“So, Then, You’re The Screw Man…”: A Manufacturing Story

The ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ cocktail party may not have been the best place to discuss one’s occupation, but she asked. I answered, diplomatically and technically, at first. However, in my work, the description eventually gets down to the basics and then things can go ‘off the rails’. “I sell screws’”

“So, then, you’re the screw man”, she replied with a wink and a snicker.

“Yes, I guess you could say that, I am the screw man!”

That brief exchange about sums up my ‘not so formal’ introduction to our new neighbors. Thirty years old at the time and with an immature sense of humor, I thought it was funny. My wife, not so much.

Let me backup a bit. I worked for a fastener (screw) manufacturer in a northern Illinois city, Rockford, known as the ‘screw capital of the world’. No, not that, I learned later. It actually earned its moniker from the bevy of fastener (screw) manufacturers operating there, many that sprung from the original, the ‘granddaddy’ screw man, so to speak.

These manufacturing companies thrived for years, providing fasteners and other special metal parts to industries across the US for their cars and big trucks, compressors and air conditioners, aircraft and appliances, even toys. Just about everything that is held together used a threaded metal fastener, a screw, to do it.

Walking the factory floor of a compressor manufacturer, a vacuum cleaner company or an automotive parts supplier of air bags, fuel systems, frames and other components was an education in the magnitude of our US consumer driven economy. All these companies used our screws, by the millions, and the competition was fierce. It always is in sales.

As fastener manufacturer sales reps, I and a cadre of salespeople and engineers, spent countless hours in factories helping customers meet assembly challenges with a potpourri of specialty screw products, problem solvers.

Over years, I witnessed manufacturing and assembly go from manual to automation to robotic ‘pick & place’, from dirty assembly areas to clean room environments, from Made in America to made around the world. Manufacturing is a fascinating environment driven by costs and whims of customer wants and needs.

But ‘change is the only constant in life’*. The number of fastener plants has declined either through attrition or consolidation. Technology has lessened the demand for sales personnel with the advent of the e-commerce and even the reliable company brochure has moved online. Business can be done via phone calls, Zoom meetings snd webinars.

I’m out of the business, now. And while I might be considered a ‘dinosaur’, I can still look back at my manufacturing experience with satisfaction, knowing that at one time, I was ‘the screw man’.

Steve B

To sales reps everywhere who ‘walk the floor’ …

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* Heraclitus, Greek philosopher…Wikipedia

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srbottch

Retired in 2013 after 5 years as an elementary school teacher and 40 years as a sales representative to begin anew as a school crossing guard. SMy essays/stories are a way to communicate through the telling of personal experiences. One reader said about my blog stories, "...these are like a cold sip during a marathon run, simple, real life events". Another offered about my blog, “it brings some sense of normalcy not easily found in the modern world.”

27 thoughts on ““So, Then, You’re The Screw Man…”: A Manufacturing Story”

    1. Jim, did you sneak ‘inclined’. In there just to turn Joe my funny bone? It worked because what is a thread but an but inclined plane. I sent you an email. Thanks for your comment, Jim. I appreciate your participation in my little writing hobby.

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    1. I read your comment a few hours ago and wanted to reread it several times to keep the laugh going. You understood it perfectly. I could’ve used that line in the story😂😂😂. Thanks. Liz.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, a small world, especially in Marengo. My wife and I graduated from Rockford College and our son was born in Rockford, as well, 1974 at Rockford Memorial Hospital. Amazing, John.

      Also, we bought a new 1970 Pontiac LeMans from a dealer in Marengo and had it serviced there until we moved to Rochester, NY. Maybe we passed each other on the highway😂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. We take fasteners for granted and yet they have been around since 400BCE, and modern life would just not exist without them. “I sell screws” sounds so mundane and yet you would have needed so much knowledge and expertise to solve people’s problems and would have had to keep ahead of the game to ensure you could compete for sales. May I salute “the screw man”!

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    1. Peter, thanks so much for understanding the importance of being ‘the screw man’ and the role of this very basic but very necessary product. You would be surprised at the amount of engineering and technical input that goes into designing the right fastener for the job. If your interested, check out ‘cold heading’ on the Internet and for done very difficult ‘cold headed’ product using copper and brass, check out ‘HTTPS://Metalforming industries.com’. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mercy, me, you have worn many hats, but the one that made the lasting impact was the “corner classroom” teacher. I bet they still talk about you at times. Sorry I’ve been lazy in getting back to you, but I’ve been downright lazy and not worth shooting. I really haven’t had any energy since I had the virus. My doctor said it could take several months before I get to feeling better. I’m thankful I didn’t have a full blown case of it. We got about 7” of snow during the night Friday and the weather was frigid for a couple of days but today it is beginning to warm up. I believe winter’s over. My old bones will like the warmer weather. Gary’s playing golf again although he doesn’t have his full swing back and may never fully swing like he used to. There’s about 6 guys he plays with her at the Sewanee course, but they usually only play 9 holes. That’s all the energy he can muster at this point. His stamina is just not what it used to be. How are you feeling and is your new device working as you had hoped it would. I sure hope so. All our gang is doing well and I hope all your crew is also. My eyes are getting heavy so it’s time to turn out the light. “Good night and pleasant dreams.” Love you Sent from my iPhone

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  3. I would hope there’s always a place for the “screw man” in society. While automation is understandable in so many areas of society, I get pretty frustrated when I can’t find an actual living and breathing person to talk to online, on the phone, and, amazingly, sometimes in person.

    I recently asked (very kindly) to speak to a supervisor at my cable company. The poor front desk person, who probably had to address a host of angry customers all day, went to the back and reported that he wouldn’t come out to talk to me. What??? It was almost comical how sad that was.

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    1. ‘…and for want of a horse, a kingdom was lost’. I thought about using that line but couldn’t fit it. But I did use it in professional settings. Not sure if it helped me sell but it always sounded cool. And you’re right, I’ve seen assembly lines stop because of no screws for whatever reason. Was it Shakespeare’s King Richard who cried out, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse” because his lost its nail?

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  4. I once sat next to a man on a plane who told me he was a widget rep. I had no idea what he was talking about. He showed me the little thing that kept the tray attached to the seat in front of me . “Like that,” he said. Ever since I have thinking about how all those little widgets are made and sold.

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  5. Well, I can see why your wife balked at that moniker, Steve. It is interesting to hear about your working life and understand how things have changed. You are right, change is the one constant and they are coming faster and faster.

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    1. Robbie, when I was traveling (on the road, as we say) for my job, I thought about getting license plates that read ‘SCREW MAN’, but I knew it wouldn’t go over with her. Funny but a little immature. Sometimes, we men never grow up 😂🥴🥸😆🙀😎 (as you can tell by my juvenile answers, sometimes)

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  6. Liz was right, say ‘threaded metal fastener’ three times fast, especially at a cocktail party. 😂 I can see why your wife was not amused. This was interesting, Steve. Place this in a time frame of teaching and being a crossing guard.

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    1. Jennie, when I applied for the crossing guard job through our police dpt, I thought it best I leave out that ‘I was the screw man’. 😉. It was a fun story to write. Going through a factory isn’t too different than going through a classroom. A lot of good production going on in both places.

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