Jim Seeley was a helluva' man. I met him one, hot summer morning in Chicago. He was sixty-years old. I was a young man, twenty-three years of age. He put out his beefy hand for me to shake and smiled at me. I noticed he had a firm handshake. He smiled big at me. We kept shaking hands as I looked at the mighty crane. We both were going to share it for a year. I was to be his helper on this mighty rig. My job description was that of an "oiler". I did all the preparation and maintenance. I also had seat time, to learn how to run the machine. That is where Jim came in as an instructor.
Jim gently took me under his wing. He showed me everything he knew. He kept no secrets from me. By the end of the summer, I was a competent crane operator. I knew every lever, every gear, every grease fitting on this old machine. He taught me with a smile on his face. He never raised his voice to me when I made mistakes. He taught me how to correct what I was doing wrong.
There aren't many tradesmen like Jim around anymore. They've all gone to their graves. Most men today don't want to share their skills. The big construction jobs are non-existent in this day and age. Work is really slow for the trades in Chicago this year and the last. If a man teaches an apprentice too well, the kid might just take his job.
In the '60s and'70s, work was fun. There was plenty of it to go around. The attitude was more relaxed, but we always took our jobs seriously. We never missed a day of work. At night we went to school to learn how to read blueprints, run machines, how to weld, and do things related to the operation of heavy equipment. If we were off on Saturdays, or we were laid-off from our jobs, we went to the union yard to practice running machines. We all wanted to be a part of a better tomorrow.
It isn't that way anymore. Now, it's all about money and survival. Yes, Jim Seeley taught me well. After I retired, the union hall kept calling me to run the old friction-rig cranes. They young guys lacked the skills or lacked the gumption to run these old dinosaurs. I had to decline the jobs because of my worn out body and lungs. The new breed of equipment operators want hydraulic machines with heaters, air-conditioning and fancy radios. These kids don't want to get dirty. In the old days, most heavy equipment operators knew how to do maintenance and repairs on their machines. We did a lot of the mechanical work. We also knew how to run just about everything. These days, contractors tell me that they are lucky if they get a man who knows how to run one machine, and who shows up for work on time every day. Many of our guys aren't interested in developing their skills. They're just there for the paycheck. It's a damned shame.
Jim Seeley has been dead a long time now. I sure miss him. I owe him a lot. He was a special man. He was like a father to me. He would have been sad to see how things have gone bad. I'm proud to have had a part in building the highways and skyscrapers of America. Ours were wonderful days. I pray the future holds better times for my union brothers and sisters. I hope they keep their skills honed, so that they can be proficient at their jobs. America has to maintain an educated work force, to be strong once again. I miss you Jim Seeley. I miss my old America.