by Floyd Shaman
All of my life the cement plant south of town belched its white smoke toward Cheyenne to the east. Once in a while we would get a wind out of the south and everything would be covered with a film of white dust. In those days smoke stacks meant jobs and progress. The dust mixed with the cinders from the trains and the smell of creosote from the railroad tie plant. This was how Laramie, Wyoming, was as I was growing up.
I had run out of money for college the spring quarter of 1955 and had come home to try to earn enough to go back in the fall. My buddy Les was working at the cement plant and told me I could get a job there.
I drove my old Ford out to the Monolith Portland Cement Plant and was hired for the graveyard shift. The graveyard was eleven at night until seven in the morning. That should keep me out of the bars, and I could save some money.
Well, it was a good idea, but some of the bars opened at seven a.m., so I would sometimes go home loaded at ten o'clock in the morning.
The process of making cement was pretty complicated, and I really had no desire to learn after I spent the first twenty minutes inside the huge metal building.
There were also huge open vats full of a grayish liquid mud. These vats had a series of blades which moved back and forth, up and down, to stir the slurry.
My first job was to help Mr. Mogenson empty the overhead vents from which the dry material was conveyed. There were traps which caught pieces too large to be used. The tubes were twenty feet above us, and they had a down spout which was the trap. Mr. Mogenson showed me how to empty the first one. He simply stood under the trap with his wheelbarrow and pulled down on the bottom of the trap.
A roar and a cloud of dust bellowed up. I ran coughing to a clear area. I looked back and I couldn’t see Mr. Mogenson. Finally the dust cleared a little and I could see him. He was just standing there yelling for me to get over there and empty the wheelbarrow. I couldn't even see the wheelbarrow. There was a large pile of white crap -- and Mogie was hip deep in it.
I finally strolled over to him and started pulling the wheelbarrow from the pile. He worked his way out and found a shovel.
“Take this load out and hurry,” he said.
When I came back I noticed Mogie was still covered with dust; I also noticed he had no respirator on. It occurred to me that perhaps we both should have one. I asked him about it and he just shrugged. “What do you want one of those things for?” he asked.
My next question was, “Why don’t you tie a rope to that door and stand back and jerk it open? The rope could be long enough to be out of the way when that crap comes out. We wouldn't have to eat all that dust.”
Mogie replied that they didn’t pay him enough to do all that walking.
I walked over to the shift foreman and told him I wasn’t going to work with that idiot. The foreman saw my point after I explained how one could die from silicosis in about twenty minutes working with Mr. Mogenson.
Les decided we had had enough; he started thinking about sabotage.
The machine we were working with was a large horizontal barrel shape that ran on a bunch of gears. Where the gears meshed seemed to be the spot to wedge a large wrench. That would do it.
Said Les with a giggle, “We won’t have to go out in the cold for quite a while.”
I decided to go to the men's room while Les did his dirty deed. When I came back, there was a group of workers standing around our machine. The barrel was on the ground. Les was pointing up at the walkway overhead and holding the tool. The walkway was Mogie’s territory -- when not standing in piles of dust, he collected samples from the big vats.
The shop foreman didn’t miss a beat. He stuck Les in a huge empty vat that needed to be cleaned out. No doubt it was warmer, but Les wasn’t sure what the greenish stuff was that he had to shovel out of it. Then he had to put the sludge in a cart and take it outside.
Mogie was fired after twenty years’ service. The poor guy lived in a little company house across from the plant. The yard was knee deep in white dust with little drifts of dust behind each picket in his fence. Mogie had a wife and four kids. We really felt bad about getting him fired.
Les tried to come up with a reason to clear Mogie from the wrench incident. Then I said, “Why don’t I tell them Mogie was in the bathroom with me when it happened?”
That’s what I did. I acted like I had just found out about Mogie, and I saved his job. Actually it looked like I was going to get Mogie’s job and I really didn’t want to empty those dust bins.
Floyd Shaman, sculptor, resides in Cleveland, Mississippi, with his lovely wife Molly.
To view some of Floyd's sculptures, please visit the World Art site and click on the links under Floyd's name.
Also, be sure to check out Molly's fabulous B and B.
Southern artists: Floyd Shaman
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