Going to work in the Sugar Factory
Mick Flaherty R.I.P., Castleview.
I started work in the Sugar Factory in 1957 and it was the start of a long association as I worked there for twenty two campaigns. I cycled to work a distance of approximately twelve miles every day as was the norm in those days and worked from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To work in the Sugar Factory during the campaign, a farmer had to grow sugar beet for the campaign and bring it in himself. At one time, I remember there were only three tyres on the lorry but we made it all the way to the Sugar factory on time. It was necessary to have it there by a certain date.
There were approximately two hundred and fifty pay packets coming out of the Sugar Factory at any one time but during the campaign there could be as many as six hundred working there. This was a great source of income for the farmer and an economic boost to his own local area as this money was mostly spent locally. This meant that the Sugar Factory was very important economically to many areas around Tuam, not least Killererin.
During the campaign, my day would start at 5.30 a.m. with cows and calves to be fed and when that was done I would come in and have my breakfast and would need to be at the bridge at 7.30 to be in time for the 8 a.m. start. I started on the morning shift from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and our day started with a cup of tea with the fitters. While we were having a cup of tea, we would have a look around and then at 9 a.m. go off to our own stations.
My first task was to check what was done the day before as there were different shifts working around the clock. There were three shifts in all 8a.m.-4p.m., 4p.m.-12p.m. and 12p.m. to 8a.m. I remember one time being called in to work in June and I was put in the Sugar store where the sugar was loaded and bagged. There were nine or ten people working in the store and it was no place for slackers. I started in the store on Wednesday but by dinner time on Friday, I was once again moved.
I was called in to the foreman’s office and told to go to the washing machine. I was long enough there by then and expected to know the ropes. My job was basically to maintain the washing machine by lubricating the bolts and dip them in oil and put the nuts into them. This was my daily routine from then on. I would take a break for tea at 12 p.m. and continue on then until the shift ended at 4 p.m. When my day was finished I would cycle home and then would continue my days work on the farm which had begun before I cycled to work in the morning. During the campaign, between the farm and the factory, I worked eighteen hours a day, which was not unusual at the time.
Keeping rats at bay
When Erin Foods moved into the sugar factory, the soup used to be packed with spoons and one of the jobs was following rats to keep them at bay. My job was to weigh the packets and seal them. I remember one day a packer was called up by the supervisor to be told that the packets were sealed crooked. They all had to be emptied and sealed again.
For lunch I had a green canvas bag that I used to take with me and we were all obliged to eat at our stations as there was no time to go to the canteen. There was a man who used to call to the factory on Friday with a bag of herrings which he would sell. The going rate at the time was two shillings for two dozen (i.e. ten cents in today’s money).
It was a common practice in those days for the workers to clock cards for one another and there was an old character who used to work with a horse and cart around the yard. He used to take the horse home at the end of the day’s shift and return in the morning with the horse and cart. His card was always clocked in but he was unfortunate one morning to meet the manager Mr. Bradley down by the Old Presbytery one morning at around 8.20 a.m. When he eventually arrived to work, he was told he should enter the horse in the Grand National as it was faster than time seeing how he was clocked in at 7.55 a.m.
March to October was the growing season for Beet and there were very strict instructions for growing it e.g. they had to be grown exactly 9” apart. I had about 1 and a half acres and once it was harvested, it used to be piled high in the field and it had to have a certain sugar content.
When it arrived in the sugar factory, it was sampled and put in a bucket. From there it went to the tear house where it was washed and the exact clean weight of the load was valued. It was then tested for sugar content and the price of your beet was reckoned on the clean weight of beet and the sugar content. A 22 tonne yield from one and a half acres meant you were doing well.It was then sent to the washer and washed off the lorry. The water that came off the chute was put in silo and went to channels and brought to the shaft down seventy feet into the ground. The beet was then sucked back up into the washing machine and was fully washed at that machine. From there it went to the slicing machine where it was sliced and diffusing batteries where juice was sucked out of it with steam and sugar was extracted. Juice went one way and the pulp went another direction.
The juice was put into saturation tanks and mixed there with lime and purified. Lime was put through there and then it went to filter presses where the lime and juice were separated again. Refined raw juice was the result. This went to sugar pans and cooked and crystallised. After this it was steamed. Working in this environment, very light overalls were the order of the day and you changed again when you finished.
The following process then ensued. It went from there to the sugar shaker to the dryer, which resulted in dry sugar. It then went to shaker room and from there to the packer where it was weighed and packed in one hundredweight bags. It was then brought up on a crane and stored there ready for distribution.
Follow the link below for an excellent TG4 documentary on Tuam Sugar Factory: