The Wilson Story

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Digging Ditch - Work is good for the Soul or what my Dad taught me.

    These were good years and I learned a lot about work.  There was one truly great moment when my Father taught me to clean ditch.  Cleaning ditch was one of the things that you had to do or you could not irrigate the lawns and gardens.  I noticed that Dad always had good clean ditches, I assumed that was because he had been the foreman on the Hi-Line Canal.  But down deep I think that it was more than that: He was neat and organized.  The ditches just had to be clean.

    One year when I was a teenager Dad went to work for the city cleaning ditches on Saturdays to pay for our water bill.  I guess things were a little tight, but this was an opportunity to earn some extra money.  Dad had worked for a couple of Saturdays and then he had a better opportunity to work a Saturday at the steel mill.  He felt bad about leaving the city crew short handed but he could not afford work for $1.25 per hour and miss $10 per hour or so.  He went and explained the situation to the water master, Rice (pronounced Ricey: Orrice: his cousin) Wilson, and asked if maybe I could fill in for him this one week.  I am sure that they were overly pleased with Dad's work and they figured that they would not loose much because Dad was such a good worker.  Rice said in a gruff voice, that they could use me that  day but I had to keep up with the crew if I wanted to work further.

    The work crew was set to start at 8 am but Dad had to be at Geneva at the same time so he took me to the starting place at 7 am to drop me off.  Interestingly enough they were starting two blocks from home on 3rd East so I could have walked. It was scary I would be expected to hold my own with the rest of the men and he wanted to get me off on the right foot.  He then took the time to set some goals for his son.  He showed me what a clean ditch was.  For example, explaining that you had to get the sand accumulated from the last year out of the ditch.  You had to trim sod built up or weeds along the ditch. So I now understood what the first goal was, a clean ditch.

    His second goal was to take your turn and clean your share of ditch. As we were all working essentially in a line you would walk ahead of the lead worker leaving him a couple of rods or so to clean and then you would start cleaning.  Next someone would pass you leaving you a section to clean.  When you got to where he started you would then walk ahead.

The final goal dad had was I had to be working as hard at quitting time as when I first started.  He pointed out that many would start fast and fizzle as they wore out.  He cautioned to use a good but steady pace and keep it up all day.  People only remember how fast you are going at the end of the day. Then he gave me some hints that I needed to be steady.  Make sure that your shovel is sharp.  He checked to see that  I had learned to sharpen the shovel properly and then assured me that I was doing it right. Don't be a show off, just get the dirt out of the ditch, so it won't fall back in, but no farther.  You can waste a lot of energy throwing dirt to the middle of the street.  Also, the clean up crew would have a hard time getting the residue from the street.  As the day wore on I quickly learned who the good workers were. At the end I was tired as all get out but I felt that I was going as fast as I started and I was keeping up with the best workers.  

    Rice reported to my father that I was better than most and that I kept up with the good workers.  Since this was important to my father it was important to me.  However there was one problem with working for the city and that was they couldn't pay me until I had a social security card.  It seemed like it took for ever for my card to come and then to get some real money.  Here is where I learned to work with the best and hopefully become the best.

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