It was shortly after 5 am as I headed down to the truck to start organizing for our last day home from vacation; we were in a nice, economical hotel along Interstate 94 in southern Wisconsin. They were checking in about the same time we did the night before, dirty and tired, a couple finishing a last cigarette while all headed for the registration desk. I noticed that conversation was almost nonexistent, further indication of the fatigue factor.
All wore the bright yellow uniform of the working man, some still with hard hats on just out of forgetfulness that the durn things were still in place. One of them, discovering the helmet, stripped it off and gave it a dismissive toss into the bed of his truck. They all also shared the common uniform of a face drained of energy and worn to the bone. Working men.
Well I was intrigued. These guys, as a subspecies of American man, were well known to me, as they made up my dad’s patient base, thereby indirectly feeding us, clothing us and eventually educating us as well. So as always, my curiosity was up. The trucks were Ford Super Duty F350s, 4 doors, single rear wheel but equipped with what are called “running gear” in the trade, a small steel wheel-mounted frame installed under the chassis so the truck could drive on the railroad. Yup, these were the guys “workin’ on the railroad”, 21st century style.
Well they were up ahead of me, loading gear, filling water jugs and ice supplies, all the trucks’ diesel engines already idling in anticipation of the impending day in the blistering heat. Suddenly they were farmers feeding stock in the predawn, steel workers riding up the towering lifts that take them to death’s doorstep each morning, or maybe truckers struggling back up into the cabs of their Peterbilts to begin another endless ride across the continent. You get my point, these were working men, facing and performing life’s real jobs. With air conditioning in their vehicles now for sure, but still swinging down from their rides, whether four wheel or four feet, to load, move, transport, build, and deliver what makes us all tick.
I’ve been one of those folks, if only as a kid and during summers, so I know that feeling of having to get a sore and exhausted body out of bed—wherever bed, bed roll, sleeper bunk or farm house—might be. And I know it all turns into work fast. Of course our women contribute mightily to such enterprises, and for their work and struggles we are ever so grateful. But I’m looking here this quiet morning at those hot, cold, dirty, gritty, unforgiving, dangerous, body-destroying occupations that fall in the main to our men.
Then there is the weather. Right now they ignore heat that would peel the paint of a blast furnace, drink a gallon of water a day and probably a beer or two at night, trying to keep up with the furious rate of consumption of their bodies. Then, soon enough it will be time to shrug into winter parkas, tall boots and heavy gloves and thrust their faces into whatever old man winter has in store.
Complaining is their principal pastime, just like the Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, but just like our military, they rise to it and get it done. Every day. For their families. And for us. All I can say is God Bless you and “Thanks Guys.”