Egg crates, that’s what you want. But not the egg crate itself, just the material. Whatever they make egg crates out of, that’s what the worm factory wanted. They searched high and then they searched low, and they found the company in Indiana. Central Indiana, to be more precise. The business of egg crate material isn’t exact at all. A few pounds of finely milled saw dust, a few dashes of coloring- gray, sometimes blue, and a bit of glue. How much glue depends on the humidity, with great variations possible depending on the time of year in this part of Indiana.
The factory was originally only capable of producing these egg crates. 12 eggs to a crate, maybe 18, with a folding lid. There’s a factory in Kentucky that can do the larger quantities, vast sheets of egg crate material capable of holding 12 dozen eggs. They stack and they layer and the cartons filled with eggs find their way to the muffin company upstate. But this factory only does the smaller variety, and that’s why they were perfect to recruit for the business of making egg crate worm cartons. The plan was flawless. The sawdust cheap, the glue practically free. And fishermen wouldn’t care if their worms came in gray or blue cartons, which was good, because everyone knew the blue was more expensive.
A mold was made, the batter was poured, and 7-10 business days later the worm company received their first shipment of cartons. The engineer, or at least the man whose work shirt claimed he was, had improvised the worm filling machine to accept these new sized cartons, and the first run was an astonishing success. The cartons would be fed as sheets, 12 containers wide and 100 deep, where the worms and their newspaper-laced dirt would drop from the hopper into each individual dozen-sized serving. Farther down the conveyor track, the cartons would separate, like pulling apart a delicate monkey bread muffin, and the worm filled cartons would whiz towards the inspection station.
This station was messy. As you’d expect. The station was originally intended for three inspectors, each with a swiveling chair, but rarely would there be more than one. Bill showed up on time each day, ready to inspect. His job was simple- to pull out the worms that were cut into unfortunate pieces by the hopper dispenser. The carton comes, the half-worm is identified and picked out quickly. Bill had a five gallon bucket on the concrete floor next to his chair, and after some months in that chair the motion of picking the wounded worm and dropping it into his bucket was so fluid that sometimes the engineer would drift away from his desk just to watch Bill in action. A poetry, of sorts, Bill the poet and his prose the movement, or so the engineer often thought.
Bill didn’t mind. He knew the bass under the Highway 67 bridge happily accepted his wounded worms just as greedily as they would his whole worms.
After several decades of turning out the finest egg-carton worm containers, the factory turned out its last sheet and closed the doors forever. Plastics were where it was at, and plastics were an entirely different game that the company wasn’t capable of playing. Worse yet, the company knew these new containers would blow out of the fishermen’s boats and float across the lake, washing up on shore in a tangle of seaweed and trash.