'Twinkie King' wraps up sweet career
When it comes to Twinkies, it's just cruel to keep count. The calories per cake, the ingredients keeping those spongy bars of gold so ... spongy. The number we eat in a lifetime. Counting is a buzz kill. Joe Traxler, on the other hand, is all about the numbers.
Seattle Times staff columnist
When it comes to Twinkies, it's just cruel to keep count.
The calories per cake, the ingredients keeping those spongy bars of gold so ... spongy. The number we eat in a lifetime. Counting is a buzz kill.
Joe Traxler, on the other hand, is all about the numbers.
The bags of flour and sugar used to make Twinkies? Fifty pounds each. The pans they bake in? Each holds 36 cakes. The number of pans Traxler fills a day? Four thousand or more.
The years he has been baking them? Fifty as of Thursday, his last day on the job.
Call Traxler, 68, "The Twinkie King," responsible for helping make a billion or more of the things and sending them into the world.
"Anyplace I go, a ballgame or a park, any place where people are enjoying themselves, the Twinkie will always be around," he said the other day over coffee and (!) banana bread at his home in Mountlake Terrace.
"They taste good," he said. "If I have a Twinkie and eat it, I thoroughly enjoy it. Simple as that."
What's hard to wrap your mind around is the years Traxler has spent behind the mixer, in a building that has sent sweet smells over Aurora Avenue near Seattle Center for generations.
"That, to me, is amazing," said Mark Silva, the plant manager of the Hostess Cake Bakery, now owned by Interstate Brands. "He's the one that everyone looks to. Even the sourpusses have only good things to say about Joe."
Hard to find them in a roomful of sugar.
"We will feel it when Joe is gone," said Maree McDonald, the assistant sanitation supervisor. "He's the man here."
Fellow baker Danny Gordon has stood beside Traxler for 41 years. After Thursday, it will be a guy named Mahoney.
"He'll be all right," Gordon said with a shrug. "But he is not going to compare to Joe."
Traxler was 18 when he started at the plant as a pan washer, enduring the constant clatter that has contributed to a severe hearing loss.
When he started as a baker, the plant was a tight fit, arms flying everywhere. Eggs were cracked by hand. Powdered sugar had to be ground. Pans were racked and unracked. And it was hot.
Now, there is a "traveling oven," for which pans of Twinkies, shortcakes, Ding Dongs and Zingers are filled with batter and sent down a conveyor belt to be baked, cooled, filled, iced and emptied.
But at the very start is Joe Traxler, in his white shirt and pants, black belt and hairnet, dusted like a doughnut, happy to be working for a company he respects and people he loves.
Simple as that, indeed.
"I thoroughly admired Hostess," he said. "Their attitude is that you are important, and I consider the people ... "
He stopped talking to choke back tears.
Like family? I asked.
His own family celebrated his retirement by jumping into the Tour of Terrace parade last month and passing out 720 Twinkies. A few of his grandchildren dressed up as Twinkies. Joe wore a crown made out of a Twinkie box.
"We always called him 'The Head Ding Dong,' " cracked his wife, Barbara.
I worry about Joe a little bit. What it will be like to end such a deeply dug routine. Rising in the night, stopping for coffee. The faces, the sounds, the smells of cakes baking.
Fifty years in the same place. That's longer than I've been alive.
But Barbara Traxler assured me that there is plenty to do. They're going to redo the kitchen, replumb the whole house.
"You name it, we're going to redo it," Joe Traxler said.
And there are more important things to keep track of, now: six children, 20 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
And maybe, here and there, a Twinkie or two.
"They have been around a long time," Traxler said. "And they will be around long after I am."
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
FYI: And just 150 calories each.
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About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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