Building the first 747 was Herculean feat

By Michelle Dunlop / Herald Writer

EVERETT – You could call it a hobby. Or a habit that’s hard to break.

But Des Evans doesn’t seem to know how to quit the Boeing Co.

Sporting a Boeing baseball cap and a tie, Evans seems empty-handed without his binder. Inside, you’ll find the answers to just about anything you ever wanted to know about Boeing.

Up front, Evans keeps a running list of every plane made by Boeing. Every time a new jet rolls out the Everett factory doors, Evans updates the log.

In one form or another, Evans has put in about 50 years at Boeing, most recently serving as a guide on the Everett factory tour.

In some ways, Evans’ devotion to Boeing isn’t surprising. After all, he is one of the Incredibles – the name given to a group of 50,000 Boeing workers who helped build the first 747. The working conditions probably wouldn’t be up to code these days: an only partially built factory meant workers wore hard hats and had no heat. And demanding time constraints meant long hours and few days off.

Even Evans admits that building the first 747 took a crazy amount of devotion not likely found in the work force 40 years later. Something about the time, the place and the plane created a loyal group of Boeing employees who are still proud of their work four decades later.

“Maybe it was being told this was the biggest plane in the world,” Evans said.

“You do become mesmerized with it.”

Boeing challenged the Incredibles with a steep task: build the world’s biggest jet while the world’s biggest factory is being built around you.

It was the sort of challenge that Malcolm Stamper had requested from supervisor Bill Allen.

Stamper served as the first general manager of Boeing’s Everett site.

For the 50,000 men and women under his charge, Stamper’s work ethic set the standard, one that included sleeping on engineering tables at night, literally helping out in the muddy trenches and taking only a single day off while the plane later christened the “City of Everett” was being built.

Of course, in the 1960s, work conditions – at Boeing and elsewhere – were different than those four decades later.

Women wore skirts no matter how muddy the parking lot or how much snow piled up. Smokers weren’t banished outdoors. And safety wasn’t exactly the top priority when workers would use flammable cleaning solvent on the airplane, all while smoking a cigarette.

Twelve-hour days, seven days a week wasn’t uncommon during those early years for Larry Bruns, who worked as a mechanic on the original 747.

When Boeing opened its Everett plant, the company saved Bruns a commute to Renton every day in a station wagon packed with nine people.

When Bruns started working for Boeing, he made about $2.36 an hour. By the time he transferred to Everett, Bruns was bringing in $3.17 an hour. He bought his first house in the area for $18,000.

“When I got hired on I thought, ‘I have the best job in the world,’” he said.

Forty years later, Bruns still thinks so.