Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Best is Yet to Come

FOB was 8 stories tall but the equivalent to a 12 to 15 story building due to 20 foot floor heights. There was no personnel hoist so our only way up and down was the stairs or our skips.

The skips were platforms constructed of plywood and 2x4s that were built to fit between the elevator guide rails. They were propelled up the hoist way by a large geared 220 volt motor at the bottom landing secured with a 4 x 4 wedged into the ceiling. On the end of the motor was a capstan (CATHEAD). 3X3 rope blocks (3 to 3’s) using 3/4" manila rope were suspended from the overhead of the hoist way and attached to the center of the skip. To travel up, the free line from the upper rope block was wrapped around the cathead and turned on by a guy at the bottom landing using a foot switch. If the cathead was not available we pulled the skips up my hand. Traveling down was a different deal as seen later in my story.

My first ride on this 7'x8' piece of plywood was with four other guys whose average weight had to be 240. Along with all this muscle and beer bellies there was 100 pounds of tools and mysterious elevator stuff. We got on the skip in the basement. I crowded close to the center to avoid certain death by falling off the edge into the empty space that surrounded us on all sides. One of the guys hit the steel rail two times with a large hammer (SINGLE-JACK). The skip started up with a jerk and after traveling up four floors, the single-jack struck one time again and we stopped.

Bud growled “This is us”. We stepped off the skip onto a lobby that had four open hoist ways on each side. Spread all over the unfinished lobby floor were about 75 rectangular iron rusty things called counterweight fillers. Bud informed me my job would be to pick up one of these 150 pounds of iron, carry it across the lobby and place it on a waiting skip parked waist high. After I loaded six of the monsters, I banged on the rail twice and like magic the weights and skip disappeared up the hoist way. After three hours of this I could see my hemorrhoids peeking out of the bottom of my pant leg. I was already beat and it wasn’t even lunch time yet.

Just as the skip mysteriously disappeared 3 hours ago, it suddenly reappeared in the dark hoist way like something right out a Stephen King movie. On board were the same 4 behemoths as before. Bud said "Get on, time for lunch". The trip down was not the same as the trip up. To begin with, there was no room at the center this time and believe me, you didn’t want to grab on to one of the other guys. The first day on the job was not the time for lasting impressions. One of the guys had wrapped a length of rope around the rope falls four times and was holding each end. This was our decent velocity control. The less he pulled the ends, the faster we went. The harder he pulled the slower we went. Pulling even harder caused us to stop. Ok? He said down we went and fast. My first thought was "I'm going to die" but the other guys were grinning and looking at me. . . It must be OK.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Ain't He Purrrt-y."

On my very first day I reported to the Haughton shop dressed in my new J.C. Penny’s work shirt, Levi 501’s, high top Red Wing steel-toed work boots. I was equipped with a Craftsman screwdriver, Channel Locks, notebook and pencil. Frank took one look at me and snickered "Ain't He Purrrt-y."

All along the question in my mind was. . . Where would my first work assignment be? As I held my breath, he told me to go to the Federal Office Building (FOB) in Downtown Los Angeles. Oh No, Not the Federal Building!!! FOB was a big job with sixteen gearless passenger cars, two geared service cars, one hydro and a couple of escalators. The whole she-bang was all under one roof in a big rectangular box at Los Angeles & Temple Streets. Also, FOB just happened to be the "Devil’s Island" of Haughton's current jobs. To make matters worse, the foreman was the Devil himself. “BUD”

Bud (AKA Stumpy)

I drove my ‘58 Ford 500 down the Hollywood Freeway to the Temple Street exit, parked on the street about five blocks from the job, gathered up my stuff, hiked on in and started looking for Bud. I'd never been on a big job before and it was downright SCARY. Here were all these mean-looking hard hats. They were yelling at each other and even taking a crap on toilets right out in the open close enough to whisper in each others’ ear. Then there were the big-ass holes in the floor that went into some dark unknown abyss. Power cords were all over the floor. It was dark and the only lighting was two wires strung everywhere with light bulbs attached via a plastic device called a Redhead. To top it off there was the ear shattering noise that came from everywhere.

I found Bud, introduced myself to the “Alleged Tyrant” who responded with a few primeval undistinguishable grunts. Rather than The elevator superman I expected, here stood a short stocky guy wearing a J.C. Penny’s Towncraft navy blue tee shirt with a Marlboro hard pack in the pocket. This guy had the shortest, thickest fingers I'd ever seen. And to make matters worse, he chewed his nails and they looked like those old "MOON" wheel covers cut in half. Later I found out they were the source of his nick name "STUMPY"