Dennis Eads, 60, had no idea what he’d do for a living when Frankfort’s Bendix plant closed its doors a few years ago.
He’d worked there for 33 years and assumed it’s where he’d retire. But Bendix decided it’d be cheaper to send his manufacturing job to Mexico.
The shuttered doors started a long journey for Eads, who at 56 years old had to pick up his dreams of job security and retirement that vanished when he was left jobless in December of 2007.
After depleting his savings and 401(k) and trying his hand at several jobs, including night watchman at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Dennis says he’s finally found a job he enjoys.
It’s a story all too familiar to hundreds in Frankfort and, indeed, millions nationwide, as the recession and other measures force new challenges on the American worker.
“Now what am I going to do here?” the soft-spoken native of Georgetown who completed his high school education in Fresno, Calif., asked himself. “It’s all I’ve done, so where do I go from here?”
Dennis was one of 25 employees – down from a height of 300 – who finished the last day in the factory that manufactured brakes for trucks.
“We said our goodbyes and shed some tears in the process and faced our futures in such a singular way,” he remembers.
They each had a week’s pay for every year they worked and thought they could get by for a while on that. But with living costs and the high price of health insurance ($1,200 a month for Dennis), the money went fast.
“Next thing you know, I’m dipping into my 401(k), and I nearly depleted that,” Dennis said.
His $75,000 fund dwindled to about $2,000. Jobs were hard to find then, so he decided to become a truck driver in 2008.
“It seemed like the quickest way back into the workforce,” he said. “There weren’t lots of jobs out there, but there were lots of trucking jobs available, and there still are.”
He earned his commercial driver’s license through Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Paintsville, Ky., and hit the road.
Long distance trucking is a hard life, Dennis says. You’re on the road for weeks at a time, sleep in the cab and eat fast food.
He missed his wife, Marlene, and their son, Clinton, now 19, and says that was the worst part.
Marlene, who cleans homes for a living, did not like him being gone either.
“She’s one of those ladies, scared of her own shadow,” he says, explaining why it was hard to be away.
It was on a cold February night in snowy North Dakota when Dennis thought, “What am I doing?” After picking up that load and taking it to New Orleans, he was done with trucking for good.
He then applied for a job with Industrial Security Services, which supplies guards for businesses throughout the state.
After a few months as a guard at Frankfort’s Montaplast factory, he was moved to the night shift at Buffalo Trace Distillery.
“It was not a bad job,” he says. “In fact, to walk through century-old buildings was enjoyable with visions of ghosts of those long-forgotten days that seemed to awaken at night.”
During the 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, wildlife in the area, including a family of foxes, and the lights from boats floating down the Kentucky River kept him company.
It was, “quiet but thought-provoking times for sure.”
After a couple of years, however, Dennis wanted to “wake to the light of day” rather than sleep through it.
So, he quit for a job at Montaplast, a plastic precision parts and systems factory on Hoover Boulevard. Unfortunately, he was placed on night shift again, so his search for a better job continued.
Today, the hunt has ended in a position he really enjoys – driving a 10-passenger bus for Blue Grass Community Action Partnership.
For the past five weeks, he’s driven the intercity route from Frankfort to Louisville and Lexington, and he says he thinks he’s finally found a job he can stick with. In fact, five other former Bendix employees have found work with the same partnership. It beats a factory job any day, Dennis says.
“I like working with people, being able to talk with people,” he says. “I work with a lot of people with special needs and stuff like that, which is good in some cases, but can be trying, especially when someone wants to get off the bus – they decide halfway through, they want to get off the bus.”
He’s still learning how to deal with those situations, but the challenge is welcome in comparison to former jobs. He also likes the freedom the new job allows.
Though he can’t be sure, he hopes this will be his last job before retirement when he can focus on the things he most enjoys – playing the harmonica, walking in the woods, fishing on a quiet creek, writing poetry and spending time with his family.
“The hardest part of the deal is keeping family together as they had to deal with the frustrations of the whole process,” he says.
They never went without, but they got pretty close.
Then with the words of a man prone to sentimentality, he summarizes his journey, “Tomorrow, life starts over again, for there are no promises of tomorrow. I’ll try to understand all the things life has put in front of me, love my family and be satisfied with what life has given me.”