When Dennis Wood wakes up on Monday morning, April 1, he’ll do something he hasn’t done in 60 years.
Not go to work.
Wood, who got a job in 1959 at what was then Grinnell, has worked since then at the Columbia manufacturer of iron pipe fittings and couplings. The plant now is named Anvil International.
During his six decades at the company, Wood has never taken a sick day, only gone on a handful of vacations and was absent only two weeks during a companywide strike in 1987.
Wood, who started as a production worker, now works as the setup, repair and tooling employee in the finishing department. There he works on machines that add final touches to iron fittings made at the foundry.
The 78-year-old Wood has a no-nonsense attitude about his longevity at the company.
“I liked doing what I was doing,” he said. “To tell you the truth, my hobby was my work.”
Training for the job
Wood grew up near Duncannon, where he remembers helping on the family farm when he was 10 years old. One of six children, he recalls getting up at 4 a.m. to milk the neighbor’s cows before milking their own before heading to his one-room schoolhouse.
Wood said he learned how to work and solve problems on the farm, saying that was good training for his job at the foundry.
“I just had a mechanical mind just to know how to do it,” he said. “We’d go up (at the foundry) and say ‘We need this done,’ and that’s just the way it was on the farm.”
The family eventually moved in East Prospect in York County where his oldest brother got a job at Caterpillar before coming to Grinnell. His brother invited him to come work there too.
“At that time you just filled out an application, signed your name and they hired you. It’s not like today,” he said.
The plant opened in 1917 as Columbia Malleable and operated for years as Grinnell. In 1999, owner Tyco International sold it to the Mueller Group, which renamed it Anvil. The company makes fittings and couplings for industrial oil and gas industries as well as plumbing and mechanical uses. used in plumbing and gas systems.
At first, Wood worked in production, eventually moving to an automated production line when that was introduced in the early 1970s. Wood saw that development as the biggest change during his time at the plant.
“When I first seen it happening, when they were putting them in, I said ‘No way automation will come to this place.’ I just couldn’t accept it. But when I got on the machines, and seen the automation, I accepted it and it’s been changing ever since,” he said.
At one point, the plant had 1,200 workers with a third shift that was three-quarters full. Today, it operates with about 500 workers.
In repairing and setting up the machines that shear, add threading or make small adjustments to products that have come from the forge, Wood performs a vital function, one that leaves him little time for chit-chat.
“I always felt my job was to make it easy for the ones I work with, the ones that labor,” he said.
Larry Betz, Wood’s supervisor, says his mantra is “Can’t stop now — gotta keep the place running.”
Cultivating good habits, attitudes
Wood gets up at 4:15 a.m. every work day and makes time for 20 minutes of devotions, before driving seven miles to the plant, where his shift begins at 5:45 a.m.
He works until 2:15 p.m., when he takes a shower at work and is at his son’s farm by 3 p.m., before arriving back home for dinner by 5 p.m. for dinner with his wife, Peggy.
Wood, who looks younger than his 78 years, attributes his good health to the fact that he doesn’t drink, smoke or “run with other women.”
Describing himself as a “born again Christian,” Wood said his attitude about his job is drawn from Psalm 37:1. “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity,” it says.
Or as Wood paraphrases it: “Fret not thyself of those around you that don’t do so good.”
In addition to his work at Anvil, Wood also had a part-time job at Western Auto, where he worked from 1961 to 1988 doing repairs, assembly and parts delivery.
He has also pastored a church in Elizabethtown and for 20 years and hosted “Powerful Living,” an early Sunday evening radio program on WGCB in Red Lion. He has officiated at some weddings and funerals of his co-workers.
From two of his co-workers, Wood drew a lesson on focusing on the present, saying he remembers them both saying they were counting down the days to their own retirements, only to die two weeks before the day came.
The lesson? “Keep working. Don’t even think about it,” he said.
For his own retirement, Wood is planning to keep busy, saying he will do “running” for his son who has an excavating business in addition to helping at the farm.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve been doing this for 60 years now and I’m not looking forward to going home and shutting down,” he said. “I want to get up and go.”