Spurious Partitions

From Tom Bumgardner's Book: Lawgic: Cruel and Usual Punishment

This is a true story.

In 1950, I worked at the Owens-Illinois Bottle Plant in Charleston , West Virginia . Owens-Illinois was a two-story building with its main entrance at the corner of 57th Street and McCorkle Avenue . The plant covered more than two square blocks and its sister plant, Libby-Owens-Ford, a plate glass factory, was directly across McCorkle Avenue , a main thoroughfare in an otherwise residential community. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company serviced both plants with rail spurs going into them. Many workers of both factories lived within walking distance of their jobs.

The first floor of O-I housed furnaces used for glass melting, bottle molds for repeat customers, storage facilities for many thousands of bottles for medicines, liquors, cleansers, beer and soft drinks, and a railroad spur.

The tracks of the spur entered the plant at 59th Street and ran the length of the building to within 50 feet of the entrance at 57th Street . On one side of the tracks, identical with the floors of subway systems, only wider, were the loading docks, a non-interrupted structure of concrete running the length of the spur where goods were shipped and received daily. When goods were ordered, cartons of cardboard boxes with the bottles inside them would be stacked onto the loading dock some eight or ten feet from the rails.

The main offices were located on the second floor. In addition to those offices, there was a regulation-size basketball court, additional storage spaces and ‘specialty’ work areas doing such work as drilling holes in the bottom of display whiskey bottles. (We didn’t want our customers to order bottles for display and then use them for the real thing.)

Part of my work included taking inventory of the many glass containers stored in that vast factory. On occasions, orders for bottles would be stacked on the loading docks for shipping prior to being inventoried and paper work for such shipments could not be completed until those counts had been received in the main office. Once the bottle count reached the main office and other necessary paper work completed, the various stacked orders would be loaded into boxcars and sent to the customers.

In the summer of 1950 a new order for brown, one-gallon Chlorox bottles was stacked on the docks for shipping. The four-to-a-case gallon containers were separated by two cardboard partitions, arranged so as to form a four-bottle container. That order formed a stack the size of a two-story house.

I had finished my required count of the Chlorox order when ‘The-Devil-made-me-do-it’ syndrome hit me.

Mickey Spillane was my favorite read at that time and in one particular situation, the author described adjoining rooms separated by strings of beads, which he called a spurious partition. For some reason those words clung to me, and as I was starting to walk away from the stack of Chlorox bottles just recorded, I did it.

I cut off one of the flaps from the top of a carton and printed SPURIOUS PARTITIONS on it, attaching it to the face of the stack of bottles where the required shipping papers were to be glued.

As I was leaving the factory early that morning, I walked to the loading dock and noticed how the SPURIOUS PARTITIONS sign really stood out. Little did I realize just what would come to pass.

Following the marking of the Chlorox order, I entered my freshman year of college and the next year, (1951) received a draft notice for the Korean conflict. I would not return to Owens-Illinois until January 1954, following a year of college and two years’ military duty. I returned to O-I not as an employee but as a basketball player.

The company sponsored basketball tournaments yearly and I was playing for a team invited to one of the tournaments. As I entered the building––almost four years later (!)––I spotted in the middle of the factory loading docks, in the same spot and with the same SPURIOUS PARTITIONS sign, that stack of Chlorox cartons!

I couldn’t contain my laughter. The only changes to the ‘order’ were several hand-written dates and initials surrounding the sign. No one; not the factory, not the railroad, not Chlorox, no one, could cause those bottles to be moved to a space where workers did not have to swerve to miss them for almost four years.

The following Monday I was in the plant manager’s office, for I owed someone an explanation. Within half an hour, I was in a private office making my peace.

When I explained just what I had done, three upper level supervisors and two secretaries laughed as though they had just watched Dick Ames throw a hatchet during a Johnny Carson show. However, not all was funny.

Not only had every available person in the Owens-Illinois work force been questioned about the incident, but officials with Libby-Owens-Ford, C & O Railroad, Chlorox, and various cardboard-box manufacturers were invited to respond to such inquiries as: “Do Chlorox bottles require certain partitions unknown by us?”; Does L-O-F sheet glass require protection by partitions unknown by us?”; “Does your rail company utilize boxcar partitions called spurious and if so what are their purposes?”; and “What is the function of a spurious cardboard partition in a cardboard container?”

Needless to say, the mold-makers and glasscutters and shipping personnel and supervisors of both factories––living in the same community––associated with one another. Because no one dared to take action to correct a situation labeled as “spurious partitions” the bottle plant became a center of community conversation extending even to communism. Democrats blamed republicans, republicans blamed democrats and they both blamed foreign interests for the “sabotaging” of American workforces. Of course, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hearings involving un-American activities added fuel to the situation.

During the last half-century, we have seen an exponential growth of similar ‘spurious partitions’ legislation, executive orders, judicial rulings and other unconstitutional actions that effectively prohibit liberties and promises of a republican form of government assured us by The Constitution of The United States. We have likewise seen the failure of society––governmental and private sector––to correct such false actions.

You will see that the first governmental action I dub as a spurious partition will not be restricted to a small loading dock in a small factory in a small town affecting a few hundred Americans, but will have an important bearing on three-hundred-million of us, regardless of location or work.

The Owens-Illinois perplexity arose because an authorized employee made a joke that became a ‘law.’ The mystery of governmental spurious partitions is the ability of authorized employees to make ‘laws’ which are in reality jokes.

The significant difference between private sector problems and governmental problems is that in the private sector, problems are allowed to be corrected, whereas in the field of government, when the courts adopt deceptive opinions or regulations, officers of the court are prohibited––in the administration of justice––from attempting to correct such deceptions:

“His (the attorney’s) first duty is to the court, not to the client, and wherever the duties he owes to the client conflict with the duties he owes to the court, as an officer of the court in the administration of justice, the former must yield to the latter.”

Thus, when a federal court legislates the following, “a district judge may not instruct the jury as to its power to nullify,” an individual or his lawyer is forbidden to advise jurors of the fact that a jury has the constitutional power to nullify, since it is in the administration of justice that The Constitution of The United States be violated.

Joke? Hardly.

Spurious? Beyond question.


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