I roofed houses during my early days, and I knew a roofer who could apply five squares per hour. That amounts to 15 bundles of shingles, or 435 individual shingles, nailed on straight with four nails by hatchet. He could roof a 20-square house in four hours, plus an hour for trimming and adding the ridge.
I honed my skills until I could apply three squares per hour, 261 shingles. I did complicated reroofs of quaint homes in the Houston area, including The Heights and River Oaks. I got plenty of jobs since I was roofing 15 years after Hurricane Carla when the jillions of roofs replaced after Carla had served their time.
I once, when I was 18, subcontracted the labor for a large roofing company in Houston in the Northshore area. During a deluge, I drove to the site to be certain it was properly dried in and wouldn’t leak. The owner of the roofing company drove up while I was atop the house. He thanked me for my initiative and invited me to go for a drink with him.
“No, thank you,” I replied. “I don’t drink.”
He responded, “I’ll toss more jobs your way.”
He reacted positively because in that day, roofers often disappeared for a few days after receiving paychecks. He was pleased to find one who would be on the job the next day.
I came by my construction faithfulness quite naturally. My father was a master craftsman. He was a certified welder and journeyman carpenter. In addition, he was competent as a painter, electrician, plumber, bricklayer, cement finisher and one who could tape and float drywall — a “jack of all trades.”
You might remember that my dad was the superintendent over the construction of the first hospital in Sweeny, and he was superintendent over building a portion of Addick’s Dam in Houston. I’ve also mentioned he supervised the building of a portion of the Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center and did a remodel inside the Galleria.
My point is this: I respect and appreciate craftspeople, and I’m always up to honor them on Labor Day. I hope you will, as well.
These artisans develop talents that are fascinating. Tommy Wood, for example, a pipe fitter in this area before he retired, could “eyeball” a winding pipe rack, and call out what angle of bend would be needed to fit a new pipe within the maze of pipes.
The Reverend David Cope, who was an electrician before he became a major in the Salvation Army, could sort out a nest of wires and connect them correctly. He once, while assigned to the Freeport Salvation Army, came by my home and wired the outside lights my sons and I had installed for a basketball goal on the driveway.
I counsel a lot of craftspeople because they sense my respect. I like to listen to their on-the-job experiences.
At Eddie’s Barbershop, near Houston Hobby Airport, I listened to a man speaking while in the barber’s chair. He said that he had spent his entire life doing concrete work on Interstate 45.
“Yep,” I thought, “I can believe that because I was raised in Houston, and I never knew a time when there wasn’t construction on I-45.”
All the infrastructure we enjoy today is available to us by way of the skill of craftspeople. All our highways, bridges and buildings were built by people who labor. Our complex plants, where salaries are earned and families are supported, were built one board at a time, one brick at a time, one piece of steel at a time, one pour of concrete at a time, one electrical wire at a time, one pipe at a time, one valve at a time and one instrument at a time.
Repetition of skilled hands brings amazing results. Bricklayers in New York patiently slathered, laid and leveled one small brick at a time until they had mortared into place one million bricks as directed by a blueprint. So was born the Empire State Building.
As Labor Day comes our way, let’s thank God for every man-made or woman-made object we see, and appreciate it from the depths of our hearts — all being the fruit of skilled labor.