In the fall of 2020, Gabe Kramer ’20 woke up every day at 5 a.m., drank his coffee, packed his lunch, and went up the hill to start studying for the day. Now, Kramer wakes up at 5 a.m., drinks his coffee, packs his lunch, and heads to the dirt factory.
Equipped with his steel-toed boots, gloves, Carhartt belt, hard hat, and safety vest, Kramer works a 70-hour week at a local dirt factory after graduating early last semester.
“One time Gabe came home from work and I thought he had been growing some stubble,” his friend and housemate senior Henry Eising said. “Turns out what I had surmised was a 5 o’clock shadow was only dirt.”
After graduating, Kramer said he didn’t want to leave Hillsdale because it had “turned into home base for him.” So, he decided to look for a manual labor job.
“I wanted a physically demanding job,” Kramer said. “Something where I was going to be working all day and coming home dog tired.”
Kramer will be attending medical school at the Indiana School of Medicine in the fall and also getting married in January of 2021. The dirt factory job will help him get a leg up, Kramer said.
“It’s also great money. Thirty hours of overtime every week,” he said. “I’m just trying to save money to get off on the right foot in marriage and medical school.”
Kramer’s job mostly involves working in a bagging line or stacking massive totes of different kinds of dirt.
“They take all kinds of soil components, whether bark or peat or pearlite or fertilizer, mix them together, bag them and sell potting soil for retail or to nurseries and greenhouses as high-end professional level stuff,” he said. “I’m also doing a bunch of their safety paperwork and working as a substitute in their quality lab.”
Stacking totes, Kramer said, requires more skill than the normal assembly line work.
“I spend the vast majority of my time stacking them because I do them right. I did it for 12 hours straight today. A machine picks it up, I put the other one in. It’s very dangerous,” Kramer said. “It’s kind of geometric. You have to have a basic understanding of the center of gravity, the way materials are going to compress. That’s why I really like stacking the totes because the other jobs are just pushing buttons. I can always do better, turn it into a competition. There’s some kind of mental engagement.”
Kramer’s work schedule is 12 hours Monday through Friday and 10 hours on Saturday. Though Kramer had worked a factory job before, he had never done 70 hours per week.
“That first day I was so tired when I got home. The first day was especially difficult,” Kramer said. “I’m so much stronger than when I started. I can keep up now. I can keep up very well. Turnover is insane. There’s not many people who work 70 hours week after week, year after year.”
Seventy hour work weeks tend to isolate people, but Kramer has made an intentional effort to spend consistent time with his fiancee, senior Clara Beshoar, and practice and sing two arias in the upcoming college performance of Handel’s oratorio, “Messiah.”
“Even when he was still in school, he was committed to a ton of clubs, choir, and taking a ton of credits,” Beshoar said. “He is really good about planning ahead. That’s one thing I really admire about him.”
Beshoar said spending Saturday nights together are essential for the couple.
“He definitely is very intentional about scheduling time to be with me. He takes me out on a date every Saturday evening. That’s non-negotiable time,” she said.
Kramer’s job has been good preparation for the future for both of them, according to Beshoar.
“It’s turned out to be pretty good practice for us as a couple especially with him going to medical school,” she said. “The free time he has now is going to be similar to medical school. We’re learning how to be as independent of each other as possible.”
If asked to describe the factory, Kramer said it’s not the most cheerful environment.
“It’s a little bleak in there,” he said. “There’s not much sunshine, which is why I like when I can go outside and sample materials. We keep it pretty clean for a dirt factory, but it gets really dusty sometimes.”
However, Kramer said that the time spent in a gray, dust filled factory has made him see the world a little differently.
“Since I’ve started working there, my relationship with technology is so much better,” Kramer said. “Whenever I walk outside, I notice how blue the sky is. When I’m at the gas station, I think, ‘This is beautiful.’ I think it’s because I’m not on my darn phone so much.”
Kramer said most days when he gets back from work, he greets his housemates with a, ‘Hello, kids’ like he’s a dad getting back from work.
“I don’t like that,” Eising said while laughing. “We get it Gabe, you graduated early.”