was there 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. His job was to tell the trucks where to dump their loads. The
trucks that hauled the foundry dirt from the molds would cover the garbage. We called this man “the
Russian.” He could not speak English. I guess the dialect of Polish that I spoke was common in Europe
and I could converse with him. The Russian was talking to Mr. Sniderman. Mr. Sniderman could speak
Polish. They were making some kind of a deal. Mr. Sniderman was Hopedale’s junk collector. He would
ride through town with horse and buggy and call out, “Rags!” He would buy any rags or metal that people
were throwing away. Just the year before, he sold his horse and buggy and bought a truck. He had a
young guy drive it. This was the first time I ever saw Mr. Sniderman in the dump. [The Snidermans lived at
the corner of Freedom and Williams streets, at the five-corner intersection. They had a small junk yard
behind the house and a small grocery store out near the street.]
The wheels were turning in my 10-year-old mind. Remember, it was 1937 and we were still in the
Depression. There were no jobs for kids. After speaking to me in Polish, Mr. Sniderman and the Russian
explained their dilemma. The Russian worked for the company and was not allowed to pick junk as they
were paying his salary. Mr. Sniderman was not allowed in the dump at all, so the Russian would gather
rags and Mr. Sniderman would sneak into the dump after hours and buy the rags. They knew I saw them
dealing so they asked me not to say anything. That’s when I made them a deal they couldn’t refuse. I
would get some of the kids to help me pick scrap metal, barrels and rags. We would throw all the rags
behind the Russian’s shed so that made him happy. Mr. Sniderman would show up after the Russian
went home for the night. Mr. Sniderman would buy the junk from us. Now this went on for eight years, until I
went into the Army. I know that Drapers knew what was going on but they never once tried to stop it even
though they could have because it was private property.
Nineteen thirty-nine and the war was coming. Scrap metal was constantly going up in price and we made
a lot of money, plus when the war started we were considered patriotic. Mr. Sniderman made tons. I was
stunned in the early 60s when the Russian who retired in the 50s and probably never made more than
$25 a week. He died and left an estate of $150,000. Mr. Sniderman was my mentor. We fought like cats
and dogs. He was constantly trying to cheat us on the weights and what category certain junk would come
under. When I felt cheated, I would ask him for a ride out of the dump on the back of his truck. I would have
a couple of kids stand in front of the back window of the truck. Then I was stand on the back of the truck
and throw stuff off. Then I would go back and pick it up and put it with the metal we gathered for the next
day. This went on for years with no animosity between us. It was just doing business. What this
gentleman taught me about business I could not learn in college. Not even come close.
Fall, 1938: I got up, dressed, had breakfast and walked to the Dutcher Street School. Kids were talking
about a bad hurricane with winds over 100 miles per hour crossing Long Island. Did the town officials
send us home? No! Like every other day, we went home for lunch and had to come back for the afternoon
session. By the time school closed at 3:30, the winds were blowing 45 to 50 miles an hour. I got home,
changed my clothes and went out. Kids in those days were always outdoors. By 5 p.m. the wind was really
blowing. Standing near the Freedom Street gate of Drapers, I saw a large section of a three to four stories
high wall come crashing down. Some kids told us the bridge over the railroad yard was swaying in the
wind. This was the bridge that spanned the railroad yard starting at the Coal & Ice Company to the library
on Hopedale Street. The bridge had a hot top road. The sidewalks were made out of boards along the
bridge. I was trying to entice guys to go on the bridge with me. In a few seconds the winds really started
blowing. Then came a big gust. That gust lifted the wooden walkway from one side of the bridge to the
other. It lifted it up over the railing. A quarter mile of the walkway laid destroyed on the railroad tracks, 25
feet below. It had been raining and we were all soaked. It was 6:30 so we decided to go home. The storm
ended that night around midnight. In the morning just about every tree in town had been blown down.
Wires were down everywhere. A lot of chimneys were down or hanging over the edge of roofs. Believe it or
not, school was in session. Did I go to school? No way! There was gold lying in the streets. I got a hatchet
out of our cellar and started working my way down the street pulling the copper wires out of the trees that
came off of the light poles. I cut them in long lengths, rolled them up, ran home and threw the wire into the
cellar window. I also stripped the lead flashing off the chimneys that fell to the ground. Four or five weeks
after the storm, things got back to normal. No officials came knocking at our door so I sold the copper for
close to $125. That was close to six weeks pay for someone working in the mill. To this day I never
understood why grownups didn’t take advantage of making extra money by gathering up copper and lead. I
guess it was the fear that they might lose their jobs at Drapers because the unseen “them” might not want
anyone picking up the copper.
The Seven Sisters gang was not all bad. As we were getting older, we were getting more and more in
trouble. One hot summer day, 1940 or 1941, we were desperate for a new idea for something to do. We
were hanging out in the woods between the Seven Sisters and the dump when someone found a dead
cat. That’s when I suggested we bury it properly. Someone went to the dump and got a large glass jar and
cover and we buried the cat. This was with full honors, the Seven Sisters gang standing at attention. That’s
when the idea struck me. Let’s make a pet cemetery. The gang spent the next two days cleaning a small
patch in the woods, making pathways with white painted stones. We busted our butts. A beautiful
cemetery for pets. A couple of guys were sent to the dump for gathering caskets – glass jars or tin
containers. Some guys were sent to the dump to look for customers for our cemetery. They came back
with a couple of dead rats, a dead dog, and one more dead cat. Another group went over by the ice house
near the pond where the German lady, Mrs. Kunz from the Seven Sisters, used to feed the birds and they
brought back a half dozen birds. We buried all these animals with little white crosses. This was very
impressive. Then someone told his parents what we were doing. The next day a couple of disbelieving
parents showed up. When the word got out, all the women from Progress Street and Bancroft Park and
other surrounding streets came. After work, some of the men showed up. By the next day a couple of town
officials were there. The best surprise of all was when the Milford Daily News showed up and took
pictures. They printed a story about what these wonderful kids were doing, not wasting their time that
Most of the kids by then either owned a .22 rifle of a BB gun. The dog and cat that we first buried died of
natural causes. The rest came with the help of the Seven Sisters gang.
The town had a lot of great programs for kids. I think that just about every kid in town knew how to swim.
Once the gang learned to swim, we never went to the town bathhouse, because of the segregation. We
swam at the old icehouse. Town officials tried for a couple of years to get us to stop and finally gave up
and let us alone.
There is something I’d like to inject here because the more I write, the more I remember. All the years
growing up in Hopedale and the bad things that people did to me, I can’t remember any animosity, hard
feelings, or hate for anyone. As a very young boy, all I remember is having this feeling of being free.
Regardless of what someone said or did, no one could make me lose that feeling of freedom. That feeling
is still with me to this day, and because of that feeling, I am living a great life. The only regret I have is
quitting school. I believe the four years of high school that I gave up took many years out of my life. Now I
keep reading and studying to make up for those four lost years.
We had no school buses. Everyone walked to school. If my mind serves me correctly, the kids that lived a
certain distance from school brought their lunch and stayed in school all day. The rest of us had to go
home for lunch.
All of our regular teachers were spinsters. Married schoolteachers were used to fill in part time. The 8th
grade had a male teacher, Mr. B, who was also the principal of the lower grades. One of his jobs was to
kick butt of the guys and troublemakers. And he did. I only had one or two minor problems with Mr. B. He
took me down to the boys’ room and shoved me around a little. I don’t remember any kid complaining
about him, because when he shoved you, you definitely deserved it. When I told him six months in
advance that I was quitting, he tried to convince me not to leave school.
In the 7th grade we had a 4’8” teacher at about 85 pounds. This lady would have walked away with any
honors for “Teacher of the Year” award. You must remember that when you marched into the classroom in
the morning, you stayed in that room all day and Miss Cressey would teach you every subject. The only
subjects she did not teach were music and art. Someone else taught those subjects. If you went into her
class at the beginning of the year and didn’t understand any subject she taught, by the end of the year you
definitely understood all the subjects. Miss Cressey was one of the hardest driving and no nonsense
persons I ever came in contact with in my whole lifetime.
When WWII started, I was 15 years old. Almost nothing changed in Hopedale. Drapers was still producing
looms. The war effort needed cloth, so Drapers wasn’t converted into some other industry. They did add
on a four-story addition to the shop on Hopedale Street. That part of the shop was used to make howitzers.
After the war it was converted into the shipping room. But everything else remained pretty much the same.
Drapers ran the shop and the town and the people had no input into running the town. Drapers, to people
then, was like the Federal Government is today. People want “Big Brother” to take care of them. In any
election in Hopedale there were five positions open and only five people ran and never two for the same
position. Remember, that up until the war started, no working people paid income or sales taxes. I guess
Drapers paid for the beautiful park with tennis courts, baseball fields, Community House, bathhouse and
ski hill. They had the right to run them.
1943: I was 17 years old and just about everybody in town told me I would either be dead or in jail before I
was 21. In the fall of 1943, I finally got caught. Two other guys and I stole a car battery out of the motor in
the ski hill hut. We tried to start an old car. The battery was dead so we threw it away. The cops found it
and got one of the guys to rat me out. I was told that the police wanted to make an example out of me. I got
one month in jail. But was sentenced to one year on probation. On the day of my 18th birthday I sat in the
police station being offered a deal I couldn’t refuse. They could not draft me while I was on probation and I
had nine more months to go. They would drop the charges, and if I went into the service and came out with
an Honorable Discharge, all the charges would be erased. Two weeks later I was in Boston for my
physical, and four weeks later I was on the troop train to Fort McCullen, Alabama. In seventeen weeks, the
Army turned my life around. After one and a half years in Germany, I got out with the Honorable Discharge.
The Army taught me something I lived by all my life. Three words: “No excuse, Sir.”
Believe it or not, when I got back to Hopedale two years later, nothing had changed. They refused to clean
my record and finally I threatened that I was going to the Veterans’ Administration. They backed off and
cleaned up the criminal record.
1946: The war is over and the whole world is changing. Unions have gotten footholds into large
corporations. How were the people of Hopedale progressing? Not too good. (My opinion.) They settled
right back into the old routine. Drapers would say, “jump.” The people would say “how high?” My reply was
“why?” With this attitude, the people, Drapers and town officials had a new name for me – “troublemaker.”
My mother still lived in the house in Seven Sisters because my sister was working in Drapers and paying
about $2.75 a week for rent.
Between 1946 and 1950 I worked for Drapers three different times. Once for a week, the second for one
month, and the third time for one year. (1949 – 1950) The third time was working in the maintenance paint
gang. (The same group that tried cleaning up the Roosevelt sign a few years before.) I must be truthful
here. Because I could draw and sketch somewhat, Drapers offered to send me to night school at
Worcester Trade to learn to be a sign painter. This meant a job for life in Drapers. I was predicting that
Drapers would be closed in fifteen to twenty years. People called me nuts.
I quit my painting job and went trucking for the next four years. In the mid-50s Drapers sold off the houses,
and you had to be there to see it. People turned on each other over a few inches of land between their
houses. Like other houses, the Seven Sisters had a hot top road that went behind all seven. This was for
the garbage men so they could pick up and it wouldn’t have to sit in front of the houses. This made it great
because everyone was purchasing a car and they could drive on the road and park behind their houses.
Because the road went over a few feet of the two end homes’ property, the minute they took ownership of
their homes, people in the two end homes dug up the road. So now, the only way people could get to their
backyard was to dig up their lawns. I am sure if those fourteen families could have worked out some way
of leaving that road there, a road that had been there for years, it would have benefited everyone. Most of
the people who lived in Hopedale walked to work for years. If there was an empty lot, people walking to
work would cut across it to save steps. When these empty lots were sold with a house, within a short time
there was a fence to stop people from walking there. Up until this time, Drapers was still running the town.
If a town position was open, only one person was running for it. But things were starting to change. There
were a few people starting to question – “Why?”
From 1950 to 1956: I had been married and lived in California one year and then in Milford,
Massachusetts, but I was still connected to Hopedale and Drapers from 1952 until 1957. I worked for
Hopedale Coal & Ice, driving an oil tanker from Providence, Rhode Island, to Hopedale. My job was to
keep the million-gallon tank in Draper’s lower yard near the foundry full of oil to heat the factory. Hopedale
Coal & Ice was owned by Bill Gannett. The Gannets were tied in with the Drapers through marriage. [Bill
Gannett’s mother was the daughter of Gov. Eben Draper.] Between the Gannetts and Drapers, they held
controlling interests in Draper Corporation. To give you an example of how much Draper still tried to
control people, from the day the coal company hired me, my job was part-time. I worked five months
through the winter and worked for Rosenfeld Ready-Mix six months in the summer. So every year everyone
in town knew I got laid off from the coal company in April.
1955 – 1956: Drapers was having problems. They had let the Japanese in the 40s see how the looms
were being made; now they were cutting into Draper’s market. Sitting in the town hall spa having coffee,
people were talking rumors about Drapers selling or closing. Someone asked me if I heard anything. I
answered that all I knew was that I was getting laid off in a week. The floodgates were open and one guy
says, “If they’re getting rid of John, they’re not buying any more oil to heat the plant so they must be
closing.” This was after my first trip to Providence for oil. I used to make three trips a day, six days a week.
When I got back from my second trip, and had lunch at the spa, the rumor was, “Some big shot at Drapers
let it slip out that Drapers wasn’t buying any more oil and the million-gallon tank was empty.” (It was full to
the top.) “They must be closing.”
When I got back from my three trips and was pulling into the yard to park my truck, Mr. Hall, the boss of the
coal company, came out of the office like he was shot out of a cannon, screaming that I was getting him
fired. When I got him settled down, I took him to the spa and Norm Hanley, the owner, backed me up in
what I had said. With the big shots in Drapers, it was still the same. The “Polack” was to blame. Drapers
had a new approach. If someone uttered or thought the word “union,” they would say, “We will close
Hopedale and move to Spartanburg.” (Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they had a large foundry.) In
years of questioning, I could never get an answer as to who “they” were.
I quit the coal company in ’57 and had bought a house at 116 Freedom Street. This was across the street
from the Seven Sisters. I got a job as a long distance truck driver.
Around 1958 the country was in a recession. There were a few large trucking companies that were
unionizing the long distance truckers and the independent owners. These were having a hard time. I had
borrowed money on my house, bought a tractor and went into business. After a few weeks, the truck
engine blew up and I was out of business. Several months later I lost my house. There was
unemployment insurance and some welfare. All over the country people were struggling. But Hopedale
was proud and took care of their own. But like everything, you didn’t get anything for nothing. There were
always strings attached. At this time, one of my sons had pneumonia and had to be in Milford Hospital. No
money, no job. I was talking to the Veterans’ Administration in Milford and was told that the V.A. would help
in cases like this. However, I would have to talk to the V.A. man in Hopedale. W, the fire chief, who was
approved and appointed by Drapers, was the man. Explaining my case, W came up with a big “no.” He
would not help, the reason being that there were jobs open at Drapers. It was a definite “take the job”
because the V.A. would not help. I know that W lived to regret the day he forced me to take the job in
Drapers. I had my choice of two jobs. Drill press operator or inside transportation, which was moving parts
from one department to another with fork trucks and jetty.
I loved the job from day one because you had freedom to think and you worked all over the shop. The best
part was working with the millwrights, moving and installing machinery from 500 lbs. To 50,0000 lbs. Four
months after starting my new job, I was sent by my boss to the foundry storage room. Orders were to
transfer 400 or 500 cases of emery cloth from the foundry storage to dump station. You put the cases into
dump trucks and took them to the area which used to be my old stomping ground, “the dump.”
Drapers had a policy. Anything they were throwing away you could buy for a token dollar amount or the
price of scrap. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Four hundred cases of unopened emery cloth. Observation and
a quick count told me only twenty cases on the bottom of the huge pile were wet. They stunk to high
heaven. Knowing human nature, and thanks to Mr. Sniderman, I made a deal with the gentleman in
charge of the storage room. If I could buy the cloth, I would load it on pallets myself. Otherwise, it would go
to the dump. He would have to help me load. I was broke and in debt for $9,000 to $10,000. At this time
this was two to three years salary from my trucking business. Not knowing what it was going to cost to
purchase the cloth, I went to two of my neighbors who were bosses. They both rejected my offer to make
them partners for half the payment to purchase it. My offer to Drapers was going to be between $250 and
$500. After talking to a half dozen other people to come into the deal, and listening to all the old excuses
that they wouldn’t be throwing it away if it wasn’t any good, nobody would buy it, I thought to myself, “To hell
with these people.” I went and saw the engineer in charge of the emery cloth. The fellow in charge of the
storage room timed it right so he could help me purchase the cloth. We showed up at his boss’s office.
He told his boss it was junk and they had no need for it anymore. This guy wasn’t here, I found out a
couple of days later, to help me but to help himself. He thought I was an idiot. The way he was thinking, if I
bought it, he wouldn’t have to repack the boxes onto the pallets. I had promised to do it myself. He was
glad to help me. Well, I almost fell out of the chair when the engineer told me it would cost me $5.00 for
the lot. I rented a truck and hauled my cloth over to an old garage on Lake Street. Within three months, I
had sold all of it.
Purchase cloth $5.00
Rent truck 50.00
Rent garage 40.00
Run ad in paper 100.00
Salesman commission 8,000.00
Total cost 8,195.00
Sold cloth for 25,000.00
My profit $16,000.00
In the months to follow, every time the story was told, the numbers seemed to get larger. I had a new
nickname – “The Sandpaper King.” And, believe me, the company did question me on what happened. My
lesson in life from Mr. Sniderman, two years in the Army, and being a road scholar (driving a truck all over
the country), was paying off. Click here to read more about the emery cloth story.
From all my observations, people in Hopedale were different in the way they thought about life. Just about
everyone that lived in town and worked at Drapers really believed that the sun rose and set on Draper
Corporation. In the 50s, the unions were knocking on Draper’s door. Workers at large companies were
striking to unionize. I actually had people telling me that they were glad other companies were being
unionized and out on strike because it would make the pay go up in Drapers. When I asked if they would
like to unionize, the answer was “no.” They couldn’t see paying some gangster to ride around in a Cadillac
and represent them. Then I would ask if they were willing to donate a couple of dollars to help some
people who were on strike a long time. In the long run, this would help us. The answer was “no.” They
didn’t want to get involved. This was the same kind of mentality that went on during World War II with the
Jews. Being able to speak Polish fluently, and being in Germany in 1945-46, I was able to translate for the
Army. I talked to thousands of Jews and displaced persons. One question I always asked was, “How
could a handful of soldiers herd hundreds of people into a given spot and shoot them when all these
hundreds could have overwhelmed the few soldiers? This way the majority could survive.” I have never
gotten an answer to this question.
Two and a half years later, I get up and go to work one morning and, lo and behold, who’s standing at the
entrances to the shop? Steel Workers of America, passing out leaflets! I accepted the literature and put it
into my pocket, figuring I would read it on coffee break. My neighbors took the leaflets and were thanking
the gentlemen from the union for being there and for coming to Hopedale. But once inside the shop, they
all to a man did the same thing. They looked around to see if there was a hidden camera or a boss
standing around watching. With great pride, they threw the leaflets into the garbage bins. Again a question.
If they are the enemy (the union), shouldn’t we read what they have to offer? I must admit that the few
women deserve a pat on the back because they flatly stood up to the union guys and refused it.
I mentioned earlier that W, the veterans’ agent, forced me back to work in a degrading way. Well, payback
time, W. Most people running things or having jobs with some authority love to shove it down other people’
s throats. These people are called middle management. My point here is that two people out of two
thousand came forward to work for the union. One of the two, was forced to work for Drapers by W, the VA
rep…me! I went to a union meeting in Milford. There were only about a dozen people there from Drapers.
Up until a few years before this, any company could fire an employee helping to unionize a shop. The law
had changed and now the Federal Government protected you from this old practice. You had to be careful.
The best way was to come out in the open and the way to do this was to stand in front of the main door of
the shop. This was the area that the big shots used and the leaflets were passed out there to be very
visible. Out of the dozen at the union meeting, only two of us opted to come out in the open. Myself and
another man of my age, Joe DeRoach, were the ones. I was astounded that only two guys out of about
2000 eligible to vote for the union came out in the open.
This was the time I called it the lay down time for the American male. What happened? Hopedale only a
few years earlier had their share of World War II heroes and people who died for the cause of freedom.
Were we going backwards? I stood out in front of the main door every morning for months. My job was to
make sure that all the big shots who ran Drapers got their copy of our literature. All the highest-ranking
people were very polite and thanked me. A couple of middle management people gave me some
derogatory remarks. I told them to take the material home and go into the smallest room in their house
and do what they saw fit to do with it. And again, almost all the women refused to take the pamphlets and
told me to my fact that they were not interested in unions. This made me admire these women very much
for standing up for their beliefs. Through this period, most of the men in my neighborhood would not walk
with me to work or stop and talk with me. They labeled me “Trouble Maker” again.
The union lost the election that year. The afternoon we lost the election, I was summoned to the main
office. At this meeting was the President of Drapers and several other high ranking Draper people. The
man from the steel workers union and the government officer running the election were there also. This
government attorney informed Drapers that even though the union lost the election, Drapers had two
people who had better than union protection. We had the United States of America’s government
protecting us. Those two people were Joe DeRoach and myself. The next year and a half, Drapers treated
me with kid gloves. I swear I could have gone to work in the morning and laid down on the boss’s desk
and taken a nap and no one would have said a word. My direct boss’s name was “Goodie.” (Cannot
remember his last name.) Goodie didn’t have a good reputation in the shop because he treated everyone
in the department the same. (25 people in all) This was not the Draper way. There were certain people
who thought that because of certain circumstances, they should be treated better. They really believed that
just doing your job had nothing to do with earning your way in life.
A year and a half after losing the election, I quit Drapers and went back to long distance trucking. A year or
so later, the union got into Drapers. Now, all the people in town who would not talk to me were running
around saying the union this, or the union that, or our union. The union did absolutely nothing for the
people in Drapers. Remember, the union is not “they.” The union is the people who work in the factory.
A couple of years later Drapers sold out to Rockwell. It did not take long to realize what a loser they had
bought. Rockwell International, a worldwide conglomerate, snuffed out Drapers like a match in the wind.
They closed the doors and left town. I think it was a year off my prediction, fifteen years earlier.
Rockwell took over Draper Corporation in 1967. The plant was closed in 1980.
About the Author
Born February 8, 1927, Hopedale, Mass.
Lived in Hopedale 1927 – 1945
U.S. Army, Germany, 1945 – 1946
Hopedale, 1946 – 1951
Milford, 1953 – 1956
Hopedale, 1957 – 1965
Millivlle, 1966 – 1978
Clinton, Connecticut, 1978 – 2014
1968 – 1987 CEM Trucking, operated trucks hauling chemicals all over the U.S.
1985 – 2000 President of Connecticut Tank/Trailer Repair, Inc.
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1946. Cembruch is on the left in the left
picture and on the right in the right picture.