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Franklin woman worked as riveter at World War II plant


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Franklin resident Betty Hearin worked in airplane factories in Detroit on C-47 planes and B-16 bombers during WWII. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Franklin resident Betty Hearin worked in airplane factories in Detroit on C-47 planes and B-16 bombers during WWII. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Franklin resident Betty Hearin worked in airplane factories in Detroit on C-47 planes and B-16 bombers during WWII. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Franklin resident Betty Hearin worked in airplane factories in Detroit on C-47 planes and B-16 bombers during WWII. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Franklin resident Betty Hearin worked in airplane factories in Detroit on C-47 planes and B-16 bombers during WWII. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Franklin resident Betty Hearin worked in airplane factories in Detroit on C-47 planes and B-16 bombers during WWII. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


The hydraulic riveter popped with a staccato beat every few seconds.

Betty Hearin had to line up each fastener in the bay door of the bomber, coordinating with another woman on the other side of the metal to ensure a clean, solid rivet.

Their work had to be precise. If they were off, the rivet would be scuffed and dinged.

 

“Those planes were made to perfection,” Hearin said. “If you put the slightest mark in one, you had to drill it out and put in another.”

When World War II called hundreds of thousands of men to the front lines, the war effort at home was left to hardworking women, such as Hearin. They built the trucks, airplanes and tanks that powered the American military, playing a vital role in its victory in the war.

But Hearin, now an 89-year-old Franklin resident, doesn’t consider her work anything extraordinary, even if history does.

“I never thought anything of it. It was just a job,” she said.

Hearin learned the value of hard work when she was young. Their family lived on a 6,000-acre horse farm, what is now the Kentucky State Horse Park. She had six siblings, and her grandparents lived together with them in a six-bedroom home.

Hearin and her siblings were in charge of helping with the cleaning, cooking and other chores in the farm.

“I’ve lived a varied life, but I’ve enjoyed my life,” she said.

Hearin was born in Detroit, and though her family moved to Lexington, Kentucky, for almost her entire childhood, she returned to Michigan to finish high school.

It was during her junior year that the United States was drawn into the wars spreading through Europe and Asia. When she graduated from high school, she looked to help the war effort in the massive factories building airplanes.

Her first job was at Sperry Vickers, where she was in charge of testing hydraulic accumulator valves in C-45 and C-47 cargo planes for leaks. The particular pieces she tested had five valves. Hearin would cap off the valves, and then run 2,000 pounds of oil pressure through the piece, to ensure it would withstand combat conditions.

Nearly the entire factory was staffed by women, but her managers were still men. They didn’t necessarily appreciate the new workforce.

“They kept saying, ‘We can’t wait for this war to be over, to get some men back in here,’” she said. “I don’t know what it was that we did that they didn’t like, but they were anxious to get us out of there.”

At Woodall Industries, she secured the rivets in the bomb-bay doors of the massive bombers.

“It wasn’t that hard. And I was a skinny-minnie back then. I didn’t have an ounce of weight on me,” she said. “But it never bothered me.”

Working in a war plant was tough, but there were perks. Because of rationing of supplies such as rubber and leather, the general public was only able to buy one pair of shoes each year. But workers were allowed to buy an extra pair, a work shoe, since they were on their feet all day long. That meant that Hearin could use her other pair for dress shoes.

She lived about 4 miles from the factories and took a bus or streetcar into work every day at 3 p.m. Her shift lasted until 11 p.m., and she’d often go with some of her co-workers to a double-feature show at the neighborhood theater.

Once they ate breakfast afterward, she would get to sleep around 5 a.m.

“It was a different kind of life,” she said.

Her factory work ended in 1944, when she got married.

Bill Hearin served in the U.S. Navy as a naval aviator and airman, and they were married in the waning days of the war. They had known each other in Lexington and stayed in contact over the years.

Betty Hearin, pregnant with their first child, watched tearfully as her husband shipped out to Florida, en route to the fronts in Europe.

“I remember crying and thinking, ‘This baby will never see her father,’” Hearin said. “But luckily, we were down there, and the war ended.”

Hearin has lived in Franklin for the past 50 years. She and her son, Barry, live on the south side of the city in a quiet neighborhood.

Her life has taken her from a horse farm in Kentucky to the booming metropolis of Detroit. She and her husband, Bill, lived in Brooklyn, New York for a short time, before settling in Franklin.

“I love it here the best. You have access to anything you want in Indianapolis, but it’s still feels small,” she said. “If I had my preference, I’d live here.”

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