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Three score and ten or more

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More of the types of jobs in my youth

More of the types of jobs in my youth

My brain has been frozen for the last few days.  I will try to explain in time, but for now, I just can’t do anything new.  As a result, I am going back to some of the stories I have in my memoirs about the kind of jobs I had in my youth.  

One of the summers after I graduated from high school but before I became a Mormon Missionary, I went to work for a construction company that toured around in Idaho, Utah and Montana building all steel granaries and farm buildings.  The most common example of the kind of building we built is the World War II Quonset  hut.  It had a steel frame, and corrugated steel walls and roof.  I should mention that our buildings were only rarely quonset hut shaped.  Some were round, some rectangular, and some rather odd shaped.  I think that they were all built to some kind of catalog plan, from which they were ordered.

The basic premise of the construction was to get a foundation poured, sometimes a slab, (and at least one of these we poured ourselves using a gas powered cement mixer that we hauled around with us).  On that foundation we raised “I” beams that were essentially two “U” shaped  pieces welded together.  To those beams we fastened galvanized corrugated steel by sinking lead gasketed screws into the seam where the two parts were welded together.  The design was such that most of the seams were on the seams in the corrugate where two pieces met together.  These seams were thoroughly covered with black tar caulking.  It worked well, once you got enough experience to find that seam. If one sunk a screw though one of the solid lips of the beam, one got yelled at, thoroughly (Roy, the foreman spoke both Spanish and English thoroughly -Spanish more-so-  and had a rich, varied, and profane vocabulary in both languages to use when yelling at his employees) We built some small buildings and some large ones (The largest was in Woodruff, Utah, where we had to stack four courses of staging (platforms) to do the top.  On that building we had a pitched roof, but most of the buildings at round tops like a Quonset hut.  The basic tools that everyone carried were a ball-peen hammer, two or three punches (like nail sets, but sharp) two or three screw drivers of different kinds, which we sharpened every morning on a grinding wheel (these were old fashioned “hand” screw drivers.  I imagine modern battery powered screw drivers would have cut the construction time by two thirds) and a nail apron filled mostly with lead top screws and some lead top roofing nails, along with a bucket of “tar” (we called it mastic, and it had to be heated in the morning to make it smooth enough to spread easily) and a brush.  If you didn’t take as much as you needed you had to climb up and down the platform to get more, which irritated Roy because if you were climbing up and down you couldn’t be fastening sheets of steel..  The steel was usually lifted up to the platforms with a little “cherry picker” which sat on one of the trucks.

We slept in sleeping bags, in sheds, out in the open, and once in a tent. Roy frequently cooked breakfast if we were a long way out of town, but if we were “in” town, or an easy walk to a café we generally at in a café.  Frequently the café lunches became contests about who could eat the most pickled Jalapeno peppers.  I competed well at first but gradually discovered that Jalapenos were as hot coming out as going in, and when your “facilities’ range from a slit trench to an outdoor privy, “hot” is not fun.  

Many weekends we made it home, but not always., but we didn’t work on weekends so sometimes we got a chance to wander around whatever town we were in.  We were regarded as freaks, and on the occasions that I went to church I went in pretty scruffy clothes and did not make a lot of friends.  I don’t remember all the places we went, but two stuck in my mind because of occurrences there.   I mentioned before that we built a tall building on a farm in Woodruff, Utah.  On one side it had a round peaked “tower” like a granary or silo.  This took the curved sheets of steel like a Quonset building.  

I need to clarify that, because our building were all metal, if there was rain, or thunder and lightning (pretty rare in a Southern Idaho/Utah summer, but when it came it was usually ferocious,) we immediately tied everything down and got as far from the building as we could.  (Lightening rods were installed in most buildings as soon as they were completed.  A tall steel building has to be an attractive target for lightening.)

In Woodruff, I was about three courses of staging high, installing the curved pieces of steel siding when a black cloud came up and the wind began to gust.  Stony (our name for the foreman) came running out of his shack yelling for us to tie down and seek shelter.  The guy who was working with me and I quickly tied down one bunch of steel sheets but before we got to the other one, a gust of wind picked the top one up and it went about fifty or sixty feet in the air and just danced around in the sky like some kind of fancy kite.  We were standing there like dopes, kinda staring at the dancing sheet of steel when we both realized that Stony was having near hysterics screaming at up to duck and tuck up close to the building.  We realized how serious he was when the wind gust sudden quit and that piece of steel came hurtling down from up above and sliced the property owner’s big yellow dog right in two, like a guillotine.  We hurriedly tied down the other stack of steel sheets, shinnied down from the staging and spent most of the rest of the day cowering in the line shack.   Even after the storm was over we weren’t worth much, and when the time came to go back up and finish the “tower” it took everything I had to work up the courage to just climb up there, let alone do some work.

One other job was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Surprise, there at the end of the road was Signal Mountain Lodge where I had worked briefly a year before as a “wood boy”.. I don’t remember whether we were erecting a building on the Signal Mountain property or just near it, but we had most of our meals at the lodge.   It wasn’t constant, however because I remember, at least once, having lunch in a downtown bar or café that had a long bar covered with real silver dollars with some kind of urethane or melted plastic coating holding all the dollars in place.  What I remember best (or most??)about that site was that we finished the job, and had just packed up when there was a real gully washer of a storm.  It must have rained several inches in a short time, because the roads were almost covered and there was an eight to ten inch deep stream running down beside every road.  When the storm let up, we packed into the trucks and started home going up over the pass that leads into Idaho .  We had driven about ten miles or so when an Idaho State Police car came down the hill, siren screaming and lights a flashing.  When he pulled up, sort of, nose to nose with our lead truck, we stopped.  He informed us the just up ahead of us a landslide had taken out the entire road.   Stony didn’t believe him at first, as if the cop were pulling some kind of practical joke, but when the cop put Stony up against the side of the truck and threatened to put him in handcuffs, Stony accepted the landslide idea..  There was no way to turn our trucks around on that road, especially the one that had the cement mixer rolling along behind it like a trailer, so we had to back the trucks much of the way down the mountain with the police car leading up like a backward parade till we finally came to a turn off for a skiing area and were able to turn the trucks around and go front-ward.  The policeman left us and went on down the mountain to put up road closed signs for other poor folks.  I can’t remember how we got back home, but it took a long time and I was exhausted when we got there.

The final memorable event on this job was why I quit and went home.  We were working on a granary somewhere down between Preston and Malad, and the nights had gotten really chilly.  Stoney, the foreman just mentioned after we got of work, that the nights were chilly and he was “sleeping cold”.  I said “Me too” so he proposed that we take our two sleeping bags, zip them together and sleep in the same bag.   Poor stupid me, but it made sense.  We had often done that on winter hikes with the boy scouts and it worked, so I agreed.  After dinner, we made up camp, zipped the two bags together and got in bed.  Within about five minutes, Stony moved over close to me and I could feel in my back that he had an enormous erection.  It was then that I realized that he had identified me as, whatever the word was back at that time, a fairy, queer, homo, or whatever.  It was obvious that he expected me to have sex with him.  I froze in that position, reached my hand out of the sleeping bag, and found a rock, not a big enough rock but a rock, and I made the decision that if he got any closer, I would whack him on the side of the head with the rock.   I laid there awake for, what seemed to be, hours.  I came to the conclusion that he expected some kind of affirmative reaction from me, that he didn’t get, because eventually he turned over and went to sleep.  I must have finally gotten to sleep too, because I remember getting up in the morning.  We all got dressed and began breakfast and Stony didn’t say a word to me, but in a little while, I discovered that he must have talked about his intentions to some of the men in the gang, because two of them asked me with a grin if I had had a good time last night.  I answered non-committaly that I didn’t think I would sleep that way again, I was more comfortable in my own bedroll.  I noticed in peripheral vision those same guys looking at me and giggling, but I ignored them and went on with my work.  I think that was the last week I spent on that job.


At 1:34 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Boy, you were naive. Zipping sleeping bags together is the oldest trick in the book - I remember from Boy Scouts. :)

At 9:13 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Naive was (probably IS) my second name. I am always a sucker.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Yikes! On many levels. I thought the dog getting cut in half was awful until I read the sleeping arrangements! I don't even want to think about the Boy Scouts as Patrick pointed out.


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