the true stories
Back in the early eighties I earned my keep as a gas-fitter. I remember coming to town after a long trek all the way from North Vancouver to Tangiers, in the Kingdom of Morocco and back again via Texas. I spent the night on someone's couch and went to the Manpower Office early the next morning. I was feeling good and had on a brand new white tee-shirt and my cleanest jeans.
I saw an ad for a gas-fitter for a local North Vancouver firm and decided to pay them a visit. I found the office with some difficulty, although it was hidden in plain sight. I walked in and asked the gal at the front desk if I could speak with the owner. She twirled around and padded into the back of the small home-handyman styled workspace and spoke in low tones to a hidden voice.
There were B Vents, hot water tanks, gas fireplaces and a few furnaces on display in the cedar shake decorated front room. A Cee-Bee radio stood dusty and coffee stained on the counter just above the gal's desk, phone and typewriter. She had a Rolodex file, an ashtray from Arizona and a large mug of coffee.
She floated back into the room and told me to go right to the back and that the boss would see me. I wandered back into the cluttered hallway stacked with parts, tools and bags of things someone surely meant to use someday. At the end of the hall was a small office. A man that looked quite a bit like my own dad rose up from a ledger book and heartily shook my hand.
He introduced himself and I introduced myself. He asked a few questions about my experience with furnace installation and servicing. I answered all his questions absolutely truthfully without selling myself short. I didn't write any cheques with my mouth that my Stilson wrenches couldn't cash. I told him about my time at a local shipyard.
As I spoke, he had an ever-growing grin inching across his face like a man who'd been playing a fish and had finally caught a glimpse of it. He tilted his head to one side the way a dog does when it ain't sure if it likes you or not. After a few moments, he cut off my dialogue.
“Texas? You're from Texas? Well, I'll be dipped in dog-shit! Tex, I mean Mike, look here, do you like coffee? You-all want some?” he seemed to be infected with my accent.
I smiled back and answered in the affirmative.
“Well, the pot is over there by Katrina out front so go get it yourself, we don't play no favourites around here. Then come on back here.”
I poured myself a mug and headed back into the bull-pen.
“Look, kid. I like you. You're honest and I can tell that you know how to cut, thread and fit pipe. Otherwise that supply ship would have sunk on the way to Venezuela but she didn't, eh? Now, part of the year we do a lot of servicing and I can also tell you don't know dick-squat about that. Good part is, I can show you. I'll send you out with the Limey for a month and he'll show you some more. We are proudly non-union and everybody starts at $10.00. Later, if you figure you're worth more and you have the balls to ask for it, I might give you a raise. Each day Katy out front will give you some coveralls and the addresses for the day. We got a warehouse down by the Wheat Pool, me and a partner with another heating company. We share the sheet-metal fabricating machinery and the space. He's got a Kraut gas-fitter. That's where you can get all your parts and fittings. Right now we are doing oil to gas conversions. You load up the furnaces and water heaters from the warehouse and take all the thermostats and fittings and pipe and everything else you need from there. I'll assign you a truck and you'll be M-7 on the radio. If you get up a stump over some electrical for instance, call me up and I'll walk you through it. I'm M-8. Katy is Base. Did you ever use a Cee-Bee? No. We'll just remember to say “over” when you're done squawking. Nothing to it. Work starts here at 7 AM sharp. When Katy gives you your assignment you hit the warehouse and load up. I'll be around to the jobs once you get the old shit out of the way and measure up for the plenum transitions and ducts. Then I'll be off to the warehouse to fabricate that stuff and back again to install it. I'll show you how to wire the furnaces and switches the first couple of times. You should have the gas pipe all done by the time I'm back with the sheet metal. There is a big fellow called Paul who comes around all my jobs to take the scrap metal. You help him load his truck, OK. I don't like saying Mike, so I'm gonna call you Mick, OK? Mick, we put cardboard down all the way wherever we walk in these houses and we leave our jobs spotless, OK. Oh, yeah you can use the truck for work but park it behind the shop here. I live across the alley in the yellow house and I like to keep an eye on the fleet.”
“See you in the morning Boss.”
Thus began several years of interesting employ with this local legend. Boss was a good man and kept me on for a year after the bottom fell out of the economy.
Copyright © 2015 by Michael A. Hawes. All Rights Reserved.
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.