Robert the riveter rooting for Washington



Robert Hare was on the “ground floor” of some of Boeing’s greatest innovations in air travel, and hopes future generations in Washington will get the same chance.

During a 35-year career as one of the assembly-line workers who bolted together virtually every type of Boeing airplane since the 1950s, Hare was with the company during some of its highest and lowest points.

Retired now and living in Federal Way, a few miles from the 737 plant in Renton that was one of several Boeing factories where he toiled, he reads the news about layoffs of Boeing workers and remembers how it felt being a hair away from the unemployment line. He’s rooting for Washington to be picked as the place where Boeing will build the 7E7 airliner, helping plug the drain of jobs and vitality from the state’s economy.

Hare accepts Boeing’s business rationale of why it is looking outside Washington for the most efficient, cost-effective location to build the new planes.

“You have to have worked at Boeing to understand their theory. I don’t necessarily like it (work potentially leaving Washington and the Puget Sound region), but it makes sense,” he reasoned.

Several states are lobbying Boeing to be the ones where pieces of the 7E7 are made or where the proposed airliner is assembled. Money is their biggest bargaining chip. For instance, Washington has offered the company $3.2 billion in tax breaks, Tulsa, Okla. is proposing $350 million in cash and loans, and Kansas is dangling a $500 million loan.

Boeing plans to make its manufacturing decisions and see the first planes roll off the assembly line by 2008. Watching the buildup from the sidelines will be Hare, who’s content with his memories of being a Boeing riveter, starting when he got out of the Marines as a 20-year-old in 1955 and was hired for the princely wage of $1.52 an hour (“I don’t know how I made it on that”) and ending with his retirement in 1990.

Gracious, a fit-looking 70 and dapper in a Hawaiian shirt and black slacks, he delighted Wednesday in showing his thick scrapbooks of Boeing memorabilia and news clippings that he’d told his visitors about.

“I go back a few years, you might say,” said the man who has seven of the pewter and brass medals that Boeing gives to workers as keepsakes representing the planes they helped build.

“You can’t have a medal for every plane you worked on, so I picked the ones that meant the most to me, like the 737,” he said.

Hare and his earliest of co-workers “got in on the ground floor” of jet airliner aviation. “The first jetliners didn’t come out until 1956. We were on the cutting edge, yes we were,” he said, adding modestly that “I was just a small part of a big portion.”

He guesses he drove 200,000 rivets, working eight hours a day for three and a half decades. He’ll never forget the sound a properly-driven rivet made: “It rang out. You knew it was a good one.”

Besides virtually everything with wings, Hare worked on the Bomarc missile. Boeing mass-produced the 45-footers in 1957 to give the U.S. military something to intercept invading enemy aircraft if the need ever arose.

Hare knew about war firsthand. He served in the Korean War as a Marine corporal.

Boeing’s layoff cycles, some of them legendary (the early-1970s downturn produced the famed line, “Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?”), never made Hare want to work somewhere else, including his old job making apple crates in his native eastern Washington.

“I stayed on in the hardest of times,” he said. “There were times you couldn’t see tomorrow. Sometimes I was the next guy in line to get laid off after a thousand men were let go. But I never thought of leaving.”

Hare shares a home now at Belmont Mobile Home Park with his wife of 25 years, Lu (“The sunshine of my life”), a friendly cat and a fervent hope that high-employment days lay ahead for Boeing in and around the Puget Sound region.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,

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