Freedom and Liberty

Freedom and Liberty
I travel in Freedom but sleep in the security of Liberty (not only on the road, but in this amazing country of ours)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An old home place and a Dam

A lot of family history is needed to put today's adventure into perspective. When I was two years old, my father went to work for Al Johnson Construction Company. They were a heavy construction company whose home office was in Minneapolis, Minnesota and specialized in the construction of large bridges and dams. They did work all over the country. Some of their Louisiana projects were the I-10 Bridge over the Atchafalaya River (not the basin), the U.S. 190 Bridge at Krotz Springs and the rehabilitation of the Old River Structure near Simmsport.

Going to work for Al Johnson, must have been a very hard decision for my father and mother to make. They had been married about 13 years at the time and had 3 children whose ages were 12, 7 and the "baby" of the family, yours truly, was 2. My mother was raised in east Texas and my father had moved there as a teenager. All of their extended family lived within a 40 mile radius. My father was working for a Concrete Redi-mix company in the Port Arthur, Texas area. He had worked his way up from a concrete truck driver to a truck foreman in charge of a fleet of concrete trucks. As fate would have it, Al Johnson Construction Co. had contracted with the concrete company on one of their projects. It was on that project, that lasted several months, that my father was introduced to the Al Johnson people. The supervisors and engineers of the project were impressed enough with my father that at the conclusion of the project, they offered him a job with the company as a Concrete Superintendent. The easy part of the decision was the money and promotional opportunities which were far greater than at the concrete company. The hard part would be knowing that it meant moving around the country from project to project. East Texas was all they had known. The kicker of the decision was the first project was in Mobridge, South Dakota and winter was coming soon. My parents said the first paycheck went to buying parka's and boots.

My parents were in their early and mid 30's. My father never said, and unfortunately I never asked, why they decided to take the job. We will never know the reason since both have since passed away. I like to think they took it for the adventure of seeing new things and places. They definitely saw a lot and the promotional opportunities were there as he ended his career with the position of Project Superintendent/Project Manager. During their career with the company, they had moved 21 different times, finally settling down in Lafayette, Louisiana. My older brother, by 10 years, got off the "ride" after move number 5 in Russellville, Arkansas while my older sister, by 5 years, stopped moving after move number 12 in Lafayette, Louisiana. As for the baby of the family, I got off the ride in Cape Girardeau, Missouri (move number 15). But my traveling days continued because I joined the U.S. Navy at age 17 and saw many parts of the world. My parents continued on, with an empty nest, for another 6 moves before their retirement. I guess towards the end, after us kids quit traveling with them, they simply didn't need as many moving boxes. Growing up, it was understood that moving boxes were important and we kept every good one we could find. To this day, every time I see a well made cardboard box, I immediately think, "that would be a good moving box" and have a hard time throwing it away.

Moving orders from the company to pack up and move to another location came about every 1 1/2 years. Sometimes we were only given a couple of weeks to pack up everything we owned and move a thousand miles away. Several times, my father had to go ahead of us to help set up the construction project and the burden would then fall to my mother to make the arrangements for a moving van and getting everything packed up and ready to go. The company was a family owned company and treated their employees like family. On a typical project, there would be about a dozen company people and the rest of the work force would be hired locally. About half of the company people on the project were Civil Engineers and the rest were craft superintendents or general superintendents. They depended on each other and treated each other with respect. It was a good company that was a surrogate family to many of their employees. The company changed drastically at the end of my father's career. Other members of the owners family had taken charge  of the company and could not or would not understand the importance of the family oriented work structure of the company. I had an opportunity to go to work for the company when I graduated college with a Civil Engineering degree. Due to the changes that were happening in the company, and my desire to provide a stable place where my children could go to school in the same town from kindergarten thru high school, I passed. I wanted something for my children that I never had, and that was childhood friends. Friends who you knew all of your life and who you could talk to about things that happened years and years ago. Friends who knew secrets on you and you on them. Friends who you would eventually celebrate graduation, marriage, and child birth. Friends who you could lean on when that pretty girl down the street broke your heart or a loved one had passed. Just as I know my mother and father made the correct decision for us kids by going to work for the company and move around the country, I hope my wife, at the time, and I made the correct decision to go the other way and try to put down roots in one place for our children. Even though it is always said that we live with the decisions we make, the children must also live with those decisions. 

Anyway, one of those houses is in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, which is not too far from me so I thought I was check it out. In the pictures, it is the first house on the left as you go
First house on the left
Looking up the hill
up the hill. It is beige/light colored brick. Still in very good condition for it to be 50 to 60 years old. I was 8 years of age when we lived there and I remember Batman was the big thing on TV and it was not the dark version of Batman that is in today's movies. I camped outside for the first time as a Cub Scout there and cooked pancakes for breakfast on an empty upside down coffee can. On Halloween the kids would go around the neighborhood and throw dried corn on the picture windows of the houses. It sounded like a shotgun going off inside and scared the crap out of us the first time we heard
Looking down the hill
it. I joined in that fun later. The hill we lived on was ideal for using the skateboards we made out of old metal skates and a piece of wood. None of those fancy skateboards that are in the stores now-a-days existed at that time. Mostly we sat down or laid down on the board because it was far to
That's the house on the right almost to the bottom
dangerous and stupid, even to crazy kids, to do it standing up. At the bottom of the hill, there was no way to stop except to go right across the intersecting road and crash into the grass. You had to hope your friends were watching out for traffic and if traffic was coming you would steer off to the side and crash into one of the yards. Skateboarding slowed down after one of the kids, his name was Raymond, couldn't stop and went under an 18 wheelers trailer. Not a scratch on him, clean as a whistle, went right under the trailer and out the other side into the grass. Not many of us would go all the way to the bottom after that.   

My older brother didn't make the move to Pennsylvania and stayed behind in Arkansas where he had graduated High School. Before we moved, my parents gave our cat away to a dairy farmer who lived on top of a mountain about 10 miles away. The story was he would be happier on the farm chasing mice and would have a good life. Apparently that happy life for Spotty didn't materialize because low and behold after we got to Elizabeth, PA, my brother called and said the cat came back and was sitting on the front porch of the old house. It had walked all the way back. Since my brother would be coming to PA to work for my father during the summer, it was decided he would bring the cat back to us, which he did. Unfortunately, it wasn't long after the cat got to PA that he got ran over on the four lane highway in front of the house. 

The dam project my father worked on was located on the Monongahela River at the town of Charlaroi. After leaving Elizabeth, I drove over to take a look. It is a large lock and
Notice how close the town is and the houses on the hills
dam right next to town. I couldn't find a good location to take a picture and the one I'm posted is the best I could do. My brother worked during the summer on that dam project as a "pump-man". It is one of the easiest jobs and is usually given to some of the old-timers who can't do hard labor anymore. The job is simply to make sure the water pumps continue to work through the night pumping water out of the cofferdams. If they stop, the cofferdam fills with water, which is not good. It didn't pay the highest scale but it was easy. He liked the money and told my mother and father that he wasn't planning on going back to college and that he would be happy working in the construction gangs. The next day he was transferred to the concrete crew that was pouring concrete at the bottom of one of the cofferdams. My father, being the Project Superintendent at the time, told the concrete foreman to make sure my brother was covered in concrete by the time the pour was over. The pour lasted most of the day. By the time it was over, my brother could barely climb the ladder out of the cofferdam because he was so tired and from the extra weight of the concrete. Sure enough the foreman did his job and my brother was covered with concrete. Lesson learned, he went back to college and graduated from Arkansas Tech. 

It seems Elizabeth was the first place where my memories are connected. I have memories before that but they are only spotty and not connected. Maybe that is a side-effect of moving around so much at such a young age, I don't know. My parents always put a lot of thought in the houses and towns we lived. My father would drive farther to get to the project in order for us to live in a better place. I can't remember a bad house or town as I was growing up. Elizabeth was a good town and neighborhood for an 8 year old, whose memories were just beginning.

It was a good day.

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.


  1. OMG Darrell I can't believe it the house looks exactly like I pictured it from memories from all those years ago! So nice to relive all those times. One thing u didnt mention was that our back yard backed up to a big hill that was part of a golf course. And when the snow came we would sled down the golf course hill on anything we could find. As I remember we really messed up the course since all the kids did it.
    Also one christmas when mom and dad went to their company christmas party YOU MADE ME help you open all our presents and play with them then we wrapped them back up and put them back where YOU found them! Of course we gave ourselves away on christmas morning because we knew everything we got. You always seemed to be mischievous one! LoL
    I wish our family could have been with you today to see the old place and really bring up stories. I was just starting to be interested in boys so I wasnt in Girl Scouts! Used to listen to Elvis records...seems like he had just been discovered then.
    Do you plan on going to Homer City or Circle Pines?
    Thanks for the pics and bringing back great memories..when people used to ask me where I was from I'd either say "nowhere" or "everywhere"..we never really knew any different. Your memory is sure better than mine on a lot of stuff. I'm enjoying your travels and I need to find old pictures of us at these old places.
    I remember a Union man came to pick up Dad to go hunting and drove up in a convertible wearing a suit & mom wondered what kind of hunting they were going to do!
    Somewhere there are pics of all of us n South Dakota Seems like we lived next door to an ice skating rink..r maybe it was just a frozen pond
    Thanks for all the memories. Im sure I'll add more when I remember more
    Love you baby brother! Be safe

    1. I'm not sure about Homer City, but Circle Pines for sure. I plan to go into the home office and see what it looks like. Ask a few questions, see what happens.

  2. New memory. When we would beg mom for all kinds of things while waiting for dad to get home from work she would finally tell us to "ask your Dad". So we would wait for him in that driveway in the pic and as soon as he would drive up in that orange company truck we would tell him that Mom wanted him to take us to the store. And he would and he would buy us anything we wanted only to get fussed at when we got home because Mom hadnt said that!!!

  3. I loved reading about your memories of your childhood! You did make the right decision to set down roots and let us have childhood friends that have turned into lifelong friends! We often talk about our childhood and how we grew up in the best neighborhood. You making pancakes only prepared you for spending the weekends making the best pancakes for your kids while your daughter talked 90 mph talking about anything and everything. Now i get to start making that memory with Olivia soon. How funny Aunt Phyl with that second comment.

    1. Do you need the pancake recipe? It was from scratch, remember.

  4. When I moved out of the house into my first apartment, you gave me a recipe book and you wrote the recipe in the front! :)

    1. I had forgotten that. I remember now. :) thanks

  5. Darrell - A question for you. Do you cook much in Liberty or do you eat out most of the time?

    1. Hello Carey. I eat out about 75% of the time. Hard cooking for just one.