OLD TIMER DISCOVERS NEW RIDE!
By Norris Chambers
In 1945, soon after the war was over, I was searching for a job in Dallas. I was an experienced farmer, carpenter, oil field worker, aircraft electrician, radio repairman, telegraph operator and most recently a licensed Coast Guard lifeboat commander and ship gunner as well as a typist, bookkeeper and shorthand scribbler. I had done more things than I could enumerate on an application. But the job I found was in a field with which I was not familiar. I was hired by a large elevator service company. Of course I knew what an elevator was and had a pretty good idea what made them go up and down, but I had never worked on one.
I thought I had ridden about everything that could be ridden – a bucking horse, steam locomotive, streetcar, donkey cart, Model T, ferris wheel, row boat, bicycle, tricycle, warship, liberty ship, taxicab and New York subway, to name a few. But I found that I had never ridden on the top of an elevator!
My title was elevator mechanic helper and I was told that eventually I could look forward to becoming a genuine elevator mechanic. The pay was not bad for those times and I took the job determined to learn all I could about elevators.
Ella, our two very young daughters and I found a place to live in a community called La Reunion. This was a collection of long narrow buildings with about four apartments in each one. Like many others it had been built to house workers who had swarmed to the cities to work in the numerous war plants. These were adequate dwellings and served the purpose well. For many of the country folks who moved into them they were better than any place they had ever lived. We had lived in nicer houses, but we were satisfied to live here until we could do better.
When I reported for duty the first day I was told that I would work two weeks with a mechanic then would be assigned to another until I was familiar with the service area. Each mechanic was assigned an installation with an elevator maintenance contract and it was his duty to keep the elevators operating and in good condition. These installations included some of the largest buildings in the city as well as several groups of buildings that were connected by tunnels and aerial walkways. My first assignment was with a nice fellow who kept about a half dozen elevators going in a large hotel building. The building had four basements, one below the other. One below-ground level was a big laundry; one was an old power plant that generated power for the hotel and the other two had a little bit of everything in them.
Apparently the mechanic had been without a helper for a long time because he had several dirty jobs lined up. The first operation was to clean the sides of the elevator shafts. This work was done while standing on top of the elevator car and cleaning with a broom and mop as needed. Our work did not interfere with the operation of the elevator, but its movement sometimes interfered with our work. The rails, one on each side of the shaft, were kept well greased and guided the elevator cab up and down the shaft. The cars were moved up and down with a heavy cable which was controlled by an operator who was able to raise or lower the car by starting and stopping a large reel in the control house on top of the building. This little machine shed was directly over the shaft and was called a “penthouse”.
The elevator car had a door in the roof. We climbed to the top through the door by means of a folding ladder which we pulled up after us. The passengers never dreamed that someone was on the roof above them. When the car was stopped at a floor landing we could see the waiting passengers outside through the cracks and hear every word they said. They couldn’t see us because it was dark inside the shaft. You would be surprised how much you could hear and how interesting some of the conversations were.
The bottom of the pit below the elevator accumulated much trash that was swept or dropped through the crack between the floor of the building and the car. It was cleaned daily. We sometimes found a little money there. A few weeks later a mechanic and I were cleaning a pit that had not been maintained for several years and had accumulated about a foot of well compacted dirt and trash. Cleaning it was a dirty job, but at the end of the day we divided the small change that we found. It usually amounted to several dollars!
Working with the elevator mechanics was a lot of fun and I might have enjoyed it as a profession, but what I considered a better opportunity came along and I abandoned it for greener pastures. Were these pastures really greener in the years ahead? We will never know, but we do know that we had fun mixed in with all the jobs that followed.
Now that you know all about elevators, if they are still the same, and you are still looking for fun maybe you should get a job as an elevator mechanic’s helper and listen to the interesting conversations in the cars. That could be a lot of fun!