Many years ago I actually lived in a city for a while. Back then times were hard, finding a job was hard but one afternoon I ran into a young man whose father was looking for a worker. The job was working as a roustabout. A roustabout is someone who does anything that is required to do a job around a heavy piece of equipment. I walked into his father’s office not really knowing what the job was, but I didn’t care I needed work.
As I sat waiting in the office, l gazed at some of the pictures on the walls. There were pictures of heavy equipment and construction sites. One picture caught my eye. It was a photograph of a man in a hard hat. He was standing erect, and you got the feeling, perfectly still. Surrounding the top of his head was a massive mechanical digging bucket that I later learned was called a clam bucket, the type with the teeth that you see on big digging machines. You could tell by the picture that the teeth of the bucket were actually at the edge of the man’s hard hat as if trying to take it from his head.
About this time, what I considered to be an elderly man, who was probably about 60 years old, came out of a door and greeted me. He was stout, with rough hands and a firm handshake, but a smile in his eye. He said to me, “I see you like that picture. I was running the crane on the other end of that bucket, used to be pretty good.” He told me he used to be able to pick the hard hat off a man’s head. I was thinking to myself the man probably just moved into that position after the massive jaws were already set and still, but I didn’t say so. This kind gentleman said he would give me a try, and I went to work for him the next day.
It was hard work, sometimes using a shovel and sometimes running a jackhammer. We got a job about six months after I began working with him. There was a school that sat upon a high plateau. At the bottom of the plateau there was a concrete drainage ditch that surrounded the west side of the school. After some time, the sides of this plateau had eroded leaving deep ditches in its banks, and the dirt had collected in the concrete drainage ditch below. Our job was to remove the dirt from the ditch and put it back on the bank of the plateau and compact it in. We worked for several weeks on this job.
On the first day on this job at lunch time, the children were enjoying lunch on a large grass field on the top of the plateau. We were also taking our lunch break. I heard the boss shout to his son, “Let’s eat with the kids.” So his son grabbed his lunch pail and walked over to the line that was dangling from the crane.
At the end of the line was a large steel ball with a hook on it. The father lifted the ball about 2 feet off the ground, and his son straddled it, sitting on the ball. His father then lifted the ball to the top of the crane’s derrick, about 110 feet high, and swung his son over the ditch and over a chain-link fence at the top of the plateau. When the ball reached the edge of the grassy area, I watched in horror as the ball and his son seemingly dropped freefall to the ground. Just before the ball and his son reached the ground and about 30 feet from impact, I saw the ball slow until by the time it reached the ground his son lightly stepped off and walked away.
The father then picked up the heavy ball, swung it to the ditch and dropped it in front of me yelling “get on.” I did so and was immediately lifted 110 feet in the air. As I neared the top pulley, I was praying he would stop in time. For if he didn’t it would probably chop off my hands, and I would fall 110 feet to my death. But he did stop in time, and he swung me around to the same grassy area at the top of the plateau. Then he dropped me. I was flying through the air hoping something hadn’t gone wrong as the ground rushed up to me. As with his son, when I was nearing the ground, I began to feel the ball slowing. I never felt him touch the brake the dissent just slowed, and when my legs could touch the ground, the ball stopped.
By this time, the children were watching intently, and a huge cheer went up as I stepped from the ball. I know that nowadays, this practice would absolutely never be allowed. But in those days, it was a part of living. Real living.