Toughest Jobs

Posted by on Dec 31, 2018 in Blog, Featured | 5 comments

Toughest Jobs

I got together with some old friends recently and introduced a fun game for us all. I asked everyone what were the “toughest” jobs that they have ever had in their lives.  Toughest could be the worst, the most difficult, requiring the most strength, or requiring the most intelligence. Everyone could define toughest his or her own way. We got into a wonderful conversation sharing stories.

The two stories that I brought up were entirely different. The first was when I worked in a bio-testing laboratory outside of Chicago during college. I was the caretaker for rhesus monkeys and beagles who were going through radiation experiments. I fed them, cleaned their cages, and played with them. Actually, I fell in love with them. And it tore me apart to see them being killed with radiation. I had to sign all sorts of papers saying that I wouldn’t share any information about what was going on as long as I was employed. I was only there for about two months but I can still remember the cries of the animals and the smell of the place. I had nightmares during those two months and wanted to sneak in at night to free all of the animals.

The second story was toughest for a different reason.  Farn and I were living in Longmont, Colorado for the summer back in 1969. She was a newspaper reporter and I was just trying to make money. I got a call one day from an employment agency asking me if I wanted a one-day job unloading 20 foot highway guard rails from four flatbed trucks. The agent mentioned that it would be hard work and to show up at 6am the following day.

I arrived bright and early the next morning. The only other person around was a small, slight guy who was drinking wine from a bottle inside of a paper bag. He was about half my size. All of a sudden, three flatbed semis drove into the parking lot. The driver of one of the trucks threw down two pairs of grappling hooks and told us where to stack the guard rails. And with that, they left us.

So, my partner and I got up on one of the trucks. He stood at one end and I stood at the other end. He took his grappling hook and fitted it through a hole in the top railing, lifted it up, and stood there waiting for me. As I looked at him, I could see him swaying back and forth from being so drunk. I remember saying to myself, “Boy, this is going to be one long day.”

And I lifted my end. Or I tried to lift my end. IT WAS  SO HEAVY! I could only lift it about three inches. I looked at my partner and the guard rail again, thinking that more weight was on my side. But no, an equal amount. And he looked as nonchalant as could be, holding it up to his waist, without a care in the world. I shuffled my feet and got the guard rail over to the side and let it fall to the ground. One down and several hundred more to go.

That job was one of the toughest that I’ve ever had. I sat in our bathtub so sore that I couldn’t move for hours afterwards. But I absolutely loved the job.  I used my body and got to know my partner during the course of the day. He was a good, good person. He was married, had four kids, and worked all over town in about 100 jobs a year. He worked his ass off. I didn’t have enough guts to tell him that I was in college just trying to make some money for the summer.

Toughest jobs? It’s fun to think back when you arrive at your 70th year.



  1. You didn’t let me down…as soon as I saw the title and the question you asked, I thought “oh he better tell the guardrail story!” And you did. Part of the fun of looking back from our age is recalling all the “interesting” jobs we did before we were 20, and for $1.65 – $3.00/hour. Damn I washed a lot of dishes!

  2. Thanks for sharing another wonderful story John. Hope you are well and thriving! Wishing you a healthy and wonderful year. I am currently in Israel visiting family. Amazingly healing to be here

  3. I always enjoy reading about your thoughts and experiences, and they make me reflect on my own experiences. Of course though I especially love when you touch back on your Hanover days! Wishing you health and happiness in the new year.

  4. You’re right about a variety of tough jobs. All of us probably have four or five that would fit into this category. Physically, my toughest job was working for the Sierra Nevada Power Company during the summer of my sophomore year in high school. For about two months, all I did was to “pick out” hardened oil spills between railroad ties at their main power plant. The oil was like concrete and the temperature was mostly in the mid-90’s. It was really hard work, but we were paid $13.50/hr which was unheard of in 1968 for a part-time job (our next door neighbor was the president of the power company), and I worked alongside a good kid who went on to be the backup quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys…..we laughed a lot and had beer money, so not all that bad.

  5. Another great read, John. What I love about both stories (and my own that you have reminded me of) is that even in the toughest job there are great memories, learnings and opportunities to improve.

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