Every now and then, when I am at the market, I meet one of the men that I used to work with. Each time that this happens it stirs up some memories that have been stored away, temporarily. Such an event took place today.
While I was snooping around among the magazines and books, in the D&W Market, I heard someone say “there’s old Bart Beck”. I was able to isolate the source of the remark, but at first, the person didn’t look like anyone that I knew, however, before I had embarrassed myself, too badly, I got him straightened out. It was Howard Kent, whom I had not seen for at least fifteen years. He, like most of the other people that I meet at High School reunions and in shopping centers, had gotten older and had put on a few pounds, here and there, that I had not seen before.
Howard Kent was one of the best Pipe Line Welders that ever worked at the trade. He worked for the Clifton Engineering Company for several years before he left to take a better position during the construction of the Palisades Nuclear Plant, near South Haven, Michigan. As far as I know, he worked there until he retired.
Howard was a regular clown, however, his sense of humor was such that he could raise the moral of a crew of men without endangering their safety or interfere with the work progress. He wore dentures, and one of his favorite stunts was to tip his top plate, about half way out of his mouth and then grunt and make motions, like an ape. You might be able to imagine the uproar that he could produce among a group of grade school kids who were on the opposite side of a chain link fence while he was imitating an ape, trying to get to them. The maneuver had a like effect on inquisitive old men and stray dogs.
The first time that I saw Howard was in the summer of 1950. I had just returned from a Wood Pole Electric Transmission Line job, at Onaway, Michigan, and was waiting for a line from Niles to Schoolcraft to get ready to start. The company decided that they were going to make a Pipe Line Foreman out of me, because they had a lot of two and four inch steel pipe to install, in the Kalamazoo area, and were in need of foremen to run the crews. To give me some idea of what the work was like, they sent me out, as an observer, on a job that was in progress along Portage Road near Kalamazoo. It was on that job that I first encountered this character.
In those days, all of the men carried their lunch and ate right on the job site. Along with other things, in his bucket, Howard had a can of sardines, and when he got all done eating he had one sardine left. Now, most people would have left that one lonely sardine in the can and buried it, in the pipe trench, along with the other left overs. Not Howard, he arranged it in, what looked like, a comfortable position, lengthwise in the can, and delivered a sermon that would have put a lot of jack-leg preachers to shame. He then, with great reverence, closed the cover and buried the remains in a select spot, in the trench.
A person like Howard is bound to generate a lot of stories, most of them true, — like the man said, “half of the lies they tell about the Irish are true”, — however, some of them are pretty apt to be figments of some friend’s imagination. The one that I am about to relate was passed on to me via the grapevine, and because of it’s second hand nature, I take no responsibility for it’s authenticity. The story, as it came to me, was as follows.
Howard was welding on a crew who’s foreman was Bill Chapman. Now that, in its self, was reason enough to suspect that something was pretty apt to happen, that could not possibly take place under other circumstances. The project in question was in the Mt.Clemens, Michigan area and most all of the men ate their breakfast and evening meal at a family type restaurant, near the hotel. The waitress, Evie, was the most unique person that I ever saw. She would take the orders of six or eight noisy men, not write a thing down, and subsequently, deliver the food, back to the table, to each one, just as they had ordered it.
One evening Howard and Bill got to hamming it up, while waiting for Evie to bring their food, when one of them put a pat of butter on the blade of a knife and, by springing the blade back and releasing it, suddenly, they could propel the pat of butter for a considerable distance, even to the ceiling. Almost immediately it became a contest to see if either one could make a piece of butter stick up there. By the time that Evie discovered what was going on, and put a stop to it, most all of the butter was used up and some of it was still stuck to the ceiling.