Nine Lives Countdown…A Career Not Meant For Me…Part One

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During the time adolescence turns to adulthood, dreams become prevalent about what profession might bring both satisfaction and large earnings. When I was in college, in the early 70’s, the time between semesters brought a couple of jobs I had randomly acquired. These soon fell off the list of things I’d choose for future careers.

I will be the first to admit that I am someone who has been described as accident prone. I have been getting injured since clumsy toddler-hood (check my mother’s entries in my baby book) and have not had a respite from damaging my body since.

Despite all the signals, I still found myself working a construction job building a bridge in southern Vermont. The job had a variety of risky tasks to perform working toward its completion. Safety rules were not as diligently observed then as they are now. The owner of the construction company decided to recycle the steel beams that spanned the structural supports in the river. He bought bags of sand that were to sandblast the paint off the beams, which were lined up at the edge of the right of way. I had a chunk of wood as a seat, and was sitting next to the beam that was precariously held up by a couple of two by fours. The big boss showed up and told the foreman he wished to talk to me about saving the sand I was using to blast away the rust and orange lead paint. He wanted to re-use it. I recall the noisy blaster and the cloud of dust practically blinding me. I could faintly hear the boss shouting for me to come over and discuss the details of the job with the owner. I took my face shield off and set down the sand blasting tool. I took about 3 steps away from the beam and saw the foreman motion to me to hurry away. I turned around just in time to see the beam crush the wooden seat I had been sitting on. Close call. The beam weighed several tons. The owner sighed in relief and said “Wow! That was lucky.” An understatement? There was brief moment of silence, then he continued on. Making light of what had happened, he explained how it would be of benefit to me if I would shovel up the used sand and put it back into the blaster to remove the paint. At that point I realized I had to look out for my own safety. If I’d been flattened, they’d have had another guy doing the work for me the next day. Construction must go on!

Successful in finishing the beams, my next job was to assist the welder in moving them into position to be permanently anchored onto the cement pillars. An older heavy equipment operator, we all called “Tink”, was hauling up the beam on a crane. He began lowering it while I pulled on the attached line to influence it into its resting place. Tink was pulling levers and lowering the 4 ton beam. I had my right forearm resting on the beam that was previously set in place and pulled steadily on the line. The crane operator juggled the levers inside his crane cabin and the beam suddenly dropped about 6 feet, ripping me from my position. Still holding the line, I was dangling beneath the beam over the rocky river bed. The foreman and my coworkers began frantically shouting to Tink, telling him not do anymore lever jockeying. I kept staring up at the beam, hoping with all my might that he wouldn’t lose it, or me. I had also gashed my forearm when it slid over the jagged weld on the other beam. Blood was running down my arm onto my shirt. Finally I was lifted to safety, my feet touched the solid ground and the beam remained in the air. The foreman was excited to see me put down in one piece, probably so he wouldn’t have to fill out an accident report.

This was one of several other near misses on this job. It was certainly a clue that I was not destined to become a career construction bridge worker.

(The picture above shows one of my earlier injuries, bandage and all, in a long line yet to come.)

(c) Rick Wyman

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