Wayne Matta was interviewed on August 10, 2018 by Anjuli Grantham at his home in Maple Valley, Washington. In this interview, Wayne talks about his work as a maintenance machinist with Alaska Can Company and as a serviceman with Alaska General Seafoods (AGS) traveling to canneries around Alaska to repair their canning equipment and machinery. Wayne describes the process of making cans and canning salmon, including discussion of what each piece of machinery is used for. He clearly has a keen interest in the inner workings of the equipment, enjoyed the opportunity to travel to various canneries around Alaska, particularly Ketchikan, Kodiak Island, and Bristol Bay, and he liked the people he worked with. Wayne offers a rare insight into an aspect of the salmon canning industry that is rarely discussed, the importance of keeping the equipment well maintained and fully operational.
Digital Asset Information
Project: NN Cannery History Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Aug 10, 2018
Narrator(s): Wayne Matta
Interviewer(s): Anjuli Grantham
Transcriber: Emily Mueller
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Personal background and getting a job with American Can Company
Description of American Can Company's operation in Seattle
Salmon can production
Working as a maintenance machinist at American Can Company
Making cans on site at canneries in Alaska, Chinese workers, and segregation
Can making machinery
Servicing the can making equipment
Description of salmon canning process and different machines used
Traveling to Alaska canneries to service equipment
Other servicemen worked with
Cans made by American Can Company versus Continental Can Company
Changes in canning machinery
Importance of a cannery serving good food to employees, and separate eating facilities, such as Filipino Mess Hall and Blue Room for superintendent
Memories of South Naknek, and competition between cannery owners
Differences and similarities in cannery operations
Effect of botulism outbreak in the 1980's on the canning industry
Stackable can versus sanitary flat can
Incorporating freezing into the process
Closure of American Can Company's Alaska service division
Important moments in his career, and training younger guys
Future of canning industry
His son becoming a machinist, electrician, welder, and boiler man
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ANJULI GRANTHAM: It is August 10th, 2018. This is Anjuli Grantham and I am here with Wayne Matta at his home in Maple Valley, Washington.
Wayne, to begin with, could you tell me a bit about your childhood? Where did you grow up, when were you born, and what brought you to American Can? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, ok.
Well, I was born in Brainerd, Minnesota. 1930. And durin' the war, 1944, I moved out here with my folks. They came out here to work, like at Boeing's or the shipyards.
And so, that was when I was 14 years old. So, anyway, I graduated from Renton High, and then from there I joined the Army for four years. Well, three years, but I got extended for the convenience of the government because of the Korean War.
And I was stationed over in Europe. Which, fortunately, I didn't go the other way, to Korea. And so, in 1954, well, 1953, I met my wife, Cheryl, and we got married in 1954.
And I was working in the Bremerton naval yards at that time, and traveling from Renton to Bremerton.
And it was a 12-hour day, you know, just tra -- driving to Renton, parked underneath the viaduct, taking that ferry with the Kalakala. I call it the Kalakala. It's over there in -- in Kodiak. Yeah.
And so, then -- then I get same way comin' back and -- never got home 'til 7 o'clock, so I --
My wife's father was workin' at American Can. So anyway, I put my application in at Boeing's, Continental Can, and some other machine shops around town, and also American Can Company.
And fortunately, I was called by -- well, I got a letter from Boeing that says, "Well, you're list -- your name's been placed on top of the list, come on down." And so, I wrote 'em a letter and says, "Well, I just got hired f -- by American National Can -- I mean, American Can."
And so, that was very fortunate. My father-in-law -- probably had a lotta help. And I had a brother-in-law that was workin' there, too, so it was nice to have some relatives there, and it turned out a very, very good employment for me, and --
And I enjoyed be -- bein' a maintenance machinist. And when the plant closed down, I got into the Alaska division, and then that closed down, I --
Well, yeah, when the Alaska division closed down, well then I started going up to my -- on my own to different canneries, like Kodiak Salmon Packers, Excursion Inlet was Ocean Beauty then Trident in Ketchikan, and two weeks there, two weeks there, and six weeks in Ketchikan, and -- and --
Well, prior to that, when American Can closed down, I went to work for AGS (Alaska General Seafoods). Then I -- well, I worked for them for nine years.
Then I had a heart attack, so I called it quits. And that's when the -- the other companies called me up to come on up and give 'em a hand, so I did.
All I was was a finger pointer, training the younger fellows on the operation of the fillers and cutters and the seamers. So, let's see, gotta think -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, could --
WAYNE MATTA: And that -- I enjoyed that -- (phone rings) -- oh no. (pause)
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Could you tell me about the American Can Company shop in Seattle? How many people were employed there, and what was happening there?
WAYNE MATTA: Well, that was -- They had nine can lines -- mac -- manufactured all different types of cans. Beer cans, juice cans, vegetable cans, cat food cans, and stuff like that.
And they had one line there that was strictly for the Alaska ca -- cans, which they flattened out.
And so, they had a lot of -- probably a couple hundred people workin' there, because they even had a cafeteria up there, too, at the American Can Company.
And then they had the lith -- lithographers, you know, that printed the -- the cans. And then they had the machinists -- we called 'em machinists down -- down in the can lines, you know, operatin' the lines. And then we had the maintenance machinists, which I was.
And then they -- we had millwrights, and electricians, and oh, I'd say there's at least a couple hundred people workin' there.
And the reason why they closed it down, I think is because it was a one, two, three, maybe four stories high, or something like that. And they were trying to reduce the cost of, you know, transplanting -- moving this machinery -- the cans back and forth, you know.
And so, then they started building canneries -- or can-making plants, one story. And so, they did away with all their old -- old can plants.
And they had machine shops in Portland, Oregon, Geneva, New York, Cincinnati, and Niagara Falls, Canada. And they built this -- these -- this equipment. These machine shops.
And finally they closed them down, and then American Can merged with National Can, and became known as American National Can.
And then, finally, American Can got out of it altogether, and American Can -- American National Can would --
There was a National Can plant in Kent. And so, then it became American National Can, and then they were bought out, and it's called Rexam. That's where I get my pension from now, is Rexam.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: R-E-X-A-M? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, right, yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Rexam.
So, how -- In the Seattle can shop, what portion of production was dedicated to salmon cans? WAYNE MATTA: Uh, well, at the -- the can manufacturing plant in Seattle, like I said, there was only one line. And it didn't operate, you know, around the -- around the -- around the ye -- around the year.
And it only operated on the orders that they got comin' in from the c -- the canneries up north.
And then, they'd just run that line, and got those orders filled out, and -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, was the -- WAYNE MATTA: -- they closed it down.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was there a difference between a salmon can and a fruit can? WAYNE MATTA: Well, let's see -- Not really.
I don't -- well, the only problem -- Only thing would be the enamel inside. Some of the fruit cans and vegetable cans had to have a special enamel or whatever, because of the acidic -- like tomatoes and stuff like that. So --
But otherwise, they were the same enameled cans.
But there was some that was lithographed, you know, had pictures of like, Hawaiian. I forget, that -- Hawaiian Punch. That was a beautiful can. It was all those fruit, you know, around it and stuff like that.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, could you tell me -- Wh -- What did your job entail when you were still working for Seattle can in the can-making shop? WAYNE MATTA: Oh -- Oh, my -- my shop at American Can --
My job at American Can was maintenance machinist. And -- Well, we had periods of -- periods that we had to -- you know, if there was a breakdown, we had to get down there and get that -- like a chain broke, or -- or somethin' like that.
We'd have to get down there and repair it. Put a new chain on, and -- and then we'd have a line that had to be overhauled, and then we'd have to go through that. And but --
but my job was a maintenance machinist, and it's kinda different from other machinists, 'cause some other machinists in these other places, they just stand at a machine, all day long, a lathe.
But we were able to, you know, work around, and then when there was no breakdowns or no overhauls, well, I'm in -- maintained what they call a -- a roller station. And also the flux pot.
Because as you're -- they put these thing like this, the -- the cans, you know, they're all cut out, you know, and you put those in the stack, and then they'd go down the line. And then they go into this -- what -- what'd I just mention? ANJULI GRANTHAM: Roll?
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, the -- the roller station. And it'd roll the can, so it'd go like that.
And then, it -- it would go to another machine, and it would put a hook on -- on each side of the can and flatten it out, and then it'd go through a flux pot.
And the flux pot was a solder -- liquid solder -- and then it'd go on --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So flux -- F-L-U-X.? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, flux.
And then it'd go on, and go through what they call a solder bath. And it's a big bath like that.
And they had a roller, and it'd pick up, and then the cans would go like that, and that's -- that's when you'd get your soldered side seam.
Then after that, well, there's the brushes to get the excess solder off. So, that was the makin' of the can.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, I know that before, many canneries -- before the sanitary can, would make all their own cans on site.
Did you ever come across some of this old machinery at canneries in Alaska, where they -- before the -- the sanitary can came around?
WAYNE MATTA: No, the only place that I know of was Alaska -- no, it was -- well, I guess it was Alaska Packers at that time. Which is Kodiak Salmon Packers or Icicle now.
They had Chinese laborers there, doing that, makin' the cans.
But I was there once, and I come across a solder roll. I couldn't believe it. What's this solder roll doing here in Kodiak Sal -- or, Larsen Bay?
I was so baffled by that. Nobody knew it.
But this was -- like I said, it's a solder bath that we had this roller. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
WAYNE MATTA: But -- That's the only -- Well, I guess they had the Chinese somewhere else, I think around Uganik Bay, or somewhere around there, too.
And -- But goin' back to Larsen Bay there at the cannery, there's -- they got a place called "Frenchie's Point," and there's -- that's where the Chinese were buried.
And then they had a -- another cemetery for the white people, and then another cemetery for the people that lived in Larsen Bay there, the Natives. So --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: I'm wondering -- I was thinking about how the can shop over time was essentially removed, right? After the -- WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: -- after the reformer was no longer needed.
I'm wondering if -- at a place like Larsen Bay, where within the warehouse or within the cannery proper, they would have been making the cans?
I wonder if that would have been in the can shop, or -- Do you have any sense as to --
WAYNE MATTA: Gee, I have no idea, because as -- See, in Larsen Bay there, they had Chinese bunkhouse. Yeah, just a --
And they used to -- they had these little bottles, you know, what was it? They'd drink, you know, and throw 'em away. It was some drug anyway, and --
So, let's see -- (gets up and opens a cabinet) Oh, yeah, here. So, these are from Larsen Bay.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, I see these little vials. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, vials. They'd break the top off, and I forget what the note says. (Note crinkles)
ANJULI GRANTHAM: (reading from note) Antique found by Wayne Matta, Sr. in the ground around the old Chinese bunkhouse at Larsen Bay, Alaska. Found in the 1980s. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Cool.
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. I forget what they had in those bottles, but --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: I think it's rumored, opium. WAYNE MATTA: Opium! That's it, yeah, right, opium. That's it, that's it.
Yeah, never did find a full bottle. Yeah. Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So then, back to the can -- the cannery at the can manufacturing line in -- at American Can in Seattle, that -- I'm -- I'm curious about the difference sides of the operation, because clearly they had the can plant where they're making the cans, but then what about the place they were making the machines?
WAYNE MATTA: Oh -- Oh, American Can machines? ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
WAYNE MATTA: Well, like I say, American can machines were made in these -- like in the -- Portland machine shop. And also Geneva, New York. And Cincinnati. And then they had the machine shop -- what'd I say -- Niagara Fa -- Canada.
But then after a while, these machine shops made spare parts, you know. And like, the chucks on the seamers and stuff like that.
And then -- And they -- Just leave.
Fillers and cutters were made in the early '30s. They're -- they're still usin' 'em. But yeah, it's unbelievable.
And American Can had most of the -- the packing lines, machinery, owned 'em. And that's when -- they had a monopoly. You know, "You buy our cans, you know, you got our equipment."
And they had this judgment, I think it was a San Francisco judgment in 1948, that said American had to sell their packing lines to the customers if they wanted 'em -- wanted to.
And then they could get the -- buying cans from Continental Can or whoever.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Because before, the canneries would lease the machinery from American Can, correct? WAYNE MATTA: Y -- Y -- Yes, right. Mm-hm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. And so -- So then, it was -- the change was that then you'd service them? Or, what was the relationship after that? WAYNE MATTA: Well, after that -- Yes --
We actually didn't service that equipment. But we as servicemen -- if the customer asked us to -- to work on equipment, we had to charge them what they call "D-time," you know. And we had so much an hour.
And if we worked down there for five hours, they were charged, I don't -- I forget how much, but --
But then after a while, that didn't go very well with the customers, so American Can just cut it out, and says, "Well, they want your help, help 'em." So. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Mm-hm.
How did you transition from working in the can manufacturing to servicing the equipment? WAYNE MATTA: Well, you're a maintenance machinist, you know, and you can overhaul just about any equipment, you know, and stuff like that, and -- And so --
They had -- Some of the equipment came down to American Can to be overhauled, but I wasn't in that part. And they had other fellows previous -- they --
When the American Can closed down in -- they left and that's why I got into the Alaska business, because of these fellows leaving.
So anyway, you know -- You know, a piece of machinery is a piece of machinery, yeah, and that's it.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Could you talk about the early years, when American Can used to travel up? You mentioned they would go in a special ship. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. Right, the American Can had their own ship.
And they would be loaded with these wooden boxes, you know, 48 cans to a box.
And then the servicemen at that time would jump on board and sail up to Ketchikan and while they're unloading the -- the cans, well, they'd go into the cannery and do their part, as far as check -- gettin' the equipment back to preseason, because when ya --
when you put it away for the winter, there's a lot of grease on the horns to keep 'em from rusting, and they gotta clean that all up. And they gotta start in --
And they had line shafting, too, you know, and nowadays they're all motorized. That was one of the things, but -- Yeah, when they --
then they'd hop back onboard and -- in Ketchikan they'd probably go on up to Chatham Strait there, the New England Fish, and places like that. Then they'd turn around and come back with the ship.
But yeah, there was some Joe Tsizaki (sp?), was one of the names, and -- and Byrne Taylor, and -- and some of the older guys I never ever knew, because they had disappeared or left the can company before I did, but these fellas were to --.
And Joe Tsizaki (sp?), he's the one that had the Chris-Craft up in -- in Cordova.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. So, what machines did American Can Company make that were used by the salmon canneries? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, it was the filler. Oh, the cutter first, then the filler, the weighing machine that, you know, weighed --
and the patching table, and the kernel clincher, and a seamers. 300 vac, uh-huh.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What about the reformer? Was that -- WAYNE MATTA: Well, the reformers were owned by American Can. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. And so, yeah, w -- we maintained them.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What was the cutter? WAYNE MATTA: The cutter would -- Well, they had --
The cutter was like that. And they had a table here with these rakes goin' up like that. And they had a fellow on this side and a fellow on that side, and they'd place the salmon.
Well, of course, they had the iron chinks, you know, first, that the salmon had to go cut the heads, take the stomach and guts out and stuff like that, and the fins and stuff like that.
Then they'd lay the salmon there, and then these rakes would put 'em up, and then they would go into a -- the cutter, and it -- they were big knives, about 15 inches in diameter.
And they were spaced, you know, depending upon whether it was a half-pound or a one pound. And that's what the cutter would do.
Then they had a bucket chain that'd move it along. And then they would go into a line there, and then had the filler.
And the filler had a rotary in it, and cans would come in one way, and the fish would come in th -- through a tunnel, and then they had pusher forks that would push the steaks into the filler -- the filler.
And then you're gonna have plungers, and they'd go up and then they'd push the steaks into the can, and then they'd go around and -- and then they'd cross a weighing machine, they'd weigh 'em.
And they had a two-lane patching table. And if the -- if the light weights would go out one way, and the heavies or whatever right onto -- weight would just go like that.
But then they had women on both sides -- women and men, and if there were any bones sticking up, you know, they'd trim it.
Or any skin showing, they'd have to tuck it, so -- 'cause they didn't want the housewife to see the skin.
And from there, they would go to the clincher. And the clincher would put a end on it. And slightly clinch the end over the phalange of the can.
And then from there, it would go to a can wash. And then wash the salmon or things on the outside of the can, and then they'd go into the 300 vac.
And they had uh -- let's see, one, two, three. Yeah, three heads there, we'd call "seaming heads." And then they had --
The first operation would tighten the clinch a little bit, and then the -- the 300 vac would suck the air out. And then the -- the final seam would be to -- to seam the can. Uh-huh. Right. Uh-huh.
And then they would go (slams hand down on table). Before, they used to have what they called "cooling trays." But now they have what they call "bussy baskets." They're, you know, 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet high, and then they'd pack, I don't know, maybe 1500 cans into the bussy baskets.
And -- And that saved on dents, 'cause these trays, boy, you'd get dented cans all over.
But anyway, from there they'd go into what they call a retort. And the retort is nothing but a pressure cooker.
And they'd cook the tall cans for so many minutes, and the half pound for so many minutes, and stuff like that, but --
Oh, and then they'd go up in the casing -- case up. They'd have to go in a big warehouse and you could hear the cans cooling off, going "pop, pop, pop, pop," stuff like that.
But, yeah, they also -- Trident used to can a four pound cans. In the four-pound cans there're a good size -- four pounds of salmon in --
And they would go to institutions -- in -- into institutions and stuff like that.
And quarter-pound cans, half-pound cans, one pound -- Well, they're not one pound cans anymore. They always -- They're 14 ounces now.
So -- That's -- The -- Then they'd -- once they were cooled off, they would go in to case up.
And nowadays, they -- I don't know how many cans they put, but then they shrink wrap it, and on a pallet and out the door they go.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, when did you start servicing the canneries in Alaska? What year was that that you -- WAYNE MATTA: Oh, let's see --
I'm tryin' to think of the can plant probably closed down about '68, 60 -- '68, somewhere around there -- around there, yeah.
But I -- the total time I think of me being up in Alaska probably had 30 -- at least 30 -- 30 years. You know, full summers and partial summers, yeah. Right.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. And what would you commonly do? When you would go to a cannery in Alaska, what -- what was the -- what were common problems or -- or fixes that you would make? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, there's --
There wasn't any fixes, it was just all preseason work, you know. And the -- then, of course, when it comes down to the seamer, we had to check the seams, you know.
And there's a -- We had a seam mic and stuff like that. You had to check the body hook and the counter hook, the tightness, and -- just to make that -- there was no droops, and we had to make sure that that seam was perfect. Right, uh-huh. So.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How would you do that? WAYNE MATTA: How -- ? ANJULI GRANTHAM: How would you make a perfect seam?
WAYNE MATTA: So, make -- you got all these dimensions that you have to go by. The body hook is, say -- You gotta be s-s-so many --
Well, something like you cover -- cover hook -- you have to tear the end off. You tear the end off, then you'd start mic-ing.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. Like with a microscope? WAYNE MATTA: They call it a seam mic. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. WAYNE MATTA: I got one out in the shop, but -- it's like a micrometer. See? ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
WAYNE MATTA: And you gotta make sure the body hook is so and so, the cover hook is so and so, and then you gotta check the tightness.
You gotta look, and there's a little wave or too much of a wave, that means that you gotta tighten up your seam. And -- and -- And so.
Anyway, I did that -- that's probably -- And now they got machines that check for --
I mean, you still gotta do your checks, but they got these machines that'll check for a droop w -- when you're in an operation.
And the droop is caused by a bone in the -- in the seam, or a piece of skin in the seam and stuff like that. And then it kicks it out. And they gotta open the can and -- and re-can it. Yeah. So.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, you'd ha -- get the seamer ready? On the typical cannery visit. WAYNE MATTA: What? ANJULI GRANTHAM: On the typical cannery visit. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, right, yeah right. Uh-huh. Yeah, that's --
But they do that -- every couple of hours they gotta check the seams. Right, uh-huh.
Yeah, they gotta make everything -- I got in the shop there, well, you've probably seen -- seen a chart. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Of the cannery?
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, you have -- put down everything. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. WAYNE MATTA: All your measurements down. ANJULI GRANTHAM: I see, uh-huh. WAYNE MATTA: All your measurements down. Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm.
WAYNE MATTA: So, yeah, I enjoyed it, very much. I enjoyed going cannery to cannery. Especially when I was on my own. Yeah, yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. So would you always -- Even when you were working for American Can, you would travel to these different canneries alone, or would you bring an assistant? WAYNE MATTA: No, I spent I don't know how many years in Cordova, just by myself.
But when I first went up, I went with somebody, you know, to bring me in and stuff like that.
And then the second year, I went up on my own to Cordova, I was there for eight years.
Kodiak Island, I think I was there for sss -- flyin' around Kodiak six years. And then I was in the bay for one or two years up there, and --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And who were the other servicemen that you worked with? WAYNE MATTA: Well, it was Wendell Wyrick (sp?). There was Nasland (sp?). I can't think of his name now -- Nasland (sp?).
And Harold French. And -- the name just doesn't come to me, right, yeah.
But like, Harold French, he's passed away, and -- and the name I can't come up with is -- Yeah, so there's two of 'em that passed away. There's still three of us, out of the five.
Oh gee, Dick Nasland (sp?) was his name. McBride, yeah. He's passed away. He was a young guy, too, just a young guy. Yeah. Ronald McBride, there we go. I've got --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, what were the machines that Continental Can would make versus American Can? And how -- Was that a -- a -- a fierce competition, or how did that work out? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, well --
Like the can shops there, mostly it was American Can, but the can shops at Continental Can, their can shop w -- reforming the cans were, I'd say, much more superior than American Can. And --
But as far as the packing lines go, it was strictly American Can. And there's very few canneries that even have a Continental Can seamer. Uh-huh. I don't know, let's see. I don't know if Uganik. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. WAYNE MATTA: I'm thinkin' Uganik may -- might have -- Uh-huh. Right.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Yes, because I -- I met with Harvey Henry yesterday, and he worked on a Continental Can seamer in Uganik. WAYNE MATTA: Oh, ok, yeah. Ok. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. Hm-mm. WAYNE MATTA: My memory's not too bad. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Yeah, good. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, what sort of innovations were there over the years? Were the -- Did the machines just stay the same, or what changes were there? WAYNE MATTA: Well, let's see. I'm tryin' to think of --
They're basically the same, the American Can filler, cutters, and -- and -- But the -- But they don't have weighing machines anymore, because they have -- what do you call it?
ANJULI GRANTHAM: The digital scales? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. I guess that's whatcha call it, digital -- Yeah, digital scales there. And --
So, that did away with the Continental weighing machine, and American -- America Can weighing machine. But the Continental weighing machine was better than the American Can. So -- But any --
I'm trying to think of any improvements that they made in the cutter. Well, somebody tried to -- I think it was Lars Ekness (sp?), tried to make a -- a three-quarter pound cutter and filler. And -- And I think they do have one at Larsen Bay. And -- But --
Instead of making aluminum buckets, they had plastic buckets and stuff like that. So, I think that's the only line that -- that they have that -- the three-quarter pound line.
But most of them are -- well, there are quarter-pound lines at AGS and Trident. And then, I don't know if Trident even puts up a 4 pound anymore. Uh-huh. Yeah.
But as far as improving the machines, like the American Can cutter, they're basically what they were in the past. And -- And the same way with the cutter -- We --
Well, years ago, yes, they -- American Can had a -- had a filler and a cutter, and it was a chop knife. And fish come in there and pfft. And this chop knife. Like a guillotine.
Oh yeah, and they would -- the -- the -- the -- of course, those machines have been tur -- turned over, and now they have what they call a rotary knife that cuts the fish at -- going into the tunnel.
They go into the tunnel, and the tunnel will only take so much, and then they gotta cut it off. Uh-huh. And then the --'Til the next load goes through. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
WAYNE MATTA: But, yeah, that was a guillotine. Yeah. Yeah, chop knife.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Of the -- the typical machines within a salmon cannery, are they similar or different from like a fruit cannery? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, let's see, I've never been into a fruit cannery. Oh, they -- they would be de --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Or some other sort of cannery. WAYNE MATTA: Oh, the -- yeah, they would be different, entirely different. Yeah. Right, uh-huh.
But yeah, they wouldn't have a -- like a salmon cannery cutter or filler our anything like that, no. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, ok. WAYNE MATTA: Hm-mm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, all of the machines were specially designed to accommodate salmon? WAYNE MATTA: Right, mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, I wish would've gone through a cannery. Yeah, that've been nice.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And, in your view, having been to all sorts of canneries, what made a good cannery? WAYNE MATTA: The chow. The chow, that's all. Yeah. Yeah. Boy, some of the canneries --
Well, years ago, they really, really put out the food. And they had, you know, a Fil -- Filipino mess hall, then they also had, you know, the other mess hall.
And sometimes, I get Chugach up there and Uganik Bay, they had two mess halls there. And sometimes I'd go, you know, to the -- they called 'em Filipino bunkhouses. I mean, Filipino mess halls. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm.
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. Yeah, there's -- And I think the one there in Larsen Bay -- I can't think of what that was. You go to Larsen Bay, and the cannery was on the right-hand side, and boy, they had the best baker. Oh my goodness. The best pies, and you -- they --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Would there be, in all the canneries that you visited, a separate mechanic mess hall or room for eating? Or just some canneries? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, right.
Years ago, like in the -- the shoes in the way there -- there, sorry about that -- they would have what they call a "Blue Room." And that would be for the superintendent, the fore -- foreman, and the cannery workers.
And they had those at Ekuk and -- well, any workable cannery.
And then they finally did away with the Blue Rooms and -- and, well, Alitak, as far as I know, they're about the last ones.
Well, no, they still had the Blue Room. Right, 'cause when I went there, well, I always ate in the Blue Room. And then the -- And then, like --
I think what others. Oh, there's another cannery that had a Blue Room, they still kept it.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Naknek. South Naknek did. WAYNE MATTA: Well, it was probably South Naknek, and Ekuk, that was a -- and place -- I think they still had those Blue Rooms. Uh-huh. Right.
And Chugach, yeay, they had a Blue Room, mm-hm.
I don't know why they call it blue. Maybe they painted the interior blue, I think that's what it was. Yeah, so -- Yeah, I --
Probably the best Blue Room food I ever had was down at Alitak when Johnny Jorgensen was there. Yeah, he always put on a good spread. Uh-huh.
And, some of these canneries, like -- like on Fridays or somethin' like that, they'd get a can of beer, right, for the workers. Just one can.
Stuff like that, if you didn't -- you got a choice of your pop or somethin' like that, but Johnny Jorgenson, boy, he always had his wine. Yeah, in the Blue Room. Yeah. Yep.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Did it -- Did you notice, or was it strange to you, that there was segregated mess halls and segregated bunk halls? WAYNE MATTA: What? No, I just -- you know, it was par -- part of the cannery industry, and I just, you know, didn't think, you know, at that time, why do they have segregated mess -- mess halls. Uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm.
WAYNE MATTA: But, well, I guess it's -- thought it'd be easier that way, because the Filipinos like Filipino food, and, you know, the other people liked their food, you know. So, mm-hm.
And it was probably -- They had Filipino cook, and then they had the other cook, too, uh-huh. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm.
WAYNE MATTA: So, I could see why they had, you know, a separate mess halls, and -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. WAYNE MATTA: -- right. 'Cause that would be too much for a cook and -- like at Chugach, to make Filipino food and -- and -- and serve it all, you know, all in the same mess hall.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. Were you a member of a union? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, I was a member of a Local 79 here in Seattle. Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Is that the same union that the machinists at the canneries belonged to as well? WAYNE MATTA: Uh, yes, uh-huh. Local 79, uh-huh. And -- So, American Can -- worked for American Can, we were in Local 79. But it was real --
When I worked for American Can, we had a national contract. And so, we were always going for wages and wages and wages, you know.
And then, when they closed down, well, I went to work, you know, for the union up north. And -- For nine years, and those nine years, I got more retirement pay than I did for the 30 years that I worked for American Can. Yeah. But, yeah, Local 79, outta Seattle.
And there was another Local up in Everett, too. That -- I forget what number that was. But, they had, you know, machinists up there that went -- went to Alaska.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Hm-mm. What do you remember of South Naknek? WAYNE MATTA: Well, South Naknek -- Well, I went to Bumble Bee there at South Naknek, and they had a nice little white cottage that servicemen stayed at. Uh-huh. And -- And it was a nice place. And that was at Bumble Bee. They were right out at the point.
And then, further on down was Egegik. No, Egegik? Yeah, and I was always flyin' into there with -- with Pen -- not PenAir, but -- oh, what was that pilot's name?
But anyway, they had a cliff there, and you could see the caskets comin' outta that cliff, stickin' outta that cliff, because it was eroding and stuff like that.
So, that really caught my attention all the time, but -- but I -- I never really cared for that cannery. Yeah.
And one cannery I never went to was Queens. That was in -- that was owned by Bendicksen (owner’s full name was Erling Bendicksen). And he never bought American Can. I don't think he liked American Can at all.
And he owned canneries down in -- in -- what do you call it? West -- West -- Here in Washington. And so --
He was lookin' -- He had an American Can -- What was it? -- American Can -- Oh. What machine did he have? I'm tryin' to think of a --
But he needed a part for that American Can machinery. Oh, and -- Oh, the kernel clincher, that's what it was.
So, I was down at Egegik, and he had the pilot come down there and pick me up. It was about -- through -- I was through doin' my service work there anyway, so he flies up to North Naknek, and the pilot says to Bendicksen, "Well, here's American Can serviceman."
And old Bendicksen says, "I don't want the American Can serviceman, I want the American Can part." Just like that.
So anyway, I said, "Well, I'll go look for some." So I went down to Red Salmon and talked to Elroy, the foreman, and he found the part.
But he says, "Well, I'll have to get the ok from Brindle." (superintendent of Red Salmon cannery) You know. And so he went and found out who wanted the part. No way. No way would he release that part.
So, then -- then I went to -- Oh, Gary Johnson, where Gary Johnson was and John Johnson. Oh yeah, they had the part, they gave it to me, and brought it back, and that was it.
And I says -- t -- told Gary and -- well, you're gonna have to get this all straightened out with Bendicksen. And I told Bendicksen the same thing, you're guys are gonna have to work it out with them and not me.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Bendicksen? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, Bendicksen. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. WAYNE MATTA: Uh-huh. Yeah, and --
So anyway, I was -- I was kinda mad at Bendicksen because he told his pilot -- and I know real, real mad -- "I didn't want the American Can serviceman."
So, I had him fly me back down to Egegik. And I was all through there anyway, I was just tryin' to get even with Bendicksen. Yeah. So anyway, everything worked out ok.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, having spent time at all these different canneries, what did you note as being differences in the operations from company to company?
Did they all operate pretty much the same, or were there kind of different things that -- depending on the company? WAYNE MATTA: No, I think they all operated the same. There's -- I can't think of -- there's a -- no --
No, they all operated the same. All except for Klawock. They wouldn't start canning until 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock or somethin' like that because -- especially on paydays, all the cannery workers were from Klawock and that area.
And they'd go to Ketchikan and get drunk, and come back, and they had to sleep it off, and they couldn't get to the cannery until 10, 11 o'clock in the --
Yeah, otherwise, startin' time was, you know, 8 o'clock, somewhere around there. That's the only cannery that I could see that was different from the other canneries. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. Mm-hm. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. Yeah.
So, yeah, lotta those canneries are closed down. I had a list of about 32 canneries, you've probably seen that list of canneries, you know.
Yeah, each one had a number, and like, AGS, I know that was 62. And you take load -- a co -- a code on the top of the can. The first two numbers is the number of the cannery.
So if you found somethin' in the cannery, you know which cannery to get in contact and stuff like that.
Because was a lady down in Australia that found a piece of a -- of a -- a small piece of brass. And so, she sent it back to AGS, and it came from the can -- the cannery, because that 62 from the Ketchikan cannery.
And so they showed me that piece, and I go, "Oh, I know exactly where it came from." It came from the filler.
They had these blocks that close on -- close in. And sometimes they get broken off, and then they'd raise the -- raise it back up to the --
And sure enough, it wasn't even raised up. That piece just fit in there perfectly. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. So let's see -- Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Could you talk about the changes about -- at -- that happened, or the investigations and everything that happened around the botulism outbreak? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, well, let's see. I don't know -- Well, like the changes on the reformers for American Can, that's what caused the -- the --
But they had buyers that come in all the time. You know, buyers from Bumble Bee. Even veterinarians form the Army. And -- Because the Army buys salmon, probably those four pound cans or whatever. But --
Yeah, Safeway has buyers of -- what's this place in England, I forget what the -- the fellow's name is. ANJULI GRANTHAM: John West, was that -- ?
WAYNE MATTA: John West. Yeah, John West. Yeah, and, boy, they w -- they would do a super job of going through the canneries, and all the seine reports, and all the -- the -- the -- talk with the -- with the quality control and stuff like that.
And they had their spots where they could find, you know, or clean up all this stuff, you know, they're pretty -- they were pretty sharp at that.
Especially the 300 vac down below, everybody -- if they couldn't get a piece of salmon out, well --
And they also checked the equipment, too. Like on the cutters, they had these aluminum hole -- hold down things, like that. And they would inspect the machinery themselves, you know, and say, "Hey, this is broken, you know. Whatever happened to that part?" And stuff like that.
And you can't re-weld a broken part onto a -- onto one of these hold downs. You -- They won't allow it. They wouldn't allow it.
So, they will find a fork that's been re-welded, "You gotta remove that, put a new one in." Yeah, they were sharp, these -- Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, the reformer. Could you -- What happened in the '80s with that botulism outbreak? Wasn't it a reformer problem? Or -- WAYNE MATTA: Oh, it was a reformer problem, no doubt about it. Like I said, the picker fingers, they were pretty sharp, and they'd push that can out.
And somehow the can was going through, and it got -- probably jammed up here somewhere. And that's when the picker finger poked that hole into the -- the phalange.
And then, of course, it was covered up. Nobody noticed it, and then the label, you know, covered it and stuff like that.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. And what did -- What did you do to change the reformers to avoid that problem? WAYNE MATTA: Well, they put a -- took the picker fingers off altogether, and they put a cam in there.
It was a irregular c -- cam, you know, and somehow then that pushed the can out onto the horns without the fear of gettin' it -- a -- a hole in it or somethin' like that. Yeah, mm-hm.
So, yeah, that was -- that's one thing American Can had to do, 'cause they're not gonna have these picker fingers in all these canneries anymore, mm-hm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How soon after were the reformers in the can shop just kind of shut down? WAYNE MATTA: Well, they started shuttin' down -- well, right after like, Western Can came out with the -- the stacked cans, uh-huh.
Right, then American Can started building these cans and then Continental Can or -- like all carp -- Of course, it's sealed now.
So, yeah, then they come up with the -- they put 'em in tubes, then they have to empty the tubes, then they put 'em in a stack on the de-nester, and they would de -- de-nest 'em one by one. Hm-mm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: What was the benefit of the stackable can versus the sanitary flat can? WAYNE MATTA: Well, the benefit of it is, you only had a body and a top. You didn't have that third piece, you know on it. So, that was a benefit there and --
And, yeah, that did away with the three-piece can, and it became a two-piece can. Instead of having to worry about the -- the seams on both ends of the can, you just got one end to -- to -- take care of.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So it actually was more sanitary? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, right. Yeah, right. Yeah, yeah. Uh-huh.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Did that change a lot of the operation in the cannery? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, well, they had to -- On packing lines, they had to adjust, because these -- they were tapered cans.
And so, if -- like the filler, there -- the -- even the -- the things that would move the cans into the -- they'd have to build 'em up and -- and we had to put copper strips in about that high, and bend 'em and then screw 'em in to make -- adjust for the area that was -- had --
Well, because the -- what do you call it? Well, that took the place of the round can. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm.
WAYNE MATTA: And that was a filler -- filler piece, because of the tapered can, there was a filler piece there.
And they had to do that on the f -- mainly on the filler. And --
Where else would it be? I think -- Well, on -- on a kernel clincher, and also on a 300 vac. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. WAYNE MATTA: But these -- Uh-huh.
So, yeah, that was quite a work, too, for a serviceman to get up there and do all that in all the canneries.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm-hm. Since there -- Since then, was that the last major change on the canning line, or has there been other changes since then that you've had to accommodate? WAYNE MATTA No, that's the last major change that we had to make. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm.
WAYNE MATTA: Other than the canneries themselves. Like I say, they call the trays, you know, they got rid of the trays and -- and the bussy system. That was all up to the canneries and --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: How did things change when canneries started to really incorporate freezing into their operations? WAYNE MATTA: Well, it took away a -- a lot of the canning that we'd did in the past, you know, because before, those -- even pinks, you know, they freeze those. Well, that was all canned -- and all canned.
And same way with uh -- like up in Cordova. I used to go up in Cordova for the -- the Cop -- Copper River salmon. And that was all canned.
And so, now, all reds are -- are frozen. And very little goes into the cans.
It would be, you know -- well, they'd be graded, you know, if they're graded and there's number three or they got bruised on 'em or somethin' like that, then they'd put 'em in the cans. But you don't see very many cans -- or canned reds on the market. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. WAYNE MATTA: Mm-hm.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Were there changes within the -- When freezing started to take over more from canning, how did the canneries adjust the layout to accommodate freezing? WAYNE MATTA: Well, most of these canneries were pretty huge, you know, and -- and --
Oh, I'm trying to think of like, Excursion Inlet there. Well, that was a different -- a different -- it didn't have anything to do with the cannery, it was a different building.
And Trident, oh, let's see -- Oh, yeah. Yeah. I can't think of it. But it didn't take up much space, you know, 'cause they put the salmon in the side in a --
What's -- the exit's real short, and fast freeze and stuff like that. So, they didn't take up much space. They didn't take up any space that the cannery had to use.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. Hm-mm. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: When was it that American Can shut down the Alaska service division? WAYNE MATTA: Oh. Well, let's see. I went to work in 1954, '56 for American Can. '56. '66.
The '70s, I guess. Early '70s, I think was -- Say I worked for -- up there in Alaska -- No, probably less than that. Yeah. '56.
I don't e -- Can't comp -- I can't think of the year, you know, at all.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm. Mm-mm. But sometime in the '70s you think is when they shut down the Alaska service division? WAYNE MATTA: Well, no. No, had to be '70s. '56. (Sighs).
I went to work for American Can in '56. I forget, let me -- We'll say, '56. Add 26. Must've been in the '70s. Yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And that's when you started to -- WAYNE MATTA: To go on my own. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Hm-mm. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. Right. Uh-huh.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: And so then, what happened? Would they send you machines, or they'd sent you to the machines? WAYNE MATTA: Oh no, they'd ship the fillers and cutters down here, or the 300 vac, they'd ship 'em down here. On, you know, containers.
And they'd ship 'em, like, AGS would ship 'em to Redmond, and then Redmond would -- not r -- Yeah, Redmond, where AGS's shop -- place is.
Not Redmond. On the north end of Lake Washington. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Like Kirkland? WAYNE MATTA: Kirkland! Yeah. Kirkland. Yeah. Kirkland.
And then, they would truck -- truck the equipment over here to the shop. Uh-huh, mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm.
WAYNE MATTA: Yeah. And then they had -- AGS has another shop up in -- north, too. Ferndale. And that's where the equipment from Naknek would go to be overhauled.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. Mm-hm. Well, looking back on your career as a machinist on the canning line and for the -- for American Can, what stands out as -- as being important moments, or important transformations over the years? WAYNE MATTA: Well, instead of being able to go downstair -- I mean, down to the packing lines and be able to use my knowledge to fix that equipment on a breakdown, you know. Right. Yeah, that was really good.
And one thing I always did, too, which -- I'd go to the cannery -- the canneries and I'd take everybody's name down that I would meet, you know, and I had this little pocket book. And so, when I went there the next year, I'd go through these -- down this list of names, and, "Hey! Hi Doug." Or whatever. And -- And it's real nice.
A person likes to hear their name, you know. And I -- I felt real good about that than. Bein' able to go in -- cheatin', of course. Yeah, I felt good about that.
But, yeah, training. I enjoyed training these -- these people there at Trident and other places. I -- I really enjoyed that.
That way I didn't have to go underneath, climb underneath the machines or anything. I got a good finger pointer. Pointer finger.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Are you -- Do you feel confident about the future of canning, or how do you feel about it? WAYNE MATTA: Well, I think -- I think it'll go on. Yeah. Uh-huh. Yeah, there's a lotta fish that has to be canned, you know, and stuff like that.
And I don't know what they're gonna do with that fish, you know, if -- you know, like grade three or grade two or whatever on, they gotta put it somewhere. Mm-hm. And then --
Unless they grind 'em up for cat food. Or -- Hm-mm. Yeah.
No, I think there'll be years to come. Uh-huh. Yeah, they got a lotta money invested, you know, in these canneries, and --
And everybody likes to have a can of salmon now and then. Mm-hm. Mm-hm. Especially in Australia -- I mean, the English, and they're -- like I say, they're the big buyers. England and Australia and places like that. Uh-huh.
And I like to open up a can of salmon. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Me, too. WAYNE MATTA: And --
You know, one thing, way up there at AGS, or, I think other canneries do the same, they always give a case of reds to the machinist crew. And office workers, naturally.
And so, fortunately, I still get a case of salmon from AGS, and I also get a case of salmon from Trident. Yeah.
And so, that's nice, but lotta c -- cans of sal -- you know, that's 96 cans of salmon to give away. Yeah. 'Cause I sure can't eat --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Because they're the half-pound cans? WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, they're half-pound can. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Ok. Uh-huh. WAYNE MATTA: Or, no. Last time I got some quarter-pound cans from Trident.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm, mm-hm. Nice. Well, so, you're popular with your family. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, the relatives. Yeah, right. Uh-huh. Relatives, and -- and --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: So, how did you train your son? Did he just start working with you in the shop, or how did that work? WAYNE MATTA: Oh, he's a natural. Yes, which -- Oh no, I didn't train him at all.
He worked -- He went to work up there for Chugach as electrician. And then he went to work in Klawock there when Chugach closed down, and -- and he just --
Well, he's a -- he's a better mach --machinist than I turned out to be, and a very -- and he's an electrician, he's a welder, he's a boiler man, he's a -- fires up the boilers there in -- in Ketchikan, you know, for the steam and stuff like that, so --
He's an all-around -- all-around guy. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Mm. WAYNE MATTA: Mm-hm. ANJULI GRANTHAM: That's great. WAYNE MATTA: Mm-hm, yeah.
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Was there anything else that you wanna share, Wayne? WAYNE MATTA: Well, let's see. Well, I enjoyed talkin' to ya. Boy, that's real nice, and doin' this interview. I hope I -- got what you wanted. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Yes. WAYNE MATTA: Yeah, so --
ANJULI GRANTHAM: Well, thank you so much. WAYNE MATTA: But, we can walk out to the shop there, and I'll show ya -- ANJULI GRANTHAM: Great. WAYNE MATTA: -- some of the things. ANJULI GRANTHAM: Yeah, I'd like that. WAYNE MATTA: Mm-hm.