In blogging you just never know. Sometimes you spend a huge amount of time working on a post and when you are done you think "This is freaking brilliant". You post it and not a single person in the world seems to read it or comment. Other times you post something you think may not be all that interesting to people and it strikes a chord.
Such was the case from Thursday's post Odd Jobs Over the Years which has turned into one of the most read Economic Disconnect articles since 2007.
I got a bunch of comments and some emails about the railroad work in particular. I have plenty of those stories, did it for a long time. Here are three that jump out at me.
My dad got call one night in February about a stuck switch in Boston that needed a look. He called me around 10pm and asked if I wanted to go help him with the job. I said sure thing, come on over and pick me up. We got there around 11pm and it was cold out. I mean, frigid. I don't know what the temp was, no thermometer, but it was hard to breathe.
We got out of the truck and worked over the stuck switch. We applied heavy grease to it and got it working again. There were two trains waiting for a track change on that switch so as soon as we got it done they started off using it. Took about 20 minutes and I was so cold I don't think I have ever been that cold again.
I had to pee before we went back so I went alongside the truck, unzipped and that was a shocker of cold as well! As I was going the urine was turning into icicles as it hit the ground! That's how cold it was! I could hear the things clinking as they hit the ground. It was surreal. Funny thing it's not even this experience why I hate the cold so much, but that's another tale.
My Hands get Stuck
Freshman year in High School my dad got a contract to build a new rail line from a plastics factory to link up with a nearby access line. It was not long, maybe 200 feet. My father's crew had set most of it up during the week and finish up was for the weekend I was to work. One problem; all the materials were brand new.
Now usually rail jobs use all old stuff like ties, plates, spikes, and rails. It is way cheaper and the stuff lasts forever anyway. But no, the company wanted all new stuff. What's the big deal? New railroad ties are hard as rocks. They are soaked in a sort of oil/tar that makes them weather proof. When new you have to drill the holes for the spikes to hold the rails. The holes are so rigid it takes 3X the effort to get a spike fully hammered in and seated. 6 of us worked all weekend and got it done, but the effort required was huge. My hands were killing me from holding the hammer and all the pounding and I was having trouble getting them to relax from staying the same position as while holding the hammer.
And they were like that Monday morning! My hands were frozen in the exact position as when I was using the spike hammer. I could not get them to relax. I took the day off from school because I could not do anything. By that evening they started to move again, but it was another day until I could hold a pen.
One summer I was working with my dad laying new rails again. Luckily this was all well used materials so no drama like in the last story. I was 15 and I was heavy into boxing then and in the best shape of my life. I was feeling strong, on top of the world, and so after lunch I walked up to my dad and said "I am going to take you this time".
That was a age old railroad challenge. It meant a race to fully spike down 1 length of rail before the other guy. Rails are about 16 feet long (hard to remember) and there are about 8 ties in that distance with 8 spikes each. So it is a 64 spike race. My dad was rock solid and had a strength that was hard to quantify, but I felt I could take him this time.
I focused in, layed out all my spikes next to the plates and got psyched up. My dad was just looking at me and said "You ready?". Yup, and we were off.
I was flying but of course you have to make sure it's done correct as a check after the race will disqualify you if you missed a plate or a spike is not fully seated. I was really swinging steel and I zoned out, could not hear anything. I had tunnel vision. About half way across I started really breathing hard and I started to see some stars in my vision near the end. I was going all out and almost passing out.
I got to the last spike, seated it down, collapsed and started to dry heave as I was feeling sick. I look up and my dad was leaning on his hammer smoking a parliament. I think it took me 15 minutes to get it done and it seems he was somehow able to get his done in 10 minutes! The rest of the crew were just watching and laughing at the end. I had lost again to the old man.
I caught my breathe and walked up to my dad. I shook his hand and said "Well, I will get you next time or some time in the future!". My dad looked at me and grinned and said "I don't think you will be doing this much longer, your mom tells me the grades you are getting in school".
It was a really sad moment. It was sad because I knew he was right. Even then my mind was very active and I was very serious about becoming a scientist. It was sad because working with my dad had become almost the only time we spent together. I think we worked maybe 10 more times on smaller jobs until the end of high school. By then my dad's drinking roblem was getting very bad and he was not taking many contract side jobs. Two years into College he died. And I never beat him in a spiking race.
Have a good night.