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-04-0008

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FM: Now, from the patching table, the cans would go to what were known as the vacuum machines, topping machines, that is, the top of the can would be put on the can and then it would go through a vacuum machine to expel all the air and of course this is for the function of preserving. And from the vacuum machine the cans would go to the next job. But I should mention, again, that the vacuum machine was like the filling machine, even more than the filling machine, a low-level job and the youngest recruit would usually be assigned to that job. Incidentally, these machine-, cans, bring to mind the fact that they had to come from somewhere. They came usually from an upstairs loft of the warehouse, kind of a warehouse area of the cannery and there was a crew in the upstairs loft known as the "can crew" that handled all the dry cans and the cases and whatnot out of which the cans were coming, so as to lay them out to drop down through a chute into the filling machine or into the vacuum machine as required, and that was a separate crew.

Incidentally, that crew, too, at least at Waterfall, was, was handled by a Nisei group of young people. As always, almost always happened, these crews were made up of ethnic units, that is Filipinos working with Filipinos, Japanese, or Nisei with Nisei and so on, except in some skilled jobs where they were all mixed as I say, at the "iron chink," for example, Issei, Nisei and Filipinos all worked together depending on who were the most skilled of the workers capable of handling this particular job. Incidentally, the Nis-, the can crew upstairs in Waterfall was, had the head of the crew who was my cousin. And he had a little, a small group of workers under him that is doing the job of supplying these cans.

Then the cans, filled now, would go to what was called the retort crew, retort ovens lined up in great numbers into which wagons of cans would be slid in and they would be cooked after being closed, shut tight, at whatever temperature, five hundred degrees or whatever, I don't know what it was, but, for a period of time so that -- forty-five minutes, one hour -- so that they would be cooked properly and preserved amply. And cans coming out of the retorts would be run through a lye wash process, always seemed a little dangerous, you have a big tub of water filled with lye, bubbling, and you had handle it with rubber gloves and whatnot. It was again, at Waterfall, a Filipino crew that handled the retort and lye wash crew. They seemed the physically ablest of the people for this job. And from the lye wash, the cans, these cans, now on trucks -- that is to say wheels -- would be rolled into a drying area and ultimately into the warehouse area where a labeling process would go on, and again you had a separate crew of those who handled the labeling and casing, other crews. And finally, the cases had to be stacked, ready for loading whenever the ship would come in for loading purposes.

Incidentally, at Waterfall, the, the case stacking job was again handled by all the biggest Nisei who were... and at Waterfall we had former football players and boxers and people like that, and usually kids who had grown up on the farms doing these jobs, because they knew how to do the physical labor of stacking case after case in these huge warehouses, throwing them around as high as, oh, the, as high as the ceiling of this room, for example. Now, as you may imagine, at least among the Nisei workers there, cannery work involved... that involved physical strength was a source of prestige status. And those who could throw the can, these cases highest or do it fastest or do it most skillfully were very much respected and admired as strong people. There was one guy at Waterfall who was known to be a person who could handle at the lettuce packing companies in the States here, three hundred pound ice, ice for lettuce storage. And he was regarded in Alaska as one of the strongest and ablest of the case packers. So this kind of atmosphere, who's the strongest, who's the fastest, who's the smartest, kind of competition always existed among the Nisei in some degree. It was, it created a climate of relationship that was competitive and at the same time congenial for the Nisei workers. The Issei, to my recollection, never participated in the Nisei function of this kind. So, Nisei and Issei were essentially kind of separate groups.

Okay, now I need to... and stevedoring, I do mention stevedoring here; that is, loading the ships. The ships would come in, freight ships, freighters would come in from time to time when the warehouse was getting full enough so that it needed to be emptied. And then the dock workers would help load the ships and sometimes we had to go into the holds of the ships because they didn't have enough workers in the, sailors on the ship, to load the cases. And so we all pitched in, in these situations, to do whatever was required. And again, physical strength, physical capacity was of some importance. And so we had a kind of a rating of each other as to who was able to do what, who was not. We had a sense, an image of who were the capable ones, who were not, in that kind of sense.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.