Longtime Boeing workers, from left: Bonnie Grisim, John Monroe, Brad Phillips, Phil Caruso and Wes Nielsen.

Longtime Boeing workers, from left: Bonnie Grisim, John Monroe, Brad Phillips, Phil Caruso and Wes Nielsen.

Boeing workers were ‘part of something remarkable’

The Boeing Co. is turning 100 on July 15. Throughout the year, The Daily Herald is covering the people, airplanes and moments that define The Boeing Century. More about this series

Bonnie Grisim

“In the late 1940s, my father graduated in one of the first classes of Boeing aviation mechanics. At that time, they trained and certified their own mechanics. His entire career was at Boeing and that job took care of our family. His example inspired me. I started at Boeing in 1969 and stayed 32 years.

“I was a product analyst for Boeing Commercial Airplanes at the Everett and Seattle flight lines. We coordinated with different divisions to ensure they had their needed parts. I started and ended with the 747 with many models between. I was particularly proud to source parts during emergency situations. We helped gather the nuts and bolts to get planes safely on their way.

“It was important work, but also fun. There were around 30,000 people working at Boeing Everett and we had huge Christmas parties. In the 1970s, everything shut down and we set up tables in the aisle ways. Everyone brought food and managers were in charge of turkeys and hams. We warmed the food in the paint-booth ovens.

“Sometimes a moment reminds you that you’re part of something remarkable. I walked into the factory one morning to encounter a 747 hoisted on jacks. I always stood in awe of that plane. Even if you understand the physics of flight, actually walking under the enormity of that plane boggles the mind. It’s an absolute marvel.”

—Deanna Duff

John Monroe

“When I started working at south Boeing Field in 1965, Interstate 5 didn’t even yet extend from my Everett home through Seattle. I began as a draftsman for the Minuteman missile program, earning $1.92 an hour. When I decided to pursue higher education, Boeing paid for every credit at Everett Community College through graduation from University of Puget Sound. The value wasn’t just in the dollar amount, but knowing they believed in me. They invested in my future with the company.

“My entire 37-year career was at Boeing. That’s unusual these days and says a lot about Boeing’s commitment to employees. I worked on the 7J7 program and ultimately retired as director of program management for the 777. My best memories are the relationships I built with customers and suppliers. I still exchange birthday and Christmas cards with many of them. Since retiring, I’ve traveled as far as Israel to visit former clients. They became friends for life.

“The bedrock of Boeing is creating a lasting sense of community. I became involved with Economic Alliance Snohomish County because of Boeing’s ethos to give back. One of my most cherished keepsakes sits on my desk. It’s a golf ball from my mentor, Alan Mulally — former CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. It was a retirement gift and is decorated with his doodles of playful airplanes. It’s a reminder that working at Boeing is a hole-in-one, both personally and professionally.”

—Deanna Duff

Brad Phillips and Phil Caruso

Brad Phillips turned the corner, and it felt like he was home again.

He and his family moved from California to Washington about five years ago so he could continue a job with Boeing. About a year later, he was walking around the Everett plant when he saw his old friend Phil Caruso.

“We never planned to end up here together. I came up first and he came up after, and I was like, ëWhat are you doing up here?’ ” Phillips said.

The pair actually started out 30 years ago, working for McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, California. The two men worked around each other, usually in tooling or shipping and receiving.

They kept their jobs when Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Then their jobs in California were eliminated about five years ago.

Phillips bid through the union contract on a job in Everett so he could keep his seniority and benefits. About a year later, Caruso arrived in Everett.

They’ve had to adjust to the weather, moving from sunny California to often dark and gloomy Washington. Still, they’re glad they can continue to work together after all these years.

“It’s been a beautiful thing,” Caruso said.

He added that neither of them has really changed over the years.

“We were young and good-looking and fun,” Caruso said. “Now we’re still pretty much good-looking, just older.”

—Jim Davis

Wes Nielsen

Wes Nielsen joined Boeing just as the company got into the Jet Age. He started with the B-52 bomber, which had just gone into production, and he ended with the B-2 stealth bomber. In between, he worked on the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 707 (including the first Air Force Ones), 727, 737, 747 and 767.

“When I started at Boeing in ’54, management was pretty firm with people,” he recalled.

He joined the 747 program in 1968, just after production had started.

The size of the plane stunned him when he first saw it in the factory. It was twice as wide and twice as tall as anything he’d previously worked on. “It was a whole new world.”

“The factory wasn’t finished when I started on the 47,” he said. “Some office workers were stuck in desks in utility tunnels under the factory floor,” because their offices were still being built.

Equipment was sometimes in short supply.

“We didn’t have any ladders to get into the airplanes,” Nielsen said. “We needed them, and I was the team lead, so I found them.”

Well, he found some that were being delivered to another team.

“So, I borrowed them. I saw a guy from the other team. I walked right by him, pulling those ladders,” Nielsen said. “He never said anything about it, so I kept walking.”

Nielsen got to know every inch of the 747 during his years on the program. He climbed to the top of the plane’s tail, which towers more than 60 feet above the factory floor. And in the 1980s, he got to go on a pre-delivery flight.

“I was sitting in the last row in the back of the plane,” he said. “They hadn’t hung any curtains between sections, so I could see all the way to the front of the airplane.”

When the plane began to take off, “I could see the floor curve” as the nose lifted off first, Nielsen said. “I saw a 747 bend.”

Every long airplane bends during takeoff, but with curtains drawn between sections, few passengers realize it.

“We circled around Mount Rainier. It looked close enough to reach out and touch.”

—Dan Catchpole

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