'Rivethead' by Ben Hamper

I've long considered Ben Hamper's Rivethead to be one of the most important books I've read. Hamper, the product of generations of GM motors "shoprats" recounts his 10 torturous but incredibly hilarious years on the GM Truck and Bus line.

Hamper does all he can to avoid dedicating his life to GM's rivet line, but fails. Ride along as he experiences, and then masters, the art of slacking off at a dangerous job, while trying to maintain his sanity in a world of ridiculous policies, colorful co-workers and Howie Makem, GM's minister of Quality in a giant cat costume.

Hamper humorously shows us the sad plight of the American factory worker in the late 20th century.

This is one of my favorite excerpts:

Howie Makem was to become the messianic embodiment of the Company's new Quality drive. A livin', breathin' propaganda vessel assigned to spur on the troops. Go ahead and laugh, I know I did. Just for a moment, imagine the probing skull session that took place in some high-level think tank the day Howie was first brought to mention.

"You know, slogans on coffee cups just ain't gettin' it, Bill."

"You're absolutely right, Ted. We need something more dynamic. More upbeat."

"Hey, why don't we give the men their own kitty cat!"

"Kitty cat? Hmmm, I like it! A large kitty cat! Ted, you're a genius!"

Howie Makem stood five feet nine. He had light brown fur, long synthetic whiskers and a head the size of a Datsun. He wore a long red cape emblazoned with the letter Q for Quality. A very magical cat, Howie walked everywhere on his hind paws. Cruelly, Howie was not entrusted with a dick.

Howie would make the rounds poking his floppy whiskers in and out of each department. A "Howie sighting" was always cause for great fanfare. The workers would scream and holler and jump up and down on their workbenches whenever Howie drifted by. Howie Makem may have begun as just another Company ploy to prod the tired legions, but most of us ran with the joke and soon Howie evolved into a crazy phenomenon.

Of course, this isn't to say that everyone was in Howie's corner. Opinions varied. For instance, Dave Steel hated Howie's guts. He insisted that having a giant cat parade around the factory espousing General Motors dogma insulted his intelligence and demeaned him personally on an adult level. I remember we constantly argued about Howie's existence. One night, Dave had really had it with Howie.

Rivethead by Ben Hamper

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  1. Wow, I haven't thought about that book in a while. Time to dig out my copy and re-read it. It's one of those books that would be brilliant satire, if not for the fact that Howie Makem and all the rest of it was real.

  2. Great book. I thought I was the only one who loved it.

    All of us who grew up around factory culture (Dad was at Allis-Chalmers, Badger Alloys, then Harley-Davidson) recognize all the stories as true.

    And to the snarky commenter....Every person I knew in the shops worked really hard. They were proud of what they made. But they were also beat down by foremen passing along unreasonable Management demands. And the jester of every factory; the engineers who "improved" everything in a vacuum totally deprived of common sense. Most 'slacking off' was at the expense of Management, not the product.

    Shout out to all the 1970's RustBelt kids who walked a picket line with dad, went to file for unemployment during Shutdown, and visited the shops to see where mom/dad worked on Family Day.

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