Wilhelm Pollmer carries around reading glasses in his breast pocket in case he needs to read the tiny numbers on a ball bearing. His new caliper gauge has an electronic display. "Now, that I can see without assistance," the 59-year-old says with a grin. "Otherwise, nothing has changed." A Conti institution, Wilhelm Pollmer has been working in Korbach for 44 years: He maintains and services the machines that Continental uses to produce its commercial specialty tyres.
He begins his shift at 5:15 in the morning and clocks off at 13:45. A few years ago, when Wilhelm Pollmer was asked if he wanted to continue working the early shift, he immediately said yes. "I really enjoy being able to relax at noon. I don't have to wander around here at night anymore." That's now a job for the other, younger members of staff. But they have always been able to look to the senior colleague for a bit of advice. For example, when manual skills are required, which is often the case in retooling (tyre types and sizes call for different molds for the green tyre). Or if a shaft is broken: Wilhelm Pollmer has even been known to weld together a makeshift part until the ordered replacement arrives.
He acquired manual skills from the bottom up, starting his apprenticeship as a machine fitter at the end of the 60s in Continental's Bicycle Tyres business unit. "We began with filing, making a lump of iron nice and angular," Pollmer recalls with a smile. To keep up with technological advances along the way, he often attended training courses. Hydraulics, pneumatics – nowadays, all aspects of tyre production are controlled by computers. "The formulas are stored in the computer; you simply have to specify which tyre it is you want to create – the machine knows everything."
In 1993, Pollmer moved to Commercial Vehicle Tyres after production had been expanded in Korbach. He never wanted to leave Continental: "I live nearby, the company is well respected, and I feel very connected to it. After all, I've been working here since my apprenticeship." And what would he do differently? "Nothing," laughs the machine fitter. "Maybe go to school longer, if anything."
Wilhelm Pollmer is not afraid of becoming a pensioner. Two of his old colleagues have already retired; "we stay in contact and invite each other to Christmas parties." And even at home, his manual skills find plenty of use: Pollmer looks after the house and garden, cuts the grass, chops wood for the winter, and repairs both of his children's cars. "My wife always says, you have enough to do at home – you don't need to go to the factory anymore."