KEARNEY — It’s called a clock number, and even though there never has been a time clock at the Eaton Corp. factory in Kearney, all employees are assigned a clock number when they hire on.
Terry Ritchie, Eaton’s warehouse manager, wears clock No. 826. A Riverdale resident, Ritchie joined the Eaton-Kearney team 42 years ago. Among active employees he has the third longest tenure.
“The number means there are a lot of people I know really well,” Ritchie said as he and four other longtime employees of Eaton-Kearney sat around the table in September and swapped tales about their careers.
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The longtime employees agreed: the friendships and camaraderie they experienced through the years made all the difference. They all said that their 500 or so coworkers at the engine valve and gear factory feel like family.
“It’s definitely the people,” said René Saldivar of Kearney, senior quality engineer. He’s been an Eaton employee 38 years and wears clock No. 1,260.
Others around the table:
- Steve Berry of Kearney, quality control technician, 38 years, clock No. 1,277;
- Diana Kotschwar of Kearney, quality auditor, 39 years, clock No. 1,074; and,
- Dwayne Drabek of Kearney, metrology technician, 39 years, clock No. 996.
Thinking about the 50 years that have passed since the factory opened, the five also attributed the plant’s success to its hardworking, rural Nebraska employees.
“Our work ethic is different,” Berry said. “It’s the farming background. Before they worked here, they always had to work hard (on the farm) and get the job done.”
They said that Eaton rewards hard work with competitive pay, a package of benefits and the opportunity for advancement and travel.
Ritchie said team members at other Eaton factories often consult with their counterparts in Kearney to find solutions for challenges in their factories. At times, Kearney employees will go to other facilities to help troubleshoot and improve processes.
Kotschwar helped an Eaton plant in Italy.
Saldivar has worked at Eaton plants around the world and picked up German, French and Spanish as he shifted from plant to plant.
They said Kearney hosts international guests who broaden their knowledge about production, management and other important topics while in Nebraska.
Berry and Drabek, whose careers are approaching 40 years, said they became close friends and shared a lot of time together away from work.
The group said that even though there are 500 people in the Kearney plant, there’s a family kind of feeling that makes it a special place to work.
They also are grateful for the pay and benefits.
“I have a decent vehicle and home, I have a motorcycle I play on, and I raised my kids,” Ritchie said. “But more than anything it’s the people I work with, the friendships I’ve made. Probably when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t change a thing.”