Punching Out the Time Clock



I haven’t seen a time clock in decades—don’t even know if they’re still being used—but I can say, with all sincerity, that I’ve never missed them. I can see the need for time clocks if workers are being paid by the hour because how else can a payroll clerk, who has not a clue of any doings beyond his office, figure out what anybody has earned? I mean, if there are 600+ employees—one of which was me in my years with Crown Zellerbach—every worker must punch their assigned time card both coming in and going out in order to get paid. Not surprisingly, I never met anyone who forgot to punch his time card.

But back in the days when material things were all I was interested in, the mighty Time Clock slowly became a symbol of restriction and oppression. Instead of a measure of wages, in my mind it morphed over the years into a tool designed to keep me under Crown Zellerbach’s thumb. Of course I had some major help in coming to that; my mandatory membership in the Teamster’s Pulp and Paper Maker’s Union. They firmly preached that we were being exploited by the evil employer who was paying us—pretty generously, actually—and the Union never failed to reinforce that exploitation as shrilly as possible. In spite of that unabashed brainwashing I never regretted leaving either the Union, Crown Zellerbach, or the City. As a matter of fact I might never have left without that constant agitation so the Union actually turned out to be personally helpful. The mill itself shut down a couple years after I left due to rising production costs caused in no small part by that very Union, and I doubt the other 680 laid-off employees were as grateful as I.

And that is how I left California in 1974 to wind up in Austin, a small town in Central Nevada. I was raised in small towns and ranches and farms, so Austin was more like coming home than leaving. And as an added bonus there wasn’t a time clock to be found. Or a union. Or a city. Or much of anything else for that matter, which suited me just fine for the next 32 years.

We’d purchased the Stagecoach Inn, a narrow two-story building on Main Street—also known as Highway 50–which had been remodeled into a three-story building offering several rooms intended as rentals for the influx of workers preparing to swarm into town for a new mining boom. Austin was an old silver mining town and a Canadian company was coming in to rework the old mine tailings with an eye to recovering the profits left by the old-timers. It was an exciting time and my first wife and I had gotten caught up in the enthusiasm that comes with what was essentially a reenactment of an age-old phenomenon; the ‘Gold Rush’.

Now during my eight years with Crown Zellerbach I’d spent many weekends prospecting for gold in the Sierra Nevada foothills, the site of the original forty-niners gold rush, which was also the site of many a collapsed dream when the streak either gave out or was wildly overstated. So I shouldn’t have been taken by surprise when the latter happened in Austin, and before we even got our U-Haul unloaded our prospective renters had faded away like a desert mirage. Unfortunately that particular mirage carried with it our anticipated income and we were left, as so many gold-rushees before us, holding a big expensive bag of nothing.

We stood out in the street for awhile—you could do that in Austin without fear of being flattened—looking at our long, narrow building sandwiched between the Masonic Hall and Carol’s Country Store, wondering what could be profitably done there. We were told that in years past it had been a saloon, but there were already five bars in the town of 200 people, and anyway I was sore afraid that if I owned one I’d never again draw a sober breath. A four-lane bowling alley might fit in our building nicely, but although Austin was at that time the county seat of Lander County we needed something that would (A) turn a profit in the foreseeable future, and (B) could be achieved with the limited funding we had available. Nothing feasible came to mind, no matter how far afield our minds wandered.

Carol, from Carol’s Country Store, noticed our plight and suggested we put in an Ice Cream Parlor. Well, it was July and hot that day and it did seem doable if—and this was a big ‘if’ in the Time-Clock mindset we came from—we could struggle through the necessary city and county and state permits to do so. I took a deep breath and walked across the street to the courthouse where the county offices were located, and asked the first clerk I came across what we needed to do in order to open a business like that. She thought about it for a few moments and said, to my everlasting astonishment;

“Hang out a sign, I guess.”

Wow. Welcome to Austin. In 1974, that is; it didn’t take long before that went the way of the dodo bird when the county commissioners, after moving the county seat to the sprawling metropolis of Battle Mountain 92 miles north, started requiring business licenses amid zoning laws and building inspections etc., etc, just like the grown-up counties.

But back then it was sure nice; the only compliance we needed was a permit from the State Board of Health in order to serve edibles and we were on our way. We learned the first winter that ice cream in itself just wasn’t going to work. Over the next couple of years we slowly expanded to hot dogs and soup and cold sandwiches and finally to a full-fledged restaurant serving lunch and dinner, but we had some lean times and I usually held down two or three part-time jobs in addition to building and maintaining the restaurant.

Winters were the hardest, with paying jobs almost always outdoors in weather suited only for eskimos. And therein was the rub; after 32 of those winters—most after the Stagecoach Inn eventually closed along with my first marriage—the long, cold, miserable winters drove me out of Austin in seemly the same fashion as the time clock had once driven me out of California, but not; I was at peace in Austin and have no regrets of my time there.

But now that God has turned me into a contented family man amidst palm trees and year-round sunshine, I have to wonder if I could have gotten here eight years earlier by simply bypassing that blamed time clock.