My Strange Summer Job
Charles Shaughnessy, Contributing Writer
My summer job in Kansas has been described by others as “the worst summer job ever” and “hot, dirty and dangerous,” even though all I did was work in the shade, press buttons and wave to customers on an elevator.
Basically, I vacuumed for a week (with a diesel-powered vacuum cleaner that dumped into an 18-wheeler), cleaned the floor (hanging from a harness attached to a rope while wearing a dust mask), punched buttons (that turned on augers which dropped 200 pounds a second into trucks), breathed (a tad bit of poison gas [don’t worry about that – I had a monitor], swept the floor (so that the explosive dust wouldn’t explode) and drove quite a bit (a train).
This was obviously not your average elevator – I worked on a grain elevator. A brief word of explanation is required here: Grain elevators are the big, hundred-foot-tall, white, cylindrical, concrete structures alongside the road that you see when you are driving through the middle of nowhere (disregard this description if you have never left a major city – just Google it). All of my tasks on the elevator were oriented toward one purpose: putting food on your table safely. If you have ever wondered who makes sure that your bread is not made with wheat that has been chewed by bugs, those people were my co-workers and me.
My co-workers were a bunch of older men (most probably pushing 50) and my younger brother. Some of the best parts of working with those guys were the conversations. Richard, a man with whom I had some extremely good conversations, did not speak more than 10 or 15 words of English. This made conversing with him a tad harder, but with my two years of high-school Spanish and some enthusiastic gesticulations on both of our parts, we managed just fine.
I also had some great conversations with Robert, an ex-convict who underwent a rather radical change of course in life. His primary piece of advice for me, which I will pass on to you, was to “stay in school as long as possible.”
Conversing is great, but during our busy time, harvest, there was generally a steady stream of 18-wheelers coming in to drop off their loads of wheat. These were generally driven by people who knew what they were doing, but about one in 10 was driven by “the new guy” – he was the guy to avoid. Once, I was standing within two feet of a really overloaded truck, which, it became clear, was driven by this kind of guy.
There was also the constant worry of dropping a semi of canola onto a bin of wheat (a really expensive mistake – think of a $20,000 mistake, and you’ll get the idea), so harvest was really interesting. On the plus side, when we were working from seven in the morning until 10 at night we got free supper – score!
After wheat harvest, my work at the elevator wound down to doing routine maintenance and shipping out grain to get ready for corn harvest.
Although working on the elevator was a good job for the summer, it was great to get back to Irving.