Senior recalls Altona girlhood, wartime Baltimore

ROBIN CAUDELL/STAFF PhotoPalmina “Pal” Boyd can tell many stories about Altona, then and now, and her work years in Baltimore, Md.

ALTONA — Palmina “Pal” Boyd’s life has been divided between her native Altona and Baltimore, Md.

She was born May 25, 1924 right around from the corner where she lives now in Twin Oaks Senior Housing.

Pal thinks the midwife that delivered her was a Mrs. Goodman.

She was one of the five surviving children out of 13 of George and Ellen Young.

“I think my mother had five kids before any of us lived,” Pal said.

“You know, it was a different time. My father was a carpenter. There’s hardly a building around this town that he didn’t build. His father, Fred, was a carpenter, too. He died the year I was born. Women didn’t work back then. They stayed home and had dinner ready for their husbands when he got home.”


She attended a four-room grammar school at Altona Central School.

Hers was the first four-year class, the Class of 1941, that graduated from Altona High School.

The nation was at war, and she went on a government program in Auburn, NY.

“Then, I went to beauty school in Albany,” Pal said.

“You didn’t need a license back then.”

Her brother, Andrew, two years older, was sent to a Baltimore shipyard from a government program where he learned to weld.

“He wanted me to come down there,” Pal said.

“That’s how I got to Maryland.”

She boarded a train in Albany to wartime Baltimore.

“All I had to do was open my mouth, and they knew I was from New York,” Pal said.

“Andy had gone through the papers and marked where I could apply for a job. It was before assembly lines were in.”


The first job she landed was at Koppers, a defense factory, where she became an inspector of piston rings.

“I’m a person, I got to be busy,” Pal said.

“So they showed me how to operate what they called a bore hog. You put the rings in a fixture, and then this machine comes down and takes all the casting off from the inside.”

Between trays of work, she had to wait between 15 and 20 minutes for the next tray.

“They had truckers that moved the work from one place to another,” Pal said.

“I couldn’t stand it. I told the adjuster on line that I wanted to go talk to the super because you had to get a release from one factory to go to another.”

Her wage was 60 cents an hour.

“He looked as though I was a nut saying I want my release, saying I want to be kept busy,” she said.

“He said, ‘You go back out to your line, and I’ll come and see you tomorrow and see what we can do.”

The next day, the supervisor asked her if she wanted to be a patrol inspector.

“In other words, I go over the whole shop,” Pal said.

“I learn all the operations and be a company inspector to see that they were meeting specs.”

The supervisor told her she can keep as busy as she wanted and learn as much as she wanted about the operation.

“He gave me a pair of mics, micrometers,” Pal said.

“I had never seen mics before. Hell, I was only 19. He told the adjuster, ‘Teach her to read these. Teach her to read the spec and how much tolerance it was for the operation we were doing.’ He says, ‘When you think she knows everything on this line come and get me and I’ll put her on another line.’ It’s surprising what I learned.”


Pal found the work interesting and problem solving a challenge.

“Well, I didn’t get credit for it,” she said.

In learning the flow of operations, she learned that if she had trouble with a line and couldn’t find it on a machine, the culprit might be in a prior operation.

She turned in several resolutions to the young adjuster.

“The aircraft rings go into a chuck individually,” Pal said.

“It had Allen screws, four. They put each individual ring in it to taper it.

“Then it goes on a horizontal grinder to make it finish. They were nice when they got done, nice and smooth. If there was more than five degrees, it was a reject. That’s tight tolerance. When they put that chuck on there, it was in three pieces.”

She watched them making it, and she could see when the horizontal grinders hit.

“Every machine was hitting low spots,” Pal said.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you take and put another Allen (two) in between (the other four) and that way the edge on the outer would be more uniform.”

The adjuster turned in her suggestion and received $100 for it.

“I wasn’t worried about the suggestion and the $100,” Pal said.

“I was trying to get those rings passing. They went into airplane engines, Pratt & Whitney. I worked there until the end of the war, 1946, I think.”

By that time, she had a raise of three more cents an hour.


Pal was an inspector on a line of horizontal grinders when one of her co-workers asked her to go in with three others for a $7-a-week, furnished apartment in the 2700 block of St. Paul St.

“When you make so little, and we had to get back and forth to work on the street car,” she said.

“I went in, and there were two girls from West Virginia and one girl from Alabama. I was the Yankee. We had a lot of laughs.

“When we went in together, we decided to pair off. Two of us would cook one week, and the other two would clean, and then we’ll switch. The two that chose to cook together, they couldn’t even boil water. We managed.”

They lived together for four years, and they are all gone now except Pal.

It was through one of her roommates that she met her husband, Robert Boyd.

“One of the girls from West Virginia had married his brother, so that’s how I met him,” Pal said.

“He got a purple heart during the war. He was in Gen. Patton’s Army.”

She had left Baltimore to take care of her mother for almost a year in Altona.

“Then, I went back to Baltimore,” Pal said.

“I met him the very night that I got back. The woman, who was my sister-in-law, Edith Choate. She married my husband’s older brother, Earl Boyd. She introduced me.”

Pal and Robert married February 7, 1949 and got an apartment.

“My husband was in an apprenticeship to be a pressman at the Baltimore News-American,” she said.

“They closed their doors (May 27, 1986) two years after he retired.”

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This is Part I of Palmina “Pal” Boyd’s recollections of her life in Altona and Baltimore, Maryland. Next week, read about Pal’s work for Uncle Sam.