Had my annual eye exam today...
My eyes are dilated and the world is a very bright place...
See you tomorrow. Hopefully....
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I wanted to work at home for a while. Tramping is a strain on a marriage and family life, and I had a new kid to go along with the other two. When Sam left Charleston for northern climes, I tried to get into some kind of rhythm, but loneliness set in and I wasn't much of a partier. Stopping for a beer after work, going in and cleaning up, going to supper, and back to the room was getting to me. My own Local had no work to offer other than the Eastman, and no way was I going to work there again.
At least I was home. Like I said, the pay at Magnavox was dismal, but we were treated well. The plant had been organized for several years, but basically the folks who worked there and were members of the union didn't have the right stuff. A few years earlier, they went on strike for more pay and benefits. They walked the picket line for several months and then settled for a penny raise. They asked me to join the union, but I respectfully declined. It was a weak union at best, and besides, I was already paying dues to another AF of L-CIO union.
I hoped to pick up some house wiring on the side to help with bills, but the jobs were few. I went to work on evening shift, where I was the only maintenance man present. After a short while, the evening shift was discontinued and I went to day shift where they really didn't need me, but I was good at the work and was willing to work for very little. My supervisor at Magnavox was a fellow named Charlie Green, a baptist preacher and one hell of a fine man. After I was there a few months, Charlie was laid-off, and his supervisor became my supervisor. The new one was no preacher by any means, but he was also a good guy. I've felt badly about Charlie being set aside; he deserved better. I know I took his job, and I wish they had let me go instead of him.
I met some characters while working there, one being a maintenance helper by the name of Roy. He was a slight man, probably in his forties, and had picked up the nickname "Sue" from the other electrician. He was a good guy, but it was easy to get his goat. His favorite retort when someone was giving him good natured grief was " Why don't you take a flying fuck at the moon?". Another guy I met was a kid maned Mike, not long out of high school. He was the truck driver, and managed to overload two light duty Ford dump-trucks to the point the frames bent. It really wasn't his fault; he was following orders from an idiot. Several years later, I would run into Mike again, and we became pretty good friends for a while.
The most memorable thing that happened to me while working there was during summer vacation while most of the plant was shut down. The maintenance crew was required to work, doing things on machinery that had been running mostly non-stop since the previous year's vacation. One production line was working on a rush order of stereo cabinets. The line supervisor saw that they weren't going to get the product out in time, so he asked the other electrician and me to give them a hand. We politely refused, he called the plant manager, the plant manager came to work and began helping the line folk, which was entirely against the union agreement. He even ordered my buddy and me to help. We did so to keep from getting fired on the spot, but at break time, my buddy called the union steward, who was supposed to be present anyway. He also called our boss and he told us to get back where we belonged doing maintenance. Soon, he showed up after a fast thirty mile drive, and the steward was there by then and a big huddle ensued.. Man, those four boys had it hot and heavy for a while. My buddy and and I didn't do anymore line work that day or any other. Sometime during that week, I put an application in with a new Texas Instruments plant that had come to town, not expecting to hear anything from it.
In late September, I quit the job there. No way was I going to meet my obligations on the small pay. One good thing came from my leaving there; they couldn't find anyone to replace me at the pay scale, so they raised it more than a dollar, with more to come. In early November, I loaded up the Dodge truck and headed to Atlanta where the Local union had work. I ended up in Rome, Georgia, which isn't far from the Alabama line. We were building a new Federal building, including a courthouse and FBI office. On my way from Atlanta to Rome, I saw my first ever and last cotton field. I didn't like the job, and Rome offered few amenities for tramps, and I had to stay in a motel which was expensive. Also, gasoline prices were rising very quickly, leading to the first oil embargo from our dear friends and allies, the Arabs. Just biding my time. Then, Texas Instruments called. I had kept in touch with Charlie Green after he left Magnavox, and he became the first maintenance man at TI. He talked the maintenance supervisor into hiring me. So, on December 19, 1973, I went to work temporarily on day shift. In two weeks, I had to go to evening shift, but at least I was home but only making $5.75 an hour.
Next, my year at TI, new friends, and some self inflicted problems...
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
We went riding in the countryside yesterday, hoping to find something good to photograph. Drove over a good part of Washington and Greene counties and got not one shot.
Haven't done a thing today except try to fix a bunch of photos that I uploaded to Flickr over the past few weeks. Most were underexposed-looking. My monitor was out of whack, and they looked good to me. Alas, they were ugly to others.
I've got to get back to my tramping account. Maybe tomorrow. I feel a little off today, a bit of queasy stomach.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
It's been a mixed weekend. Carolyn is worn out from the week's work. She and Vicki are doing the work of three due to one employee being out with an injury.
We drove to the Watauga Dam overlook yesterday and picnicked, and then rode around the outskirts of the lake for a time. Carolyn cleaned the little job in Elizabethton while we were up there.
She and Vicki had to go out this morning and clean the buildings they weren't able to get to Friday night. She managed to lock the keys up in the van while cleaning a building downtown. I took her the spare key and did a little shooting while down there. Noon light isn't the best for photography, but it is what I had.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Time out for repairs...
Right after I began the Charleston job for the last time, I sold the Ford XL and bought a 1972 Dodge pickup. About the same time, Sam bought a gray 1972 Dodge Charger, and it was the car he was driving when he returned to Charleston. I had been wanting a pickup for several years, and the work I was doing putting a den in our basement gave me the excuse to get one. It was a black long-bed with American brand chrome spoke wheels. It was the first year the wide cab came out, and some were available with a Club Cab which was basically a place to put a golf bag behind the seat. Mine didn't have that feature, but had every other option Dodge offered, except for sliding back windows. Not long after I bought it, the fan belt began squealing at times. Once while driving home from Charleston, it became very loud for a while. Next day, I took it to my cousin's husband who owned a service station and did minor auto repairs. We agreed it needed a new belt, as the old one had become sort of crystallized. He went to the the parts store, bought and installed one. The next week was Sam's time to drive the round trip, and I left the truck with Carolyn. When I got back home on Friday evening, she told me the truck tore up and she had the same guy who replaced the belt to replace the water pump. She showed me the old pump, and it's neck was literally broken. The housing around the fan shaft was cracked all the way around. I drove the truck back to work next week, and on Friday and about 40 miles from home, a cloud of steam sprang from the front end. Fortunately, a tramp friend of ours—whom was also the local union's president—came along on his way home from Parkersburg and towed us to a service station in Abingdon, VA. Again it was the water pump housing broken. I paid the station owner $50 in advance for repairs, and we rode on to Sam's house with our buddy, George Sensabaugh.*
On Saturday, I picked the truck up. Sam drove the next week, and meanwhile, the water pump broke once more. Again Carolyn took it to my cousin's husband for repairs, but this time he didn't charge anything, saying it was a defective pump. I drove it back to WV and on back home the next week without a problem.
Early the next week, it broke again. On Saturday, I replaced it myself and drove to Charleston and back without a problem, and Carolyn drove it the next week and all seemed ok. On Sunday when I started it up to return to WV, the clang of a broken water pump hit my ears. I called Sam, and told him to go on without me, I was going to fix it or get rid of it. I went to the junk yard early on Monday, bought a fan and a belt-tensioning idler pulley off an old Plymouth, stopped by The Dodge Boys and bought a factory new pump and belt. I put all that stuff on the 400ci engine, figuring it wouldn't solve the problem. After finishing repairs, I was letting the motor warm up while at the same time examining the parts I'd taken off. I found the culprit. When I first had the squeaky belt replaced, the mechanic had used a pry bar to help him tension the belt. He had put a tiny dent in the idler pulley, one so small it was barely visible. Over time as it jerked the belt each rotation, it caused the water pump neck to stress and eventually break. The used idler pulley took care of the problem and I was in Charleston in time for a late supper.
* Our friend George Sensabaugh was not only a great guy, but had an excellent sense of humor. When he met someone for the first time, he'd reach in his pocket and withdraw a weird looking, flexible and crooked toothpick and start poking at his teeth. Usually people would watch for a minute, and then inquire as to what the toothpick was made of. The biggest grin you ever saw would spread across George's face, and he'd announce that it was a raccoon's dick. And it was, too. He was one of my favorite people I ever met. He died of a heart attack in the late 80s while living in Parkersburg.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The three of us packed up our few belongings and headed west to Parkersburg, WV. The little trailer Sam and I lived in before had been sold, but the same landlord had a basement apartment he let us have. It was one large room except a bathroom had been walled off. He threw in an extra bed at no charge, so we each had our own. The main room was divided by a low divider, separating the kitchen/dining area from the bed spaces. Again I was elected cook, Sam was the dishwasher, and Joe became the house cleaner. Sam and I called him our house whore. His response was "just go ahead and try!". Joe was a big man, with a perpetual grin and a practical joker in his own right. His two favorite pastimes were eating and finding ways to get Sam's goat whenever possible, such as pushing him out the door and locking it just as Sam was getting ready to step into the shower. There were a lot of people around, fortunately all of them adults. Or leaving Sam to pay the grocery bill for all three of us at Kroger when we knew Sam wasn't carrying enough money to cover it. Sam looked like a whipped puppy standing in front of that cash register all alone with the cashier holding out her hand for the money. Sam paid us back at a restaurant, though. He was the first in line to check out as we were leaving, and he cut a silent but otherwise magnificent fart that reached the cashiers nose at the same time we stepped up to pay. Before we could blame him, Sam was out the door and looking back laughing. It was an embarrassing moment, especially for the girl behind the counter. She turned red, thinking that one of us did it, while wondering if the one of us that didn't do it thought that she did. This is when Joe hung the nickname "Wormy" on Sam.
Sam was back at his Thursday night rendezvous with his friend from Charleston. Joe didn't approve, being Sam's neighbor back home and all, but he never said anything to him. Sam would always want to drive the first leg home on Friday evenings, so he could climb into the backseat when one of us took the wheel. He needed to make up for sleep he lost the night before. Joe made sure that sleep never came.
Summer finally turned into autumn, and then the chill of winter set in. Actually, the job was more outside work than inside, and it gets mighty cold along the Ohio river. It was while getting ready to return to work one December Sunday, that I realized I wasn't the tough old boy I pretended to be. There was no doubt I was dieing. Carolyn called an ambulance and they took me to hospital where two days later I passed a bouncing baby kidney stone. It was just barely large enough to see with the naked eye, but that thing sure did hurt. I missed a week's work, Tennessee beat Arkansas in some obscure football bowl game, and life returned to normal, except that over the next four years I would pass six more kidney stones.
Joe and I had saved enough to take off a couple of months, so one Friday in January 1972, we told Sam we were dragging-up the next Friday. He said he wasn't going to do so, and got a little peeved that we were. In fact, he drove up by himself that Sunday, and hardly spoke to Joe and me the rest of the week. On Friday, he too quit. It was the last I would hear from him until June, but Joe told me Sam had gone back to NYC to again work the Trade Center.
In March, I became restless and tried to find something in the valley, but the pickings were slim. On a Sunday morning, I took off to Pittsburgh, PA. I won't say much about my time there except I never did find a tramping buddy, and I did like the hell out of that town. I also joined a nudist colony just south of there in WV, something I had always dreamed of. It was on a dare from another tramp, but I never did go to the compound; I was still a very shy boy. The cost of traveling and living alone, plus the fact that it was too far from home for travel each weekend, caused me to drag up after only three weeks. I returned home and waited for the valley to open back up.
In June, Carolyn told me to get a job. I called around and found work back at Amos powerhouse in Charleston. Once there, I had to stay at a motel until the rooming house we had stayed at before had an opening. One evening, I was at a department store, and ran into Sam's friend, the very same one whom met him each Thursday while we were in Parkersburg. I'd always known she was a looker. Model slim, medium tall with almost black hair nearly to her waist; she was a keeper, for sure. She had her daughter along, and we sat at cafe and talked for an hour while her youngster played on some swings and slides. Soon, she asked me about Sam, and I told her the last time I saw him he was mad and not speaking to me. She invited me over to her home for the next evening, and I went and we sat on a swing and talked for awhile. It was becoming obvious she was wanting Sam back at work in the valley, so to speak. She had tried to get over him, and hadn't had any contact with him since right after he left Parkersburg. I told her I would try to get in touch with him that weekend when I went home. It just so happened that Sam had just quit NYC, and was longing for the valley, again so to speak. I told him I had seen his friend and she wanted him to contact her. That Monday evening, I got a call from him on the motel phone, and he was working in Charleston but at a trucking company that was under construction. Next evening, he moved in with me at the motel, called his friend, and all was right with the world.
Sam finally got referred to the powerhouse, and ended up on the same crew as I, but we had the same foreman as before, and he wouldn't let us work together. We got our old room back at the rooming house, and went into our routine; except for one thing. Once after a hot and dusty day at work, Sam talked me into going into a beer joint with him. I had no intention of drinking a beer. Never had drank one and saw no reason to start. A couple hours later I was buzzing right along on 3.2 Pabst Blue Ribbon. I was hooked, and it changed my life completely.
Stopping at the bar became a daily ritual. Beer was cheap, and we were making good money. Sam was back to his Thursday night meetings and all was well. We stayed together until February 1973, when Sam and his friend had a falling out, and he left for greener pastures farther north. Then in March, I completely lost my sanity and went home to work for $3.90 an hour as a maintenance electrician at the local Magnavox cabinet plant. Except for the money, it was the best job I ever had up to that time.
Next: Magnavox, back to Atlanta, and then home to Texas Instruments...
Monday, May 19, 2008
The most relaxing thing that I do is watch the surface of a puddle as small raindrops fall. It's mesmerizing to see the reflected sky suddenly give way to a tiny splash and ripple, then more and more ripples as the rain intensity increases. Soon, each ripple becomes only a momentary stir as the surface is lightly agitated all over, and the waxing and waning of the rain causes the dance to seem as if alive. Sometimes it lasts for only moments, but then there are times it may keep me hypnotized for minutes. Other times, the visual serenity is broken by larger drops hitting, and then is the time to listen to the rhythms of life-giving water as it insists on seeking mother earth. Usually after the larger drops are through churning the puddle, the small splashes begin again, slowly decreasing in intensity until each one has an accompanying ripple and then there is once more nothing but the reflection of the sky with maybe a bit of breeze to disturb the mirror. It is the time when I most contemplate the little part I play in the Cosmic chaos... I am a raindrop.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Clarksburg must have some very good qualities, other than housing some fine, mixed heritage people. I suppose their biggest claim to fame is that the town is the birthplace of "Stonewall" Jackson, a famous Confederate general during the first US Civil War. At the time I was there in 1971 the city probably had a population of around thirty-thousand, but that is a guess. Sometimes we worked jobs out in the middle of nowhere, but the entire city was that way. In an ethnic way, it may remind you of a small version of Pittsburgh, PA.
The job was a powerhouse, and it was in the middle of nowhere's nowhere. Why is WV so popular for powerhouses? The main reason is King Coal; the place is rife with it. In fact, the strip mines were the most unsightly thing I've ever seen. Beautiful high mountains were being reduced to barren piles of dirt and rock. Around the deep mines, slag piles were devastating the hillsides and creeks. The loveliest region of our nation was being raped.
I don't recall the name of the powerhouse. It was located just north of the city on a creek that had to be damned so it could provide enough water for generation by two turbines. Sam and I were assigned work on the "bull crew". Our job was to run and maintain temporary power cables to anyplace they were needed on the work site. Actually not bad work most of the time. Our biggest problem was mud. Sometimes we had to wade in gooey earth up to our knees or higher to get power and lighting to places where there would be night work going on. They provided us with rubber knee-high boots, but they tended to stick in the mud and completely sap our energy.
We didn't like our foreman, and he didn't like us. It was a dislike at first sight thing for all of us. He was a member of the Clarksburg local union, but lived in California, at least until that job began and he got to be a foreman. Most foremen on most union construction jobs were members of the local that had job jurisdiction. The majority of them were pretty good people. This is a place where most of the valley locals were an exception. Most local members looked down on us tramps, even though a majority of them worked away from home most of the time before the "big job" came to town. Parkersburg was different, though; we were always treated well there. Most of Clarksburg's members spent most of their time and even had permanent residences in Pittsburgh. There is a union law that states if a member is called to come to his home local to man a job, he had better do so or he can be kicked out of the union. That's how Sam and I got the worm from CA as a pusher. WV is a very strong union state, at least it was then. They were a "closed shop" state, meaning if a plant or any work place had a union, all workers must join it and pay dues. And, most people there drove American Iron, Fords, Chevys, Dodges, etc. This old character came to work riding a small and foreign made Honda motorcycle, and wearing a pair of wrap-around sunglasses to go with his white handlebar mustache. Not only that, he thought he had privileges because he was a foreman. He always went to the change shack well before quitting time, which gave Sam and me the right to the same honor. The first day we followed him in about twenty minutes before the horn blew, he blew a fuse and demanded we get back to work. We told him to f**k-off. He was supposed to have long enough to do paperwork each day, which took about five minutes to check-off a couple of boxes and sign his name. Anyway, it caused him and some other foremen to change their schedules a bit, and got Sam and I on everyone's shit list.
We ended up on turd chopper duty. The toilets for the job were at the end of the long building where we changed clothes and kept our personal stuff like hand tools, etc. The waste went almost directly to the poor little creek. There was a thing located about twenty feet away from the building called a turd chopper. It was at an open point in the discharge pipe, and was just below ground level in a concrete box-like structure. The turd chopper did just that; chopped big solid waste (turds) into smaller ones that wouldn't clog the pipes and probably so they wouldn't look so bad floating in the creek through people's back yards. At times, the turd chopper would quit, usually due to an over sized turd jamming the too small of a machine and causing it to kick the motor protection circuit breaker. We had to climb into the hole, take a pipe loose, and dig out the jammed crap with a stick, and then reset the breaker and be done until the next fellow came along whom hadn't had a bowel movement for several days excreted a monster.
The company was supposed to purchase union made materials when they were available for the entire job. These jokers started buying the wire we used for temporary service from a company in Alabama and that definitely was not union made. We had an Operating Engineer buddy (a heavy equipment operator) from my neck of the woods whom I'd known all my life to bury the offending conductors. We were reprimanded for "losing" the material, but that was all that came of it.
Our living quarters there were a warehouse that had been converted into barracks to house transient workers at the job. We had a two-bed room on the second floor, and everyone had to share a bathroom and showers. The place had a restaurant downstairs, but the food wasn't great and had only one kind of meat and a couple of vegetables each day. They served liver and onions on each Wednesday; nothing else. We learned to love Ronald McDonald. Sam's next door neighbor from Bristol—I'll call him "Joe"—and also a brother electrician, had joined us on the job a few weeks after we arrived there. His room was two away from ours and Sam decided he was going to surprise Joe with a good wetting in the middle of the night. To do so, Sam would have to remove a ceiling tile, climb into the crawl space with a container of water, and carefully make his way across to Joe's room on the wall headers without falling through the ceiling. A loud squall from Joe indicated that the mission was successful.
Again, another autumn was coming, and we wanted to get established on a job a little closer to home. We called Parkersburg, and the B.A. said he could place all three of us back at the DuPont plant. Soon, we were heading 50 miles west on route 50 to settle in for the winter in familiar territory.
Next, Parkersburg, Pittsburgh and back to Charleston.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Work in the valley was yet to get into full swing, so we picked up a referral to Atlanta, which was completely virgin territory to me, although Sam had visited there several times before. We left on a Monday for a change, and promptly got lost in the big city while trying to find the Local 613 union hall. As we were cruising the ghettos not far from the ball park and on the wrong side of the interstate, a man wearing no shirt came running out of one of the houses and tried to jump over a kid's wagon but tripped and fell. It was obvious he was in a hurry to leave. A second later, another man appeared in the doorway holding onto the arm of a bare-breasted woman with one hand, and waving a handgun with the other. The first man got to his feet and tried to run some more, but the second man shot him down. There were little children playing around the place, but it didn't stop the shooter from having his vengeance. The bullet was fired in our general direction and Sam was driving my car, which had a 390ci engine, and in no time we were on the other side of I-75 and in the vicinity of the hiring hall. Never did hear what the thing was all about, but it seemed fairly obvious that someone got caught stealing in someone else's woodpile.
We got to the local and picked up our job referrals. It wasn't close to downtown like Sam wanted, but was way to the south near Fairburn. On the way down there, we passed Atlanta's big airport, and I saw a Boeing 747 coming in to land. That was the first time I ever saw one. That was the last time I ever saw one. The construction site was for a new Owens-Corning fiberglass plant, and it was deep in the boonies, so we had trouble finding a place to stay. Finally, we located a motel back toward Atlanta in another wide place in the road called Union City. It was a large room with two beds, the rent was affordable, and the mosquitoes were plentiful. We did find a fine scarfing house in Union City that served the best catfish I ever tasted, and their barbecue beef and pig were excellent. It was also affordable and served breakfast. One thing peculiar I found while visiting that restaurant for breakfast everyday... a lot of Georgians either forgot or were too lazy to turn their headlights off. About half the cars in the parking lot had them left on while their drivers were eating.
The second time that it was Sam's turn to drive, he picked me up at my house in a green 1970 Torino coupe. It was plain-jane with a 302 and auto tranny. It rode rougher than the did the '68. A tidbit about driving the '68; it was a road hugger. The last time he had it down there, and on the way back to Tennessee, he drove to Greenville SC as usual, and I took over for the remainder of the trip while he slept in the back seat. A couple of college boys from Florida were on their way to Johnson City and ETSU, and their little Mustang was holding up the horny express. We were going down the mountain from Sam's Gap where there is a stretch of crooked road that had a peculiarity; after going around a certain curve, one could clearly see all the road for the next half-mile or so. I didn't see anything coming, so I pushed the floor shifter up into second gear, whipped out and passed the 'Stang right in the middle of a blind curve. It scared the shit out of those two guys, almost to the point the driver was off the road and onto the narrow curb near a guardrail. They were used to driving the straight roads in Florida, and had never witnessed the like. I stopped at a service station near Erwin to pee, and the Mustang pulled up beside us. The driver was all excited and asked me how I learned to do a trick like that. I told him a partial truth; that is just how we drove the crooked and hilly roads. Sam woke up long enough to catch a bit of the conversation, and asked if he had missed anything. The Florida boys told him what I'd done with his car, and he told them we did stuff like that all the time. After we left the station, Sam told me that if I ever pulled a trick like that again in his car, I would be walking. He was just pissed because I got to show off in front of those kids instead of him. Sweet Torino!
Neither of us liked the job in Fairburn, and to tell the truth, we were sick of grits. In other words, we wanted to get out of there asap. But first, we had to do some nightclubbing in Atlanta. Is every street in that town named Peachtree something-or-other? Someone told Sam where there was good club with lots of women, and it was adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus. I didn't care about the club scene, but I did want to see downtown Atlanta. Off we went with our finest and shiny new clothes on. We found the club, went in, and it was mostly dead. The highlight was me going to pee and walking into a mirrored wall and falling on my ass. I got a standing ovation from the few that were there. We decided the trip was a bust, and as we were driving back through what we called the hippie section, another peculiar thing happened. Sam was driving my car along one of the broad Peachtree streets, and we had the windows down. No one bothered to tell us they washed the streets by turning on the fire hydrants. Just as we stopped for a traffic light, a cop wrenched one on about 10 feet away from my window. It knocked me all the way over against Sam just as he was pulling away from the light and almost causing us to wreck. The cop and little kids that were standing around him waiting to play in the water thought it was hilarious.
GM had an assembly plant in nearby Doraville. That is where another peculiar thing was going on. Sam and I detected that on a lot of Chevy Novas we got behind while driving, one of the taillights was a bit crooked. I don't remember which light it was, but it was a fact. No one else we mentioned it to knew about it, but soon they all agreed that it was so. For years afterward, I could spot one of the Doraville Novas right off.
After the downtown fiasco, we were ready to move on to greener pastures. Our local B.A. was of little use, so we called the locals in the valley until we found one with work. It was a little off the normal path, but we went anyway.
Next, Clarksburg WV...
Friday, May 16, 2008
On an April morning in 1971, Sam phoned me. He had enough of NYC he said, and was ready to go back to the valley. I too was getting the burning desire to hit the road after spending a winter at home, mostly loafing. The tires on my car were about worn out and were out of balance, and the engine needed a tune-up, but I was short on money and had to live with it. We met at the union hall and got our referrals to a job near Baltimore. The valley was a little slow at the time, but it would soon be booming again. On the following Tuesday (we always figured anything worth doing on Monday was even better done on Tuesday), I picked Sam up at his home in Bristol, and headed north on I-81. We had to travel slowly because my out of balance tires shook the car terribly when we went more than 60 mph. Somewhere between DC and Baltimore, the ignition points finally gave up. Every 30 minutes or so of driving led to a stop so I could take a matchbook cover and reset the gap. Eventually Sam had enough, and had me stop at a parts store where he bought new points and a condenser. I installed them and we went on our way, but the day was late and we had to find a motel. We pulled into one that had a flashing neon "YES" sign. Behold, right in front of our eyes was the car of another tramp from our own local. It belonged to a man known as "Suitcase" because he mostly lived out of one. He and his tramping buddy were there and on the way to the same destination as we. Sam talked them into sharing their beds with us that night to save us some money, so I ended up "sleeping" on the very edge of a bed in my clothes. Miserable night! Suitcase not only slept in the middle of the bed, he also snored very profusely.
We parted ways next morning, with Suitcase and his buddy heading for the hiring hall, with Sam and I deciding to give the job a look-see before getting our referral from the local. We had heard the project was deep in the middle of Nowhere, Md, and accommodations were difficult to acquire. It was very true. The job was a powerhouse—nuclear, I think—and was near or on Chesapeake Bay. The nearest affordable place to stay was 40 miles from the front gate. We talked the situation over for about ten seconds, and headed back toward Tennessee. Three days later, we were back on the old Morgantown Maryland powerhouse job. They were in the middle of a shutdown for two reasons, one being they were switching from oil to coal for boiler fuel, and the other because bearings in one of the huge generators had seized while running at very high rpm and caused the turbine to shatter its blades. Normally, it is supposed to take a many hours for a turbine to spin down from full blast to slow enough so the turning gear can pick it up and keep it barely rotating. It is a rare thing for one to completely stop once it has initially been put on turning gear during the construction phase. Apparently, this one stopped in less than two minutes. It was a complete wreck.
Anyway, we found a room at the White House motel and went to work installing thermocouples on the first unit's smoke exhaust system (the first unit was still online), and working on the electrostatic precipitators* which removed some of the solid particles from the smoke before it went up the smokestack. Seven weeks later, Sam played a prank on an electrician welder, but the offended party thought I was the perpetrator. He got on the man lift and was at our workstation at the top of the precipitators in a very short time. I was bolting down a transformer, and Sam was underneath me and out of sight while holding the nuts with a ratchet and socket. The welder came storming in, walking as fast as his stubby legs would carry him, and shoved me off my seat and cursed me. I got up and threw a couple of punches, catching him on the chin pretty good. About that time, Sam stuck his head up and told the welder it was himself who had been the prankster. The welder then went after Sam. Before it was broken up, scrawny Sam had the aggressor about half-shoved down the manhole that went to the precipitator piano wire racks while at the same time whooping him on the hardhat with the ratchet.
Next morning, Sam was fired and he drug me up (he told them to get my money too, because I was quitting—what are friends for?). The reputations that we acquired on the Charleston job as "free spirits" were reinforced. At least we were now getting some respect, along with some of our peers whom really didn't even know us, disliking us.
Time out for a fellow I knew.
This fellow was a college dropout and was in his second marriage. He had a daughter by his first marriage, and two more with his second wife. His dad was a local high school coach whom had some friends at the State University. He had gotten his son an athletic scholarship on the Knoxville campus, which actually was to wash jock straps for the athletic teams, a fact that I never let the fellow live down. To say that the fellow liked women is an understatement; to say that women liked him is an even bigger understatement. Once after he had a physical exam, a doctor told his wife that he didn't understand how she could take all he had to offer. I often wondered the same thing myself.
The fellow told me that on the first night of one of his marriages, he was out with a girlfriend for a couple hours. At first I didn't believe him, but after getting to know him better, there was no doubt in my mind that he was telling the truth about his exploits. Once a woman had him, she didn't want to give him up.
He and I got along well, with him being more of a partier than me. One thing for sure, I never wanted any of his leftover women; I would have been a small disappointment for them. I would just as soon read a book than hit the clubs. One time though, we were in a bar after work, and a guy just plain didn't like my looks. He started a fight with me, and I was at least holding my own until one of his buddies jumped in to help him. I hollered at the fellow to get him off me, and a couple more of the guy's buddies grabbed him and asked him if he was with me. He gave the situation a good look, told them he'd never seen me before, walked out the door and waited in the car until I made my escape. Wouldn't of been any use in both of us getting beat up. Stitches and ice had me back at work the next day.
Next stop... O', Atlanta!
*At the time, I was told that electrostatic precipitators are devices used to remove certain pollutants from smoke in powerhouses, etc. They supposedly work by placing a high-voltage negative charge on a grid and passing the smoke through it where the positively charged pollutant particles are attracted by the negative grid and collected there. The ones I'm speaking of here are huge, multi-story metal structures. The grid is a lot of long piano wires suspended from the top to near the ground, with a heavy milk-bottle shaped weight affixed to the bottom of each wire to keep them hanging straight. After operating for a certain time, the electricity to the wire racks is shut off, and a spray of water is introduced at the very top that washes the particles from the wires, where it falls like dirty rain, thus the name "precipitator". I cannot guarantee this description is anywhere like accurate. Google probably is the best place if you need more info.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
A short break from tramping...
It is cloudy and a bit drizzly here today; actually my favorite kind of day for making photos with a fast lens, which I don't have except for the Sigma macro. I may put the Canon S3 back in use for a while as it works pretty well on cloudy days if I don't zoom it too much. Pollen seems to be down somewhat from the past week's levels, so it may be safe to be out doors for a while.
Concerning the stuff I've been writing about my tramp days: it is all from memory. Some of the dates are probably off somewhat, and it is possible that I will get some of the jobs out of sequence. Seems like one memory leads to another, and I could bore you to suicide if I put everyone of the tidbits in this blog. I will try to protect people's reputations as much as possible, but doing so will cause me not to write about most of the fun and weired things that took place. The odds of any of those people ever reading my blog is infinitesimal, but anything is possible. Man, I want to write about it so badly! I suppose I'll have to create some fictional short stories based on some of the more outstanding events. If so, I'll put them on my writing blog, Lord Bubbha.
Another thing I want to stress is that my life was one of complacency until the time I began tramping. I basically had been nowhere and done nothing for my first 25 years of existence. The real world was slowly opening to my eyes, and I found it extremely fascinating and sometimes frightening. The shy and introverted country boy was making real friends—and a few very real enemies—for the first time in his life.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Sometimes getting fired isn't a bad thing, especially when your trade is in high demand. Times would never be better for union tradesmen than they were in the decade of the 70s. Even with oil prices on the rise and interest rates hitting new highs, the heavy construction industry was booming. Powerhouses, both coal fired and nuclear were being built all over the country. Steel and other metal mills were still flourishing. Chemical plants were expanding, and commercial buildings were popping up everywhere in small and large cities. The only thing in decline was home construction, except for mobile homes, an industry running full blast with new factories going into production nationwide.
Another good thing about getting fired, or even quitting on most construction jobs of the day, was that you got paid every dime that was owed you before you went out the gate. Our motto was "My ass is red and my pockets green; there's a lot of this country I haven't seen!"
The next stop for Sam and myself was Parkersburg, WV. It is located about 80 miles north of Charleston along I-77, but was still within weekend driving distance of home. On Monday morning after our dismissal from Amos powerhouse the previous Thursday, we were at Local 968 in downtown Parkersburg. We received referrals to the DuPont chemical plant in Washington WV, which is just west of town on the Ohio river.
Parkersburg was a city of about 50k population at the time, with several major manufacturers to keep the residents at work. But, it was no party town like Charleston. The nightclubs were about as lively during the week as an empty funeral parlor. One club, the 616, had been a good watering hole up until about a month before we arrived in the city. It was a titty bar that was forced to give up its strippers to keep its license. On suspicion, Sam and I gave it a try one night, but it was pretty barren. A buddy from the Maryland job lived across the river from Parkersburg in Belpre, OH. He managed to get us into the VFW, which became our hangout one night each week. It was at the VFW where I watched the first Monday Night Football game ever played. The Jets played at the Browns, and I believe Keith Jackson was the play-by-play announcer, with a loudmouth Texan and ex-Dallas Cowboy quarterback named "Dandy" Don Meredith, and another louder-mouthed prick of a tv sports journalist named Howard Cosell as sidekicks. The only thing Cosell ever did right was get drunk and puke on Meredith's cowboy boots during the broadcast of a game later on. The unflappable Frank Gifford replaced Jackson the next season. The three announcers became legends.
Two things the Parkersburg situation lacked: decent and affordable restaurants, and living accommodations for transient workers. We checked out a hotel in downtown, but it was an expensive flop house. The owner and I almost exchanged blows after I told him the rent was too high. We stayed in a motel the first couple of nights. We finally found a trailer for rent, and it too was a little more than we wanted to pay, but we took it anyway, hoping to find better. The last thing the landlord said after taking our money was "absolutely no women". Didn't bother me at all, but Sam was perturbed, as he had a friend from Charleston due to come up and spend each Thursday night as his guest. They ended up in a motel over on I-77. His friend ended up paying for the room each week for as long as we were there. Why was he so popular? For a scrawny guy, he was endowed very, very well.
After a week, we found another, smaller, and much older trailer closer to the job and for a lot less rent. At 6'5' tall, I had to move around with my neck bent, and was almost on my knees to take a shower. I loved it! I became the cook and Sam was the dishwasher.
Then autumn began showing, and we decided it was time to hunt for a job that would be inside a building and warm for the winter. Sam wanted to go to New York City and work on the World Trade Center. The NYC local had a great pay scale, and was working some overtime. I told him it was too far for me, because I was used to going home on weekends. He decided to carry out his plan for NYC, and after calling our home local to see what was available, I got a job in Kingsport (again, of course) on construction of a new newspaper publishing plant. I counted on being home for at least a good part of the winter. The pay was poor compared to what I was getting in the valley, but I figured I could do some house wiring on weekends to help out.
After a couple of weeks on that job, the company decided to transfer me to—where else?—Tennessee Eastman. I lasted three days, three hours, and thirty minutes before I told them to shove it. I drove straight to the union hall and was given a referral to a powerhouse near Moundsville, WV. That town is noted for being the home of the West Virginia State Prison. The Wheeling local was in charge of providing electricians. The only good thing I can say about that job is that the first unit was online, and it was a warm place to work. even in the second unit where I was. I found poor and then good accommodations in New Martinsville.
On December 31, the morning began with a warm wind blowing from the south, with the temps in the 60s. By 1:00 pm it was snowing, and at quitting time, there was more than three inches on the ground and roads. Didn't matter. I was a die-hard Tennessee Volunteer football fanatic, and I wasn't about to miss seeing them play Air Force in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st. I gathered my two traveling buddies, and set out southward on Route 2, and finally got to I-77, where I made pretty good headway on to Charleston. There was a lot of traffic, but few accidents to avoid. There was 13" snow in Charleston, but we made it to the turnpike with little trouble. Soon after getting on that peculiar highway, traffic stopped. The toll both attendant at the Charleston end knew of the situation, but failed to tell any travelers about it. There was a tractor-trailer jack-knifed on a bridge at Cabin Creek. For you old sports fans, Cabin Creek is a small coal mining company town and the home to the great Jerry West of NBA fame.
Anyway, there we sat. After about an hour, the turnpike people came by and handed out coffee. Fortunately, I had the foresight to fill up with gasoline in Charleston. Sometime after midnight, the traffic began moving in just one lane. Of course, they allowed the north bound vehicles to go first, and before they all got by, another accident on another bridge stopped things again. To shorten the story, I pulled in home a 6:01 am., went to bed and got up at 11:30 am to watch the game. The snow had tapered off a lot before we got to Princeton WV, and there was absolutely none where I lived. The best part of the ball game was when a squirrel ran onto the field and eluded all attempts to corral him. 34-13 Big Orange!
I worked the job in Moundsville until near the end of January, when it was announced they were looking for volunteers for a layoff. I put my name in the hat, took the layoff, went home and drew rocking chair money off of WV until springtime.
Next, Sam and I return to Maryland.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Sam and I followed our buddies to the union hall where we picked up referrals to the John Amos power plant, a two unit coal fired facility belonging to American Electric Power. Our buddies went their own way, while Sam and I looked for a restaurant. We finally got to eat, and it became my turn to drive on to the powerhouse. Sam decided to change clothes while I was motoring just past downtown Charleston. Just as his pants came off, I pulled up beside a loaded city transit bus that was waiting to make a turn, Of course I seized the opportunity and stopped right beside the bus and honked the horn. Sam swore and tried to hide in the front floorboard of the Torino. The folks on the bus clapped and hooted and a good time was had by all; less one. I believe is was the first inkling that Sam had concerning the fact that his chosen travel buddy wasn't what he seemed to be. Then, when I tried to put the Torino into first gear, it wouldn't go. Nor would it go into any other gear. Sam had no choice but to finish dressing and get out of the car, climb under it, and push the tranny shift levers by hand until they loosened. Fortunately, Sam was a skinny 5'11" at 135 pounds. By this time, the bus was long gone and we were holding back a lengthy line of impatient Charlestonians.
We made it to the powerhouse, hired in, and asked about local living arrangements. We were referred to a motel near St. Albans that had a semi-barrack building on a hill in back of the main unit. We got an upstairs room with two single beds, a box fan, and no air-conditioning, but it was affordable. We shared a small bathroom and an even smaller "kitchen" with two guys in the next room. We found a real good home-cooking restaurant in St. Albans, and it became our place to have supper.
West Virginia at the time had no public bars that sold whiskey by the drink, or any other way. All the nightclubs were private, including ones in places like Holiday Inn. Of course, if you met the "requirements" you were welcome to join for free. However, there were sufficient bars that sold 3.2 beer. Bottled whiskey could be bought only at state run stores.
Someone at work told Sam of a decent nightclub just west of downtown Charleston, so Sam and I gave it a look first chance we had, which was the following night after hiring in day. It just happened to be lady's night, and the place was packed. After standing around the bar for a while googling the eye-candy, a table came open and we made the best of the situation.
Charleston, being the state capitol, was thick with secretaries and clerks the elected and appointed officials couldn't do without, and most of the clubs had a special night of free or discounted drinks each Wednesday. The club we found ourselves in was one of the most popular with the young women.
By 11:00 pm. we were drunk and on our way to our sleeping quarters. I won't say much more about that club, except that we went there about once a week.
Meanwhile, and after nearly cooking ourselves in the hot room we had rented, we found a room in a private home in the town of Nitro which was on the other side of the stinking Kanawha. A bit further to drive to work, but well worth it. And, the rent was cheaper.
The rumor on the job was we were due to start a lot of overtime to make up for some of the days lost during the strike. It never happened. We did get one Saturday in, but that was the extent of our extra pay.
We were able to drive home on weekends, though. It was the same story for us as with all tramp construction workers; we went home with three things: an ass-pocket full of money, a sack of dirty clothes, and a hard-on.
First weekend home, I collected the family and drove to K-Mart to treat the kids to toys. We went about our shopping experience and ended up with just over a $100 tally, tax included. I whipped out my paycheck like I had done many times before, and presented it to the cashier. She took a look at it, excused herself, and went to the manager. There was a sign over the manager's little booth that said "Payroll checks gladly accepted". Mine wasn't. His excuse wasn't that it was on an out-of-town company and bank; it was because people just didn't make that kind of money, therefore the check was fake. My pay was $7.50 per hour, of which fifty-cents was taken for medical insurance. two percent of the gross was taken for union assessments, plus I had to pay WV and federal taxes. It wasn't a big net check at all. Needless to say, I dumped the shopping cart in the floor, gathered two very disappointed children and a wife whom didn't know whether to curse the manager for his stupidity or me for making a scene, and left the K-Mart. I never went into another one unti 1994.
On our Sunday trip northward, Sam and I carried leftover food for that evening's meal and our lunch on Monday. We always stopped in Virginia and bought cigarettes for fifty-cents a pack, usually a carton for our own consumption during the week, and several cartons to sell on the job. The first week I drove the Bird, the power window on the passenger side fell down and quit working. I was able to get it back up, but had to stick a screwdriver between it and the door panel to get it to stay. Trading cars was a must, I figured, because the a/c had quit a couple weeks before this, and it also was ready for new tires. When I got it home next weekend, I went to the Ford dealership in Bristol (Sam lived in Bristol and knew a guy...) and traded for a demo 1970 Ford Galaxy 500 XL coupe with 10k miles. That sucker had a factory 8-track tape player mounted on the hump, and a power front bench seat. It had pearl-white (not Ford white) paint, except the hood and top of the fenders, which had a medium blue paint all the way to back to the top of the quarter-panels, and hide-away headlights. The roof line was typical sloped XL style, but had a recessed rear window, about like the '66 Chevelle coupe sported. It was also the most expensive car I owned up to the time, at $4800 and change. The ''66 Chevelle SS 396 had cost $3200 brand new, and the new '63 Impala convertible had a sticker of just over $2900. When I bought the XL, the dealership had a green GT40 in the showroom and were asking $6400. It had a 289ci engine.
Sam's and my main job at Amos was to keep the man-lift running. Several times each day, some joker would trip one of the safety switches at the very top and we would have to climb a bunch of steps to get there and reset it. Then we had to go back down and fill out a safety report on the occurrence. Usually by the time the paper work was finished for one stoppage, we were summoned to do the whole thing over again. I developed some fine leg muscles and lung capacity during the time.
Seven weeks after hiring on the job, we were fired. The electrical superintendent told the area foreman who in turn told our foreman that Sam and I were young and too inexperienced and he didn't want us on the job.
Next stop; Parkersburg, WV.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Blogger has a new setup where I can write ahead of time and it will publish when I want. Not edited, so excuse the mistakes.
Upon my return to Maryland, I ran into one of my buddies from apprentice school. Sam (not his real name) had been on the job for a week, but we hadn't crossed paths. By now, I had a roomie, a guy from Knoxville whom was a magnificent bullshiter. Sam was staying at the next motel up the road from the White House. He was rooming with a guy from the Charleston, WV local, and it and all the rest of the Ohio Valley locals were still on strike. But negotiations were finally going well, and the situation looked to soon be settled.
Meanwhile, we had a little strike of our own. I don't know what it was over, but it was the boilermakers whom went out at 10:00 one morning. So naturally, the rest of the trades walked. Sam, his roomie, and I spent the rest of the day on the banks of the Potomac talking about things to do in Charleston when we got there. American Electric Power was building a two unit powerhouse just outside of St. Albans on the Kanawha river, and would be requiring over 3,000 tradesmen and laborers. We made great plans for when we got there. Our strike was a short lived affair, and we were back to work the next day.
This Morgantown powerhouse was owned by Potomac Electric Power Company, and was a two unit facility with oil-fired boilers. This was 1970 and just before the mid-east oil situation went all to hell. Not long after the first unit was finished with construction, the oil system was replaced by coal. Needless to say, there was overtime and I went back there for the big bucks.
Time out... The White House motel was owned by people who lived in New York City, and was managed by a couple from Florida. The managers went on vacation for a couple weeks, so the owners came in to take over. These were die-cast city folk, very wealthy and used to being surrounded by high class society. They were nice enough, but obviously out of place amongst construction workers. One day after work, I went in to pay another week's rent. The lady was behind the desk and sunlight was coming in the windows in such a way that it was lighting my head and shining through my eyeglasses, and of course they were covered with a day's load of construction dust. She gave me a stern look and said "How do you see through those filthy glasses? It is obvious to me that you haven't bothered to clean them in a very long time". She actually didn't understand or have a clue as to what construction work was about, and she figured all of us were third rate people whom hardly bathed and were completely uncivilized. To her, second rate people were her servants and those whom worked for her, and we were way beneath them. By the time she returned to NYC, she had alienated all of us and we were glad to see her go.
June rolled around, the strike in the valley was settled, so Sam and I drug up (jargon for "quiting a job"), met at our union hall on Monday morning, and got our referral to Charleston. Two more electricians from the local were making the trip up and knew the best way to get there, so on Tuesday morning we were on our way to the valley in a black 1968 Torino following our buddies whom were in a Ford-blue 1965 Mustang. Charleston was close enough to home that we would be able to drive back and forth each weekend without wearing completely out.
We had our first of many encounters with the West Virginia Turnpike, that million-dollar-a-mile two lane toll road that the people of that state were so proud of. At the time it was constructed, it was the most expensive highway per mile to have ever been built in the US.
We finally reached the Kanawha valley. We kept smelling something with the scent of rotten potatoes. Come to find out, it was the Kanawha river itself. Man, was that sucker polluted!
Next... Amos powerhouse
Friday, May 09, 2008
Going to be gone a couple of days... hopefully back Sunday night.
In the meantime...
Think of our presidential candidates as pasture patties. There is the new fresh one that is still damp and runny, and there is the one that looks decent (for what it is) but has sold its soul for a day in the sun, and there is the old one that's lost its substance to the point it isn't even good fertilizer.
These piles of poop want to be president of the United States. Being a good president isn't even a goal for any of them. It boils down to the same old, same old. Avarice and greed drives them, and money and power are their goals (and gods).
Wake up America... is this the only choice we have? My choice is to shun the lot of them. You do as you please on election day, but I will vote by not voting. Will my vote make a difference? No, it won't. Will your vote make a difference... ?
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Soon after returning to Maryland form home, one of the friends I made at the motel was killed on the job at the powerhouse. He was a steamfitter welder, and a pipe they were testing under high pressure air burst and knocked him off the ladder and his neck was broken. The reality of heavy construction work hit me hard. He wouldn't be the last friend or acquaintance I'd lose to vagaries of the tramping live.*
The overtime was gradually being cut out, and I was no longer working weekends, but was still getting four ten hour days and one eight. Being very lonely and homesick led to drinking whiskey, something I hadn't done before. Other than rot-gut wine, I had never consumed alcohol in any form, including beer. My life was about to hit the fast lane.
The first weekend off, I went to the liquor store and bought a bottle of peppermint schnapps. I got sick and puked all over everything and everybody. My "he's a good guy to be around" ranking went to hell in a hand basket. I was a married man with children and responsibilities, but I was a virgin in so many ways. That was on Friday night. Saturday was a day of recovery and apologizing, but Sunday I was at it again with some Tennessee sour mash whiskey. Nope, not ol' Jack, but George Dickel... a half gallon jug that set me back $15.
Also on Saturday, I bought a Hibachi and thick Porterhouse steak for Sunday cooking. The motel had a small refrigerator in a maintenance room where they allowed us to keep sandwich meat, etc. The Lilly boys and some of the other guys also bought steaks, and we had a very good lunch. After dining, I started drinking again, got drunk, dropped and busted my whiskey jug, and decided to puke some more. My friends saw the whole affair coming, and retreated to their rooms.
I stayed 10 weeks in Maryland without going home. On a Friday morning I had the Bird packed with dirty clothes, more root beer, a bottle of George Dickel shaped like a powder horn, along with two miniatures just like it. If you ever watched the tv series Star Trek, Captain Kirk entertained special guests on the Enterprise with a "nectar" from one of these bottles.
Just before turning into the job parking lot, I felt the steering wheel jerk just a tiny bit. Usually a sign of a wheel bearing expiring, or disk brakes worn completely out. When I applied the brakes, the right front squealed with the protest of metal rubbing metal. I was doomed, I thought. I planned on going to the Esso station and getting the car fixed and delay my journey home until the next weekend.
Even as I was leaving the parking lot, it was my plan. But instead of turning right on 301, I turned left, went across the toll bridge into Virginia, and set my eyes toward Tennessee. To say I drove slowly was an understatement. I got off work at 4:30pm, and nearly four hours later I was at I-81 in Staunton. By then. most of the rubbing metal had disappeared behind me in a shower of sparks. No one tailgated me that trip. The journey south on I-81 was a piece of cake, although I did drive much slower than usual because I had little braking of any kind except for the emergency brake. Somewhere around midnight and after hours sweet talking the Thunderbird, I rolled in home.
Next day I went to a brake shop and had the calipers and rotors replaced on the front of the car, and new shoes put on the back. I was ready for the next phase of my tramping experience, one that would soon lead me into the Ohio Valley.
*In 1964, J.L. Pierce—Carolyn's dad—had been seriously injured and his tramping buddy killed in a car wreck near Culpepper, VA. They were traveling the same route I used to get home from Maryland. Another auto accident in 1966 compounded his earlier head injuries, and just after Carolyn's 22nd birthday in 1968, his heart finally failed.
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
The next Friday, I collected a full paycheck, which came to well less than $500 after state and federal taxes, dues, and assessments. But that wasn't the big thing for that day; my family was waiting on me when I got to the motel from work and the bank. My dad and mom loaded up the Chevy and brought my two (at the time) kids and Carolyn to visit. They even smelled like home, and that was a very pleasant scent for my senses. We knew I wouldn't have much time to spend with them, because of the hours I was working, and I couldn't afford to miss a minute.
Saturday morning the Bird wouldn't start. My dad hauled me to work, went back to the motel and finally got it started. He took it across the street to the Esso station, where they replaced the spark plugs that had been in it since it was bought new.
My folks and kids left for the hills on Sunday and left Carolyn with me to stay a week as I was to go home myself the following weekend. It may have been for Easter, but my memory fails me here. We spent my off hours exploring around La Plata and vicinity, finding the best homemade root beer I ever tasted, even better than my grandma's. It came in gallon jugs, and a couple of them returned to Tennessee with us.
The Lilly brothers from around Beckley, WV were staying at the same motel as I, and they told me of a shortcut through Virginia that would bring me to I-81 near Staunton. The route took me through Fredricksberg, Orange and several Civil War battlefields, and finally to Charlottesville and across the Blue Ridge mountains, saving more than an hour of driving time.
It would be an understatement to say I was happy when I crossed the Tennessee state line.
Left photo is the Morgantown powerhouse
Right photo is the White House Motel
Ariel photos from and © by Google Maps.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Got up next morning and spent a quarter for a cup of coffee at the motel restaurant, and ate a sweet roll from the 7-Eleven on the way to work. Being a complete rookie, I had never dropped brass before. They had given me a number when I hired in, and I had to go by the guard shacks and pick up a piece of brass about the size of a quarter, carry it in my pocket all day, and drop it in a collection box at quitting time. That's how they knew who was at work and who wasn't.
I located my foreman, got squared away with a shiny new white hardhat, and he said we were working the fourth floor that day. This is when I had my first encounter with a man-lift. The lift is a vertical and continuous conveyor belt with a double-sided step about a foot wide and big enough for one person to stand and with a small cupped steel handhold at chest height. It was constantly moving at a pretty good clip, with one side carrying men up to higher floors, and the other carrying them down. It went almost to the top of the building, which was pretty darned tall because of the big boiler it housed. Foreman motioned for me to follow him up on a platform where he stepped on a foot stand, and off he went. He again motioned me to follow on the next step that came by. I sucked it up and stepped out of the real world onto something very frightening for a hillbilly. Man, I got my scrawny body so close to that belt it probably looked like I was making love to it, and held on in a way that only terror can make me do. That was another time where a hat pin couldn't have been driven into any part of me; I was tight. After what seemed like an hour of riding--actually only a few seconds--I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the foreman on one knee at our getting-off place letting me know we had arrived and I should part ways with the belt. Happily, I did so without falling flat on my face. Getting on and off the lift is just a matter of timing. The foreman had a big grin on, and slapped me on the back and told me that about half the newbies either wouldn't get on or were so scared, they couldn't turn loose to get off. If you don't get off, you continue to rise all the way to the top of the framework where the belt goes over a roller and descends. Fortunately for the frozen rider, there is a cut-off emergency stop bar he has to hit before going over the top and descending head first. There are also stairs that one can use to go up and down, but the belt was more popular.
I was introduced to my working partner, a guy from Local 26 and of Swedish descent who was used to working asshole-and-elbow jobs all his life, and he was having a difficult time adjusting to the more laid back and no-one-gets-in-a-hurry industrial construction.
The job was working an odd arrangemnt of hours; four ten hour days, eight hours on Friday and Sunday, and nine hours on Saturday. The eight hour Friday was so we could have time to get our checks cashed at local banks. At double-time for all overtime, that came to just over $600 each week.
I got paid on the first Friday for two hours hiring-in time on Monday, 10 hours each on Tuesday and Wednesday. I made more than I was getting at home for 40 hours.
The following Monday morning the used battery I bought for the Bird died. I took needed funds across the street and bought an new one at an Esso station and barely got to work before the brass shacks closed.
Next, company comes...
Monday, May 05, 2008
Friday, May 02, 2008
Taking a day or so away from tramping...
Does anyone besides myself find the world situation with oil prices alarming? Yes, the lack of direction from out elected leaders is causing problems, as is the dearth of any coherent foreign policy by the Cheney administration. The "war to liberate Iraq" has played a large roll in this mess, and will continue to do so, probably as long as there is oil to be pumped from the ground.
In my opinion, the biggest piece of the oil puzzle is the greed of the major producing nations—especially the worst enemy the United States has at the moment, Saudi Arabia—and the desire to control the world's oil reserves by Communist China, which will soon replace the Sheikdoms as the worst enemy of the "free" world.
China has a lot of oil of its own in the ground; lots of oil. China is also buying every drop of oil that becomes available on the spot markets and is driving the futures market, causing a big part of the present fiasco. It is a fiasco for everyone but China and the producers/exporters. Someday, it will become a miserable spot for the latter because Beijing will own the biggest part of what oil is still available.
Ever notice on newscasts from China how crowded the center-cities are with traffic? Yes, they do have a traffic problem, but have you noticed that away from city centers, there is very little automobile traffic? Even in the worst of traffic jams there, you see a lot of bicycles, many more bicycles than cars, actually. Folks, let me tell you what you already know—those bicycles get very, very good gas mileage. Between the cars and bicycles come the motor bikes. Not big Harleys or Hondas, but small machines the size of Vespas (basically a motor-scooter) and such. They don't get as much gas mileage as do the bicycles, but it is still pretty darn good.
Now, if you ever get a chance to see what the communists don't want you to see, look what is driven mostly in small and out of the way places. For god's sake, they are still using ox carts! A bunch of those around, too, and they get excellent gas mileage. Very few autos in Smallville, China, and not a lot of motorcycles, either. Other than the ox cart for things like we use a pickup truck, they mostly ride bicycles.
So what is China going to do with the oil they are stashing? Produce more and more shoddy merchandise for their own people, plus keep flooding the world with crappy goods, because soon enough, the communists there will be the only ones manufacturing anything.
I better stop now, 'cause I've made myself mad again.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
My map indicated the union hall was pretty near the Beltway, so I proceeded in that direction, hoping to find a service station where I could get my bearings and ask directions. I had been advised by some worldly person back home to stay off the beltway if possible, resulting in my round-about and difficult time getting to the hiring hall. I was also bursting to pee and needed some gas for the Bird and and a snack for myself. I hadn't eaten since the previous evening. Found a busy looking station near the beltway on ramp, and got squared away. The proprietor happened to be a transplant from Johnson City (JC)—where I now call home—and upon seeing my tags, asked if I had ever driven the beltway before. I answered that I until I saw my map of DC, I didn't know such a thing existed. He advised me to get on the beltway, and stay in the farthest right hand lane all the way to my exit ramp. After exchanging a few stories of things we had in common in JC, I bade him farewell , entered the beltway and followed his advice... for a few minutes. As I was poking along behind a semi and all the other cars flying by on my left, one of them slowed, tooted the horn, and motioned for me to roll down the window. It was two young ladies in the car, and the passenger hollered and asked what part of Tennessee I was from. I yelled back I was from Jonesborough. She laughed and said she was from JC. They waved and went on their way, and their lane of traffic seemed much happier.
I soon became bored and decided to join the faster lanes of cars. I turned on my signal, and after an eternity, another car allowed me to get in. I didn't realize at the time I was supposed to just go for it and that they would toot their horn and shake their fist, then do the same thing I did to a driver in the next lane. It is the only way the locals know how to keep moving on freeway. I finally saw a sign that said my exit was one mile away, and by now I was two lanes away from the exit lane, and we were zooming at a good clip. I finally was able to move over a lane, and then tuned on my flasher and tooted at a semi who graciously allowed me to make a hard right in front of him and directly onto the off ramp. If hell exists, one level of it is being on a beltway forever and ever without being able to change lanes.
Somehow I got on 301 South. Anything going south was a good thing; I was a tattered bumpkin needing to see some hills and open country. The open country would soon come, but it would be more than two months before I was to see a decent hill again. I think I passed Andrews Air Force Base on my left, but I'm not certain. After a long spell of driving and seeing pine trees and lots of motels seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and just south of a little town called La Plata, I found my destination; the powerhouse under construction. The unit was already more than half completed, and the turbine was on turning gear. Turning gear is actually a small electric motor and gearbox that keeps the turbine and generator shafts turning at a slow but constant speed. I think it was to relieve the stresses of gravity on the huge and heavy precision parts, and to keep the steam from having to begin turning the turbine from a dead stop.
It was already afternoon when I got to the job site, I was hungry, and I needed to find a place to sleep and take a bath. I located the trailer of Bechtel Corporation, my new employer, hired in and told them my situation. They told me to go back up 301 until I came to a place called The White House Motel, because they were providing rooms for some of the powerhouse workers like myself.
The facade of the motel did resemble the White House in DC. Until just a short time before I arrived there, the state of Maryland had legal gambling. All those motels I saw on my trip down from DC were for that purpose. Not just for the slots that each one had in their lobbies, but to take care of other "good time" residuals. The legalized gambling had been done away with by the legislature, and the motels were hurting for occupants.
It was a very nice motel, built for catering to the needs of our nation's lawmakers and their lower echelon bureaucratic employees. Hell, The White House motel and a lot more of them were designed to be places where they could get away from the spouses for a few hours... if you know what I mean. They had a beautiful dining room with excellent food, but it would take a while before I could afford to partake of its culinary delights.
I paid for a room for a week, and it took a big hunk out of my remaining cash. I went to a 7-Eleven and bought a couple of sodas and some snacks, and such would be my fare for several days. Later on that week, I called my folks and had them wire me another $150... I was desperate. Western Union charged them $62 bucks to make the wire transfer. I was beginning to wonder if becoming an electrician was the right decision.
Next... my first payday.
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