They say that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” Well pipelining can too. This is my first foray into having a co-author for one of my Memories of the Day, but I needed a clear mind to help with this memory. Thanks to Glenn Murphy for his tickling my memory.
During my college years, I held a variety of jobs, some about which I have written stories. Other than a brief mention I don’t think I have written a pipelining story, so here goes.
During my college days, I was educated on a grant. A Ken Grant, that is. During the summers I found employment that provided enough cash to pay tuition and fees ($77.00 a semester at Northeast Louisiana State College) for two semesters, purchase books (which I always sold back at the end of the semester), allow me to purchase a minimalist wardrobe and have a little spending money to start the new school year. I worked in one of the college cafeterias washing pots and pans to cover my room and board (until I moved off campus), and took various odd jobs during school breaks to keep the spending money level up a little.
My first summer out of high school in 1964, I worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at our Oak Grove municipal swimming pool for about a month then took a job as a deckhand on a Mississippi riverboat making $12.00 a day and room and board. In the summer of 1965 I was introduced to the world of pipeliners. East and West Carroll Parishes as well as Morehouse Parish in Louisiana were hotbeds of pipeliners. My mom knew several and Mr. Bernice Yelverton landed me my first job on the line. This story merges experiences from several pipeline jobs over the years and I won’t pretend that I remember each detail from the specific job I was on.
In the summer of 1965 I signed on to pipeline with Ford, Bacon, and Davis headquartered in Monroe, LA. The job site was just outside of Lufkin, TX. I remember staying in a very old hotel in downtown Lufkin. I seem to recall my pay was about $1.55 and hour, but we were union (International Hod Carriers) and I made time-and-a-half for everything over 40 hours a week. Since we were working 84 hours a week (12X7) I was on overtime from about 10:00 AM on Wednesday through the close of the day on Sunday. Except for my hotel room and meals I had few expenses. Hard to spend money on entertainment when all you want to do when you get home is sleep.
I had to report to the job warehouse area by 6:00 AM every morning for the bus ride out to the job site. Our clock started when the bus left the warehouse and ended when we climbed back on the bus at the job site. I have no idea why we were only paid on the trip out and not the trip home, but it was part of the union contract and for me the money was good so I didn’t complain.
I was a “swamper.” I pretty much just did what was needed around the site. That included strapping side boom tractors to the pipe to lift it into place, cleaning treads on the tractors, general housekeeping, and my all-time favorite, throwing skids out of the ditch. Skids were like railroad ties. I’m guessing from long ago memories that they were about 8inches by 8 inches and maybe 4 feet long. They could get pretty heavy by the end of the day. The crews ahead of us would stack a cradle of skids before a crossing to rest the pipe end on. The first thing to do when we arrived on site was to hook the pipe to a sideboom and toss the skids out of the ditch. There was almost always water and mud in the ditch. I always dreaded getting into the mud, but my way of dealing with the inevitable was to embrace it. The first thing I would do when I arrived at the job site was to jump into the muddiest part I could find and start tossing out skids. Once I was all muddy, I just dealt with it from then on. Bosses thought I was eager, but in fact, I just wanted to get that disgusting detail over.
Here’s one of those anecdotal stories. I am pretty sure this occurred on a different job because it was near my home in Oak Grove and I was staying at home and saving rent money. Whenever sections of pipe were welded together, they had to be “doped” and wrapped. The “dope” was a very toxic tar-like substance that would be spread on the bare pipe to protect it and then wrapped with a thick black fabric that could have been paper, but I don’t know for sure. On occasion the boiler that was used to melt the “dope” would need cleaning and one day I got that job. I had to climb down into the boiler with a hammer and chisel and chisel out the hard material to clean it out. No one bothered to tell me that it was caustic and would burn my skin. It was hot and muggy so I was working with my sleeves rolled up. By the time I got home that night, my arms were swollen and a fiery red. I went to the Oak Grove clinic and they cleaned it up, salved it and wrapped it up. I ended up missing several days of work over that little mishap.
I worked on the tie-in crew and it was our job to come along at the end of the line to tie in road and canal crossings or just anything that needed to be tied in. The crews before us included a right of way clearing crew, pipe stringers, ditch diggers, and I’m not sure what all else. Crews further up the line would weld the sections of pipe together and put them in the ditch. When they came to a more complicated stretch (e.g. road crossings), they would leave those for the tie in crew. One of the reasons we worked all of the hours we did is that the line was always working against a deadline and as the last crew to finish things we were almost always behind, but always finished on time.
Another anecdotal story. Again, I’m not entirely sure just where this took place, but I think it was on the Oak Grove job. We were working on crossing a canal. The process included building a dam upstream from the tie in and pumping the water out so we could get the pipe pieced together and buried before letting the water back. We needed a volunteer to spend the night out at the job site to make sure the pump kept working through the night. That meant another 12 hours for me so I was all over it. The crew left and I settled in to spend the night on the job. About every hour or so, I needed to climb into the canal and make sure the filter covering the pump hose end was not blocked. I’ve already established how much I hated the mud, but money talks. The night went by pretty uneventfully and the canal was almost clear when the crew arrived the next morning. I was in the ditch Probably 15 to 20 feet down into the canal working to clear the hose when everyone arrived. The hose was really stuck this time. I waded out to the end and began scraping the muck off of it. All of a sudden, I noticed that I was sunken to about mid calf in the muck. I tried to get me legs free, but the harder I worked the deeper I sank. I was in a quicksand patch. At least that is what I have convinced myself of. I knew enough to not fight it but to call for help. One of the crew looked over the edge and saw me now up to my knees in the stuff and called over the boss. He got a tractor to lower its cable to me and they pulled me out. Of course, they sent me right back in to get the pump cleared, but I did it with a great deal of caution this time. I have, not often, but from time to time, wondered what I would have done if I had hit that patch of quicksand in the middle of the night without anyone there to help me. God was watching.
We finished the Lufkin job on time and after a brief visit to my home in Oak Grove, I headed up to Jonesboro, AR to finish out the summer. That is where I met Glenn Murphy.
The summer of 1965 was eventful. I went to work for a pipeline Co., Ford, Bacon, and Davis. The pipeline ran from Newport, Ark. to Blytheville, Ark. So, the logical place for the warehouse was Jonesboro, Ark. It was about halfway between Newport and Blytheville. I met Kenny Grant on the job. We had a few things in common, but the major factor in common was that we knew the Yelverton brothers. The Yelverton’s were pipeliners that lived in Oak Grove and Bastrop. This was my first experience working away from home. I had just a short time to find a place to live and unpack my cloths. The next morning we went to work and wasted no time getting dirty and muddy. When Kenny and I joined the pipeline, we were working in the middle of Arkansas rice fields, gumbo mud everywhere. It was nasty, filthy, and hot.
Kenny and I did not room together at first. I had a roommate from Virginia and Kenny had a roommate from Oak Grove. In about a month, both of our roommates left the pipeline, so we decided to room together and split the cost of the room that was located in an elderly lady’s house. Compared to today, the cost of the rented room was minor, but we were only making $1.55 an hour. Now you see why we needed a roommate and split the cost.
Workdays on the pipeline were long. You were there by 7:00 A.M. and you would work many days past 6:00. We would eat lunch out on the pipeline. Many guys ate bean sandwiches. You would dump pork and beans on a slice of bread and call it a bean sandwich. [Ken’s note: we also had a thing called “jungle lunch.” We would each contribute money to one person who would take the boss’ pickup truck to some little store and purchase whatever they had. Usually it was white b read, bologna, ham, cheese, mustard, sandwich spread and so on. When he got back he would spread it out on a big tarp and the crew would come over and fix their noon meal. I’m not sure we even got a half hour for lunch before getting back to work.] The only place open at night near the room was a drug store that had a grill and soda fountain in it. Young people, today, have never seen soda fountains in a drug store. Kenny and I did get to enjoy one good meal a week. We would save our money all week and on Sunday night, we would walk across the street to a Holiday Inn and eat in the restaurant there. That food tasted so good.
As I stated earlier, the room we rented was in the home of an elderly lady. There was only one bed and we had to share it. We rarely saw the lady, but she was very nice. I wish I could remember how much she charged us, but I can’t. [Ken’s note: Glenn has not mentioned that he was an offensive lineman for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. He played on the same team as Phil Robertson (Duck Dynasty fame) and Terry Bradshaw (four time Super Bowl champion). Glenn was not a small man be any stretch. Not sure how we both fit in that double bed, but we made it work.]
Kenny Grant was a great guy to spend the summer with. Kenny was a young man of high integrity and high morals. He helped me to be a better person. I have always cherished his friendship. [Ken’s note: Right back at ya, Glenn.]
One last thing I remember. Jonesboro had one movie theater and the show would change on Thursday night. We would go on Thursday night and catch a new movie. Life was really exciting, huh.
The Summer was a great learning experience for me as to what is expected to live a successful life. Work hard, respect others, and do the right thing (choices). I doesn’t seem as though I have remember much, but I do remember how happy I was to get back to Bastrop in August. [Ken’s note: and on to fall football practice.]
We worked the line there in Jonesboro until the job was finished. We did finish in August because I took the bus from Jonesboro up to surprise my family who were visiting my grandparents in Pennsylvania. That is a story unto itself.
I am pretty sure there are other anecdotal stories that will pop up and I’ll share when they do.