Learning the work ethic

As a lad I was taught that you had a duty to make yourself useful. I had a lot of jobs between the age of 13 and 18. Most of them I have listed. I’ll minimize comment or I would fill the page.

I grew up in Gowanda. I worked for people mowing lawns and doing yard work. I bought three New Zealand White bunnies, and as my herd grew, I was soon peddling rabbit meat about town. I tended to a large asparagus patch for the widow lady. I cut and delivered it with my bike. I also had a paper route. Sometimes on summer evenings I helped a trucker shovel a truck load of cinders from the railroad station for someone’s driveway, or a load of topsoil, or help to deliver a load of firewood to be unloaded into someone’s basement.

One year in high school, every morning I would get up at 4 and ride my bike to the nearby dairy and jump on the milk delivery truck. While the driver went down the streets I would jump out, run bottles of milk up to the doorsteps, and pick up the empties left for us. Milk was in bottles with paper caps. I remember being on the run while reaching for a half pint of heavy cream; accidentally missing the mark, and my thumb punched through the paper cap and into the cream. Rather than discard it, I sacrificed to guzzle the half pint of cream. (I swear it was an accident.)

Farm work was always available in summer, haying, threshing, dragging and disking, spreading manure. I never felt more the man than the first time I harnessed a team and took them out to work. Winter work on a farm was trying to hold up my end of a two-man saw cutting trees for firewood. I enjoyed those dinners the farmers’ wives served when a crew of farmers cooperated to do one farm’s threshing in one day. I had a job during high school working in Mrs. Snyder’s candy shop as the chef’s helper. They sold boxes of assorted chocolates, and thick pancakes of caramel corn.

My dad had his own carpentry business. I shingled a lot of houses with him from about age 14 on. One spring he contracted a painting job for the inside of a one room school house. Guess who spent Easter vacation alone, painting ceiling and walls. At 16 I had a summer job on a construction crew putting in a new concrete highway, bridge and creek bank reinforcement to prevent erosion at the bridge. I also had a job driving taxi in Gowanda. I worked for a guy who painted houses with spray guns. We’d paint a house in one day.

After the Navy I worked for the Gowanda Public Works as a garbage collector, street sweeper, and whatever. I could have signed up for the 52/20 club which would pay a veteran $20 a week for 52 weeks to aid in getting one’s life together. Many of my friends thought I was nuts to go to work. That job inspired me to go to school.

While away at school I had a job as a theater usher in the evening, and a Saturday sweeper-cleaner-upper in a local printing business.

When I graduated from technical school I got a job in the glue factory on the 4 to 12 shift, which gave me the days free to go looking for a job in broadcasting.

I’m sure I have forgotten a few jobs, but these were all experiences that served me well, and I had a small bank account, which helped to supplement my living expenses in college.

I guess what I learned was that if you wanted something, the main thing you needed was the will and persistence to pursue it. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that when I was finally established in broadcasting, I just tackled the task at hand, the same as when I delivered asparagus. I never dreamed that I would be invited to become the manager of the entire engineering department of a TV station, and its two affiliated radio stations. I loved it all. I retired at 62 in 1989. May God bless America.

Richard Westlund is a Collins resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com