Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview IV
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tatsuya Fukunaga (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 7, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-04-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

FM: Then the fish go to what is called the "slimer tables." "Slimer" means that the gutted fish are cleaned out to remove the blood and whatnot that is in the belly of the gutted fish and make sure that the heads have been removed properly, the tails removed properly and so on, so as to be thrown on the conveyer belt to go on to the next process. Slimers were, again, fairly experienced people because you have to stand there with a water faucet in front of you and clean these fish all day and do it as cleanly as possible, took, required a little skill although in a sense it's an unskilled job. The more skilled you are, the faster the work is done and the more clean, the more cleanly the fish could be processed.

Then, the next job was the job I first went into called the filler, filling machine operator. The filling machine is a machine that fills cans, these cans with open top, base lid on, would be going around in a circle and the filler was such that you fed the salmon in on a belt in such a fashion that they would go tail first into the machine and there would be some, a chopper that would chop off the salmon and stick it into the can, shove it into the can so that you would get one pound of salmon in each can. Now to... salmon, of course, has a tail and a head and you want to be equal about what you get into the can and so in order to do it properly you would have the belly open, and put the tail of the next salmon into the belly and make sure that some of the tail goes into a fat part of the fish and it would slide along, then it would be cut off and fitted into the can. When I went, that was the job I was assigned. It was a totally unskilled job in a sense and suitable for a fourteen-year-old kid that I was. But it's very interesting that when you get into work of this... whatever work, whether it's picking strawberries or using a filling machine, there's a certain pride of workmanship that develops and you begin to develop an interest in how you can do this most skillfully and do it most effectively and so on and I found myself getting interested in this filling machine job.

So, as I say, this job is one that was handed to whoever comes in new. But in my case, I got in at a point where they... the one machine in the whole system that they were trying to improve in the salmon cannery was the filling machine. Continental Can Company was trying to develop a faster machine, I think that that old machine, when I first went in, must have packed maybe thirty to forty cans a minute. But that's very slow: thirty, forty cans a minute. If you could go two or three times faster than that, the whole cannery works much more effectively and that's what they were trying to do. And therefore, this old machine was being improved in such fashion that they now had a very much more complicated kind of mechanism and, but would function very much more rapidly and... I need to mention the supervisory structure here. The, there are white supervisors and there is also a Japanese supervisor, a foreman, under whom the Japanese workers worked. But essentially, the Japanese workers did not have to deal with the Japanese foreman so much as whoever happened to be the white supervisor in that section where you were. And the section where I was had a head mechanic supervising this operation because, as I say, they were trying to improve on the canning, the filling machine function. The most important improvement that they could get within the whole cannery system, this is the one thing that they were trying to improve and therefore there was a head mechanic that was standing around the filling machine almost all the time because this is what they were trying to change. And therefore, I became related to the, this head mechanic in a fashion that, in a sense nobody else... I, simply because I was interested in what was going on, I got related to the head mechanic in a fashion that I think, I wasn't sure of this, but they began to look upon me as a kind of a right-hand-man for this developmental operation that they were working on. And year after year as I went back I'd still work with this filling machine, a low pay, low function job in terms of skill management, but, in terms of this relationship with the mechanical development that was being undertaken, I was fairly important because they would tell me, "Now, feed the fish this way," or, "that way," or "What's wrong with this," or what... and I would deal with the mechanic in some fashion. In short, I got into a kind of a special role within the filling machine system that happened to be an accident of the time. They needed to develop a better machine and I became a cog within that development. I thought it was very interesting.


AI: So, we're continuing our interview with Dr. Miyamoto and you had just, before the break, were finishing up telling us about the filling of the cans and how you were involved in that process as part of the whole discussion of the nature of the work.

FM: Okay, to pick up from there, the cans would be... go from the filling machine to the, a table called the patching table and the function of the patching table was to fill cans which were not amply filled by the machine. And this was a job that was assigned to the Native American women, almost every cannery, I think this was true, that the one place where the Native American women fitted into the cannery was at the patching table. And they would simply sit there all day, as the cans went by on the conveyer belt, and pick out any that looked too unfilled and throw in, put in patches of salmon, or sometimes they would rearrange the salmon if it didn't look well within the can. And as I say, this is the job that was assigned to the Native American women. Now, the Native American women were often forty-, fifty-year-olds but, younger girls often worked, also, teenagers or even college-aged type. And maybe, well, I guess I can't get into the Indian villages at this point, but they came from a village nearby, this particular group, came from a village nearby known as Hydaburg. And I need to tell you more about Hydaburg at some point later.

This, the, incidentally, the Native Americans had no other role within our cannery, at least, and generally they did not work within the salmon canning industry. They simply could not function effectively within the kind of labor setup that we had competing against Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos. And incidentally, the Indian, Native Americans, who were working at the cannery, these ladies, lived in a small group of cottages that lined a separate part of the canning, cannery layout. Incidentally, I will tell you later a little bit about the bunkhouse where the Asian workers were, and separately, in a set of cottages with cooking and other facilities, the Indian families lived there. And so they fitted in as a separate piece of this jigsaw that constituted the work force of the cannery.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.