There was a time when every American city practically hummed with industry.
Terms like "assembly line" and "factory" were synonymous with the places where everyone you knew clocked in to work.
For one corner of Macomb, much of that is still very true, as one roller bearing manufacturer is amid expansion during a period of downsizing, layoffs and closures for other manufacturers across the country.
Dave Hocker has been an electrician at NTN-Bower, 707 N. Bower Road, for the past eight or nine months. He had worked at Methode Electronics in Carthage for 10 years and wound up at NTN after a round of layoffs.
"One of the best parts about my job is it's not repetitive," Hocker said during an interview with co-workers Thursday. "It's something different with each machine I go to. You've got to figure out what it is and get it fixed. It's not a routine thing. You could be at seven machines in a day, or you can do one in seven days — until you figure it out."
The Macomb resident said he tries to listen to the people who run the machines, while learning something from those who've been with the company a long time — people like Larry Branch, who's worked at NTN for 46 years.
Both NTN employees say they enjoy the people they work with, and that it's rare two days on the job are alike. Jeffrey Thompson, who works in the tool crib, agreed.
"Every day is different for me," said Thompson of Bushnell. "We've got guys coming in for parts like crazy sometimes. Other times not. You never know what's going to happen."
Having started work there in 1967, Branch, a screw machine operator and Colchester resident, said NTN-Bower is the only job he's had to apply for.
"It was a little different back in those days," Branch said, adding job duties have gotten a bit busier over the years. "It didn't used to be so much because I'd done it for so long. But now, the way that they use me, I never know for sure what I'm going to do when I get in there.
"I might be making rolls, I might be setting up screw machines, I might be repairing screw machines, I might be operating. It's just a variety of stuff now."
The different viewpoints and variety in lengths of time at NTN can be to the company's benefit, according to John Connor, business unit manager for the grinding areas.
He said that as other area manufacturers closed or let people go, NTN has picked up a lot of their "good people."
"In my mind, it's good because I get different opinions," Connor said. "If Dave's working in my area, I don't want to do it the same way we've done it for 40 years. We need to continuously improve. So if he's coming from Methode with different ideas or things that he's seen, or if (an employee) is coming from the hammer factory, or wherever, we're getting the good (ideas) from each area and building upon them."
Branch said most people have a different opinion of what a factory is rather then what folks at NTN-Bower do — they're "just like a gigantic machine shop." And though they're all employed there, they have one other characteristic in common — they're U.S. veterans.
Now a resident of Good Hope, Connor served in operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Branch served from 1969 to 1972 and saw time in Vietnam. Hocker served in the Marine Corps from 1987 to 1991, amid Desert Storm. And for Thompson, NTN was the first and so far only place he worked after he'd gotten off of deployment.
Hocker joked his military experience had only conditioned him to iron his NTN uniform shirts everyday, while Branch and Thompson said they didn't think their service affected how they approached their jobs. But some agreed in the interview last week that veterans — some of whom have seen different parts of the world — come to work with a certain attitude and loyalty.
"In the military when you learn a job, you learn to do it right the first time," Connor said. "You see a lot of that with these guys."