Production for Use
I was constantly amazed that the mostly old and worn out buildings had almost magically, it seemed, been transformed into impressive industrial facilities. The most interesting and unusual conversion involved the former gym. In its basement were two long unfinished corridors which in the plans of the building were meant to be bowling alleys. In their place an electro-plating shop had been fitted. An upstairs room, intended for a dressing room in connection with the gym, was turned into a spray painting shop.
All of the ten shops were producing articles for use. The light sheet metal shops in the converted basement of College Hall were fabricating two lamp standard ceiling fluorescent lights, desk and standing fluorescent lamps, flood lights, tubular steel furniture, ash trays and serving dishes. In the gym building, large quantities of table silver and medical instruments were electro-plated in the area that had once been planned for bowling alleys. Upstairs metal beds and bed springs were spray painted. Washington Hall, which was filled almost to the rafters with junk when I first saw it, was building radio kits and small table radios, repairing electrical appliances, constructing inter-office communication systems, public address equipment and short wave radio transmitters. On two long tables running the length of the building was a bona fide assembly line. Girls worked shoulder to shoulder with the boys. The atmosphere in the shops was business like. It was a blue print of vocational education that could not be duplicated anywhere else.
"A bell rings in the century old corridor at the National Youth Administration Resident Center in Lima. It is 6:30 A.M. There is a resonant quality in the tones of the venerable gong, a holdover fixture from Genesee Wesleyan Seminary. The day's program gets under way early here where youths are being fitted for responsible niches in industrial life....any illusion of school days end. No laggards exist where youth are termed "employees" in NYA connotation. At 8 AM production work begins in the shops....show work is practical, thorough and conforms with newest processes and methods used in industry...Youth workers are learning to do by doing here...a basic concept and high point of the NYA plan of work experience aimed at economic efficiency. They aim to become masters at their trades. After a year or perhaps less they will be qualified to take their places in the ranks of skilled industrial labor."
The Center had job orders from a total of 37 public agencies during its comparatively short life. These accounted for 160 individual job orders for specific products. In all 183 job orders had been worked on. Examples of the variety of public institutions that were beneficiaries of the Center's work were: The Retsof Central School in Retsof, N.Y., Rochester Municipal Hospital, Fort Ontario in Oswego, N.Y., Hermann M. Boggs Memorial Hospital in Ithaca, N.Y., State Agricultural and Industrial School in Industry, N.Y., Iola Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Department of Public Works in Rochester, N.Y. State School For The Blind in Batavia, N.Y.
Information on the volume of production from the various shops is not available but it was considerable. As an indication is the over 640 fluorescent ceiling lights and the several thousand pieces of table silver that were re-plated, the more than 100 radio kits that were assembled and over 200 radios that were donated to the Center for repair and distribution to army camps.
The bartering of NYA products that went on between the several NYA resident centers in New York State was another fascinating, even inspiring, example of the application of the principal of production for use. There were a number of such centers around the state, the precise number I don't know. Each of them, as with the Lima Center, specialized in products. As time went on, it got to the point where between them all there was the promise they could eventually meet many of the needs for operating the centers. For instance, the Lima Center needed food items, such as eggs and beef, blankets and towels, china, steel bunk beds, blankets, wooden furniture, etc. All of these items were the products of one center or another. So in Lima we could send our truck, we had our own as did the other centers, to the Farm Center in Hartwick for many dozen eggs and a side of beef. In a barter exchange, we would fill up our truck with fluorescent lights for the Hartwick dairy barn, poultry sheds, canning and other buildings. Such exchanges were made with other centers. Blankets from the Catskill center, steel bunk beds from a center in Auburn, china from the Syracuse Center and so on. Unfortunately this exchange only got into a higher gear near the close of the entire NYA center program because of war with Japan. What I saw before my eyes, however, was the possible beginning of a national youth commonwealth, a revolutionary development.