Shared Taste for Onions Reunites Former Coworkers
By Rick Hiduk
In 1952, the Sylvania plant on Hawes Street in the Toytown section of Towanda was still a relatively new business that was providing stable employment for military veterans returning from foreign conflicts, as well as for many women entering the workforce for the first time. As they do today at GTP, employees in the early 1950s manufactured tungsten into wire and other parts associated with electric lighting.
As former employee Gene Day of New Albany recalls, about 12 people worked the late shift in the Oxide Department in 1952. They smelted powdered tungsten received from South America that resembled finely-crushed coal in a progressive process that would eventually yield wire that was used for, among other things, filaments for light bulbs. Day worked one of the furnaces and wore heavy gloves to protect him from the high heat of the operation.
He went on to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Forest and Water and the Pennsylvania Electric Control Board, the latter of which he retired from after 27 years of employment. One of his former Sylvania coworkers, Elwood Carr of Potterville in Orwell Township, stayed with the company for 38 years through his retirement in the 1980s. He and Day both related that working around the tungsten furnaces was a tough and gritty job, but the employees enjoyed their work and playing the occasional prank on each other.
“I would wear holes in the end of my work gloves,” Day, who is now 88, recalled. During one shift, he got the idea of concealing a squirt gun inside one of the compromised gloves. “I could squirt someone, and they never knew where it was coming from,” Day said with a laugh.
“We had our good times,” Carr, who is now 89, agreed. “That was years ago. I was a lot younger then.” Carr had begun his work with Sylvania in the machine shop and admits that he wishes that he had kept up with more of his fellow employees through the years. That’s why he was pleasantly surprised when he and Day bumped into each other in the Kmart parking lot in Wysox Township recently.
Day had done some shopping in the plaza and was loading the items that he had purchased into his car when he remembered that he had intended to give away a small batch of scallions he had grown in his garden to anybody who might appreciate them. He saw another man about his age nearby and offered the green onions to him. An expression of gratitude evolved into light conversation that turned on a light bulb (with a tungsten filament, no doubt) in Day’s head.
“I thought, “I know that guy,’” Day explained. As the friendly talk wound down, Day recognized Carr’s voice and introduced himself as a former co-worker. Though Carr had not recognized Day initially, the memories of those early days at the Sylvania plant came flooding back to him.
“It made me think about all of the things that I’ve done and should have done,” Carr remarked, adding, “Sylvania was a good place to work.”
The two have spoken a few times since the accidental reunion, reminiscing about coworkers from that era who have since passed away, including George Lewis and Ed McGuire of Towanda, Otto Wiggins of Monroeton, Glen Lindsey of Wysox, and Frances Chaffee of Hornbrook. They are not sure, but Carr and Day believe that they are the only two guys left from that particular work crew.
Since his retirement, Carr has enjoyed traveling. He lost his first wife, Betty, in 1988. Day lost his wife, Elizabeth, in 1996. Carr has remarried, and he and his wife Janet enjoy taking bus tours to country music destinations like Nashville and Branson, MO.
Day looked through some old photos and was able to find some snapshots from a company Christmas party of him and a girl visiting the area from Russia sitting at a table with Betty and Elwood Carr, who is looking forward to seeing the pictures. In the meantime, he noted that Day’s scallions tasted great on sandwiches.