Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Chickens Were Coming at Him Fast

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Chickens Were Coming at Him Fast

Article excerpt

The chickens - plucked and slaughtered - were coming down the conveyor belt so fast that Mike Blehar could barely keep up with the other workers at the chicken processing plant where he worked the summer of his sophomore year in college.

His job was to cut the chickens in half and throw the parts into a bin. The job was simple.

But the line moved so rapidly that he stabbed himself with the sharp knives he was working with. The company nurse wrapped a Band-Aid on the wrist wounds and sent him back to the line. The second time it happened he went to his boss.

"I told him, 'You've got to get me off the cutting line before I kill myself,'" he recalled.

To say the least, it was an unforgettable work experience for Mr. Blehar, who is now managing partner and co-founder of Green Tree-based Fort Pitt Capital Group, a financial advising firm that manages $2.2 billion in assets for high net worth clients.

His first day at the plant, he said, he and a friend counted 7,000 chickens that they hung on hooks on a conveyor belt between 5 a.m. and 4 p.m. He was so good at that job, he earned a promotion to the cutting line. He wasn't very good at cutting and was soon transferred to another assignment where he was responsible for packing chicken fat, backs and necks into 80-pound wax boxes.

"You're wearing a plastic apron, but you're covered in chicken slime by the end of the day," said Mr. Blehar, 57. "Think about going to lunch and you're trying to wash the chicken slime off.

"I didn't eat chicken for a while while I worked there. I'd bring a tuna sandwich or a bologna sandwich or something like that."

The plant was only about 4 miles from where he grew up in Mifflintown, Juniata County, in central Pennsylvania. The locals called it the "Pluck Plant." When he applied for a job, he didn't really know what he was getting into. It only took one summer to realize he had no future there. If anything, Mr. Blehar said, it inspired him to finish his education at Penn State University and aim high. …

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