Center of the Gold Country, California,
June 24
I suppose you could say I am just one who never was able to do all he wished he could do in a lifetime. I could never be interested in just one thing, but all things. I suppose it is these twilight years where the dawn is coming closer that I occasionally sit down and write a few of my thoughts. Some stay with me, never seen by others and some I post for the world to see. They are varied subjects, for which my mind will focus on for that time. So for now, allow me to indulge.

AUGUST 11, 2010 2:47PM

My Accidental Career

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 I wrote this a couple of years ago. I think it is more relevant today than when I first wrote it.

Recently as I read more about the pursuit for more young people to obtain degree’s I have become concerned that what is being overlooked is the need also for highly skilled men and women in the crafts.

I agree that we do need more college graduates so we might compete with the global highly technical needs of the future. However not everyone wants or needs to attend a four year institution of higher learning to find a satisfying career that pays well. Many may find after they have received their degree they are not happy with the field they had originally chosen. I might have been one of those.

Quite frankly I would never have given a thought of pursuing what became my career if it were not for accident. I was only focused on a four year degree and possible Masters.   Here is my story of what that accident changed the direction my life took.

 I came about my career choice purely by accident, literally by accident.  My plans for the future were laid out, I was to complete a master’s degree and teach collage history, so I thought.

I had borrowed my parents’ car so I could take my collage midterm exams. I ended up rear ending a former high school classmate. My father dropped the collision insurance on the car as that year his business was not doing well. I nearly totaled the car and had to look for a job to pay for it.

I found a job for the local power company and began what was to be temporary employment until I could get back to school. I did attend some night school classes and the local institution of higher learning over a period of years. But after 40 plus years working in Overhead Line Construction I found myself with a pension and no degree.

Sometime along the way my “accidental career” had become far more satisfying than if I had gone on to teach history. Instead I was to become immersed in history, living it in my own way.

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Sometime along the way my “accidental career” had become far more satisfying than if I had gone on to teach history. Instead I was to become immersed in history, living it in my own way.

I had been fortunate to begin my work with one of the original union organizers for the company. He was a devote Mormon. A Hole Digger operator, Stanley Dalin was one of the hardest workers I ever knew. I was his “swamper” and was to work as hard each day as Stan did.

Daily I was given the history of the company, particularly the reason why we had a Union and how it came about. Stan called the old management, “the Gestapo”. I learned that the first priority when they won the right to negotiate for the workers was “conditions” with wages second. Benefits were for the future contracts as the need for improved working conditions were paramount at that time.

Shortly after I left Stan I worked on a “heavy line crew”. The Heavy Crew Foreman, Al Sakola, was a crusty ornery old guy who had hired onto PG&E in 1922. He had forgotten more about line work that I would ever know. I was fortunate as he took an immediate likening to me. Al could be the most brutal foreman I had ever seen on someone he didn’t have much respect for.

Again history was dealt out in doses. The days mule teams where the engine of the equipment. Teamsters were a term coined for the drivers of the mule teams. I learned the old way of rigging when equipment was not able to get to the works site. Digging and blasting pole holes, stringing miles of wire, setting poles with pikes, something that I have not seen since on a line crew in years. History was unknowingly becoming a part my training. This was line work as it was performed 20, 30 and even 40 years prior to my hiring on. It was a history lesson that was also evidenced the rapid changes in equipment and technologies that was changing the trade.

Often I would think back as having been part of the last of the “old way” of line work as we were changing as derricks that rotated, becoming cranes that could lift apparatuses of the top of poles, instead of fixed booms with limited reach and abilities. This would have many forgetting how to rig or never learning it. Ariel lift trucks that carried linemen aloft to work from the bucket instead of strapped to a pole.

Piking in a Pole

 I would not fully appreciate what I was taking in while plying my trade until many years later. Stanley’s and Al’s history lessons on the line work of the past and the Union were forgotten until I began to spend some time listening to the late Utah Phillips as he spoke of tramps, railroads and unions. It began to come back to me what these men had taught me some 40 years ago. I felt now fortunate to have lived part of this.

My accidental career became far more satisfying than the academic career I had planned on. I could finish a day and look back at what my crew had accomplished and feel good. Storms, Fires and other emergencies that lead to long hours, working over 30 hours straight was common during that time and twice I put in 52 straight hours once to return 8 hours later for another 34.

Pride, some would say an out-sized ego, was a part of the trade. Brutal humor was also a part of the trade. If you couldn’t take it then you had better move on as this was looked upon as a sign that when the going got rough and we all got testy from lack of rest you may not hold up to the task.

As a construction foreman responsible for among the most testosterone poisoned men on the planet respect was not given lightly. You had to earn it. I came to appreciate these men I worked with and accept them as my brothers in a family that could be as dysfunctional as any on earth. We worked together, argued, played practical jokes on each other, as a sign of respect you were often given a derogatory nickname.

This history just within my career, not to say that which I also had outside of it, it could never have been experienced in the world of academia.


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Recently I connected with that high school classmate, who caused me to have the change in plans for my career, that which started me on this Accidental Career. He had forgotten who had hit him. I hope someday to pay a visit to him in Oregon where he presently lives.


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Long time no read! And a lovely read at that. I am going to share this with a friend of mine, who is also a student of history and currently a rigger by trade...
fascinating, touches on so many things of importance, pride of accomplishment, dignity of labor, strength in solidarity, people who BUILD things as the backbone of our economy
very cool, folkmuse....