by Cindi Barton and Holly Rennick
FIRST AUTHOR'S NOTES
We contribute this slice of heritage to National Women's History Month. (Whoops! NWHM was in March. Well, for the one next year.)
There were eighteen million Rosie the Riveters, two of whom were Alice Jean Crowder and Diane Stapleton Estes and they welded, not riveted. They welded very well, thank you, according to the Kaiser Shipbuilding inspection tallies. In terms of rivets (if you're a literal male), we had Rose Bonavita who drove a record 3,345 into a torpedo bomber in 1943. A Rosie really named Rose!
History says that World War II was won by American industrial might. (Should we have said "Herstory"? Considering Ms. Bonavita, "Herstoria"? Vocabulary got complicated after the Rosies burned their bras and the US got licked in Viet Nam.)
Give the picture at http://www.asstr.org/files/Authors/Holly_Rennick/Rosies.jpg a gander.
Rosie on the left, in her polka-dot bandana, flexes her muscle in the "We Can Do It" 1943 poster. And do it she did, once she got to California.
Rosie on the right is Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post cover. Think she got that satisfied in an afternoon of peening rivets? Dr. Freud! We got one for you!
If these two Rosies had just been building war machines, they would have had to wear hardhats.
SECOND AUTHOR'S NOTES
See if you can find the "play within the play". I didn't invent the structure. I think Shakespeare did.
NEW HIRE #1
Richmond Kaiser Shipyard Welding Crew #138: Calvin McKee, chief, Dennis Selfridge, Alice Jean Crowder and Warner Marti -- Kaiser's best burners, we boasted. Our hardhats had 138 over a big V for victory. I'm Alice Jean. I bring in more take-home pay than my husband Stan who's a rigger.
But Calvin got on with General Electric's sub division, and Dennis had the seniority. Myself, I'd started later in the shipbuilding trade, leaving college for the War effort. I'd been studying for the stage, since I have some talent. (Well, OK, I was having some grade problems, too.) But now welding for two years, I was getting to be an old hand. Hell, it got me to California, same as if I'd opted for the cinema.
Stan, the first rigger I ever met, swept me off my feet by the Golden Gate and got me in what looked to be the family way, so we got married. Turns out to have been a false alarm, but we'd already tied the knot.
Welding Crew #138: Dennis Selfridge, chief, Alice Jean Crowder, Warner Marti and one new hire -- Kaiser Shipbuilding's best burners, we hoped.
"So this must be Chester Estes," I judged when I saw Personnel escorting the gangly new-hire into Shipway 11. LeeAnne in Personnel had tipped me that the new one was single; it's interesting how new hires get classified. Her understanding was that this one learned to weld on the farm. Kaiser gets us from all over.
Watching the new hire reminded me my first day, but twenty times more, me being a woman. Poor guy. Males want so hard to impress. Dumped into the scurry, he's thinking he made a bad job choice. My first day, I'd known the Bette Davis bit. Hi there, fellas! Worked like a charm.
I just hadn't realized why Stan had driven me to see the Bay lights from the far docks. I just wasn't used to brandy, I guess, but maybe at the same time I was ready to live a little. Welcome to California!
I hoped this new one would give it a couple of years; it can take a while, but you get to like it. Me, I'd chosen Kaiser for the wrong reason -- the overtime. Now I'd found a better reason to punch in, welding real ships, proving that us dolls can do it faster, even.
I was pleased that the guys made a point of formally introducing themselves to Chester, the new one. And after a few jokes, he'd quit refolding his goggles (men like their hands occupied) and was discussing which Yankees were likely to enlist in which Armed Force. Those service teams could whomp the Majors these days, he said.
Women tend to get acquainted in terms of what we like, the soaps, for example. Men, by what they think. It's good to have something in common besides ironwork.
Chester hailed from Oklahoma, went to the Baptist Church, was in tractor sales before the War, ruefully conceding that welding was harder, "but sure beats commissions."
I circumspectly sleuthed two crucial items: he wasn't a fag and admitted to no spouse. Most gals just check the latter, but I'd known a boy in school who wore his sister's clothes. Secondary positives included that he smoked, enjoyed dancing (not competitively, he wanted to be clear) and had good manners. A potential negative seemed to be the seriousness with which he took baseball. On the other hand, he could have liked the bottle too much, a sure-fire Monday-morning problem for the rest of us.
Then Dennis got a transfer to Kaiser Vancouver and crew chief goes by seniority.
Welding Crew #138: Alice Jean Crowder, chief, Warner Marti, Chester Estes and another new hire -- Kaiser Shipbuilding's best burners, I wondered.
I was glad I'd worked my way up, Heliarc in glove, so to speak. Chiefs need to earn their respect, especially woman ones.
NEW HIRE #2
And our new welder was another woman! Another Rosie the Riveter to the public, still a broad to most guys in Richmond. But to hell with that! Because I was now a "Chief Broad" whose beads stayed tight. It just takes that little bit of extra heat and not pulling the rod away too fast. (I'm talking welding technology.)
But another gal? I was as doubtful about this new one, Diane Stapleton, her name, as were Warner and Chester. Could she carry her weight? She seemed to have the biceps, I agreed. Be trusted not to burn the guy on her right? Hell, would she do her part cleaning up?
I could tell from her union book that she'd apprenticed in Kansas City and she probably knew her theory. Rosies usually do. And for $1.05 an hour, 40 hours plus, two-week paid vacation, sick leave, Rosies move to yards where there's more water than ever flowed in the Missouri. Did the same, myself.
Welding Crew #138: Alice Jean Crowder, chief, Warner Marti, Chester Estes and Diane Stapleton -- Kaiser Shipyard's first half-and-half burners.
I was pleased to have an unattached gal on board (thank you, LeeAnne in Personnel) for Chester's sake. I didn't foresee romance right off (this Diane seemed too pretty), but something to think about. Plus, single Sallies make better friends -- no raised-eyebrow, "Oh, my husband wouldn't want me to, but it's your business." Plus, as the three of us noted first day, this one could submerge arc as fast as anybody could feed her electrodes.
Crew chiefs need to watch things.
Diane and Chester exchanged greetings at the gate, I observed, and chatted over lunch when a bench was free. Maybe there was hope for Cupid, but after a month I'd suggest a little faster. There's a War going on, you know?
I'd been a virgin when I arrived, too. I could tell that about Diane just from her giggle. Shoot! If I'd taken the bus to Hollywood and traded mine off smarter, I'd not be in these coveralls. But I'd not be making big ships.
I was, I'll admit, a little glad that Warner wasn't the one making eyes at Diane (if that's what Chester thought he was doing. It takes a little action, too.). I liked Warner to pal around with.
Knowing that Chester danced gave me the inspiration. "Third Friday every month, 7:30, they open up Store Shed 19 for a country hoedown, just like what we got drug to when we were kids on the farm." Casually (I hoped), I added as an afterthought, "I'll ask around and see who else is going."
When Diane laughed, "Barn dance?" I guessed it was at the idea of stepping out with string-bean Chester, not alternate left and righting. No, really. She'd love to go, though she admitted to only a city girl's idea of barn dancing. Chester knew how, I assured. When I promised there'd be no cows or hogs, I had to add that it was a joke.
A barn dance is about as safe as a social can be. You're in the arms of a different fella every 30 seconds. Even still, I pulled Diane aside, "You get everything pretty in your room, honey, the other girls ready to slip away for a soda, just in case." It doesn't hurt to be prepared, even if you're not that kind of girl. She didn't see it my way, but knew I was trying to be helpful.
On Monday, "Kept those knees together, honey?" Rosies can ask.
"Alice Jean, you're just awful!" cuffing me like I was a single girl myself. "And even if I loved him, while do-si-doing?"
Several weeks passed and Chester needed a shove "There's another barn dance and Diane's been rehearsing her Whoo Hoos," I prodded. Hardly Hollywood script, but this wasn't Bogart and Bergman.
Diane followed my pointers a little better, making Chester wrap her breast in the swings. He didn't pull her into him as a smoothie might, she reported, so she turned sideways to help. Smart chick, I told her. Walking out to the street, she'd taken his arm.
She shared his cigarette like I told her ("Pop it out of his mouth, take a deep drag and tease him with it when you put it back in."), but didn't ditch her girdle, my other suggestion. At least she was getting a little more modern. (Shoot. If I'd have worn my girdle to see the Bay lights, I'd probably not be married.)
But still no follow-up from Chester, just a "Had us a really nice time."
Why was Chester so chicken? Being a Baptist? Full church nursery, so those folks know how. Okie babies have Okie daddies, so it wasn't where he was from. Warner said lots of Okie babies are due to Route 66, but still thought Chester's problem was just shyness.
"Chester?" interrupting his small-talk about union scale while we were hauling gas cylinders. "Diane a good dancer?"
"She's swell. Better'n me and she just started."
"Ever get, you know, those little romantic thoughts?"
"About her? Well sure, but not for real. I'm not her type."
I pursued, "Why not?"
"Oh, you know, she's real pretty."
"That's a reason?"
"Well, I mean, I'm not maybe that experienced with girls. I can josh with you 'cause you're married, but, you know..."
"You ever made a little whoopee?" Chiefs ask what's on their mind.
"Not exactly. I'm sort of slow on the draw, maybe."
You've done it exactly or you've never done it at all. Heavens to Betsy! Me plus two virgins plus Warner, who I didn't want to ask outright.
ASSISTANT CREW CHIEF
As I mentioned earlier, there was no payoff to me for finding Warner a lady-friend. I tried to help, but not like I was thinking of Chester as a project. Warner called me his "bossy sister" when I tipped him off about the knockout receptionist in Security. He looked her over, but she was already taken, he decided.
No wonder Warner and Chester are single!
I told Warner that I'd check with Casting. (Get it? We had a foundry at Kaiser, but I meant "casting" like for a play.) I could always swing a joke about plays with Warner because he and I were both in the Kaiser Players. Just bit parts, but fun. It's so strange: put a guy on stage and he assumes a new personality: Warner the butler, Warner the shopkeeper, Warner the guard. I'd usually get a role involving a great costume. We'd do each other's makeup, usually. And, shoot, if it's a tight costume, you ask whoever's handy to help you into it. Stan wasn't much into theater, so I told him it was pretty much like Shakespeare and he went out with his mates instead.
How many companies provide their workers a stage with actual curtains? I mean, we welded the superstructure, but it was on company time.
"What's your score on that audition?" I'd ask when a bleached bombshell from Inventory sauntered by where we were securing gun mounts. "You wear coveralls, I wear a skirt," her ass more or less advertised, but I didn't take it personally. "Shoot, bud," I told Warner. "If I let on that some crane-man was a good looker, you wouldn't be telling Stanley, would you?"
"And get my nose smashed for my effort?" he agreed.
"'Course a friendly girl wouldn't need to look as far as the cranes. That's why I never talk work at home," I assured, brushing back my partner's wayward lick of hair. "No sense getting Stan all agitated about somebody on my crew." But he missed my thought.
Warner lived on the same bus line, Number 14. If it were raining at quitting time and I forgot my umbrella, we could dash for the 14 under his. He didn't mind me clutching his arm to jump a puddle. Such a "gallient", my French word to sound better, though I'd expect a Frenchy to have less of a pot belly. I'd hold on afterwards if I didn't see Stan or any of the guys from my husband's crew.
Jointly securing deck-plate, Warner could usually see some underwear under my coveralls, particularly if the second button came undone. I liked watching him struggle. At least he didn't try the old "Alice Jean, help me move this angle iron" lure. If I caught him eyeballing too much, my "Need some air down there," got us both off the hook. Needed some air further down, too, but didn't tell him.
Warner could now and then at least have made a pass! Just for fun, me being a girl and all. Probably best where nobody else could see -- maybe where Provisioning stocks the kapok life vests. Wanda in Inventory has the key. Rosies pretty much run this place, actually.
"Hey Warner? You ever do Shakespeare?"
"Merchant of Venice. I was the Jew."
"Romeo and Juliet? We could practice lines while we worked, even. Don't move, OK. I'm coming up the ladder behind you. Squish in and I'll slip right over your back." The more it's public, the less anybody sees.
But he never figured it out, ole' pal-o-mine Warner.
Nothing wrong with Stan on the home front, but our shifts usually didn't even agree.
But back to the rest of the crew. "Hey, Warner?" pulling him aside him at pee break. They just do it over the side if I'm not looking, but with me the chief, he was heading toward the head. "I need some advice. Crew chief type help, crew chief and next crew chief type, you know."
He was listening. Maybe I was pregnant.
I started right in. "Chester and Diane. You think they'd have fun together?" Warner looked surprised, but hearing no objection from him, I continued. "Something for us to think about, anyway." Still no reaction. "So here's my plan, just for kicks. We'll stage it so they'll get romantic."
Warner's switch clicked. "I thought you were already, that dance stuff."
"Died in Scene 2." I looked around. "I mean where they'll get real romantic, if you get the gist."
Warner looked around, too. "Real romantic?"
"Maybe more than spooning. Get them to hoochie coochie," bumping my hip against my partner's.
"Well it's not my business, but how you'd do that?" he wondered.
"That's what we're planning. If it takes two to do the act, maybe it takes two more to set the scene. An actress and an actor like us Kaiser Players."
"To do what act?" Men are so literal, and here he missed it!
"Get them thinking that they better get married. They'd be as happy as turtledoves, rent a little bungalow"
"We can't do that!" Warner looked perplexed, but only till I goosed him and made him jump.
"Actress part," I grinned in explanation. "But Stan's not into drama like you and me," strategically bending over to move his welding rod. "So you got cast in sort of Stan's role, except we were in his car."
I kept fiddling with the rod as long as Warner had the balls to enjoy it.
USS GEORGE D. PRENTICE
Kaiser's slipping one Liberty Ship per day meant that no deck on the USS George D. Prentice stayed the same for long. If we wanted use of the George D's quarters, we hadn't much more than a day between when Cleanup swept out the grime and Outfitting bolted down the mirrors, even while George D's deployment crew was getting off the train at Oakland Station.
Diane and Chester should have been suspicious of the work order. Welding Crew #138 to the George D. Prentice for "strut stabilization". Fanny in Scheduling had freed us from traceability that day. We'd reappear in one of Kaiser's 27-shipways tomorrow. Rosies help Rosies.
"Don't explain much, if anybody asks," I directed my three. "We're fixing a screw-up that Contracting doesn't want public. Stuff's there."
Transport ran us out to the moored George D. "Pick up at shift," I requested. We made our way up the gangway and into the corridors of the almost-ready-to-sail transport.
"Well hell's bells!" I bellowed, peering behind the radio room firewall. "Someone got to it, did our job."
"You're kidding," exclaimed Warner on cue. "Went and did it for us! Fat City! Stuck out here till shift change." He paused for effect. "And guess what's in my pocket?"
"Oh no we don't, mister," my crew chief role, relieving him of his flask which I thoughtfully hefted. "Well there's just a swig apiece, not enough to make any difference if we're killing time."
I'd put up with no drinking, even for the little charade I'd planned, but was hoping that Diane and Chester's intoxication would exceed anything spirit-produced. It's just good to always have the fallback, "It must have been the booze."
"We can be the Admirals," I ruled, exploring the superstructure and ending up in the captain's quarters. "Let's kick off our boots, though, so we don't track around." None us liked our steel toes. "Socks too," as if it were an afterthought. "And ditch these damn hardhats."
We speculated where the captain might want to hide his inflatable companion, me mentioning the possibility with a little wiggle.
Then I looked at Warner, our ad-lib thespian talent primed. The Kaiser Players, stage center!
"Hey, you two?" to Diane and Chester. "Mind waiting while Warner and me go next door?" to their quizzical looks. "Chester? Diane was wondering if that Air Corps ball team's got enough pitchers?"
"We got time," brightened Chester before Diane could correct.
"Got some old business to attend to," added Warner, taking my arm. The two of us exited and noisily entered the adjoining cabin, loudly snapping the lock from the inside.
"Don't worry, Alice Jean. We got a steel wall between," loudly assured Warner about the thin-gage partition. In a downtown theater, the set designers would make a wall at center stage, but so the audience sees both sides. It's tricky.
I waltzed Warner to the center of the first mate's domain, Warner's back to the wall shared with the captain. Holes drilled in the partition squared where a mirror would hang. Maybe a mirror on both sides, I decided -- bolt, mirror, wall, mirror, nut. Stage design's more tricky.
I stood facing Warner and the drill holes. And now our lines.
"Oh, Warner," I stage-whispered. "Nobody must ever know."
"Alone at last," he declared, a bit stiffly, but acting takes warm-up, just like baseball.
Not to my surprise, one, then another, of the drill holes darkened, an eyeball to the far side.
"Just one last time," in the breathy voice I'd been working on in college. "I may never see you again," added for somber measure. My leading man was quick enough to catch the cue. Maybe he was being sent to a secret project for the War effort.
Of course the scene called for a kiss. I'd known that from the start, but hadn't explained as much to Warner. He deduced my direction, though, when I tilted my head sidewise and puckered.
Actually, he was pretty good at it. For acting, of course. Maybe he once had a steady, I wondered.
"Just one more," he winked, as they couldn't see his face.
Why not? The other two weren't going to fall for just a stolen peck. This time he pulled me to him, too abruptly for a romantic comedy, but surely convincing from over his shoulder. I'd no idea that he kissed so wonderfully, actually.
"Mmmmm!" for that special effect.
"Alice Jean," he broke away. "You're precious to me," making as to put his hand on my heart. He'd not, of course, but they'd think so.
"I'll miss you so," I stalled, wondering if Diane and Chester had perhaps taken hands.
"I want you," he confessed most convincingly and then, to my surprise, fingered my coverall top button.
"No, don't," I reproached. This just needs to be suggestive, I wanted to whisper.
"Remember when Stan had the month of night shifts, Alice Jean? Those tub baths?" For on-the-fly dialog, he was pretty good.