SUMMERTIME AND CHRISTMAS BREAK (AND THE LIVING WAS NOT ALWAYS EASY)

School is out and it is time to get to work. Fortunately we were usually able to find jobs if we were not too picky what kind of job. There were few, if any, rules about teenagers working, no age restrictions and thus freedom to work at any job you could get that someone thought you could do. We knew we needed a job, one that started the Monday following the ending of the school term. Our parents struggled to provide our board and room and the money we thought we needed  beyond that was our responsibility. Money for movies, after dance burgers and fries, letter sweaters and maybe some special clothing we thought we needed, had to come from what we could save over the summer and by working during the Christmas break.  We were not too choosy about the jobs we took and grabbed the first job we could find. Looking back, we worked very hard for the 40 or 50 cents an hour, or maybe less.

So, to set the stage for a couple of stories about the jobs I had as a teenager and during the summer while in college, I have provided a table (see below) of all the types of jobs involved. It seems quite a collection as I reflect on those times. To simplify I have classified the jobs as Good, Bad and Ugly. I will not try to describe every job in the lists in this short blog, but I will tell you a couple of stories about the job situation that existed for young folks in the 1950’s. I feel that this diverse collection of jobs was a vital part of my education about the world of that time, while growing up in a small town in Wyoming.  Lessons were learned, mistakes made and ideas about life’s goals changed while working on these jobs. It seems, reflecting today, that these wide ranges of experience, the disciplines learned, and the skills developed were a real privilege for those of us growing up in those days. We did not have our hands out for a gift, we just wanted the opportunity to work and earn our way, to hold our heads up high and say, “I did that” and if I can do that, I can do whatever I need to do in my life.

I was lucky for the most part to have mostly decent jobs. Things like digging a deep ditch, so deep we had to throw the dirt high in the air as we dug, are clearly on my Ugly list. We were lucky the ditch did not cave in on top of us as the soil we were digging in was not very stable.  So, for now I will tell a true story about an Ugly Job and another story about a Good Job. Those listed as Bad were mostly just hard jobs involving tough physical labor, but were not really that bad, just hard.

First I will relate the story of my very short career as a welder’s helper, clearly one of the really ugly jobs as it turned out and potentially very dangerous. This job was a fill-in between other jobs and was supposed to pay well. The welder I was supposed to be helping picked me up in his truck and we drove for about two hours to finally reach the top of a large hill between Lander and Rawlins. The site was an oil camp with some active wells. The welder’s job was to weld pieces of metal together, I have no idea for what purpose. My job was to hold the two pieces together so he could do the welding. We were working inside of a metal hut, so at best the light was dim. So all afternoon he welded and I held the pieces as instructed. The intense light from the welding seemed to grow more intense as the day wore on and I noticed that my eyes were beginning to hurt. BY SUPPERTIME I WAS BLIND!  All that time while the welding was going on I had tried to look away, but I could not hold the pieces together well if I could not look at them. NO EYE PROTECTION WHATSOEVER!  My eyes felt like someone had thrown sharp sand into them and that it had stayed there.  Well, the welder seemed to blame me, it was my fault. Now he would have to drive me back to Riverton to see an eye doctor and he would lose money and time in the process. In my mind I was calling him a host of bad names, but I knew I had to rely on him to get me back home. I had no idea if I was going to be blind the rest of my life. It was the most miserable night I can remember. We finally headed towards Riverton early the next morning.  Things were not much better by morning. A very  long and sullen trip did not help. We finally arrived in Riverton and my folks hurried me to the eye doctor. The doctor examined my eyes and proclaimed that I was lucky that I had not continued exposure to the welding flashes much longer or I might have sustained serious permanent damage. By late that afternoon I began to get some sight back. So, after some time my vision cleared up and the pain subsided. All in all a miserable experience and an unnecessary happening. Ugly Job in spades for sure!

I do not want to end this blog on such a sour note, but it does illustrate the way some people behaved in those days. The second job story I want to relate is taken from the Good list and clearly was the happiest and most fun job I had as a teenager. This job is listed as working for the Geological Survey whose local office was in the basement of the Post Office in Riverton. This group of Geological Survey engineers were working on issues related to irrigation practices in the area and the resulting runoff water that often had a high concentration of silt that ended up moving down the streams towards the new reservoir below. Boysen Dam had just recently been constructed to dam up the Wind River just before the canyon. The concern was that the muddy water runoff would fill up the reservoir over time. My job was to collect water samples at several locations along the creeks that emptied into the reservoir. I called it the “milk route”. Each morning I headed out some 20 miles from Riverton to go to each station along the creeks and collect my samples. My transportation was an older pickup truck. This job sounds boring, but it wasn’t really. I had lots of time to think and to enjoy the summer weather and to sometimes chase the pronghorn antelope down the dirt roads. Racing with antelope was especially fun when the young ones were running with their mothers, and can they ever run. I lost my brakes once and had a wild ride down a steep hill. But, all in all it was a fun job with no pressure as long as I could complete the “milk route” each day.

The routine of the “milk route” was broken by other events now and again. One of these is my favorite work story. One of the full-time staff was required to make the trip to Bull Lake Creek to measure the flow above the large reservoir. There was no access road to the river above the reservoir so to get there one had to hike a couple of miles on a trail that was mostly just a cow path. To get to the site of the measuring equipment it was a hike on a winding trail down a steep hill.  My job was to tag along with the professional as a safety measure, just in case one of us fell or was somehow injured there would be another person to hike out to get help. Once we arrived at the river, my job was done until it was time to hike back out again. So as I was taught as a Boy Scout to always be prepared, I had my fly rod and a small red and white daredevil spinner in hand and began casting in a likely spot hoping that some large rainbow would hit the spinner. BANG! A very large rainbow hit the spinner like a ton of bricks and proceeded to fight his way downstream. It was a struggle that lasted for about 15 minutes. To me a fight that seemed to last forever. The rainbow finally became tired and I was able to land it.  A trophy for sure at over 6 lbs even at the end of the day when it could be weighed.  I have never forgotten catching a trophy trout and getting paid for working at the same time. Talk about a boondoggle, well perhaps not too big  boondoggle anyway. All in all a wonderful part of a great summer job, the best I ever had.

PS  My career direction, that of choosing an education as a Civil Engineer, was greatly influenced by the example of those working for the Geological Survey. A group of seemingly happy people, dedicated to solving problems to benefit  people were a positive role model to a high school teenager trying to sort out the future. Ironically, the engineer-in-charge of the office in Riverton some 7 years later became a colleague at Colorado State University. 

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SATURDAY FOOTBALL PRACTICE (OR NEVER MAKE YOUR COACH MAD)

img042Saturday seemed to come very early that day in October. After the home football game we all went to the usual Friday night dance and then on to the Rainbow for burgers and coke.  By the time all of this transpired it was close to midnight. We were told by Coach after the game that we had better show up for football practice at 8:00 AM Saturday morning and be dressed in our practice uniforms. That seemed strange at the time, even though the Coach had chewed us out with some very choice words, some of which cannot be related in this post, for sure! We were just ready for the usual Friday night fun after the game and did not think too much about the fact that Coach seemed unusually unhappy with us. So off we went to have fun even though we had a bad taste in our mouths over our loss to a team we were supposed to beat.

I managed to get up just before 7:30 so I did not have time for breakfast. I grabbed a piece of toast and hurried to the locker room to get dressed for the Saturday morning practice. None of us could understand why we were supposed to wear our uniforms since Saturday practices usually involved warm up, stretching and running some drills. Well, this was no usual Saturday practice!

Once on the field Coach called us together and again reamed us out for our poor play the night before. It seemed he was still mad or maybe even more so. He said, this morning we are going to find out which ones of you lazy guys really want to play on this team. So, give me 50 (yes 50!) laps around the outside of the football field and while you are running and sweating think about what a lousy job you did last night. OMG, 50 laps, we were sure we would all be dead before we made it 50 times around the outside of the field.

So we started out. If we were going too slowly Coach would let us know. Each of us begin counting, realizing that this was no idle threat, but punishment for the way we played or at least for the way the Coach thought we played. At first our overall conditioning worked pretty well, but by about lap 25 we began to come unglued. Their was lots of retching of the pancakes and syrup some players had for breakfast. Those of us who did not get breakfast may have been the lucky ones as we did not get sick, we just totally ran out of energy sometime just after lap 25. Around and around we went, each lap taking a toll one way or the other. About 2 hours passed, the fast runners were done and trying to recuperate on the sidelines while the rest of us plodded along hoping some how this torture would end soon. Finally, some folks just quit and most of us finished by cutting the corners whenever the Coach was not watching. We were sitting on the sidelines trying to get some breath when Coach hit us with the final blow, TIME TO SCRIMMAGE!!

We could not believe our ears, scrimmage?  What was the Coach thinking of, was he kidding. No, we were supposed to line up to scrimmage. We somehow picked ourselves up from the grass and lined up. One team running the offense and the other trying to stop them. Over and over it seemed we scrimmaged until almost noon. It was ugly, brutal, dirty, bloody, sweaty and just plain unnatural. Bloody noses were common in those days as our helmets had no face guards. This seemed to especially true on this terrible Saturday as tempers were on short fuse and there were some fights as well. Sometimes we wondered if Coach liked the sight of blood, if so, we spilled plenty that morning. Finally it was over. We limped back to the locker room, stripped off our uniforms, some took showers and some just left as fast as they could. I remember lying on the floor when I reached home with my face under the couch for the rest of the day. I think I went to sleep, but I do not remember much of the rest of that day or the night that followed. They say, “that which does not kill you will make you stronger”, not sure about that saying as I remember that day. High School football in Wild and Wonderful Wyoming in those days was not the well-run, well-coached endeavor it is in most places today, that is for sure!  How about that funny photo??

Another Bad Day for the Terraplane

The summer was about to end. If we wanted to go to the high country to campout and fish for some big trout we needed to get going soon. Fall comes early to the high mountain lakes and before long one might find ice on the water bucket in the morning. So a trip was planned to go to Fish Lake, a lake high above Dubois on a very rough road off Union Pass. In those days, the road into the lake was mostly ruts and mud holes. Difficult enough for four-wheel drive machines, seemingly impassible for a four-door sedan. For some reason I went with my brother-in-law in his Jeep. He was really good at driving that machine and could traverse any road any where it seemed.  My father came later in the 1939 Terraplane (see my previous post for a photo). After what must have been a harrowing trip he arrived at the top of the long, steep hill above the lake. The running board (look it up) and one fender were worse for the trip and were sort of hanging by a thread to the rest of the vehicle. My father seemed pleased he had gone where no other man in a sedan had gone before. So down the long hill he went to the edge of the lake. 

All was fine for the two days we stayed at the lake, fishing and enjoying the late summer sun and the high mountain air for what we knew was the last time that year. My father caught a large trout which pleased him greatly and somehow seemed to be his reward for the crazy journey he made to get to the lake. I also suspect he was enjoying the “folk hero” status and comments of the several four-wheel drivers who could not help but be surprised that he made it to the lake in a Terraplane. So all was well and the time passed quickly as Sunday afternoon came and it was time for everyone to head for home. Then the trouble began!

My father loaded up the Terraplane and started up the steep hill to get to the road out. About halfway up the hill the rear tires began to spin, throwing rocks and dirt in the air. Two more tries to no avail and the hill was becoming more difficult to climb as the wheels spun loosening the rocks and dirt of the steep slope. So now what?  My brother-in-law decided he must help in some way, so he hitched his Jeep to the front of the Terraplane and up the hill the two vehicles went. Well, one Jeep was not enough to drag the heavy car up the steep and so back to the bottom again. By now everyone at the lake was over by the hill watching and commenting on the predicament. Well, if one Jeep ins not enough, how about three Jeeps all pulling the helpless Terraplane up the hill. It was a sight to behold. Three Jeeps all hooked together pulling with all their might were dragging the Terraplane up the hill. It was touch and go for awhile, but the Jeeps did the job by using their lowest gear and making sure the ropes are tight between each Jeep.  The top of the hill was finally reached and no one was hurt.

I still have a movie of that event that plays in my head. While it was a crazy time, it was also a tribute to the resourcefulness of a group of Wyoming sportsmen who would never think of leaving anyone behind, no matter how ridiculous the situation. Perhaps this wonderful spirit of caring for those you may not even know is one of the things I miss the most about Wild and Wonderful Wyoming.

THEY WERE TOUGH IN THOSE DAYS (OR ARE WE JUST WIMPS TODAY?)

The people just two generations ago were tough, or maybe those that survived were tough and the others did not make it too long in those rough and tumble days of the late 1800’s. The great movement west was made up of many types of people, perhaps most of them were just hoping to find a new beginning of freedom and opportunity. My grandfather, Elmer, was one of this type of westerner. His life started in Iowa in 1877 and following the death of his mother when he was just five and his father at age 10, he was thrust into the world at an early age. Pasted from relative to relative he soon found his role was mostly that of an indentured slave, a boy expected to work long hours to earn his board and keep. By the time he was 16 he had had enough of the drudgery of the labor he was expected to do and decided it was time to go on his own and to try to make a new life for himself.  Perhaps at the back of his mind was a hope he could strike it rich somehow and comeback to the girl he left behind a rich man. So away went Elmer, working his way west. He ended up in Billings, MT and worked there at various jobs for a dollar a day.

In the meantime the girl he left behind finished high school and did some additional work to earn a teaching certificate.  She also headed west to take a teaching job in Loveland, CO.  Many love letters were sent back and forth between the two so far apart.  Perhaps Elmer begin to worry that the love of his life would grow tired of just writing letters and might find some other young man to love. At any rate, November came and Elmer decided he must get to Loveland some way to see Carrie, the girl he left behind. November is not the time to decide to WALK from Billings, MT to Loveland, CO, some 400 miles or more depending on the path taken.

So, Elmer struck out on the long journey in spite of it beginning to be cold. He started on a bicycle but the cactus thorns soon wrecked that plan as riding a bike with flat tires is not a good situation. An early fall blizzard soon made walking very difficult, but he was lucky to hitch a ride on a wagon loaded with coal. The driver complained of cold feet all the way down the road. Finally they came upon an abandoned cabin and sought refuge from the storm inside. Once in the cabin they found that the boots of the driver had frozen to his legs. Unfortunately he died in a few days. Finally a rescue party looking for the coal wagon arrived and Elmer was able to continue his long journey hoping to get beyond the snow that covered the road ahead.

After several days of walking, another storm hit and Elmer was caught in a blizzard again. Exhausted and hungry he finally stumbled onto a farmhouse. The lady refused to allow him to come into the warm house and offered nothing to eat. Elmer collapsed in the barn until the storm passed.  After catching a ride on a freight train for part of the way and a long time walking, he finally made it to Loveland and reunited with Carrie. Following a winter-long engagement they returned to Iowa and Carrie’s family, the Barnards, and were married. The depth of his love for Carrie had kept him going somehow through the impossible journey all those many miles. 

After several tries at farming and operating a general store in the town of Oral, SD, just east of Hot Springs, a town that was founded by Elmer and others of his family, Elmer, Carrie and family moved to Riverton, WY in 1916. Like many others they came on the promise that land could be homesteaded and that the town was booming since it had grown quickly after its beginning in 1906 as a land rush town. Hardy pioneers had claimed lots drawn in a lottery in the new town that had been roughly surveyed in the sagebrush just prior to the land rush of 1906. Elmer seemed always looking for new adventures. Has various ventures included a flour mill, truck gardening, coal mining and he even dared to try his hand at oil and gold exploration and subsequent development. With a large family of 4 boys and 3 girls there were many mouths to feed, but many hands to do the hard work involved in  these ventures in these early days in Wyoming.

Climbing another “mountain” seemed to be the recurring theme of many of the early pioneers who were always hoping to find a way to improve their lives and those of their offspring, in spite of the many hardships they faced in those Wild and Wonderful Days in Early Wyoming.

PS As far as I know I was born in my grandfather’s home on North Broadway Street in Riverton, WY. My step-grandmother operated a midwife business in their home for many years.