It Was a Living Wage

Richard E. “Soupie” Desrosiers: Started in 1963 as a Pipefitter

All my uncles worked there. I was supposed to go into design, but I had to wait. So my uncle says, “Go in to be a pipefitter apprentice and when they start hiring in design, we’ll get you up there.” The pay was great, maybe $1.85, $1.90. At my age, I wanted a new Mustang back then.

It was a living wage.

Subs – it was amazing. There was nothing but a shell. You’d go in there and you had to put all the stuff into it. There was a lot of work. A lot of overtime.

They put you with mechanics. They just don’t throw you in. When the mechanic thinks you can do it, he tells the boss and he’ll give you a small job. The mechanic will come over and if you have any problems, you ask him, or he’ll say, “You’ve done something wrong” or, “You’ve got to…” That’s how it was during your apprenticeship.

I picked it up pretty quick. I liked it. It was challenging. It was like coming into an empty room and you’ve got to put all this stuff in. You couldn’t imagine it, but you started building it and seeing everything.

The union office was right on the main street where Elfie’s was. When I got involved later, my office was upstairs from the bar. Right on top of Elfie’s. We had me, electricians, boilermakers.

For lunch, we went to Elfie’s. The whole bar was, one side was filled up with draft beer and the other side was filled up with shots. It was amazing.

I served my four-year apprenticeship and I never got to go to design. There were no openings. When I had graduated, I think it was March of ’67, a woman up on the hill who used to handle military stuff called me up and told me she couldn’t get me a deferment anymore.

Two weeks later, I got a notice from the draft and I went to Vietnam. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. There are still so many that we left over there. I came back in ’69. I got married about two weeks later and stayed on as a pipefitter.