Voices of the mill: Ruth-Anne Huston, 57, of Arlington
Converting Machine Operator, 38 years
The Last Smokestack
Faces of the mill
More mill stories
- Federal aid to help 570 K-C mill employees find work (April 2012)
- Julie Muhlstein: Kimberly-Clark mill's end ‘devastating' (January 2012)
- Mike Benbow: 'Last of the big smokestacks' (September 2011)
- Op-Ed: Weigh in on the K-C site's future (March 2012)
- Pete Jackson: More than pulp and steam (September 2011)
- Talks begin on future of Kimberly-Clark mill site (April 2012)
- Voices of the mill: A strawberry princess turned boiler operator (March 2012)
Working in a mill — that's a man's job. At least that's what Ruth-Anne Huston thought when she was a little girl growing up near the old Simpson Lee Paper Co. in Lowell.
At age 19, she needed work. She had an uncle and a friend who worked at Scott Paper Co. So she started work there as a hand packer, slamming six of the four-roll packs of toilet paper into a case at a time.
The pay was good, better than she was going to find anywhere else.
At the beginning, the job was blood, sweat and tears. She cut her hand countless times on the paper liner on the top of the boxes. There were some tears until she adjusted to the work. Eventually, she toughened up.
By the time she married and kids came along, she didn't want to stop working.
“These kids are so expensive,” she remembered thinking. “I can't quit now.”
Eventually, she ran a machine that converted giant rolls into smaller ones. Part of the job required her to figure out how to troubleshoot the machine. She loved learning to use the tools, tearing apart the machinery and putting it back together.
“It's something I didn't know I could do,” she said.
Today, the job market is tough, she said. She's going back to school at age 57 to start a career as an accountant. The Fair Trade Act is paying for her college degree. She's using her savings, unemployment and severance to pay the bills in the meantime.
“K-C was good to me for a lot of years,” she said. “It paid my way a lot of places people never get to go. It's a blessing for me.”
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