Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Workin for the City

I received a request on Facebook from a classmate the other day and it drummed up memories of my first job with the City of Rice Lake. I think it was between my freshman and sophomore years of college. My friend Bob and I were hired to clean the sewers of Rice Lake, people sewers, not storm sewers.
A word on Bob: I had known him since I was in 2nd grade. His family had gotten polio and it affected them all. His mother died, his father was a cripple and Bob had one leg shorter than the other so he walked with a noticeable limp. He also was about the fattest guy I knew. Heck of swimmer, though. He also loved to sing and we were on the choir tour in Europe together.
I remember the first day on the job coming home for lunch and my Mother making strip down to my whitey tidies before she would let me into the house. Something about some silly odor. What?? She also made me take salt tablets so I would not get dehydrated while working on the hot black top. What a gal!
Our equipment was top of the line; for 1930. We drove on old ladder truck we called King Henry the IV because it was so extravagant, not! One could shift it without using the clutch if you were good. I was good. We had 36" lengths of rods that we could connect into long line. At one end was a spiral saw for cutting through what ever was blocking the pipe far under ground. At the other end was a small motor on the street that could turn the rods, there fore turning the saw through what ever was causing the plug. We had special little tools designed to put together and take apart the rods. There was a pipe that was put down into the man hole through which the rods were fed into the sewer pipe. We had special names for all these special tools but I will not repeat them here. Keep in mind we were a couple of college boys and and we were working through man holes.... that said is enough. Bored yet?
What wasn't boring was what we would pull out of the pipes. After we would push enough rods down to go 1/2 a block, we would pull them back out with many objects that were attached to them through which we had cut. The most common were tampons. We called them mice because they were grey with this little tail at the end. They were a huge problem along with tree roots. Condoms were another common item. We could never figure out why there were so many when there were a zillion kids running around the neighborhood. Ah yes, we were a crowd attraction. I remember one morning there were some kids around when we pulled the rods out and wrapped around a section was a bath tub stopper with its chain intact. One of the kids said, "Hey, my little brother flushed that down this morning!" I asked him if he wanted it back but for some strange reason, he was not interested.
Everyonce and awhile, a tool would drop down into the man hole and we would take turns going down to get it. Not the most pleasant task to take part in. This particular morning, it was Bob's turn. Not only had polio struck Bob but so did obesity. The poor lad got stuck on his way out. He was cursing away at the situation and me because I was slow to help. I was laughing too hard.
When it was real hot, we would take turns riding on top of the ladder, going down the street letting evaporation do its thing. Breaks were long. Sometimes breakfast as eaten during or morning break. We worked hard when we worked which wasn't always often.
The worst thing that happened, occurred over a noon break. We had worked half a block and it was getting time for lunch so we flushed the hole with a fire hose and left. What happened, as we found out later, was there was a blockage at that half way point and the "bad" water had come upbehind it into a few resident's basements. Bad, bad boys! I think the city ended up paying for the clean up of that mess.
It was a great job. We started by 7 and were done at 3. Plenty of time to take advantage of the summer. I was in summer stock at the Red Barn Theater that year so it was a good gig. I also worked the next summer for the city. That year I worked with Leo Tini, a 70 year old man. We painted the city's light poles that summer and I got to drive a dump truck. It was with Leo, that I started drinking that growth stunting, evil, drink; coffee. But that is another story.