Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jobs at the Sawmill - Part II

As I aged I got more and more different jobs. I graduated from rock picker and sticker boy to jobs that changed daily. My first serious construction job came when I was assigned to the concrete crew of the construction company building homes. My first job was to feed the cement mixer. Three gravel, two sand and one cement. We had a large mixer that someone else operated as my job was just to feed the mixer. I would fill it up and then watch it mix, while adding water, as the "barrow operators" stood in line with their beat up wheelbarrows waiting for another load. Once it was properly mixed, the operator would dispense a "to the top" load of concrete to each operator and they would head off to the foundation while maneuvering around on 2x10 wooden planks. At the foundation they would dump their loads and hustle back to the mixer. Our foreman Mel was on he knees at the foundation directing where to dump each barrow while leveling the concrete and smoothing it out. Two other men were helping place the concrete with flat shovels and other jobs, at the direction of Mel, such as cutting keys in the foundation or shoveling excess concrete away from the foundation boards so the wooden forms would not be locked into place. These two men had the best jobs as they got to stand and talk a lot. They smoked while they worked and joked a lot with Mel. I envied them and aspired to their jobs but I couldn't figure out how to get on that part of the crew. I had to settle on being the "Mixer Loader" until I could figure that out.

Shortly the foundation was done and we merely switched to another foundation that was just like that one only on the other side of the mixer. It seemed that our crew was being decimated by the flu which was exactly how I ended up as "Mixer Loader". As we switched sides, we took a short break, where I heard that 2 barrow operators were moving up to work with Mel as his 2 men went home sick. Another man was coming down from the Sawmill to work with us but that left us still one man short. So this is how you move up, I said to myself. Striking while the iron was hot I went up to Mel, as he drank his coffee. "Mel" I intoned with my best deep voice and my thumbs stuck into my belt, "I can handle that wheelbarrow, I mean barrow, you know and I would like to take a crack at it." Mel looked me up and down and just said "sure". When we were back up and running and the new guy was learning how to load the mixer, I stood on the plank, behind my barrow waiting for my 1st load of concrete. The guy ahead of me told me the in and outs to "Barrow Operation" this amounted to whatever you do, don't let the load get away as Mel doesn't like that to well. Keep your feet the same distance apart as your shoulders. "Plow, plop" and the first load of concrete hit my wheelbarrow and I almost lost it but for the guy behind me grabbing the side. As I headed for the foundation I could hardly keep the barrow full of shifting concrete stable but I plodded on. The concrete ran over the edges as it sloshed from side to side. Got my load dumped and headed back for more. I brought over three more loads and we were at the corner and shifting directions and that is when it happened. As I came back with the next load I was feeling about as cocky as a 15 year old could feel because after all this was my 5th load and there was nothing to it. As I lifted up on the handles to dump, I hit a rock on the plank and lost control. I tried to over react to catch the load but all I did was steer the entire load of wet concrete into Mel's lap. I looked down at Mel and his entire lap was covered and I couldn't even see his legs. He was holding his float in one hand and just looked at me shaking his head slowly. "I think a better place for you Dickson is back loading the mixer" he said as he stood up and cleaned himself as best as he could with his hands. I looked back, as I got to the mixer, and there was Mel standing while one of the guys rinsed him off with the full force of the hose. Every day Mel wore clean, starched, Khaki pants and shirt, a holdover from his days working as foreman on the CCC's and in the Army. Mel was as tough as they come and he just stood there, still staring at me and slowly shook his head as the ice cold water ran over him. Good thing it was hot out. The next day I was returned to the Sawmill crew and my job as being a tailer.

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