By Ron Pestone
I introduced myself to a couple of the guys and told them I was working on the grease truck and either I got a look of sympathy or a smirk and then I headed for the truck.
Never on earth was there such foul smelling, oil leaking poor excuse for a truck on the planet. It was a mess. It was a beat up Ford flatbed 6 wheeler that had been converted to a grease truck. It had an old gas powered compressor right behind the cab and grease and 90 weight oil barrels that the air was hooked up to. At the rear of the truck were the reels for grease and oil. Grease was everywhere and oil was dripping from the spigots sticking over the side of the truck body that were part of the six 55 gallon oil drums that held the various weights of oil. The truck body was saturated with oil. At that moment all I could think of was its summer and we’re in 90 degree weather. “I’m, gonna die.”
Then I opened the door of the cab of the truck and I thought I was going to puke. The smell was awful. It smelled like Limburger cheese cooked in barrels of boiling oil. Pissed, I slammed the door shut and turning around found myself facing Artie.
Artie had a huge barrel chest and hands that looked like hams. He looked like the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to owe money to. But as big as he was it was his stare that made you shake in your boots. Behind those horn rimmed glasses were the huge black eyes of a gorilla. Christ, they gave me the chills. You just couldn’t tell what he was thinking but it looked menacing.
With the slight crack of a grin he said, “Guy who was on the grease truck before you didn’t get along with the guys so they smeared Limburger cheese all over the exhaust manifolds and when the truck heated up he barfed his guts out in the cab.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just stood there looking at him. He grunted and explained, “He was a shit head.” Then he said, “Take the day and get the truck back in shape. See Eno and get him to start the steam jenny and start at the front and steam the whole truck down.”
I nodded I understood and he said, “Starting tomorrow you oil and grease every piece of equipment on the job.”
I nodded, I understood. “Now listen to me, these old pigs squish oil and grease all day so to keep them running you are going to have to go over lots of them twice a day. Nothing on this job is new so we got to make do. Don’t mess up. If you try and take any short cuts some of these old dogs will die and if they die we got nothing to replace them. And that ain’t gonna make me happy. You understand.”
I nodded, I understood. I wanted to ask what happened to the previous guy on the grease truck but kept my mouth shut.
He started to turn around to go then changed his mind and turning back to me said, “Next week we will be opening two pits and that means everything will be running. No way in hell can one guy on the grease truck handle it all so I called in for another guy. Have to wait until I see what I get.” His black eyes bored into me and he grunted, “He sure as hell better be a worker.” With that he turned around and walked away. He was no gazelle.
All I could think of was that I was in real trouble. It was going to be a miracle if I survived this gorilla. Next time, I was going to keep my temper in check.
I found Eno who was another huge monster of a man but who turned out to be a really good guy. First thing he told me, “Don’t let Artie scare you. His bark is a lot worse than his bite.”
I shook my head and tried to pretend I was fine with it all. I don’t think Eno bought it for a second. Years later when we were having coffee together he laughing said, “Thought you were gonna have a heart attack when Artie started you. Believe me you wouldn’t be the first guy who never came back when Artie gave one of his little start up chats.”
I spent the rest of the day getting the truck back to earth. Once Eno got the steam jenny started I steamed the engine compartment unit it was spotless. Maybe the wires were all wet but they were clean. I didn’t know if it had ever been done before but I pulled the bench seat out of the cab and steam cleaned it until its original color started to come back. Then I steam cleaned the entire interior of the cab, headboard, dashboard, floor, door panels, everything in sight. In short the cab took a lot of water.
I steam cleaned the entire body and every piece of grease and oil equipment. I never stopped for lunch, like a mad man I steam cleaned everything on the truck. When I was finished it didn’t look any prettier but at least it was clean.
I gassed up the compressor, checked all the fluids and then started it. Then I gave the old dog the first grease job it had in a long time. Finally with Eno’s help I put fresh 55 gallon barrels of oil on the truck and by that time the day was over and I went home and took an extra-long shower.
I got to work about 7:30AM the next day and Eno gave me a hand getting the truck started. Then I entered my horror show full time. I greased and loaded with oil every piece of equipment and truck on the site whether it was moving or not. If they were moving the oil just squished out of them and if they were standing still they dripped puddles. The pins and bushings on all the equipment were so loose they wiggled when you greased them.
All of the stuff was ready for the grave yard. But old and beat up or not they weren’t going to fall apart because they lacked oil or grease, not as long as I was doing it. I might be in trouble but I was stubborn as hell and determined not to fail. Artie might have his troubles on the job but one of them wasn’t going to be me. The work was nasty. Hot and dirty, hour after hour crawling under old 10 wheel dump trucks filling their rambling transmissions with oil when you could fry eggs on their castings. Some days when it was really hot and the grease and oil was infecting everything you touched it was an effort not to give it all up and go home. If there is a hell it must be a world of grease trucks.
I worked at it every day, got to know the guys and the machines and trucks that needed and injection twice a day. Towards the end of the first week Artie’s red station wagon pulled up to a 10 wheeler I was under greasing and I crawled out from under to see what he needed.
He sat in his wagon with his gorilla eyes staring at me with his arm out of the window resting on the door. I know it sounds crazy but his arm was as big as a gorilla’s arm and it looked like one to.
He growled, “How do you know which one you greased and the ones you didn’t?”
I opened the door of the truck and took out a small composition book which was the same type I had not been smart enough to use in High School and opened it up and showed it to him. I had in columns each piece of equipment on the job as well as truck number and the date I had greased them.
Looking it over he asked, “What does the star mean next to some of them?”
“Means they have to be oiled twice a day.”
He shook his melon head that he understood then said, “You had words with Dominick the crane operator you were oiling for on the High Rise in White Plains. Didn’t you know he was a personal friend of the business manager? What the hell were you thinking?”
I was hot and tired and starring back at him answered, “He was a shit head.”
With a blink of his black eyes and a trace of a smile he put the wagon in gear and floored it.
Next Monday morning Artie bought Patty McCusker out to the grease truck and said, “Here’s your fellow inmate. Patty, meet Ronnie, you two guys try not to kill anybody or get yourselves killed.”
With that he turned around chuckling to himself and walked into the shop. I found myself looking at a guy about 150 pounds, light complexion, blue eyes and a flat nose that was holding up a pair of dark rimmed glasses. Behind those glasses were two of the most intense blue eyes I had ever seen.
He snapped up close to me so fast I really didn’t see him move. About four inches from me he pulled out his hand to shake and it was there before I could see it move. Smiling with one of the worse set of false teeth I ever saw, I thought they must of come mail order, he tweaked in a beautiful Irish brogue, “Patty McCusker, here my boy.”
“You always get so close?”
“From my years in the ring lad. I liked them nice and close.”
I smiled, what the hell else could I do. Then he asked, “What did you do to earn all this?”
I shrugged my shoulders. And he asked in an effected Irish brogue, “Was it with his teeth that he bit you lad?”
Patty cracked up laughing. I was to learn it was all part of the Patty McCusker package. He was a true character and a great guy. Ex-boxer with a great sense of humor and a short temper that kept him in constant trouble.
Finally I said, “Well we might as well get started.”
Don’t Forget: We Build America
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