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Three score and ten or more

Friday, February 29, 2008

Early in the blog I told about some (many, all?) of the jobs I worked at while I was in high school and during my first two years of college (before I became a missionary and went to Finland.). It occurred to me that much of that discussion was pretty cursory and that I might discuss several of the jobs in more detail. So far the ones I can find while searching my own blog deal with my adventures building "all steel" buildings (mostly corrugated steel) around Idaho, Wyoming and Utah, the fun I had as a pipe fitter helper working on the Union Pacific, and my later work as a boilermaker helper for the same company. I mentioned in passing that I had spent most of a summer as a garbage man for the town of Alameda, Idaho.

I suspect that most people who are not garbage men do not spend a lot of time wondering about how much fun it might be to make a career as a garbage collector. On the other hand, I have heard that collecting garbage in New York City is very profitable and that it is hard to get a job in that field if one does not have family in the profession or influence with politicians or organized crime. Trust me, one needed neither political pull nor family connections to get a job collecting garbage when I was doing it. I don't remember a lot about the other garbage guys. I remember that they had more than one garbage truck and that all or both of them were moving around town most of the time, so there were other garbage guys than those working my truck. Alameda was small was large enough that at least two trucks were moving most of the time, but small enough that garbage was not our only job. My tenure in the position was strictly in the summer, but I understood that some of the guy in that job also plowed streets and spread sand or salt on the intersections during the winter.

My diversions from the garbage truck involved cleaning out culverts for the irrigation canal that ran through the town (not often, the state had people to do that most of the time), patching holes in the roads with asphalt and a hand roller, occasionally trying to control stray dogs and other animals that got out on the street (I remember one particular adventure with a brown cow that we caught with ease because it was tame as a pet, but which we staked out on the grass behind the fire station until the owner was located. The true heart of the job was just driving slowly up the alleys picking up and emptying garbage cans.

I worked mostly with two partners. One was Mark Hancock, whom I mentioned in connection with my job in concrete products, and the other was a thin read headed guy whose name I just can't remember at all. We took turns, with one guy driving and the other walking beside the truck to toss in the garbage. I note with interest that some modern garbage trucks have lifters to pick up the garbage cans, but all we had was a scoop at the back of the truck into which we could lift the cans.

If people knew their garbage collector's minds they would break more stuff and put more in garbage bags (actually they didn't exist back then, so they would have had to be satisfied with breaking and shredding. We used to laugh a lot at the particular houses from which Esquire ,magazines and other porney type magazines emerged (Playboy and Hustler hadn't come along, men in those times bought Esquire to read the articles -- there were a couple of pulp magazines that had fun pictures, most of which were tamer than current network TV. One of them featured cover pictures of a lady named Irish McCalla. Isn't it strange that I would remember the name, but she was impressive to a late teen age boy.) All the collectors built up fair collections of magazines that our parents would not have cared for. Each of us on the truck had a place to store the valuables we collected. I found one set of china in the box with a couple of cups broken, bunches of vacuum cleaners, fishing equipment, a lot of radios and phonograph records, and even a couple of twenty two caliber rifles. I even got a couple of wash machines, from which I took the electric motors to mount with grinding wheels etc. Some things I sold to friends, some I gave away, some went to my parents, but nobody was told from whence they came. (Though my parents weren't stupid, and they knew where I worked).

People should NEVER throw away letters, especially tied up in bundles, or diaries or anything of the sort. Garbage men do not have the legal restrictions that Postmen have. On the other hand, one doesn't need a shredder to keep paper goods out of the hands of the garbage man. A bunch of watermelon rinds, or old fruit with a little meat mixed in can be poured on top of the stuff and no one will be curious enough to want to look at it. I don't think anything in the world can smell or look as revolting as a closed metal garbage can that has had watermelon rinds and or meat (deer parts are specially nasty) sitting in it for a couple of days with hot weather. The meat especially seemed to draw flies which created maggots which-- Oh heck I don't need to go on, the memory is beginning to bother my stomach.

We dumped our stuff in the city dump (does that sound right?). This was pre-land-fill, but they did bring up a grader or dozer of some kind occasionally to cover up the gunk so that it wouldn't smell so bad. One morning we went out to the dump to clean things up before we went on the road and noticed on the graded dirt at the top of the heap some tracks. Now , we weren't exactly trackers, but it didn't take long to figure out that they were bear tracks. We figured that the bear came out here at night to scrounge through the dump and look for snacks. Like idiots, we decided to do what we could to encourage him (or her, or it) so we set aside a little plastic waste paper basket and began to toss old fruit and meat etc. into it, then when we unloaded we would dump that basket always in the same place. Sure enough, pretty soon, the tracks seemed to all be around our food dump spot. We knew that the bait was working, but we didn't know the time of day (or night) and we didn't know how big the bear might be or if he/she would get disturbed if we came back when it was there and disturbed it at dinner time.

Some two weeks were spent in discussion, and we finally decided to shoot the bear. The red headed guy got a thirty ought six rifle from his dad. I looked it up in the library, where the suggested weapon was a twelve gage shot gun with solid lead shot. My dad had a twelve gage so I borrowed it (without asking). I can't remember whether Mark was involved in this, or not. I think he was. For several days we haunted the dump at various hours of the day. I don't remember what time it was when we disturbed the darn thing, but he (we discovered that it was a he) stood up and yelled at us. And the weapons came up and fired almost as one. The darn bear sort of went "ooph" and dropped into the bait pile. We all felt like the Davy Crockets of Idaho and went up and sort of danced around the corpse. It was quite a while later when good sense came to me and I didn't feel so heroic shooting a bear that had been baited to the dump. (Also, if Davy Crocket killed a "b'ar" when he was only three, he had a heck of a lot of help getting it skinned and prepared- and probably killed}

As we walked around the critter, suddenly the same thought occurred to all of us. We now had to get the darned thing out of the dump and do something with it.(Among other things none of us knew if there was a bear season, if we needed a permit or what.) That’s when we discovered that: 1. bears are heavy, 2. bears stink almost as much as a full garbage can (and much worse, when they have been opened up.) 3. Bears are covered with lice and assorted other little critters that crawl on you the second you lay hands on the bear.

We found it almost impossible to pick up the bear whole and move it around. We found a couple of boards and some rope and dragged and pushed and in less than an hour got the thing into a pick-up truck. To this day, I can't remember whose pick-up because none of us has access to such. (It might well have been the one that belonged to the village) Once in the truck we skinned the bear, working well into the night (that clarifies what time we found it) by flashlight. The innards-- that’s too polite a term, --the guts, we buried in a spot where we determined that we would dump a lot of garbage in the next day. I can't remember who got the skin, but I declined a big share of the meat, though I got a ham, which I paid to have cured, like a pork ham, and took home, telling my parents a cock and bull story about having been given the ham by the father of one of my friends who shot the bear. All told we spent most of the night figuring out who had to take what (There didn't seem to be much real interest in the meat, but we were all raised in families that though very seriously "If you kill it, you better be prepared to eat it.") The ham was marginally edible, but in general the meat was greasy and fat, very dark, and tasted a lot like the place where we shot it smelled. I seem to remember seeing the skin as a rug at someone's house, but I'd bet that whoever had it paid enough to get it cleaned and tanned that it might have been cheaper just to buy one somewhere else. The best thing about the whole adventure was getting into the shower when it was over.

A few years ago, my son was on the faculty at Washington State University, and we went over into Moscow, Idaho where they have a wonderful place to buy skulls and bones and skins as well as free range eggs and all that kind of stuff. When we entered, four or five guys were cleaning a bear skin in a big room near the door, and the only thing I could think was that it didn't smell at all like the one we had removed from OUR bear.

Those of you who are devout environmentalists and vegans, I beg your pardon. I have often followed the Shoshoni tribe tradition of asking forgiveness of the bear as well, quietly and in my heart.


At 2:58 AM, Blogger Davo said...

Hi again Richard. Thankyou for visiting WW, for a moment there i had the impression that i was 'shouting into the wind', so was on the verge of closing it down.

Still am, actually, but that is more to do with electricity and "commercial" connections, than impetus.

Best wishes from this hemisphere, and i certainly hope that the detail of your recollections is recorded in more places than the "ethernet" .. heh.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Norma said...

Great story. Didn't know bears smelled so bad.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

We didn't either, or we might have dropped the whole idea. Actually, before he was "opened up" the smell was just that of a dirty wet large dog times six or eight. When we opened him up the fragrance was almost unbelievable, but we have to remeber that he had been living on a dump for at least a month or two. If he had been out in the wild, eating berries and fish or small mammals he might not have been so distinctive.
Remind me to tell the story of the worst smelling dissection in history. I was doing a research paper for an ornithology class that involved dissecting a bunch of Pelicans. I opened the first one up about two in the afternoon and emptied the entire four story, three wing, liberal arts/science complex at Idaho State University. When they came to the lab in the basement, and found me and my stinking bird, they gave me a key and made a rule that I had to complete the rest of my dissections after midnight.

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Gayle said...

Isn't it strange how kids wll act before thinking? I mean, you kids (young men?) killed the bear before considering whether it was legal or not, or even knowing what you were going to do with it afterward. That's something that's always bothered me about the young, and the fact that they vote scares the you-know-what out of me!

I'm sure you've been forgiven for the bear. :)


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