Voices of the mill: Ronald Baker, 70, of Marysville

In this series, we’re telling the stories of what the Kimberly-Clark mill closure means for workers and for Everett, which has been defined by mills for more than a century.

Making paper is a science and an art.

Just ask Ronald Baker, who spent so many years making the stuff that he could tell if it was dry by the way the hair stood up on his arms.

During his long career at Scott Paper Co. and later Kimberly-Clark, he worked all five of the mill’s paper machines — monstrous stories-tall metal behemoths.

He’s retired now.

A pipe delivered the slush to his machine from the pulp mill. The slush was spread out and run through a drier so it could be wound into gigantic rolls.

At the end of the line, Baker’s initials — R.B. —and his shift would be written in crayon on each roll.

Running a paper machine is a high-pressure, high-prestige, high-paying job — one that workers would rise to only after years of experience. Even today, it’s rare to find a woman as a machine tender.

The job is far more complicated than pushing a few buttons. There are formulas to dial in for various products. Machine tenders like Baker also makes dozens of adjustments depending on the makeup of the slush that comes through every day.

In his early days during the 1960s, the plant was dirtier and more dangerous. Dust swirled through the air and it was hot, so hot some men collapsed. Sometimes

workers used chemicals without a mask.

He was at work in the 1970s when two men died from a chemical leak.

One time he was working on machine No. 4 when pieces started flying off — at least one as big as a car. Everybody ran for cover. He ran to punch the shut-off button and almost had his head taken off.

Times changed. The plant became cleaner and safer. More of the work became automated. In the 1990s, just before Baker retired, he made most of the adjustments to the machine by touching a computer screen, rather than twisting a knob. Once in awhile he still had to get up close to the machine and use his wrench to adjust a valve.

Other things changed, too, but not for the better.

When he started work in 1961, he made $2.24 an hour. That was good money. As the years passed, he could expect regular pay raises, enough that he could support his family without his wife having to work.

Today, it seems incomes aren’t keeping up with the escalating cost of living. He worries about what that means for younger generations.

He noticed, too, that talk at the mill during his first years used to be about the customer. Later, it became about the shareholders.

More in Local News

Suspect sought in two Everett bank robberies

He’s described as 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1, with dark hair and a goatee, and may have a neck tattoo.

Two missing men found, one alive and one dead

The man found alive was found in an apartment across the hallway and taken to a hospital.

Jogger unharmed after fending off attacker in Edmonds

Police released video of a man they believe to be the attacker.

Darrington School Board dealing with upheavals

The crux of the controversy seems to be the superintendent’s job.

Alaska Airlines has selected destinations for new service from Paine Field. (Alaska Airlines)
Alaska Airlines will fly from Everett to 8 West Coast cities

Two destinations that didn’t make the list were Spokane and Hawaii.

Three teens arrested for Marysville school vandalism

Windows were broken and a trash bin was on fire Sunday night at a Marysville middle school.

Langley mayor threatens newspaper with lawsuit

The mayor threatened to sue the paper over claims he withheld public records disclosure information.

Divers called to recover body after train hits pedestrian

The accident was reported by a BNSF crew near Woods Creek in Monroe.

FILE - This Tuesday, May 30, 2017 file photo, former Washington Gov. John Spellman, second from left, leaves a memorial service in Renton, Wash. Spellman, the last Republican governor elected in Washington, has died at age 91. Spellman’s son, Seattle attorney David Spellman, confirmed his death Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)
John Spellman was last GOP governor of Washingon

He had spent recent weeks “being very disappointed with the Cougs and the Huskies,” his son said.

Most Read