By Norris Chambers

             I might have been a little under-age for the job with the big contracting firm but I was ready to tackle just about anything to pick up a little extra cash. In the thirties they were not too particular about the age if it looked like the applicant could do the work. They were also very prompt to fire anyone who didn’t perform to the satisfaction of the foreman.

            The objective of the project was to construct a system of big pipes and canals to move water from Lake Brownwood to the city and to surrounding areas for general use and irrigation. On relatively level ground large open canals were to be dug and lined with concrete and in hilly terrain big concrete pipes carried the water along. The whole system had to be graded so the water would flow smoothly for several miles to the city and adjoining areas.

            Clifton and I were looking forward to getting a job on the big project but Clifton stumbled upon a job helping a pumper on an oil lease several days a month and he decided to work there instead. It was probably a wise choice on his part because he did that kind of work for the rest of his life – except for the war years. He succeeded in the oil business and other ventures and his career could be termed a financial success.

            We lived about twenty miles from the lake dam where the project was started and I chugged along in my Model T Ford early in the morning, anxious to begin making the big money. The wage rate was twenty-five cents an hour. No mention was made of overtime pay. Twenty-five cents an hour sounded like a fortune compared to the dollar a day for twelve hours that was common for farm work.

            When I arrived at the area the first thing I noticed was a bunch of old cars and a lot of men milling around. There was a lot of black dirt piled around here and there and some big equipment that I was not familiar with. I had heard of steam shovels and I thought one of the big things might be one. I didn’t see any boiler and I assumed that regular engines had taken the place of the old steam engines. The big shovel thing moved on down toward the end of the dirt piles.

            I started to look for the boss but he found me first. It was the same man I had talked to when I was hired. He didn’t lose any time in telling me what to do.

            “Did you ever do any string leveling?” he asked. I gave him an honest answer. I didn’t even know what he was talking about.

            “You see that ditch running south?” He pointed toward a wide deep ditch that had been hidden by the piles of dirt. “You will take a wheel barrow and dump sand on the bottom and level it off with the two strings running down the bottom. The steel men will be behind you and

tie in the reinforcing on the bottom and sides. The concrete folks will then be along.” He pointed to a huge pile of nice, clean sand. There were several wheel barrows around it and one man was filling his wheel barrow with a shovel.  I took one of the wheel barrows and a shovel and started filling it. The other man told me that we would fill the ditch to the strings and others would smooth it.

            The ditch was about four for five feet deep and six or seven feet wide. Both sides were sloped down toward the bottom. The bottom was relatively flat and about four feet wide. There were two string lines spaced about two feet apart running down the middle of the ditch and it was our job to haul sand and fill the ditch to the lines. There was about a half mile of relatively level ditch in front of us and a bunch of busy digging machines at the end.

            Dump trucks kept us well supplied with sand and we made considerable progress the first day. I worked there several weeks and I sort of enjoyed the work. I finally quit and helped my dad catch up on the farm work. I was a much richer kid after collecting for all those hours – no deductions for social security or income tax in those days.

            Several years later I joined a friend in a float fishing trip on the canal. Fish were plentiful in the ditch as the water rushed on toward the reservoirs on the edge of town. We had some jug floats with short lines and a hook attached. These were thrown into the ditch and we drove two or three miles down the canal and retrieved the jugs and the nice big catfish the floats had caught. The hooks were re-baited and the same process was repeated.

            The jug fishing was the fun part of the watering system that I helped to start. That made double fun – hauling sand and catching fish! Maybe you should build a canal, catch fish and have fun!