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Kids@Work

HEATER BOY, USA, 1904

I'm a heater.

Important things like railroad cars, buildings, ships, and machinery all start with me. Most anything made of iron and steel has to be put together with rivets, and I heat the rivets. They gotta be just right.

Rivets are steel, too. When steel is cold, it's like a rock. But when metal is cooked real hot, it flows like maple syrup. For a rivet to work, it has to be in between; cool enough to hold a shape, but soft enough for the shape to be changed. A rivet looks like a mushroom. Two metal plates with holes are lined up, and the mushroom stem goes into the holes, and then the stem gets hammered flat on the other side to hold the plates together. It's real strong then.

I know when the rivet is just right by the way it looks and acts. I pass it to a tosser, who throws it to the riveter who puts the steel together. Sometimes I heat and toss. It gotta be right when the riveter gets it. Some riveters will just drop a rivet if it's wrong and take another, but some will throw it at you and make you a fool. If you get burned a little, they laugh. If you get burned bad, they say, "Take a lesson, boy! Do it right, next time!"

If too many rivets are bad, it holds up the whole production line, and there's the devil to pay. Even when it ain't his fault, a heater boy is the easiest to blame.

It's real hot by the forge all day, and the noise gets fearful. Some of the older men are near deaf and noise don't bother them no more, but it hurts my ears and makes my head ache. It's also dirty, and I've been burned more'n a few times. It's a long day, and the same thing all day long can make a person bored. Then you might get careless, and careless can get you hurt, or worse.

But when all goes well, it's like we're a big machine ourselves, just parts and pieces all moving along together, and it all starts with me. The last rivet must be as good as the first.

Important as it is, it don't pay much

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