10 May 2012

First Job--Rodman

Welcome back. Quick! What was your first job? I bet you remember it--ok, maybe not fondly. Heading off to our son's graduation got me thinking about my first job for an employer other than my father. I wasn't even close to graduating. It was more like a summer job except it was winter.

I was a sophomore. I had taken a semester off from college to find myself and consider switching majors. An employment agency lined up a job immediately thanks to a course I’d had in engineering surveying.
I would become a rodman on a major highway construction project in nearby Albany, N.Y. Although I worked only a few months before returning to college (self found, same major), it was a wonderful experience.
In the early 1960s, a rodman, particularly on construction rather than property surveys, was a helper: clear the line; hold the pole, rod or tape; hammer in and mark stakes; and occasionally set up the instruments. With lasers and computers, surveying equipment has changed significantly, but I expect rodmen still do a little--make that a lot--of everything.
Though I lacked experience, I knew enough about surveying to be almost useful and enough about working with experts to listen and learn. Suggesting to survey crew members that they might be doing something wrong would not have gone over well, at least not for the first few weeks.
Among the unanticipated learning experiences I took back to college were:
1. Crawling through a newly laid storm drain pipeline. I can’t recall why I was there, but  I remember looking up the open manhole at the grinning party chief, who asked if I’d found work yet.

2. Surveying along a busy detour. Some drivers held up traffic to inquire what we were doing; some drivers sped by as if our orange safety vests were matador capes.

3. Taking final measurements before steel girders were placed on bridge columns. Another crew member and I climbed a ladder to the top of a column, tugging the end of a 300 foot tape. (That's long!)
As he made the measurement, I signaled the numbers to the ground recorder through my outstretched arm positions. In signaling, I inadvertently punched a construction worker—hey, it was only in the chest. My colleague and I climbed down quickly.

4. Pounding wooden stakes into the ground with a sledgehammer. In short, I frequently missed or destroyed the stake. My stake-pounding prowess was the source of never-ending joy for the crew.


Forget desert areas in the U.S., Middle East and China where I’ve worked, albeit short term. The only place I’ve actually been shut down by blowing sand is Albany, N.Y. Due to its glacial geologic history, the Albany area is sand dune country. Exposed during construction, the sand can blow.

Construction work was stopped only once by blowing sand while I was on site. Because of our sensitive instruments, however, blowing sand sent our survey crew off for coffee or office work on several occasions.

Oh, more about the sand. I quickly learned that parking on a sandy construction site could be more challenging than parking on snow. Fortunately, Frenchie pulled my car out with his bulldozer.
Wrap Up

My few months as a rodman contributed next to nothing to the highway project. Still, years later, I felt a sense of pride driving those roads and overpasses. As first jobs go, I guess that's not too bad.

Thanks for stopping by.

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