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Three score and ten or more

Monday, August 30, 2010

Graduation gifts

Almost everyone who graduates from high school gets some kind of graduation gift.  When I graduated, my parents gave me a Croton Aquamedico wrist watch which I loved dearly for about six years.  (I don’t think I have had any subsequent watch that lasted so long.  I have know student who received cars, watches, stereos, and a variety of sums of money.

One of the guys in my high school class received a gift that is probably unique, at least I have never heard its duplicate.   His father was a trucker, or contractor, or something like that.  He gave his son a great big, brand new, six wheel, diesel dump truck, with a belly dump.  He told his son that he should go to college if he wished, or go full time into the trucking business, but if he wished to sell the truck he had to wait at least six years.   By then the truck would either have become a permanent part of his life, or it would have financed four or five years of college.

At that time, the government was building a giant, earth filled dam across the Snake river called the Hell’s Canyon Dam, and, one way or another, my friend (I’ll call him Jack) was hired, or contracted to put the truck into use on the dam.  He asked around the class for guys who were licensed and knew how to drive his truck, gave each of them a “driving'’ test and took three guys, besides himself, up to Hell’s canyon. 

I passed the test, thanks to my work at the concrete products plant a few years before, and filled with the romance of trucking and the thought of big money, packed my sleeping bag and some clothing and was off to Hell’s Canyon.

This was one of the most difficult, exhausting jobs I had ever had, and I have to confess that I went to him after the second week  and told him that as soon as he could find a replacement, I wanted to quit.

It was exciting, and he was a good business man.  We went up there to work on shares, over and above expenses, and I made ten or twelve bucks an hour for the time I drove.  We basically kept the truck in motion all the time, with each of us driving an eight hour shift.   The only times the truck stopped running was when it stopped for fuel, lubrication, and to hose out the front seat.  We slept in a tent, and it seems like there was some kind of mess hall for food, though we might have just eaten in cafes (three score and ten or more affects the memory a lot).  It was a filthy grinding job.  The basic process (as I remember it) was to drive the truck to a loading location, where an enormous earth mover that looked like a giant monster would scoop up a mouth full of dirt and usually in one dump drop that dirt into the bed of that truck (and it was one of the biggest dump trucks I have ever seen).   The driver would then drive as fast as the law allows to the dump site which was a sort of a ramp thing that had two tracks  and an opening between them.   Occasionally there was a line of trucks at the dump site (out over the dam,) but most often you hardly had to stop at all until you got out over the dam.  You then dumped your load and went right back to the loading site.

The loading site changed frequently but, as close as I could tell, we basically took off a whole mountain to  and dropped in in the river.

It didn’t matter how often you got to a shower, or changed your clothes, you always felt dusty and could taste the grit of dust in your mouth, and in your eyes.    I was glad when they got me a replacement, though, at the pay we were getting,( I was better paid than anyone I knew, even my father) they didn’t have trouble replacing me.   My replacement was a  big guy about forty, who (If I remember correctly) brought his own camping trailer and lives in comparative luxury compared to me. I spent the rest of the summer working for the railroad and really appreciated going home to a bed each night.


At 4:23 PM, Blogger Norma said...

Are you sure you're not an old cat instead of an old coot? You have had such interesting and multiple work lives.


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