Every worker, who does a vital hands-on job counts.
I said “I built that” many times, referring to my job in the summer of 1953 when I was a laborer on the Edward Jeffries housing project in Detroit. This cluster of eight 14-story concrete and brick apartment buildings would relocate inner-city residents whose homes fell victim to the newly built John Lodge Expressway. My job instilled a sense of accomplishment leading me to say, “I built those apartments”, was it braggadocio, or did I build them?
An article in a boating magazine brought this experience back to me in clear language. The author, a member of a proud boat building family, was bemoaning the fact that he heard people say “I built that boat” when to his perspective as a purist they did no such thing.
In his argument he listed activities that went into building a yacht of any size. All required hard work, by those highly skilled and some not so skilled, but all were needed, and none could do it all. These boat building jobs ranged from “actual design and engineering” to “swimming in epoxy coated planking from start to finish”- and others, all essential. Common themes were dirt and callouses. Doing any of these jobs justified the worker to say, “I build that boat”.
In contrast, he described things like giving advice, acting as a consultant, arranging for financing, “fluffing the interior”, etc. that lead some people to say, I built that boat, when they did no such thing!
According to these criteria maybe as a laborer with lots of dirt and calloused hands I did “build those buildings”. In the summer between freshman and sophomore year I was a laborer/carpenters’ helper working for O.W. Burke Construction Co. My job was to bring supplies to the carpenters who built forms for reinforcing steel bars and concrete that made up floors and pillars of the buildings. My job was to remove nails, and clean hardened concrete from plywood forms making them ready for re-use by the carpenters.
The job site was like an assembly line only the workers moved and not the product. The work done on each of the eight buildings was carried out in a sequence that repeated with each floor and moved upward. The summer started with us on the second floor, and we left for school after the 10th.
In the first week my school pal Mike Delaney and I told our boss we could place the cleaned material exactly where the carpenters needed it. This would save the time and effort they were spending sorting through a stack of material looking for the right piece. Each of the hundreds of forms on a floor were labeled to go in a specific spot. These labels included a unique color, number, and letter. The importance of these markers was they identified specially placed openings for vertical components such as electrical, heat, plumbing, and more.
The plan we devised and carried out allowed us to work independently. Our self-directed scheme meant hard work and meeting deadlines, but saved money for the company, put us in a good place with the carpenters, and we were having fun!
This summer was 67 years ago. The callouses are gone but the memory lingers. And I can say with pride, “I built those buildings”.
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