Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back To Working On The Railroad

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

After working at the sawmill, I was able to work on the railroad for awhile.  I found out from my uncle that there was an opening on a paint crew.  I applied and got the job on the paint crew.  We mostly painted signs along the tracks.  Every culvert has a sign with a number indicating the mileage from some point.  Before painting the sign we would write the number on the web of the rail with chalk so we could paint the number in black on the sign after it was painted white.  One of the other things we painted was the scale used for weighting RR cars before they were loaded onto the ferry that went across the Straits of Mackinac.  We had to crawl down under the scale and spray paint the steel parts.  Needless to say it was not pleasant, I came out of there all covered with paint.  We also had to paint some bridges.  One was low enough that when I dropped my brush for red lead, I was able to lower myself off the scaffold and pick up the brush out of the water.  Another bridge went over a small stream and a county road.  The part over the stream was wooden trestle and the part over the road was steel.  We hung scaffolding under the bridge and closed off one lane of traffic at a time.  We had a  person on either side of the bridge directing traffic just like at some road construction areas.  Also because of the traffic, we painted the bridge with brushes so cars going under the bridge on the road would not get overspray on them.  The bridge I didn't like to paint was a high one.  It was 80 feet from the rail to the water.  It had been prepared (chipping off old paint and red lead primer applied) for painting a year or two before.  We hung block and tackle over the side of the bridge, tied a ladder to the edge of the bridge to climb down to the plank that was supported by the block and tackle.  No safety equipment what so ever.  It was hang on with one hand and spraypaint with the other.  As I was the low man on the totem pole (least seniority), I would always be on the downwind end of the plank.  Even tho I would try to cover up, I still would have trouble getting all the paint off my skin and out of my hair.

When we were painting the bridge over the road, our railroad cars that we lived in were parked in the Soo.  One evening I went looking for an auto parts store for something and came back with something different.  I don't remember what I originally went to get, but I bought a new throw-out bearing as the one in my car broke while on my way to the store.  After buying the new part, I had to drive across town with no clutch.  It meant starting the car in first gear and shifting without the clutch.  At one light I went thru several changes of the light before I got it fired up as it was slightly uphill and it didn't want to start.  After getting back to where I was staying (the railroad cars parked by the roundhouse), then I had to change the throw-out bearing.  The car had a four speed transmission that was heavy.  I jacked up the car and made a ramp under the transmission to slide it back on.  I knew if I dropped it on the ground, I would never be able to lift it back in place while lying under the car.  I had to get it fixed by Friday as I had found out that I had been bumped by the foreman and would no longer have a job after Friday.  I was able to get my car fixed and drive home Friday after work.

A short time later, I found out there was an opening of a bridge crew and I got the job.  We were working on the ferry slip for the railroad car ferry the "Chief Wawatam".  One day the foreman said we could go for a ride on the ferry if it was OK with the captain.  It was a nice ride across to Mackinaw City in an old ship (it was built in 1911) and when we got there, I learned it would be a couple hours before the ferry was unloaded and reloaded for the trip back.  As it was around the time we usually had out morning coffee break, I went to a restaurant for coffee.  When I sat down and took off my hardhat, the waitress asked if I worked around there and I said "No, I work in St. Ignace."  She had a funny look on here face until I explained how I came to be in Mackinaw City for coffee.  The ferry was removed from service in the 80s, and ever since to ship something by rail from St. Ignace, MI to Mackinaw City, MI. it had to make a trip all the way around Lake Michigan.

That job only lasted a couple weeks as the paint crew I was on got shut down for the year and one of the guys I had worked with came back to his job on the bridge crew.  Some guys would work on the paint crew during the summer as a painter made the same as a carpenter on the bridge crew, so if you were a carpenter's helper it was a raise in pay. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

When The Unemployment Started To Run Out

Not All Who Wander Are Lost 

Towards the end of summer when I was down to only a couple of weeks left of unemployment benefits,  I got a job at a local sawmill.  In a larger sawmill it would have been called working on the green chain.  As this mill only had 4 workers, the owner who was the sawyer, a guy that operated the Cary-Lift (which moved the logs and all the wood from the end of the mill) and debarker, the guy who took the pieces after they came off the main saw and either sent them down the line or ran them thru the edger to trim them into boards.  Then there was my position, I got to deal with all the pieces at the end of the line.  The slabs got put into a rack where they would be bundled, the boards would be stacked after being trimmed to cut out bad areas, the railroad ties would sometimes have to be cut to length then pushed off the end of the line into a pile.  All in all it was hard work.  I was paid a little over minimum wage which at the time was under $2.  I don't remember exactly what my wage was, I seem to remember that maybe it started at $2 and eventually was up to $2.25.

One thing about this job is it was close to home, only a mile away.  I could go home for lunch and most days did.

Then just before "Deer Hunting Season" there was an extension to unemployment passed and I asked for and was given a lay-off.  That way I was able to go deer hunting while drawing unemployment.  I got a 13 week extension and drew it thru the winter.  Over a 2 year period I drew a years worth of unemployment as there was the original 26 weeks and two 13 week extensions.

 Me on the left and my friend dressed in monkey suits for his wedding.

Above is a picture of me and a friend taken before my friend's wedding.  We drove to the courthouse where the wedding was to take place in my truck which was covered with mud as I didn't have time to wash it in between getting stuck out in the woods and going to the wedding.  This happened at the time I was working at the sawmill or on unemployment. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some Thoughts About Things After My Father Died

Not All Who Wander Are Lost


Yesterday seeing a coffee can reminded me of some of the things that happened that summer my father died.  When we (my brother and I) were emptying the house there were a number of surprises.  We found a large cache of coffee.  There were a lot of 3# cans of coffee.  Back then the large cans actually held 3# of coffee, not 28 to 34oz like today.  We also found many 5# bags of sugar, and a large supply of toilet paper.(One older woman I knew had the bathtub piled high with packages of toilet paper.  They had a sauna, so never used the bathtub in the house.)

Another thing we found was a bunch of bottles of homemade wine.  There were several different types, strawberry, blackberry and chokecherry are ones I remember.  The only one I remember as being undrinkable was the chokecherry, it was so dry, it would make your asshole pucker when you drank it.  I was able to get rid of it by giving it to a couple of friends when they would stop by half-drunk already.  I'd ask if they wanted a glass of homemade wine.  After they had some I'd ask if they wanted a bottle to take with them.  They must have drunk the wine while still drunk as this ploy worked every time they came around until I got rid of all the chokecherry wine.  They were the only ones that could drink it.

Another thing my brother and I had to do was haul all the stuff my dad picked up at the dump back to the dump.  We spent quite a bit of time asking each other why the old man hauled this stuff home.  The funny part is that when we were bringing the junk back to the dump(back then most towns and area locations had a dump, not a landfill like today), there were a couple of guys there picking thru the trash.  They looked in the back of my pickup and said "That looks like good stuff.  Don't throw it over the edge, set it over on the side so we can look thru it."  Between the basement and the garage, we made many trips to the dump. 

I don't remember how many days we worked at cleaning out the house, but we finally got everything out of it so we could sell it.  Last summer I drove by where the house was and all that was left was the sauna my dad built in the backyard.  When they sold the farm, my dad took apart a log building that had been used as a shop of some kind and put it back together with sill sealer insulation between the logs.  He put in a wall to make two rooms, the changing room and the one for steam.

I'm not surprised the house is gone as it was old and needed a lot of work, I am surprised the garage is gone as that was fairly new.  My dad built it on the lot next to the house after buying the two lots next to the house.