Writer’s Roost

Kiln heat, creosote, aluminum cuts and gasoline fumes



Honest sweat and skinned knuckles never hurt anyone.” “Boy, don’t ever let me hear of you backing up to get a paycheck.” — quotes from L. Ray Webb, circa 1940s-50s.

Dad was right. A lot. Much more than he ever got credit for from me.

On occasion in more than 55 years of writing this sort of missive, I have quoted my dad, L. Ray “Son” Webb. As a matter of fact, the second quote, about a paycheck, has led this column before.

Physically hard, tough work is good medicine. It will make you appreciate a job that is not as physically wearing as manual labor. You’ll gain an appreciation, too, for furthering your education and the impetus provided by knowing and caring parents to achieve the goal of a college degree.

Editing and publishing newspapers can be physically tiring, but it is also mentally, and sometimes emotionally, draining as well.

While pursuing that goal and an always-dreamed-of job of writing for newspapers, I worked at a lot of physically-taxing and occasionally dangerous jobs.

In high school and the first two years of college, there were a number of endeavors — paper route (all the way through high school), sacking groceries, selling fireworks, driving a truck delivering bulk gasoline, stacking brick, making window coolers, surveying pipeline rightof way and repairing railroad bridges.

There are scores and scores of grocery sacking stories, delivering newspapers, maybe even selling fireworks, but I daresay the others are pretty unique, particularly today.

Stacking brick is tough from several standpoints. First, you have to stand atop a kiln — approximately 20 feet wide, 80 feet long and 15 feet tall — pulling “platting” off the cooling kiln. Platting is old brick, mostly broken, placed atop a kiln-stack of freshly stamp-molded brick that are still “damp” upon being put in the kiln to “cook.” The kiln temperature I can only guess at, but several hundred degrees Fahrenheit. “Cooking” takes several days (I don’t remember how long), then cooling is allowed for several more, but believe you me, it’s very hot atop that kiln removing the platting and tossing it down to a companion at ground level, who throws it into a bin to, hopefully, be reused. We had rudimentary “gloves” that were rough leather maybe an eighth inch thick, cut to resemble a baseball catcher’s mitt but with rawhide thongs that go across the backs of your hands to hold them on as you play pitch and catch with two brick at a time.

Of course, any kind of cut hurts, but the aluminum used to make Jack’s Manufacturing Economy Coolers in the days before central air conditioning or even window A/C units were widely used, sliced the flesh if you weren’t very careful.

Jack’s product was a window unit that had a fan and a fiber panel through which water dripped from on top, then the fan blew across the panel pushing “cooled” air into a room.

We took sheets of aluminum, cut them to size on a foot-pedal-operated cutting device, then put them on another device which die-cut holes and openings for hoses, pipes and fans. Then, another section of the shop assembled the “Economy Coolers.”

One of my favorite labor jobs was surveying the pipeline right-of-way. I was out front, pulling the “chain,” a metal band 100 feet long and using a machete to hack a path for us through some fairly dense forest undergrowth. Counting the pipeline company engineer, there were four of us on the crew, the other three being college students like me.

With that machete, you’d have thought I was Tarzan (no, not Cheetah).

But, when the engineer took us “night-clubbing,” they took the machete from my belt and left it behind.

Shucks. It seemed like that would’ve been fun.

WILLIS WEBB is a retired community newspaper publisher of more than 55 years experience. He can be reached by email at wwebb1937@att.net.

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