Lindale woman reflects on bakery experience
Peggy Dudley, of Lindale, said she could not venture to guess the number of Twin-kies she has seen in her lifetime, but she has undoubtedly contributed to creating smiles on countless children's faces.
Ms. Dudley, 78, was employed by Hostess for two years in the late 1960s, packaging freshly made snack cakes at a bakery in Dallas. She said she worked there when the Dinky Twinkie, a smaller version of the iconic cake, was made.
"I think kids especially wanted Twinkies -- that's how come they started making the Dinky Twinkies," she said.
Ms. Dudley said she lived on Harry Hines Boulevard, about six blocks from the bakery, and if the wind was just right, the smell of the bakery's activities would reach her home.
"I love the smell of the yeast, you know what's happening ..." she said. "The donuts were yeast made. They weren't cake donuts. They used quite a bit of yeast."
She said on a general day, the bakery workers would arrive at 3 a.m. to begin mixing and baking the Hostess lineup of products, but her work day wouldn't start until 6 a.m.
Freshly cooled cake would come down a conveyor belt from the bakery upstairs to be packaged by workers, Ms. Dudley said. The cake would run at a comfortable level at their waist, while little white cardboard trays ran on a separate conveyor belt behind.
Ms. Dudley said she worked the second shift, and began each day grabbing six Crullers, which she described as a cake donut stick, and placing them into the baskets -- flat side up.
The cakes would go on to a wrapping machine and be loaded for shipment.
She said there were generally six workers to each line, with the newer workers at the front and the most experienced person at the end to catch whatever was missed.
"At the end of the Cruller line you really had to get with it because you were not supposed to let one fall off the end into the tray -- that was kind of a rule," she said.
Once the day's worth of Crullers was finished, the group began helping others finish up their cakes. She said donuts were next, and workers had to learn how to pick up six full-size donuts in each hand and place them in a tray without dropping a single one.
When the last donut was boxed, she said she moved onto Snoballs, which she said generally had enough coconut on them to keep the pink marshmallow outside from sticking to the workers' hands.
"Occasionally you would get a little bit of the snowball yucky on you, and I hated the little bitty doughnuts with all the white sugar," she said. "The sugar got all over you and if it ever got damp it was icky."
The test of the day was spent packaging the higher-volume sellers -- Twinkies and Cupcakes.
She said the cakes came down six lines, with worker taking breaks and lunches in rotation to constantly keep the flow going.
"When you work like that you get in such a habit of being in a hurry," she said. "You have 30 minutes for lunch. You got to eat and hurry back, and you get used to hurrying and when you retire you think, 'I've got to slow down.'"
Ms. Dudley said she loved working for the bakery. She said the working conditions were good, the people felt like family and though she cannot remember her wage, she said it was enough to pay her bills and provide a few extras.
"I enjoyed it. There was no pressure except to keep up and don't let any good ones fall off, but I certainly learned a lot," she said.
Ms. Dudley said workers were allowed to eat whatever they wanted from the line, and after two years of steady consumption, she's a little burned out on their products. She said it has been at least 20 years since she tasted the spongy cake.
But, she said her heart went out to the 18,000-plus Hostess workers who were without a job following disagreements between a labor union and the company, resulting in the company's closure.
On Nov. 16, Hostess Brand Inc. announced it was shutting down, ending production of Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and other products that have been staples in school lunch boxes and workplace break room machines for decades.
She said she thought the union got greedy.
Ms. Dudley retired from Trane in 1997 after 20 years with the company. She said sometimes the union's demands are more than the industry can support.
When Ms. Dudley heard the news about Hostess closing up shop, she said her first thought was, "'Oh my God no,' because all the kids have always depended on having Twinkies. And the working conditions were fine -- no problems."