For 43 years, Al Plass carried a gray bucket, touched up with duct tape after the handle pulled off, to the Smith & Wesson gun plant in Springfield. The bucket held a sandwich — white bread, margarine and American cheese, bologna, ham or chicken loaf — a banana and a thermos of hot coffee. Al was not one to drop his dimes on the canteen wagon.
Assembly line hours were 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but Al was paid by the number of guns he put together. He stayed late, was home by 6, and gone again by 6:30, painting and wallpapering homes around Springfield for another four or five hours. His daughter, Deb Lantaigne, remembers how each night ended.
“Almost always the last thing he did before he went to bed at night was really clean his fingers,” said Deb. “They looked like laborers' hands in that they were blistered and callous, that kind of thing, but they were clean, clean, clean.”
On Saturdays, he worked 7 a.m. to noon at the gun plant. Sundays were for family. Al was a man of regularity, of discipline without complaint.
“I never had a sense that he was tired,” Deb recalled, “or even that stressed. Nope, never ever a sense that he was tired. I remember he had migraine headaches, but see, he’d work through those, so then he’d just come home and sleep.”
Eventually, Al moved off the assembly line and into repair — so adept as a diagnostician and surgeon that VIPs across the country requested him.
“He worked on Elvis Presley’s guns, he was a big gun owner. I have an older sister who is a real Elvis Presley fan, so he used to love to tell her that he had worked on that gun, and of course, they were exquisitely engraved.”
He oiled and sanded and fussed with guns all day. But he never owned one.
“Never,” Deb laughed. “Not a one. Isn’t that interesting? Not a one. If he were here, he’d say, 'I had no reason to have one.' "
When he retired at 65, Al went to work again, almost immediately, in the local Springfield funeral parlor. Death keeps no calendar, and his rigid hours suddenly became flexible. But he loved the job: greeting mourners, tidying the lawn, driving families (or bodies) when necessary. Alternating two black suits and a pair of polished shoes, he worked whenever he was asked. He did it until he was 85.
Al allowed himself the frugal luxuries of a disciplined man: cans of Union Leader tobacco, White Owl cigars. Later on, there was a used car, and eventually, a new one.
“His last one was a green Buick Lesabre, and you would have thought it was a Rolls Royce to listen to him.”
But the greatest luxury he allowed himself was tending to family. After his three daughters were grown, instead of painting and wallpapering for clients, he painted and wallpapered their homes when his shifts at Smith & Wesson were over.
He was never a man who said much. He was a man who worked.
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This segment aired on August 22, 2017.