The Percussionist in the Shipyard Band

Mike Coffey: Started as a Shipfitter in 1957

I graduated from New London High in ’56 and I put applications in at several companies. Not much came of it. About a year later, I went down and did an audition for the Army band. I passed it and I was all set to go in.

Then EB called me up and said they had an opening as a shipfitter. So that killed the Army band – I couldn’t refuse $1.37 an hour.

A big part of my experience at EB was the band. I was a percussionist. It was about 40 pieces or so. EB supplied nice uniforms and they’d give us an hour a week to practice. If we went out on a Saturday or something, we’d get paid overtime.

It was a good band. We did parades in New York and the Big E. EB got good exposure. We were there at all the launches, so we had ringside seats. I can remember seeing Jackie Kennedy [when she christened the USS Lafayette in 1962]. She was just beautiful. I couldn’t get over it.

And after the Nautilus went under the ice, the band went out on the tugboat and met them at the lighthouse when they first came in.

The job I liked best was in the mold loft. I was loaned up there for a month and I lasted about two years. A lot of the old talent was there. Before you cut a piece of steel, they made the templates. These were old shipbuilders from Mystic – the wooden shipbuilders – and boy, they could lay things out.

I was there til ’96. I have no complaints with EB at all. I brought up five kids. Today, you won’t find 39 years in a place. As much as you complain, they call it work but they treated me good.