Looking back on work I have done in my life.

As an engineer, technically trained many seasons ago, I always think of work in terms of the definition one would find in an engineering mechanics or physics book, that being W=F x D (with a cosine thrown in depending on the angle of the Force versus the direction of the Distance.  When I look up “work” in the dictionaries however, I am amazed at just how many definitions apply, and whether it is used as a noun, or one or more of those other things we studied.  When I look for images of “work,” mostly I get people (usually younger folks than I) sitting at computers drinking coffee.

I guess I am just really old school when it comes to what work really is, and frankly although I spent my career mostly sitting at a desk, much of the time on a computer, I never really thought of it as work, just “what I did in my profession.”  In fact, the driving Force that motivated me to make a career of doing what I did, was all the WORK I did in my years in high school, through my first years in college.  The thought that I did Not want to Work at a job that was actually physically hard labor, in not so comfy environments, was the Force that moved me the Distance to get my college degree and keep going on into an engineering career.

I had many different kinds of part-time and summer jobs in my early manhood days.  One summer I spent a few weeks in the Texas sun on a river bed, with my cousin my age and our dads, loading large bleached stones into a dump truck, one rock at a time.  These had to be visually selected to meet specifications, so a hydraulic loader could not be used. Walking around stooped over looking for these stones to be used for landscaping, then bending to pick each up, usually weighing about 5 pounds, then walking to the truck, and pitching the rocks into it, hour after hour all day long is, I guarantee, hard work.  Real Work.

Another job I had, which taught me the flip side of Not doing hard work, was being a life guard after my junior year in high school, at the local town country club pool one summer.  Except for the endless hours of boredom when there were not any cute girls to “keep from drowning,” and my skin peeling a few layers over the three months, it was really Easy money!  I liked easy money, and still do, but seldom see any.

Oh, yes, and I did some cow boy’ing and ranch work, since my family had a nice ranch and livestock that needed tending.  But working for my dad for a roof over my head, food in my belly and a little pocket money on the weekends can’t really be counted as work, can it?

Then there was the part-time job in high school at a service station.  Hardly anyone knows what a service station is anymore, it is a thing of the past, like most service that can’t be done by a so-called “help desk” that usually aren’t very helpful.  I pumped gas, washed car windows, checked tire pressure, fixed flats, including big truck tires that have to be “broken down,” cleaned stinky bathrooms, mopped the driveways, and got paid 50 cents an hour.  Just enough to spend on beer and chasing girls!

One of the hardest jobs I ever had was working with a tree trimming crew all summer, trimming trees and brush from proximity to electric overhead lines.  My basic job was to pickup all the vegetation we cut and place it in the back of a truck.  We would haul it to the local dump (today called landfills) at the end of each day.  As the summer progressed, however, my boss man decided to let me start doing some of the fun stuff, like going up into trees anywhere from 15 to 40 feet off the ground.  How did we do that?  Using basically mountaineering rope, a slipknot and harness, to pull our own weight straight up, a foot or so at a time, until we got to the perch we needed to be at to stand up and then work from there, moving around the large limbs to reach out with a long pruning shear to cut small limbs back from the electric lines.  More than once I saw sparks fly from limbs, so yes it was a dangerous job.

The next summer I left Austin where I was going to college, and went to Houston with some guys to get some high paying work.  We started at a steel mill there on the Houston ship channel, and were laborers in the labor pool, assigned some different hard ass, dirty ass job every day.  The African American foreman over the labor pool I am quite sure saved up all the worst jobs for us white college boys, and he worked our tails off.  After several weeks of this, I was glad to get with my cousin (of the rocks story above) who was a welder working on ocean oil drilling platform construction.  These huge oil derricks were being build right next to the Houston ship channel and when each was completed to spec it was lifted onto a huge barge by HUGE cranes, to be towed out to sea and placed upright.  I worked there as a welders helper.  We literally worked 7 days a week, 12 hour shifts, and my cousin and I were on the night crew.  We often worked 50 to 300 feet off the ground, walking on pipes at times that were no more than 24 inches diameter, with absolutely no fall protection.  And watch out for the grease on the pipes, you damn sure don’t want to slip.  We made a lot of money that summer, but as I recall I spent most even before returning to classwork.  The joys of being a dumb young man, living only for today!

The above jobs are not all I had, but I just wanted to make the point that there is nothing wrong with real work, and I continue to believe it builds character and life values that will stick with a man or woman throughout there life.  When I see people doing hard work on highway construction, or roofing houses,  out in the scorching heat or freezing cold all day, I know many actually feel good when they go home to their families, or in many cases, wire money to loved ones in there home country, but I also know the toll it takes on them over time.  However, this Nation could not do without their labors, so the next time you casually pass by such hard working crews, send them some love ok?  And if you can, get out and do some real work occasionally, for it sharpens the spirit.