The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

GM worker James Burgess drives to Fort Wayne - daily

By Lisa Allen
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — James Burgess of Anderson doesn’t slow down, and he doesn’t give up.

For three years now, Burgess has traveled 140 miles each day to work third shift at the paint shop at the GM truck assembly plant in Fort Wayne.

“Times have changed in this country,” he said. “I’m also well aware of the fact that as long as I’m healthy, I have to compete in that job market.”

And it’s a tough job. He does daily exercises his employer taught him so he can do the physically taxing job. “I have to pick up hoods and fenders all night long,” he said.

In a way, it’s better than his early days at General Motors, where he began working in 1968. “I spent 17 years in Plant 5, the foundry, where visibility was about 3 feet in front of you.”

“Then I went to Magnequench, then back to Plant 11 and then Plant 20. Everything was closing down then.”

Burgess, who also is president of the Anderson-Madison County branch of the NAACP, plans to make that commute and lift those truck parts for two more years, until he is 66 and can collect full Social Security.

While he’s grown accustomed to the commute, his stamina goes only so far. “I don’t like the overtime,“ he said, adding that for a while he had to work 10-hour days. “That was painful. That took a lot out of me.”

It also frightened him when a co-worker from Muncie died when he fell asleep behind the wheel. “I worry about that sometimes. It’s hard to stay awake.”

The drive takes about an hour and 10 minutes each way, unless there is snow. “The other day, it took me two hours.” He gets out of work at 6:28 a.m. and heads home. “It’s not as bad in the morning as it is in the evening.

“I listen to the news, NPR and listen to music sometimes. The drive is a way for me to get away from some things and allow you to think for an hour.”