Travels with Walter: A Worker's Life

Chapter 1 As Kids We Worked a Lot

The first thing I remember was playing in my parent’s dirt driveway with my oldest brother's friend Dennis. Driveways were dirt in the late 1940's. A strange first memory as Dennis was four years older and never again was part of my life.  The only child of a barber he bought an existing liquor store as a young adult and its expensive liquor license often meant lifetime financial security.

My Paper Route

Like many children I wanted to act older which meant willingly taking over my oldest brother Richard's paper route when I was 10- years-old.  I'll never know why I wanted the route because it was a lot of work and my father's rule was that the four plus dollars from forty plus customers went into my savings account and he gave me my usual three dollar allowance. My younger sister Alma also wanted to take over my older brother Stanley’s paper route. She was an academic all-star so maybe I was just dumb and not stupid. My allowance was more than reasonable as a movie cost 20 cents and a night of bowling was about one dollar.

Collateral damage of working 90 minutes per day six afternoons per week was that Saturday afternoon movies were out. That was not good since I was too young for evening movies and on Sunday the guys didn't go to the movies. I missed The Creature from the Black Lagoon in 3D! Within a few years the problem was solved as the guys were old enough to hitch three miles to evening movies.

I learned about tipping from the route. Some did, some didn't. Most gave a nickel and some had two quarters and waited for me to give back a nickel.  A few gave a dime.  What bothered me is the guy who delivered the weekly local paper also got a nickel. Can't they do arithmetic? One day a nickel six days a nickel. Four nickels equaled a hot dog and I liked hot dogs!

One advantage of the rout concerned the Boy Scout candy selling contest. I had joined Boy Scouts after a successful Cubs Scout career which culminated with the highest ranking WEE-BUH-LOWS designation. I was not a successful Boy Scout as the seven or so merit badges I had earned could not be awarded until I passed the second class test and that required the impossible task of tying knots. Knots like spelling required memory and I didn't do memory. 

Shortly after I joined the most recent candy sales contest winner was awarded a small tent. I really wanted a tent. It would be a place of my own! I sold 135 boxes of ribbon candy. Not at the super market like they do today but door to door. The next closest scout was the assistant scout master’s son David who sold about 40 boxes. The night of the awards I was ready and could see my tent among the prizes. Then my tent was awarded as the second place prize and I got an ax handle. Not even a complete ax. Good thing! I gave up scouting shortly after and never ever again worked for anything other than money. To this day I check nonprofit tax returns at Guide Star to see if they a legitimate.

Our Family Business

My engineer by trade father started a very small ravioli business for something to do after work. Three machines about twice the size of a blender were used on the kitchen table to make and roll the dough and fill it with meat or cheese. About the time I became a paper boy he decided to buy five much bigger machines which were placed in a newly constructed basement room built by his older brother Frank.

Within a year I was working for three to five times per week for three to four hours a day.  Alma and I folded the forty or so one-pound boxes and boxed the product after it had dried on two by three foot screened grids as fast as possible fast to be done by ten PM so I could watch an hour of television and the news before bed. Alma would often do homework. Time fly’s when you’re having fun.

Being a Caddy

I turned fourteen late in the eighth grade and gave up the paper route to joined tall Dennis as a caddy at the Plymouth Country Club. It was about ten miles away so I had to get up early and I still don't do early. Some days Dennis and I got a ride from family but usually we thumbed. Being a caddy meant more money but now I worked seven five to ten hours days per week and it took a lot of rain to keep Dennis and at home. I also didn't do home.

Dennis and I worked pretty much every day for two summers. Rain usually meant fewer caddies and if we didn't work we played poker and fool around until we got bored and then thumbed home. Caddying collateral damage was at fourteen my days at Greys beach which had been limited by the paper route to Sundays were over. 

We got two dollars per bag, a few men didn’t tip, $3.00 was great and a $6.00 double was a great day especially when joined by a single. That could mean a $9.00 day! Women seldom tipped and never gave a dollar.  There were two collateral benefits. During the summer I usually got home too late to help make raviolis and during the school year I only worked for the family business.

Irish Sea Moss Takes Over My Summers.

My sixteenth summer after the tenth grade required more money so I started weeding for a truck farm with my one-year younger friend Dwight. We thumbed the five miles to work. Weeding lasted only a few weeks.  I can't remember why we left. Dwight was done work for the summer as his grandmother was a supply of spending money and by then he was borrowing from the family business cash draw. They owned Hill Top cabins. His dad worked full time at a hardware store and his mom was a nurse. I ended up with a much better job! Located about a mile from my house it was for Paul Vantagolie and involved drying and bailing Irish Sea Moss at “the hill,” I would work six years for Paul who interestingly as Park Commissionaire for Kingston had hired Stanley to life guard Gray’s Beech. Paul had decided that the beech should have a guard even when it rained so Stan made lots of money.  Political graft and corruption was alive and well in Kingston Massachusetts.

I remember earning 0.75 cents per hour for forty or so hours per week. The minimum wage was one dollar an hour so I have a poor memory or maybe agriculture was a lower wage?  The most I worked was sixty four hours.  Paul, his partner Willey and son Alan would arrive about eleven AM with a truck loaded with Irish Sea Moss which had been raked from dories during low tide from rocks under the water at White Horse Beech.  From above looking through the water the moss looked like the side of an Elm tree. Other trucks would arrive from Green Harbor and Ellisville. I got to unload the Green Harbor truck by hand using a large five pronged pitch fork because it didn’t have a mechanized dump. The still damp moss was spread thinly on the ground to dry, turned with wooded rakes to dry on the other side, pushed into long wind rows about five feet wide and fifty feet long, forked into the front end basket of a small farm tractor and brought into the barn for bailing. My working partner Lowie and I did these and maintenance type tasks. I enjoyed that we were alone about half the time. We always kept busy but no boss around was nice.

The summer after my junior year Paul bought a large green alpha dryer meaning so the outside part of my job had disappeared. Half my job was replaced by a machine. Automation had done me in before graduating high school. Louie said fine and just worked less but I decided to rake moss during low tide at White Horse Beech with Paul, Willey, Allen and a crew of fifteen to thirty guys ranging in age from about fourteen to forty with most in high school and college.

The machine started with an outside loading hopper. The moss was dumped from a truck into a 10 foot square hopper though I got to use a pitch fork to unload the Green Harbor truck. Billy, a Green Harbor college students drove the truck in but never unloaded it. Not part of his pay? Paul’s ranking of workers? The hopper was located between two long tubes. To the left was a 30 inch diameter ten foot long furnace tube containing a long high loud forced flame. It provided lots of heat to warm up the ten foot diameter thirty foot long drying tube containing the moss loaded by the hopper.  The moss traveled through the drying tube into a large twenty foot tall ten foot diameter top shaped container where it swirled around with gravity lowering it to the two foot square hatch at the bottom where it landed on a conveyer which moved the moss into the next room where yours truly awaited with Louie to bail it in a room with a temperature that reached 110 degrees when the outside temperature was 90 degrees.  The dust from dried moss added to the atmosphere.  I ended the day with much dust in my hair and on all unexposed body parts.

The real fun was loading a tractor trailed box with about one-hundred and sixty 200 pound two feet by two feet by four foot bails of dried moss for delivery to Maine where they would be processed into a chemical called Decollate to was used as a coagulate to created uniformity in ice cream, beer, cosmetics ... I was inside the trailer. Why not Louie? Seniority.  Actually Louie has=d a sneezing problem which would cause him to do nothing but sneeze for twenty to thirty minutes. I would work if possible but often just sat a watch. When done he was exhausted. The trailer box might have been too much.

A bail was placed onto the front of the small farm tractor with a front end loader and Paul would drive it into the trailer box and drop it. There were four bails per row, four rows per tier and about ten tears per box. Paul did everything fast and to him this was a pinball game. Drive fast slam on the brakes and try and drop the bail so I had to do little bail placement. Bail four in each row was fun as it had to be squeezed in.  The top row was least fun. I had placed the bail in position so with Paul pushing it with the edge of the loader and with me sitting on a tear in front guiding it with my feet it was pushed into a snug spot. The entire job was a very hot and dusty and somewhat dangerous because Paul could not see my feet or the bail.  I never got hurt the four or so times per year I did this over six summers that ended the summer before my senior year in college.

Between mossing and working at the hill I was a busy boy. Twenty to seventy hours per week. Twenty came with a lot of rain and wind and the possibility of seventy hours came the four days of each month when tides were low early in the morning and twelve hours later in the late afternoon.

I would be sitting on my front step at 4 AM waiting for Paul or Alan to pick me up for the hour or so drive to the beach with a coffee stop and get ready for first light when we would launch our fifteen foot boats and head to the moss. We spent three plus hours on the water and an hour plus loading moss from the boats into the truck and returning to Kingston where I stopped at home for a quick lunch and then to the hill to dry the mornings loads. By three or four PM it was back to the beach. Seldom did we rake two tides many days in a row as moss was piling up at the hill; often good money had already been made, and windy whether meant less productivity. The first morning and last evening were short raking periods lasting about two hours and the middle two days were the most productive.  A good morning tide increased the chances of wind keeping us off the water in the afternoon while missing a morning tide meant if at all possible working the afternoon tide. For all of us not raking meant no pay and two hours or so wasted! But it was tiring and money earned meant talking up the wind and time off.

After my junior year in college Paul needed a crew chief for Ellisville Harbor. The longer drive and having to wait for the tide to come up enough to get up the creek/river meant a longer day but it was more money and it was about the money. Years later a friend named John would say he’d shovel poop for enough money!

And now the rest of the Story

It's amazing what a good predictor these early jobs were of future job success. Richard usually found a summer job but for some reason or another it didn't last and he would work around the house. As an adult his lifetime job was as an automobile insurance adjuster. It was great in that he had a company car and working efficiently meant selected time off. After ten or so years the computer and no-fault insurance decreased the economic return from this type of work. My older brother Stanley left his paper route for the high paying easy job for the life guard at Grey's beach. Seven days a week were a lot but it was a five minute walk from home and at the beach he got to check out the girls. He left life guarding for another kind of life guard work. He was a unionized teamster delivering Budweiser beer throughout cape code. High pay and many hours of overtime meant big bucks! He would end up a unionized state college teacher and while the basic pay was about the same as a high school teacher, his retirement was great and he almost doubled his salary teaching overloads for local colleges.  My younger sister Alma took over his route and did it for many years.  She worked little after the route but work for teenage girls was less plentiful. She did have a successful career as a computer programmer and while I don't know how much money she made; she does collects maximum social security.

Tall Dennis had a successful four year US Air Force career, went to barber school and owned his owned his own shop until retirement.

Dwight didn’t work much.

Louie did the service after high school but didn’t finish because of medical reasons and worked for the U.S Post Office. Died young from cancer?

Billy graduated college and was a wildlife executive.

John was a successful lawyer and part time adjunct tax law professor and now in his late sixties limits his law practice but is a full time tax law professor.

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