By Ron Pestone
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I got into a scrape with a personal friend of the union business manager. I was working as an oiler on a crane that was building a high rise building and the crane operator thought he was a better operator than he was. He always came to work in a starched white shirt and he thought he was the best thing since sliced white bread.
I was working the radio up on a high deck directing his drops and picks because from his vantage point he was working blind. But he was a hot dog and all hot dogs love to show off. I was trying to get him to lower a load of planks easily on the deck but he wanted to show boat and he dropped the load to fast. It landed hard rattling the dock and jiggling the boom of the crane. In true form he started yelling at me over the radio and something in me snapped and I really cursed the bastard out. In the process I yelled I was coming down and was going to send him to the hospital.
The building didn’t have a hoist; if you wanted to go up or down you did it by ladder. The ladders on this job, like all high rise buildings, was about 20 feet wide and could accommodate taking a bunch of guys up and down at the same time. It was anything but fast; you had to do it one rung at a time. By the time I got down I was really boiling. Running over to the crane I saw it was shut off and locked up. The hot dog operator who for this story I will call Bill was gone.
I hung around until quitting time and when I got home my mom told me the union had called and I was to report to a company called Karamco who was building Route 7 and I was to work on a grease truck. In this business if you want to know misery try working on a grease truck in the middle of the summer. If the smell or watching the oil and grease permeate your skin day after day doesn’t make you want to die the sheer misery of crawling under and around trucks and equipment on a hot day trying not to get burned by the hot engines, transmissions and hydraulic systems while you load them with oil and grease every day, will.
In short it’s the ultimate punishment. I was being taught a lesson. It made no difference who was right or wrong it was just a matter of who you knew. And there were no appeals. I was now a grease monkey.
I hit the job site a little before 7:00AM so I could get a good look at the lay of the land. The shop, always a temporary building on a road job was a beat up Quonset hut which was surrounded by old GMC 10 wheel dump trucks and some old bulldozers. I drove the site which was rough graded and eventually would be a 5 mile road and all of the equipment I saw looked like it had seen better days. There wasn’t a new piece of equipment on the job. I was going to have my hands full trying to keep these old dogs in oil and grease.
I got back to the shop at 7:30 and watched as the guys started pulling in. Just a typical group of operators and truck drivers, big, small, fat and skinny. All a little on the rough side. None looked like they were going to the prom.
About a quarter to seven a red station wagon pulled up with a whip antenna and a big guy with horn rimmed glasses got out of the car. It was Artie Fisher, I recognized him from the union meetings. At close range he looked a lot bigger than he did at the union meetings. As I got out of my car I watched as he growled something to the group of guys at the front of the shop while he was unlocking the main door. Then he disappeared inside the building.
I walked by the group of guys who just stared at me, none too friendly and walked into the shop. They had an old D7 dozer torn apart in one corner and it looked like the mechanics were pulling a transmission out of an old 10 wheeler. I walked slowly through the dimly lit shop heading for a corner that was partitioned off and knocked at a beat up door that looked like it had been installed with a hatchet.
As I nervously knocked a voice barked, “Come in.” Artie was sitting at a beat up wooden desk that had been pushed next to an outside wall. When he turned around the old wooden swivel chair creaked like it was begging for its life. The rest of the room was piled up with parts, manuals and 5 gallon water jugs. There wasn’t a window in sight. He was just about to say something when the two way radio on his desk squawked. He barreled around and grabbing the mike hit a button and barked, “Yea.”
“It’s Tom Karmaco.”
“I know who the hell it is.” Artie answered.
“Art can you send someone down in the pit to get the shovel started? Billy think’s it’s the batteries.”
“At his age it’s a God dam miracle he remembered where the shovel is.” Artie answered.
“You got a point.” Tom answered.
“I’ll send someone down right now.” Artie answered.
Artie clicked off and then hit the button again and snapped, “Eno go down and see what the hell is wrong with Billy’s shovel… Old bastard can’t get it started. And bring a set of jumpers and a 8D battery with you to give it a whack.”
“Got it, over and out.” A voice responded
Artie barreled around with the chair yelping an awful squall and turned his attention to me. He didn’t get up and giving me a hard look he asked, “What the hell did you do to wind up on the grease truck?”
I shrugged my shoulders and he grunted. Then he said, “Someone will give you the paperwork today to fill out so you can get paid. The grease truck is that old Ford behind the building. Introduce yourself around and make sure all your oil barrels are full and the compressor starts. The keys are in the ignition because nobody in their right mind would want to steal that piece of shit.”
With a horrible squeak he turned around and started going over some papers on his desk. I just stood there not knowing what to do. Facing the wall he barked, “You want something?”
“No I’m on my way.” And I got the hell out of there.
See you next week for chapter 3. Thanks for all the comments I received.
The book is coming, the book is coming, the book is coming!
Don’t Forget: We Build America