Hail the workin' man (and woman)

Hail the workin' man (and woman)

By Bill Stork, DVM

There were three deep potholes on East Grant Street. Monday through Friday, near 5pm, the overload springs on a 1975 ¾-ton Ford would slap, and the 460 would growl as Dad shifted down. Whether at 6 years old building an overpass in the sandbox with my Tonka articulating end loader and dump truck, or at age 16 blowing ulcers over pre-calculus, I was always in earshot. Like a victory lap, he’d idle past, swing wide, check both mirrors and back in.

If he parked under the basketball hoop, we were working on the neighbor’s car after supper. In front of the kitchen, something was gonna get torched and welded. If he pulled in forward to the rear wheel wells, it was time to change the oil: every 1500 miles, recorded in magic marker between the 2x4’s, just to the left of the vise from Uncle Con’s farm.

In 30 minutes Mom, Dad, the neighbor with the exhaust leak, and I would be sitting down to supper at the three-leaf mahogany dinner table under a 12x36 oil reproduction of the Last Supper. It is only now, forty years on, that I can appreciate all I had to give thanks for when we bowed our heads and crossed our hearts.

In the 10 (or 16) hours since that pickup had rolled out the drive, somewhere in the 15 counties of central Illinois served by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 965, there had been 125 pieces of steel set, 400 yards of concrete  poured, and a mountain of fill dirt leveled. There was a Cat D10, crane, blade or picker that was hissing, cracking and cooling; backed in line, oiled, fueled and ready for tomorrow.

Sweaty, greasy, callused and tired was a crew of iron workers, pipe fitters, electricians and laborers heading to their families. Thanks to these men and women, there was a bridge, road, library, gymnasium, or power plant that was an honest day closer to the ribbon-cutting on the 10 o’clock news.

It was at that table over chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes that a hard core respect for the “Working Man” was engraved on my soul, not by sermon but example. Today I speak “white coats and stethoscopes,” but “Carhartts and Redwings” is my native tongue. For every bite of food, shred of common sense, and eight years of book learnin’, I have to thank a construction worker, two millwrights, a machinist and carpenters, welders and pipe fitters, more than I can count.

Monday, September 2, is Labor Day.

Somewhere amongst the parades and packing up the lake house, let’s pause to dispense with the politics and celebrate and appreciate the men and women who work with their hands. Folks at the USPS like Linda and Dana who deliver Kohl’s sale flyers and bank statements. Butch and Judy who haul 40,000lbs of Crystal Farms cheese from Lake Mills, and bring us Vitamin C from San Diego all winter long.

Without Sterwald's to pull us out of ditches, Schuman’s to keep rain off our head, John to keep the lights on, and Jensen’s to keep clean water coming and dirty water away, we might be helpless.     

So, next time you see a Hi-Vis vest and hard hat, make eye contact with a slow nod, a low wave and a wide berth. They’ll know.

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