The photo is from a newspaper clipping. My grandfather, Joe Glasgow is setting off a dynamite charge. He was working on the Mississinewa Reservoir dam site in northern Indiana.
I like to drive past the places of my youth, where the ghosts in the mist of times past reach out to greet me. The drive down the state highway near my home echoes the sounds of construction equipment, dust so thick you couldn’t see through. Back through a time when mom through caution to the wind, and let me spend a couple of hours with my dad on the job.
An older man shuffled out from the cloud of dust stirred by the construction equipment. His skin was of worn leather, and hands testified to a lifetime of hard labor. The little of puffs of white hair stood at attention over his ears. His smile revealing a mouth void of teeth welcomed me to the job site.
He turned back towards the cloud of dust, and yelled “Perry Dale, your boy is here.”
My dad emerged from the cloud of dust with a smile on his face, and instructed me to follow him. I could feel all eyes were on me as I trailed behind my dad. The mid-July humidity had left their t-shirts saturated with sweat and dirt.
One fellow stepped towards me with a blank expression “Boy if you are going to be part of this crew you have to have a hard hat.” The hat was adjusted for me so that it wouldn’t fall over my eyes. Now, it was official; I was a part of a construction crew.
I didn’t know about OSHA, or how many laws we were violating by my mere presence. Dad instructed me what to do if the boss came to the job site. I asked, “How will I know him?”
A younger fellow interjected, “A small man with a large nose, and looks like a rat.” The description prompted the rest of the graduates from the school of hard knocks to laugh in unison.
Mom wasn’t crazy about the idea of me going to work with dad. What mother would want to send their 9 year-old to a construction site? She caved in as dad insisted it would be for just a short time. I was game for the adventure of a lifetime.
My dad, he was the dynamite man, and he took pride in his work. I grew up with various newspaper clippings of my dad and grandfather working on projects around the state. I thought it was a grand profession to be able to blow things up for a living.
The men went about the business drilling the hole to put the shot together. This job was to widen a dangerous curve on an old state highway. As they concluded their work, and the shot was ready to blast.
Dad grinned and asked “do you want to throw the plunger?” I could just grin and nod my head. When the men had all cleared the area, dad told me we were ready and I threw the plunger. I knew by this move there would an epic explosion with dirt flying high into the air. My expectations were of a violent explosion like the explosions in the war movies.
A stream of sweat trickled down my back as I prepared for dad to give me the word. I pushed the plunger down on the signal from my dad. I hit the plunger, but to my disappointment there was just a rumble deep in the ground, and puff of dust. A beehive of activity followed with dirt being removed, and the next hole being drilled.
One of the younger guys gave me a cup of water, and a Twinkie telling me “You need to take a break, kid.” An effort to keep me out of their way, I suppose.
Dad let me push the plunger down again. I still found it fascinating despite not causing the blast I had expected.
Mom had returned. No doubt a shopping trip cut short. Dad walked me to the car, when the younger man gave me a quarter telling me “every man gets paid for his labor.” I crammed the quarter into my pocket with a hearty “thank you.”
When he came home from work his talk wasn’t about following in his footsteps, but to get an education, so as he put it “I don’t want to see you dig ditches for a living.” I knew I would never be a dynamite man like my father, or his father. He always desired a better life for his children.
It was the best job I ever had: blowing something up, a sweet snack… I worked less than two hours, earned twenty-five American cents, and got to work with my pops.