Sunday, July 19, 2015
Imagine Foghorn Leghorn saying it. “It’s …I say, Boy…it’s HOT!” The weather says it is 7:00 in the evening, 93 degrees and the “real feel” is 106. It feels like the summer of 1965 and Rich and I were BUILDING BRIDGES.
Plunk on top of the natural heat in the middle of Nebraska in July and August the fact that we were always in a hole where no breeze could reach, we worked six-to-six, 11 hours per day, six days per week—nearly bathed in creosote.
Let’s talk about creosote for a bit. The first day on the job, I wore my usual leather gloves, and in the heat I naturally was dripping sweat. Sometimes, it felt natural to wipe the sweat from my brow or cheeks. BIG MISTAKE. Creosote has been banned, but the materials we used for much of the bridges were infused with the stuff, and when driven into the earth for the back and wing walls, and for the pilings, we were the ones who sat under the hammer and guided the planks/poles. Meaning this fine spray mist of creosote soaked us.
It feels like a sunburn, but worse. When you get out of the sun, apply some soothing gels, it lets up. The chemical burn keeps on burning. Quickly we learned never to touch our faces and always wear hats, long-sleeves and rags under the hats to protect our necks. Looked like a poor-man’s version of Lawrence of Arabia.
Over the 4th of July 2015, half a century beyond the events to be described, Rich’s sons asked me to tell a couple of stories about those days. They had been so gracious as to invite us to their pool, how could I resist. And you know how reluctant I am to tell a story.
Rich was a “specialist.” He made more money than the $1.35 per hour, straight time, no over time that I made. He was the welder. On top of the poles that had been driven into the creek beds, a superstructure of steel beams was welded along with a metal pan tacked in place. As one of the last steps in the process, concrete trucks would show up, fill the concrete bucket on the crane and we would pour into the pan created. A lot of the concrete was driven out with wheelbarrows by, guess who?
Being raised on farms, we really didn’t know any better. We thought everything was done the hard way.
Early that summer, while Rich and I were putting in over 100 hours per week with the fertilizer company, there had been floods that washed out the rickety bridges on the country roads. I have no idea how long those bridges lasted, but I have driven around a few times and the bridges we put in are still there, 50 years later.
I had not heard of “water poisoning” then, but it is a wonder we didn’t experience it because we drank Igloo after Igloo. But one day, it rained us out. The creek where we were working started to come up, and they decided to call it a day. The job site was quite away from home, on the Skeedee, no that’s not right, maybe Plum Creek? maybe?? Remember, the word is pronounced, “crick.” Anyway, I rode with Rich and on the way back, on the Belgrade road, we popped over a hill and, unlike the near side that was dry, the other side was wet. They had been grading it, so it had no gravel, just dirt, and it was grease.
The car started to slide, Rich said, “Here we go,” and I just sat (no seat belts, a bench seat) and said, “Yep.” I remember distinctly that I had my legs crossed as we went into the ditch.
Again, we were farm grown, so we didn’t know that somebody else was supposed to figure out a solution for us. We walked to a nearby farm, borrowed a tractor and pulled the car out.
A moment about the car. Rich always had nice cars, but this one was pretty good—a 1957 Chevy Bel Air in the classic Tropical Turquoise and India Ivory. Not a convertible, not a V8, so not perfect. But NICE.
I’m not sure whether he had this car before or after the Chevy, but it was a classic and I think it was in the same color as this picture…and that, my friend, may be why he dated and married the coolest girl in school.
Anyway, another adventure. Take 66 hours times $1.35, remove a few social security dollars and some taxes, and we were working for right at $100 per week. Not bad. Not bad.
Stand by for a few more stories as they occur to me…for instance, I must tell you about the 104-hour work week, the only time I have ever clocked in and out and amassed over 100 hours in a week. Rich was there with me.