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Tramping in Texas (Part One)

There were three of us in the backseat of a beat up six man, my pole buddy Gary, myself, and a large guy wearing a Superman T-shirt. The two guys up front had a silent "most wanted" look about them.

The one on the passenger side, Big Jack, without saying a word emptied a gum wrapper full of white powder into a go cup of coffee and handed it over to the driver, CW. After fixing himself up the same way he half turned and pointed another wrapper toward us. I said no thanks we’re good. Superman just looked out the window.

Gary and I shared a wide-eyed glance and just sat there as we rattled down the road in a cloud of Texas dust. We were somewhere a couple of hours west of Austin.

This was not the plan.

The 765 KV line construction from the Canadian border in Northern NY to the center of the state was completed a few weeks earlier, just before Christmas. Gary and I, now third step apprentice lineman out of Local 1249, took our layoffs and headed home. We had met a lot of line hands from all over the country on the job, so the notion of us hitting the road for the winter seemed appealing. Besides that, in our minds we were now top hands who could go to work anywhere.

After the holidays Gary called and referred me to the latest copy of the IBEW Journal. I grabbed my copy and found the page he was looking at. It was a report on the Salt River Canyon project out in Arizona. We both agreed that it was the place for us and set a plan in motion.

My slant six Dodge Van had well over 100,000 miles on it, but it did have chrome wheels and a loud stereo. Gary’s car was an Opel GT that was largely bondo. He ran into a lot of things in those days.

We took the vehicles to a local garage to get a tow bar rigged on the Opel. The mechanic wasn’t really enthusiastic about the project, but he did install it anyway. He even shook our hands and said good luck. Seemed like a good guy. He may have been crossing himself as we drove over the curb on the way out.

Gary was in charge of the food for the trip largely because he knew how to skin and fry rabbits, and l knew nothing. We planned on driving nonstop and wouldn’t have time to stop and eat.

His idea was to buy the largest ham possible and bake it in his mother’s oven. I saw the genius in this once he informed me that baked ham never goes bad. Apparently, this was common knowledge among people who knew.

We had a cardboard box full of snacks, a cooler full of beverages, and a baked ham lashed to the engine cover between us. We went to the bank and drew out some cash for gas and expenses.

It was dark by the time we were ready to hit the road, but since we planned on driving nonstop there was no reason to wait until morning.

 As we left town it occurred to us that it would be rude not to stop by the local hang out and say goodbye to all our pals. One quick beer and make for Arizona.

Sometime around last call there was a scuffle. Some knucklehead broke a beer bottle over my head raising a knot on my skull and covering me in beer. Also, my glasses were broken. The bar tender bounced us all out into the snow and cold.

 We decided to get moving before the law got there.

To be continued…

Joe Rosenfeld - Lineman

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