipe, trade secret. Just like da Colonel” he beams. He was so full of pride.

“Okay,” I was impressed at the sheer simplicity and effectiveness of this operation

Watching now as the tray holding the individual pieces of cheezies fills then dumps its load into the long tube like barrel. The cheezies seem to fall through the tunnel, up the side walls, falling down again and with the centrifugal force make their way to the end but not before passing through a bath of salts, oil and deep orange liquid cheese, which has been heated to a consistency to allow it to be sprayed all over the insides of that drum.  Amazing.

Finally, George, standing at the end with a large and round stiff hard cardboard 45 gallon container with a clear plastic bag insert, where the individual cheezies fell.

“You just stand dere watching da entire operation unfold in front of you. The nice ting about all of dis is you get to sample da cheezies as dey come off dis unique but magnificent assembly line. You never have to bring in a lunch, I tells ya”

George stayed with me for the entire day, ensuring I knew every aspect of the operation. It was easy: really, really easy. The main ting, thing, was the physicality of lifting and dumping 10 bags of corn meal into the hopper. Everything else ran itself.

George and I just stood at the end of the tunnel filling up those drums with cheezies. We chatted the whole day, chomping away as we talked. He told me about his cousin Bill Gallant, who was married to another distant cousin of his, Gladys Gallant. And a few of his mates, Frank, Raymond and Fred Gallant, who all came to the big city with George to make their fortune, at this Humpty Dumpty potato chip factory?? Or Intercity Truck Lines, or in roofing.  Oh yes he told me, most of the shipping and receiving guys here are from his home county, all Gallants. Even the women working the potato assembly lines are Gallants, either by marriage Gallants – or not Gallants, or from away Gallants.

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“Man, you have a big family” I told him. He looked at me with a serious and puzzled look on his face.

“Family?? No, no, no we are not family, not related in the least.”

What? Then he told me about some of his friends. There is Bill “Bologna” Gallant. He got his nickname cause he got caught stealing a tube of bologna many, many years ago. The name stuck. The Mary “kiss the cod” Gallant. Her dad was a cod fisherman., inshore like. Gerry “the greaser” Gallant cause he worked in a garage with his dad.  Then there’s Harry “the foreshore” Gallant cause he worked in a marina back home. Finally Don, “from out of town” Gallant cause his family moved to the county when he was a toddler.

“How long ago was that?” I asked

“About 35 years ago.”  He said.  “He’s not a homer so the nickname “out of towner” stuck.

Suddenly, we were interrupted by another employee. Without hesitation George yelled.

“How’s she going lad?” The young man waved in acknowledgment then left the room. We wouldn’t have been able to hear him anyway, with all the racket coming from the cheezie making machine.

“Who’s dat?” I asked, expecting the outcome, shortly

Dat’s John.” George offered

“Don’t tell me, don’t tell me.  Dat’s John “the giant” Gallant?”  For he was a big man.

“No” George said. “Dat’s John Hillside”

“Ah yes” I added “Gallant…from up on the hillside?” I beamed

“No, just John Hillside!” He looked at me, quizzically, suspiciously, as if I was from another planet.

Okay! I give up. But enjoyable really, Maritime logic of a down homer and the personal philosophy of my co-worker George.

George was known to his mates as George “the cheese head” Gallant because back home his family made a cheddar cheese as a side operation on their potato farm. Perhaps that is why George was attracted to this job. Fate!

The next day I was on my own. No more George. It was an easy job I must say and by noon I had it down cold. I did miss the conversation with George as those cheezies came down the tunnel to the barrels. Standing there, sampling and chomping away to my hearts content, watching the world of cheezies go by. Every now and then one of the guys from shipping would come over and grab a handful of cheezies out of the barrel to take back to the loading dock. This became a regular occurrence.

I also had my fair share of cheezies.  The only downside to all of this is one had a wicked orange stain around the lips, on the hands, fingers and down one’s shirt and pants. The stain was very difficult to get out, much the same as dried egg whites and yokes. And that machine. A work of mechanical art I can tell you. Yet after a while the novelty of this operation began to wear off and my restless nature was beginning to take hold again. I was beginning to see myself as Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times.” I could envision being caught up in the gears of the contraption and turning into some monstrous cheezie. I am sure they could make a horror movie out of this meme.

Yes, I was beginning to dislike this job and dislike these cheezies, so much so in fact that it felt like I gained about 50 pounds in my first week of work..

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What would I look like after a year I shuddered to think? What to do? I had just started this job. It wouldn’t look right if I just quit. So get fired I thought. But how? The foreman seemed to like me and the way I picked up on this job so fast. Then, it came to me. There was this guy in shipping that kept coming over to me and the cheezie barrel, scooping up a handful of these cheezie morsels for his own confectionary benefit on his way to shipping. Rather than having him come to me I’ll bring the whole operation to him. I’ll wait until Friday to do it.

When the moment came I decided that the first thing I should do is walk over to shipping to ensure my cheezie prey, this cheese-head, was working. Sure enough he was there at one of the loading bays. I walked back to my cheezie machine and fired her up for the first main batch of the day. Everything was working fine. But prior to starting the round black, brake drum like contraption where the heated corn meal is forced through these tiny holes only to expand and be cut by the thin bladed knife on the cool side, the heart of the cheezie operation. I decided to remove the blade and see what would happen. If I was lucky I envisioned the longest and largest cheezie in the whole wide world would be possible to construct. It would be a world record!

I disconnected the knife but let the entire operation proceed. Sure enough, when that souped up cheezie corn meal was thrust through those ten holes they came out the other side and expanded into ten puffed up strands of bland coloured, bland textured and bland tasting cheezies. I removed the tray and let all ten strands snake their way through the drum and through the bath of salt, oil and cheese. Coming out the other side they were cool enough to touch if not a tad bit slimy with all of that cheezie drippings. I carefully grabbed a hold of the ten strands and with careful abandon, and ever so gingerly, directed the strands out of the drum and off toward the other side of the room where the open door led down a short hallway to the shipping dock of the bays.

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This was careful deliberate work pulling this bundle of ten individual strands of cheezies, not unlike the sensitive work in laying cable on those Trans Atlantic cable laying ships. It would not take much for one of those strands to break, to part or to unravel during this delicate operation. Finally, I arrived in shipping. Everyone there took one look at me and at what I was pulling and in silent amazement began to laugh. George was there too and couldn’t believe what he was witnessing, at least that is what I thought by the startled look on his face.

“Where’s Henry” I asked. “You know, Henry, the corn head Gallant.”

Then I saw him. “Hey Henry,” I yelled in his direction “Chomp on this will ya.” And with that I dropped the entire bundle of Cheezie’s on the floor, watching how it slowly it was being pushed by the force behind it as it angled its way from side to side toward Henry, leaving orange streaks from the individual strands in its wake. Everyone was laughing. “Holy shit” I heard someone say. I turned and got the hell out of there. And as I was walking back through the factory floor I saw the plant manager coming toward me. I could tell he was mad, mad as hell, mad as a Mad Hatter in a Humpty Dumpty potato making factory! He was cheezed off no doubt as I heard him scream:

“Morrison, you’re fired. Get the hell out of here.”

I ran up the stairs that skirted beside my Cheezie machine, unemotional as to its most inner machinations. I almost ran through administration and reception, out the front door, requesting as I flew by that they mail me my last cheque to my home address. Out in the parking lot I ran and almost fell into my ole beater and high tailed it out of there. As a last and final gesture I saluted ole Humpty Dumpty as he sat up there precariously on that wall, that last vestige of confectionary horror, grinning back at me.


True Story


Sometimes I felt that way.