By Ben Pilla
It was a warm sunny mid-August day and a cool ocean breeze was blowing into the shoreline.
I had the best summer job a teenager could ever have. I worked at a stand on the boardwalk in a New Jersey seaside resort. We made and sold Kohr’s frozen custard and orange juice.
Kohr’s was the original frozen custard, sold first in Coney Island, NY and the brothers then set out on their own up and down the East Coast. The business principles were: Quality, Cleanliness and Customer Service.
The employees work schedule was six days on and one day off working 40 or more hours per week.
Five of the days were a few hours on, return to work after a few hours off, get tanned on the beach or shop for food or do our wash. One day a week when we closed up, we started late and stayed until closing, washing down the custard machine, the counters and the floor with soap and hot water.
I lived with three other guys. I was the youngest. We did our own wash in an old fashioned ringer washing machine (white tee-shirts and tan chino long pants were the “ uniforms”).We also had to cook our own meals and clean up after ourselves. (Ate a lot of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and other easy but nourishing meals.)
Needless to say, during the summer, one person went to the office to call his mom to come and get him from this drudgery. (No TV, phones or other amenities. It wasn’t home!)
During my second summer of working, the storms hit. Hurricanes Connie and Dianne, although not making landfall, did come close enough to the beach to cause some damage and flooding.
Our ground floor apartment was flooded, but that was an easy cleanup. One of the three stores along the boardwalk that were owned by our boss, lost part of a roof.
We were asked to help repair the roof on a Saturday. And away we went to repair the roof.
I was up on the roof getting long boards handed up to me, I walked backwards and BAM!
I was out like a light bulb that was turned off.
When I came to, I was lying on my back on the boardwalk. I had fallen about fifteen feet, and I couldn’t move, but I did not have any pain.
There were lots of people standing around me and some kneeling beside me saying an ambulance was on the way.
A short time later, an ambulance arrived and I was placed inside and off we went to the doctor’s office.
The doc looked inside the ambulance, talked to the EMTs, and told them to take me to the hospital.
There were and there still are no hospitals along the island, which meant that the ambulance had to drive to the mainland. Getting there on a Saturday in the summer was no quick ride.
Many cars were trying to get to the island to start their vacation and many others were leaving as we were trying to get off the island. Ever been in bumper to bumper traffic in the back of an ambulance ?
Didn’t know how long it took, but I started to feel some pain and then it started to hurt badly.
I wasn’t given anything to alleviate the pain until I was seen by the hospital staff.
We finally made the trip, I was seen immediately, had an Xray, taken to a bed and finally given some pain medicine.
I was asked who in my family should they call. I gave them my home phone number in Pennsylvania and told them to only speak to my father, not my mother.
Don’t know if he was working or not, but the hospital staff did reach him either that day or the next.
They told him that I had fallen and broken my back! ( did not tell me)
On Monday, a radiologist read the X-rays and said this patient does NOT have a broken back, his vertebra haven’t as yet knitted together because of his young age.
Get him out of bed and start him walking!
A nurse from hell did just that with her knee on my back to keep me upright. She told me I looked like an old man, and I felt like one.
I was released after five days, the total bill was about $100.00 and told not to do that when I was older as I wouldn’t be as lucky next time.
Happy to get out of that place for another reason. The rooms were not air conditioned, but they had started to install window units from a previous patient who donated some money to do that.
I was still getting paid, and in a week or two I was back home getting ready for my senior year in high school. (I think the boss was happy I didn’t get an attorney to sue for any future damages I may have.)
Since then, I’ve never been any higher than a six foot step ladder will take me.
Born before WWII, Ben Pilla was raised in south Philadelphia in a lower-middle-class home in an ethnically mixed neighborhood. He moved to the suburbs as a teen and attended Drexel University for a short while. Ben felt fortunate to know what he wanted to do with his life while in high school, so he took a two-year technical course at Temple University. Laboratory work became his passion—mechanical was fine, but metallurgy to Ben was more interesting.
Ben became one of the few in his company to learn how to operate an electron microscope, first transmission (TEM), and then scanning (SEM). He continued to work for Westinghouse in the Philadelphia area until 1982, later transferring to their laboratory in Concordville, PA, until 1997, when the company decided to move to central Florida. On a few occasions, Ben visited power plants for his job. He’s traveled to approximately one-half of the United States and once overseas to South Korea.
After Westinghouse Power Generations merged with Siemens Corporation, Ben retired in 2002 after 45 years of dedicated service. Ben feels fortunate to have spent his entire career employed by the same company.