Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sargent Fletcher Company: The Road to Douglas Aircraft Company

Sargent Fletcher Company
Sargent Fletcher Company
9400 Flair Dr., 
El MonteCalifornia
In 1977, my sister Evelyn was dating a guy named Gus Van Dalm. I had just been laid off from a cabinet shop in Santa Fe Springs. We got to talking one day and he mentioned that they were hiring at his workplace.

"Why don't you go down there and apply?", he says to me. 

"What's the name of the place?" I asked. 


The flea collar company? 

"Hardly!" He said. He looked a little insulted.

"We manufacture aircraft parts!"

Oh, Aircraft parts.

This was during the Christmas holiday so I waited until the new year, 1978, and then I went to put in an application. I was given an application and sent to a room with a large sofa and coffee table. There was another guy at the end of the sofa filling out his application. He looked over at me and we said hello, then he went back to filling out his application.

A heavy set man walked in and he began to interview the other guy. I couldn't help but hear the conversation. I heard the guy ask "How much will I be making?" "$2.50 an hour" replied the interviewer. They continued the conversation for a few minutes and it was obvious the guy was hired.

The heavy set man walked over to me and introduced himself as Ken Mosley, the foreman at Sargent-Fletchers. He asked me a few questions  and we talked for a few minutes and I was getting the feeling that I was going to be hired. So I asked the same question as the other guy. 

"How much will I be making? 

"$2.50 an hour: He said to me.  

I stood up, thanked him and walked toward the door. 

"Whoa, hold on, what's wrong?"

"I don't work for minimum wage any more!" I meant it too. All my earlier jobs had been for minimum wage and I made up my mind that I would never again work for minimum wage.

"Okay, how about we start you with $3.00?"

I though about it for a few seconds. I needed a job. Three bucks an hour wasn't much but it wasn't minimum wage. I accepted. 

Right then the other guy that had just been interviewed stood up and asked, "Hey, how come he gets $3.00 an hour and I only get $2.50?"

"Because you accepted it, he didn't!" was his response.

The "other guy" was Larry Cota and we became great friends during our time at Sargent-Fletchers. Gus and my sister eventually broke up and went their own ways but he and I remained friends. 

As time went on I discovered that the people that had worked there for twenty years had not yet reached $6.00 an hour. They were not a pay friendly company. I began working on fuel tanks and other small aircraft parts and I really enjoyed the work, and the people even more so. After a month or so, Mosley and the plant superintendent approached me and told me the company was putting a job on the board and they wanted me to apply for it.

The job would be a Test Stand Mechanic. I would be working outside, regardless of the weather. I would be making $3.75 and hour. Again it wasn't much but it was a step up. I applied the moment the job went on the board.

I would be working with a man by the name of Bob Cockrell. Bob was a man's man. He listened to country music, drove an old Ford Bronco an he carried himself with confidence.He was in his late 50's, maybe early 60's. I was only 23 so I just know he was older. I also got the impression I would be replacing him when he retired. They never said so but that was my gut feeling.

The McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Sargent Fletcher Auxiliary Fuel Tank (Drop Tank).
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
My primary job was to pressurize and test  the drop tanks for the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. It was a good job, even when the rain was coming down. It was just Bob, an older woman named Alice, who was our inspector and myself. There were other things to do, sometimes we would rig the tanks to large stands, maybe as tall as the lights in a football field. This would be an all day operation. Eventually, the yard would be filled with managers, engineers, and always, the Air Force. We would drop the tank, and the results were recorded and we would move on to the next project.

In the later part of that year, I saw one of the other mechanics that I knew -Dean Wakamora -  walking out of the main building. He was carrying his tool box. His tool box had been sealed so I could see he was leaving.

"Hey Dean, Where are you going?"

"I quit, I got hired at McDonnell Douglas. You should check it out Randy, we're never going to make any real money here!"

I did check it out. The very next day. It was a two week process for me but I got the job. I didn't give it much thought at the time but over the years I came to realize that God has his hand in every part of our lives. My sister going with Gus, me talking with Gus, and walking into the building at Sargent Fletchers at the precise moment Dean was walking out. One small shift in time in any one of these situations and who knows?

I am forever grateful for my short time with Sargent Fletchers and to the path it set me on. My wife and I were just starting out, my daughter Meranda was born in May of that year. It gave me some confidence and a little experience. Things were coming together.

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