In the 50's, it was customed to curtsy to the manager when the mail was brought to him. The most important tasks of a 15-year-old switchboard operator at the Vanaja vehicle factory were sharpening the Colonel Tuompo’s pencils and making sure that the call to head office didn't broke up, says 84-year-old Sirkka Grön.

Text: Otavemedia Photos: Sirkka Grön

In December 1951 my schoolmate heard that there would be a vacancy at the Vanaja vehicle factory. I went personally to apply for it and was interviewed by the office manager, Colonel Yrjö Tuompo. He was a colonel distinguished in the war and brother of General Viljo Tuompo, who was part of the Mannerheim Staff.

Sirkka Grön ja Ilmari Karttunen, Sata tarinaa Patriasta
During the festivities of the inauguration of the factory section completed in 1957, the Helsinki Police Department’s Band played lead by conductor Georg Malmsten. People in the photo Director Ilmari Karttunen and Miss Halme (now Grön).

“You know how to handle that kind of thing?” Tuompo asked me, pointing to a big telephone exchange cabinet in a glass booth. At the time, switch boards were similar to those in old black and white films, calls had to be connected by changing the cable from one hole in the center to another.

Of course, I had never seen one before, but I replied briskly that all that will be learned. That's how, when I was 15, I became the switchboard operator of the factory

The workday at the factory began at 8:30 a.m., and every morning the first task was to sharpen the pencils and place them in order of length on the Colonel's pencil case. My work also included the delivery of internal mail, and when I took the mail to Colonel Tuomo, I always curtsied.

The switchboard operator’s job was to order calls from a government center and connect calls to one of the plant's 15 telephone lines. On the first day, a male voice called to the centre: “Order me the headquarters in haste!” When I inquired about who was the subscriber, a feisty male voice replied: “Don't you know me from the voice!”

There was Ilmari Karttunen, Director of the plant, whom I had yet to meet. A call was taken at least once a day to our headquarters in Helsinki Esplanade. I received an advance list of those who had a right to call the head office and ordered calls in order of urgency and priority. It was important to make sure that the call didn't break.

After three years, I got to become a typist, which I liked very much. I did well in that too, and I was put forward for some speed competition as well. I very much liked that job, where I also learned how to do statistics and perform counting tasks.

Sirkka Grön ja Veikko Lehto, Sata tarinaa Patriasta
On the 25th anniversary of the Hämeenlinna factory, the decorations were awarded to those who had served 20 and 15 years at a banquet in Aulango on 13 April 1968. People in the photo Veikko Lehto and Sirkka Grön.

Once, I had to leave as a substitute to pick up a month's wages for all the factory staff, from the Finland's Bank Hämeenlinna branch office. I got the factory car and the driver, and I was sharpened hard by the fact that the cheque just isn't allowed to get lost. This was a huge sum of money. When I got back to the factory, I had both the cheque and the money with me, and there was a bit too much money, too.

Since the cashier at the Bank of Finland had not immediately taken the cheque, I grabbed it from the counter with me. I did not know how it should have been taken care of, because ordinary people did not just use cheques at that time. Someone then left to take the extra money and the cheque back to the Bank of Finland. There was a male cashier explaining that he had gone a bit out of balance when out of a young, pretty girl came to pick up the money.

For any kind of job, you learn new things when you are included in doing it. I always happened to have senior employees as co-workers to learn from. I was involved in official assignments, for example handing out badges of honour, and when guests came to the factory, I took care of the serves. In the early years, it meant I made the guests sandwiches, even if the Minister of Employment himself had been visited.

For once, you had to do the serving of the board meeting, keep company with the wives of the board members outside the meeting, and type the memos as soon as the meeting was over. It was quite a job as there were A4 paper densely with numbers, and the typewriter did not yet have a correction function at that time.

Over the years, I worked as a department secretary, secretary to various sales managers, and car sales secretary. The years went fast, the old coworkers retired, and the new engineers coming to the factory started to be my son's age too. I myself retired at 59. I am missing especially those early days as something nice always happened, and I was looking forward to every day of work.