Was it really that long ago


A few days ago my grandson was asking for money for something I didn’t think he needed, so I told him maybe he should get a job.

“I’m too young to get a job,” the seventh-grader smarted back.

“Well, back in my day …” was my answer, as I went on to emphasize that I started mowing a neighbor’s yard at least between my third- and fourth-grade years, and by his age was mowing several yards, had a paper route (yep, at this very paper) and on and on.

“Yeah, but you lived in town,” my wife chimed in much to my chagrin.

“Right, and you grew up on a farm, and I know you worked your behind off,” was my grumpy response.

To be fair, young Evan did help his grandpa and uncle on the farm some this summer. And it does make it a bit tough to mow yards when you live outside of town.

But, I still wasn’t giving up any money for what he wanted, and as we conversed a little more I started reminiscing about my first full-time job.

It came between my junior and senior year in high school when I worked on a survey crew for what back then was called McCarty Engineers, I believe. It was a good job, and I despite knowing zero about surveying when I started, I must have did alright, because my next four summers were spent working for Highland County Engineer Lowell McCarty, who owned McCarty Engineering.

A name or two have slipped my mind, and some of the details have faded, but some are almost as clear as if they happened a summer ago.

As I remember it there were two survey crews, each with two summertime helpers (myself, Dave Everson, Gip Thompson and Eric Patton) on them. Usually, we worked apart, but from time we switched up crews or worked together.

There were two bosses. One was a gruff old guy who smoked non-filter Pall Malls. I forgot his name long ago, but I remember sensing that he was not nearly as rough as he’d have you believe – except for one summer morning.

It was early summer and I wore my regular outfit of work boots, jeans, a T-shirt and a ball cap. I did not realize how cool it was until we arrived at the job site and stepped out of the Suburban to start the day.

As we loaded up our gear I noticed that it was cool, really cool, to the point that I was starting to shiver. Then I noticed the crew boss had on a jacket. And I had a strong feeling he probably had another jacket or shirt stuffed somewhere in the Suburban. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I know I said something about it being pretty cold. And, I know he saw me eyeing his jacket. But he just kind of snickered, grabbed his stuff, and said something like, let’s go boys.

I warmed up an hour or so later, but from that point on I checked the weather reports for the next day regularly.

The other crew boss was Nick Bare, without a doubt the nicest crew boss I ever worked for to this day. If you know Nick, you know what I mean.

One day I was working with Nick’s crew and there was this terrible stench in the truck, or what would be called an SUV today. As the day progressed and the truck heated up, the smell got progressively worse. We searched high and low, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. It was becoming almost unbearable, so around lunch we stopped and started unloading the truck piece by piece.

Someone had left a container of fishing worms in the truck, and they’d been there for a while.

Surveying was interesting, and sometimes lonely. Sometimes I’d be the last guy on the line, holding a pole with everyone else a few hundreds yards away. Sometimes we’d be in the middle of a muddy field. And sometimes I’d try to see just how deep I could sink in the mud. One time I sunk too far – to the point that for a good while I didn’t know if I could pull myself out or not. I finally managed to wiggle a foot out of a boot, then had to sit down in the mud and pull the other foot out.

I had muddy shoes and socks the rest of the day. I didn’t try to wiggle very deep in the mud anymore.

When surveying, you often have to stand very still for fairly long periods in one place, in the middle of summer, while sweat bees and deer flies torture you. I mastered an art that year. When a deer fly was buzzing my head, I waited as patiently as I could until it landed on my hat. Then I’d gently grab the bill of my cap, and in one motion jerk it off my head and bang to into a raised knee. It got to the point that I killed the deer fly almost as often as I didn’t, even though it sometimes took several tries.

Sometimes while shooting a boundary line we’d (we usually being the summer helpers) would have to hack a straight line of sight through the woods. We used machetes and for some reason I enjoyed it. Except for the time a decent sized limb dropped from about 20 feet above and cracked me squarely across the top of my head. Thank goodness it was rotten.

I had a really good pair of work boots that summer. Toward the end of the season I was staying with some friends at Pike Lake one week, driving back and forth each morning and evening. One morning as I was getting ready to leave I put the work boots on top of my car. I didn’t think of them again until I arrived at work and reached for them. I hoped that maybe they fell off the car near the lodge where I started from and maybe one of my buddies had found them, but I never saw those boots again.

That was 37 years ago. Sure doesn’t seem like it.

Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.

Jeff Gilliland
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