By Ron Pestone
Pulling up to our first dozer of the day I said, “Patty most of the stuff is real old and everything leaks like a sieve. They have a small army of GMC 10 wheel dump trucks that could make an oil well go dry. They’re real pigs and Artie said starting this week Karmaco is going to be running them all day out of two pits. Every one of them have got to be hit twice a day or they’ll go bone dry. It’s a lot of crawling to get to their transmissions and rears. I’m a lot younger so I’ll do the crawling. You take care of the top side and hand me what I need down below and we should make it.”
Patty looked at me with those big blue owl eyes and as smooth as silk said, “You’re a lad. The two of us are going to get along just dandy.”
And that was the beginning of one of the most interesting summers I ever had. All the stories of Pattie’s fights and bar room brawls. His love of poetry and how he could recite it so beautifully. And his outrageous acts made an intolerable situation almost fun. We were dirty, hot and greasy and smelled like old dirty motor oil but we weren’t miserable, in fact some time I laughed so much I’d cry. With Patty it was a never ending show. He had a real taste for life and by the middle of the summer everyone working on the job waited for us to grease and oil them up and for the Patty show.
We had a guy on the job by the name of Eddie who was as big as a house and as dumb as a box of rocks. This guy liked to throw his weight around and everyone with the exception of Patty gave him a wide birth. Now when I tell you somebody was really big, I mean it. This guy was as big as a locomotive. Since he wasn’t a kid and not too bright he was an oiler on and old crane on the job that had to be checked twice a day and while the oiler was technically supposed to grease it this big moose wouldn’t get off his can to do it so we did it and that really galled Patty.
One morning when we pulled over and I started to grease the old crane Patty and Eddie started to get into it. Next thing I knew Patty was about 3” from Eddie and Patty was yelling at Eddie’s belt buckle. Then Patty like a bolt of lightning, grabbed Eddie’s huge open hand, wiped his false teeth and slapped them into Eddie’s open hand.
The big slob nearly died. He turned so pale I thought he was going to faint. Sure enough his legs started to buckle and Patty grabbed his teeth out of his hand, slapped them in his mouth and turned around and walked away.
The operator of the crane and I stood there wide eyed and open mouthed as we watched big Eddie shrivel up and on wobbly knees turn around and puke up his guts.
Driving to our next machine a little astonished I asked Patty, “What if he had thrown you teeth away or worse yet broke your nose?”
Patty laughed and said, “That baboon didn’t have it in him.”
Laughing I asked, “Was it with his teeth that he bit you?”
The two of us were laughing so hard I had to pull the grease wagon over and wait until I could drive.
Late one afternoon Artie pulled up to Patty and me and said, “I’m going to need you guys to work late tonight they’re just getting the number two shovel back together and I want it oiled and greased so she’ll be ready first thing in the morning.”
I asked Artie, “Can I talk to you a minute?
He got out of his car and Patty being the good guy that he was went back to work so I could talk to Artie alone.
“Art will it be ok if Patty covers for me tonight? I have an algebra class at Community College tonight that I just can’t miss.”
Those black gorilla eyes bore into me and shrugging my shoulders I continued, “The course is real hard for me because I didn’t take algebra in High School so I have to work like crazy to just keep up with the class. If I miss a class I’ll never catch up.”
The gorilla eyes squinted and he asked, “How long this been going on?”
“Last couple of years. Ever since I got into the union I take at least one course at night. In the summer and when I get laid off I take three.”
Hunched over he grunted, “What are you trying to accomplish?”
I just told the truth, he was the kind of guy it would have been a big mistake to give a song and dance to, “I’m trying to get a good enough academic background so I can get admitted to a major university full time.”
“Because I want to work with my head and not with my back.”
His gorilla eyes lightened a shade and he gruffed out, “Square it with Patty and tell him I said its ok with me.”
He jumped back in his wagon and sped off.
What a time I had that summer. I learned so much not only from Patty but from all the other guys. I learned that Artie’s dad had worked the ships as an engineer so if we couldn’t get a part or some of the stuff was so old they stopped making parts for it, Artie knew how to get the part made. I also learned his bark was bigger than his bite and that he really was a good guy. He was as smart as he was tough and everyone respected him.
As I said it was quite a time. About the middle of the summer Artie pulled all the guys in the shop and told us he was moving to Barrio’s, one of the largest road builders in the country who were putting in a major highway in Brewster and a new master mechanic would be starting Monday.
Just like that, he was gone. But if you know construction that’s just the way it is.
About two weeks after Artie had left my mom got a call from the union that the next day I was to appear at Barrio’s in Brewster as Artie’s parts man.
When my mom gave me the message I just smirked and took a long shower. The guys never knew when to stop. No way in hell was I going to be Artie’s parts man on a major road job. That job was a real plum and not easy to come by. A parts man was one of the key guys on a major road job. It was his job to make sure that no piece of equipment stood idle for want of a broken part. In addition he kept all the fuel, oil and grease flowing on the job. The job came with a lot of pressure but is one of the best paying jobs in the union and there were dam few of them. I had a good idea what the union brass was doing. They were going to have a good laugh on me. I was supposed to show up for work all clean and neatly dressed and then they were going to put me on another grease truck. Some joke.
So I showed up at Barrio’s in a pair of greasy coveralls and work shoes and when Artie saw me he exploded.
“What the hell you dressed like that for. You some kind of idiot! Didn’t the union call and tell you that you were starting as my parts man?”
I choked, “I thought it was a joke, that they were playing on me.”
He started to hunch over and with his dark eyes glowing quietly said, “Go the hell home and change and if you ever come back here looking like you do now you’ll never make it to your next birthday.”
So I did as he said and sure as hell I became his parts man. I learned a hell of a lot that year. I had two two way radio’s on my desk and two phones and none were ever silent. Everything for the job came through that office. I really learned the logistics of keeping a big operation moving. One time I bought an airline ticket from California to New York to have a little control that was no bigger than a quart of milk flown in so our batch plant which was the first automated one on the east coast capable of producing enough cement to lay three quarters of a mile in eight hours could continue to work. I drove to the city and picked up the part in the middle of the night and had it on site by 5:00am in the morning. The batch plant didn’t suffer a hiccup. I learned how to keep it all moving and worked like hell to stay one step ahead of Artie which was no small feat.
When I started Artie took me into his office and said, “Let me tell you the pay for parts man works just like my pay. You get paid from first man on in the morning until the last man off at night. And when they’re finishing the concrete that could be as late as 9:00pm at night. You ‘re going to make a considerable amount of money for a young guy, don’t spend it foolishly, bank as much of it as you can and that should be enough to get you through college.”
I stood there open mouthed and he chuckled, “Close your mouth or you’ll catch flies.” Then he added, “The job is no cake walk, the guy they had before had a nervous breakdown. You just use your head and if you don’t know something just ask and don’t let me down.” Then he looked read hard at me and said in an entirely different voice, “You will be working in my office and you will be privy to everything that goes on. I have my share of enemy’s and they’ll use anything they can get their hands on. I expect complete loyalty and whatever you hear or see ends here.”
I just shook my head that I understood; I was too choked up to say anything.
And that is how I paid my way through college. Every summer after that Artie found me a job where the overtime was good and I put every dime I could in the bank to pay for my books and school.
All the guys on the job rounded up all the junk on the job the year I left to go to school full time and they threw me a party and gave me an engraved Omega watch that I have worn for over forty years and have had rebuilt many times.
That year before I left to go to school I really thanked Artie and gave him a book about the same size as a major yellow page phone book and inside single spaced was the part and part number for every part purchased for the job. The date it was purchased, installed and the machine it went on. Artie might have his enemies but they were not going to get anything for their cause if I had anything to say about it.
Artie took the book, spun through it and with just a twinkle in his dark eyes said, “Good job.” Then he patted me on the shoulder and in a quiet emotional voice said, “Good luck.”
Don’t Forget: We Build America
The Book is Coming, The Book is Coming, The Book is Coming