Monday, April 18, 2011

Doing It Deep by Jeannie Watt

I would like to thank Mary Sullivan for prompting this blog topic, since she asked the question in her Thursday blog, "Where is the most unusual place you’ve ever read a book?" My answer is more than a mile underground.

I went to work in a lead-zinc mine right out of college. It was the deepest underground mine in the United States, the lowest level being 8,100 feet beneath the top of the mountain. This was not a time when there were a lot of women in the mining industry. There were over 300 men on the crew and, when I hired on, three women—Lael, Sherry and Marie.

Those women were trail blazers because back then many men were not happy to have women on the workforce. The mines in this area had been worked since the late 1800’s and many had been in operation, in some form, for around 100 years. Generations of the same families worked the same mine and old traditions and superstitions held strong.  One of those superstitions/traditions barred women from going underground, because back in the day, women only went underground after a disaster—to look for loved ones. Therefore women=disaster. (Some guys still hold this belief and it has nothing to do with mining.)

My job was simple. I drove a train, like the one in the photo only bigger, hauled ore out of chutes and dumped it in a bigger chute, where it would be hoisted up out of the mine in a muck skip. It was a rather mindless job, because the train was on tracks and I pretty much drove back and forth, back and forth. Every now and then the train would jump the tracks and my partner, Billy, (who was the same size as me) and I would jack that multi-ton behemoth back onto the track. And then it would jump the track again. Mines don’t have tracks anymore and I can tell you why—you waste a lot of money and man hours keeping the train on the track.

But back to the reading. I worked with many men who were taught from childhood to never curse in front of a woman. The younger guys didn’t have a problem, but I put a severe damper on conversations involving the older guys. Therefore, since I just wasn’t that into 4x4s with lift kits, fishing with dynamite or the local hot women, I would find a quiet rocky corner and break out a Harlequin Presents from my bucket, i.e. lunch box. (At that time there was only Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents—does that date me, or what?) I read many, many books underground. The pages got a little grimy and wet, but oh well. I would be deep into the adventures of Alexandra and Rafael while the rest of the crew was talking man talk. But I was listening with half an ear. And being entertained. I think that’s why I do okay with guy speak. I’ve heard a lot of it.

I am giving away a $15 Starbucks card today and one SuperRomance Kindle download of your choice--any author. Coffee and a Super--does it get any better than that? Just tell me about an interesting, funny fantastic or horrendous job you’ve held.


Jeannie Watt said...

Sorry this went up late. As hard as it may be to believe, I made a technical eror and it didn't go up at 3 a.m. as planned.

Mary Brady said...

Jeannie, LOL if you hadn't said anything, I might never have noticed your blog post time. Glad you got it up--great story.

I can't "top" that job. Hubby and I own a small business which is both funny and horrendous, usually at the same time--but interesting only to our customers and our creditors.

Margaret Watson said...

Jeannie, I think you win for most unusual job. I certainly can't beat working in a mine. I had a lot of different jobs when I was in college, but none of them can top yours. I worked in a factory, on a farm (interesting job for a woman raised in the suburbs) and I worked for Cook County rabies control. In that job, I had to go house to house to find out if people's dogs had received rabies vaccines. We worked in some of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago and some of the most expensive suburbs in the area. That really opened my eyes. In the bad neighborhoods, people often offered me lemonade, iced tea, or something to eat. In the ritzy suburbs, people were not nearly as friendly.

JV said...

I've only worked at two different places in my life, if you don't count being a mother as a job. (I do, but not the type you mean here.) Right after I graduated from high school, I took a job at the A&P grocery store (which dates me, since they've been gone from most of the country for maybe 30 years or more). I can't say I enjoyed it. My boss thought it was funny to make short jokes. ("You ever considered suing the city for building the sidewalks so close to your butt? Ha, ha, ha, ha!" He thought he was a regular comedian. Called me "Shortstop", too.) He also thought I ought to date his nephew. I did, once or twice, but though he was pleasant to look at, he had precious little else to recommend him. The worst part, though, was having to hear people shout, "Weoooooo!" whenever they'd get their total. At that time, A&P's catch-phrase was: WEO (Where Economy Originates). People thought that was so clever to say that, and it about drove me up a wall! Between that and dealing with some difficult members of the public, I was happy to take more than a dollar an hour less pay to get a job as a student assistant at the University where I was going to school. I started there in 1974 and never really left, though my job title changed from student assistant to Director of Student Records to part-time clerk (working from home after my daughter was born).

Rogenna Brewer said...

I get my ManSpeak from the Navy. But I don't think I can top working in a mine :)

What a great post. And so cool that it was sparked by Mary's earlier blog!

Rula Sinara said...

I can't top that. You win on most unusual job, especially for a woman! I'm a little bit claustrophobic, so the thought of being in a mine shaft freaks me out.

How about flying eyeballs? I wasn't getting paid because I hadn't graduated yet, but I had an embarrassing 'career' moment happen while I was doing clinic rounds as an optometry student. It was my first fake eye case (yes, that's the non-clinical term, LOL). We're not taling about the newer, high tech artificial eyes. The older ones come out rather easily for cleaning. Anyway, there's a technique involved, but it was my first time. I missed catching it in my hand (gloved), and it ended up rolling (or memory has faded), across the little exam room. Inside, I was mortified that the supervising doctor would be pissed. Outside, I had to act all it was no big deal...everything was under control. Luckily, the patient was nice about it. In the end, the eye was cleaned and the patient was happy. That's all that matters, right? (Sorry if I grossed anyone out)

Ellen Hartman said...

Very interesting jobs you guys have had. Rula, your story had me rolling. (Pun semi-intended.)

I've been working since I got my first paper route when I was 10 so I have a long and varied employment history. My most fantastic job is writing romance novels! :-)

One year I worked as a counselor at a day camp for kids who were in city-run daycare centers in Scranton. We were allowed to ask for an age group and gender so I requested 7-year-old boys.

On my first day, I met my campers and they were awful. They ran away from me. They fought with each other. They cried. They faked sick. They had a food fight. They called each other names, refused to change for swimming, and cheated at relay races. We were lucky we didn't encounter a bear because they would have taunted it or fed each other to it. I went home that evening convinced I needed to quit because I wasn't going to be able to offer anything to those kids.

When I went back the next morning, the nun in charge of the camp told me they'd made a mistake. They created a list of every troublemaker, wise guy, high-needs 7-year-old boy from every center in the city so that they could distribute them one to each group. Instead, they'd mistakenly kept them all together and assigned them to me.

My boys got split up among the other groups so I was reassigned to a set of 5 year olds. It was one of the best summers of my life.

(One of the boys on the original troublemaker list rode my bus to camp, and we became great friends. I was glad about that.)

Unknown said...

Great post, I have work at several different jobs but none as exciting as yours. I have worked in doctors offices to factory jobs and I will say the factory jobs were more interesting.


Kristina Mathews said...

My first sub job was in the 4th grade class I had done half my student teaching in. The teacher informed me that one of the student's parents were coming in to share some information about their pets. "You don't mind handling snakes do you?" she asked, within hearing of the students. Of course not.

I learned guy speak from hanging out at the fraternity house in college, first as a little sister, later a girlfriend, and now I come back once in a while as a wife. We just had a reunion in Reno this weekend. A lot has changed since college, but the relationship between the guys (and their wives) has stayed the same.

Unknown said...

Jeannie. What an interesting post. No way can I top that. Let's see I have babysat, cleaned hotel rooms, waitressed, worked as a teller, worked in an office and been a saleslady.

Most interesting job was working as an English speaking person in French speaking Quebec right around the time they were trying to make all businesses hire only bilingual people. Fortunately our bank was one of the first banks to introduce the first teller system where everyone stands in a line and goes to the first available tellers. Our regular customers would pass on me if they wanted to speak French but once in a while a visitor would get really irate with non bilingual me.

runner10 said...

I worked in a concession stand at the beach. Lots of fun.

PatriciaW said...

I worked in a Corning glass works factory. Making glass can be both very interesting...and very dull. I was a college student supervising men who had done this work for years. Needless to say, they hardly needed me, but they were a great group of guys who took me seriously and taught me a lot. The worst part of the job was working shifts, with the night shift, 11PM - 8AM being the absolute worst. I never drank coffee before that summer, and I haven't drunk it since. But on those night shift weeks, I drank loads of coffee and ate tootsie rolls like a fiend to keep from falling asleep.

Jeannie Watt said...

It’s funny how perspectives are different in other areas of the country. Mining is a very normal occupation both in Nevada and where I came from in Idaho. The only difference is that women are no longer considered an oddity.

Mary—I can so see how running a small business can be both funny and horrendous. You must spent a lot of time with your husband.

Margaret—Fascinating about the difference in hospitality levels. What an eye opener. And interesting to actively be searching out those who have and have not been vaccinated. If the dogs weren’t vaccinated, did you take measures to vaccinate?

JV—We both know that being a mother is job, lol! Loved your post. My mom is five feet high, so I heard a lot of short comments directed to her as I was growing up. I try to never comment on stuff like that because of it.

Rogenna—I bet you learned some ManSpeak in the Navy! I was about to answer Mary’s blog question, then I thought, “Hold it! This is a blog!” Today is my 30th wedding anniversary, so I was going to write about that, but instead I wrote about mining. My husband approves.

Oh, Rula—what a story! I was cringing and laughing at the same time.

Ellen—How funny that you ended up with “the crew”! It sounds like the set up for a rather amusing movie. I’m glad you got your 5 year olds, though. It sounds like a great summer.

Virginia—How interesting that the factory jobs were the most, well, interesting. I think dealing with people (and doctor’s) in a doctor’s office would be challenging to say the least.

Kristina—Lol at “So, you’re comfortable with snakes, right?” I hope you had a good reunion. Reno has changed so much in the past decade.

Kaelee—I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be read the riot act in French. Probably pretty intimidating. My husband wants to move to Quebec. His family settled there in the 1600’s. The Catholics keep meticulous records and he had no problem tracing his mom back that far.

Runner 10—That does sound like fun. Was there a lot of sand involved? Whenever I think of the beach and food, I think of sand.

Patricia-How fascinating! I love Corning glass. And I hate shift work. I think it’s one of the worst things a person can do to their bodies—not that they have a lot of choice.

Nas said...


All so interesting jobs. I've had many jobs but the most interesting and varied is the job of being a mom!

Unknown said...

Happy Anniversary Jeannie and your DH.

Parlez vous francais? I love that your husband can trace his roots back to Quebec but maybe you might just try a visit or two before moving there. I loved the time we spent in Montreal but I wouldn't move back there unless I was fluent in French.

Autumn Macarthur said...

What fab stories!

I've worked as a nurse almost all my working life, in a range of jobs. Every nursing role had its tedious mundane aspects, its emotional painful moments, its moments of joy and really feeling I'd made a difference to another person's life, and long looooong periods of utter bone numbing brain frying exhaustion.

Best job- working for the Flying Doctors in outback Australia as a clinic and child health nurse. Worst job- the summer job I had as a care assistant in a nursing home after finishing school. One evening as I cleaned the fifteenth set of dentures for the shift I realised nursing couldn't throw much worse than this at me, and I applied for nursing school the following day!

Anonymous said...

The funniest job I had was at Sears while I was in college. I worked in Hardware and Paint. So, many stories to tell, The spiked punch at our holiday party, so we were all drunk while helping customers. Or the customer who walked through my department holding a container filled with white powder telling every one it was cocaine (it was flour)

Jane said...

Luckily I've never had any horrendous jobs. One of the most interesting jobs I had was at the college admissions office. It was great to see so many people from all over the world coming to check out the school and filing out applications.

Julie Hilton Steele said...

I have both a degree in microbiology and a divinity school degree so I have worked the gamut. The most unusual job I had was as a summer operator of an electron microscope located in the middle of a research farm. I had to milk cows to get the samples we were testing and help prepare and run samples through this incredibly complex machine. Low tech cows, high tech science!

It has been so much fun reading all the responses.

liztalley said...

I've had no interesting jobs. Oh, to drive a mine train! Really. That sounds cool :)

I worked as a lifeguard, at a bank, as a gofer in college and then straight to teaching. Occasionally I tutored and worked retail at a gift shop. That's it. Boring.

I guess "writer" is the most interesting of all. It's cool seeing all of the jobs you gals have had. Really fascinating!

Laura Russell said...

None of my jobs was ground-breaking like driving a mine train. Probably witnessed most odd happenings as night receptionist in an emergency room- saw lots of memorable things.

CrystalGB said...

The most horrendous job I had was when I worked in a car parts factory in Detroit. It was a hot,physically challenging job that I was glad to leave.

Anonymous said...

Gross job - dishwasher. Gray fingernails. Ick.

You've done some pretty interesting things with yourself.


Beth Andrews said...

What a fun post, Jeannie!

In high school, my after school job was counting and rolling coins at a local bank. Nothing too exciting, just me in a tiny room at the back of the building, dumping bags of coins into a machine to be counted and rolled. Then I'd set them in trays, stack them and haul them out so they could put in the vault :-)

Jeannie Watt said...

Finally back on the internet. My work computer died today, but I brought my own small computer to reply to posts. And then it didn’t want to pick up the internet properly. Now I’m home and can reply on reliable internet. Thanks everyone for positng!

Nas Dean—I so agree with you. Motherhood is without a doubt the most interesting job of all. Never a dull moment—not for very long anyway.

Kaelee—We do not Parlez vous, although my husband’s mother didn’t speak English until she was eighteen. Her father wouldn’t allow English to be spoken in the house. I don’t think I could settle on the other side of the Rockies. Roots run deep, you know? But I would love to visit Quebec. Thanks for the Happy Anniversary. It’s been a good day.

Autumn—These are fab stories. How exciting working for the Flying Doctors! And how awful to clean dentures…oy. My daughter’s best friend has become a nurse and she loves it. It’s a hard job, though. So much involved, emotionally and physically. Kudos for doing it.

Tammy—LOL! Who knew Sears was such a great place to party!

Jane—That would be fascinating. I love working for colleges. I’ve had several short term jobs on campus and I love the environment.

Julie—Microbiology and Divinity? Wow. That is diverse. Milking cows without a milker is pretty low tech but how cool to run an electron microscope!

Liz—Writer is a fascinating occupation. I’m sure that when you tell people you’re a writer, they instantly have questions.

Laura—I’ll bet you saw some interesting things as a receptionist in the ER. I don’t know if I could handle that job.

Crystal—I always figured I could never work in a factory, because my head would explode. I once had a job at a magazine filing the address plates by zip code. Hundreds and hundreds of them—although I did get some celebrity addresses, which was fun.

Marcie—My son is a dishwasher—or was. He worked his way up to cook. I’ll have to ask him about gray fingernails.

Beth—I had no idea that there was a specific coin rolling job. I always figured it was one of those things that magically happened, I guess.

linda s said...

What a fun post. Couldn't pay me enough to go underground. My first job was as a telephone operator... back in the day when the operator said "Number please." and then connected you to the line and rang the telephone. The hardest part was getting the rings right for the party lines... two longs; a long, a short and a long etc. I think the term party line might now have a different meaning. lol

Snookie said...

aloha jeannie :) we just got back from camping this afternoon so I'm late coming in here. That was one cool job. I would have loved to do that job for a little while, not sure i could handle it for a long period of time though. My present job (the one I've had for almost 30 yrs now (where'd the time go)has a little bit of a lot of things. I've been down on a single car on a track into a shaft several 100 ft (I think 600) below ground to collect water samples. The angle was steeper than 45 degrees! I've also sampled water in swamps, sewer plants, sewer manholes, streams, ocean, esturaries, bays, harbors and wetlands...

Kay Stockham said...

That is an amazing story, Jeannie. I so see you as a trailblazer! And LOL on putting a damper on the guys' swearing. How long did you work this job?


mary sullivan said...

Sorry I'm a day late getting here, but I loved this blog, Jeannie. Sooo interesting. You are a much braver soul than me heading 8,100 feet underground! Loved that you used to read down there!

Before I came home to have and raise my daughter I worked as a darkroom printer in a photographic lab--the first woman hired to work in this particular lab. The manager hated to hire a woman, but my resume was really solid, so he gave in. A few months later, he told me he would never hesitate to hire a woman again and gave me a raise! When I left five years later, the ratio of men to women was fifty-fifty, so I had a strong sense of accomplishment. These are wonderful experiences to share with our daughters. My daughter is full-grown now and believes that all things are possible for her.

I firmly believe that women's 'liberation' wasn't earned as much by politics and lobbying (although these are so important!) as by one woman working quietly at one job at a time.

Jeannie, dynamite fishing? Really? There is such a thing? I can be incredibly gullible, so if this is a joke, put me out of my misery ;-).

Linda Henderson said...

I can't say that I've ever had a horrendous job, but probably the most different one I ever held was working for a tractor dealer. I learned more about tractors than I ever wanted to know. And also got very tired of the song "You Think My Tractor's Sexy". It got to be old after a while.

Jeannie Watt said...

Linda--I had one of those really old style phones when I was a kid. We were one of the last areas in the US to get real phones. My phone number for 2F3, which I think was 2 longs and 3 shorts. We had to whirl the crank to get the operator and tell her what number we wanted. They'd say we could dial ourselves and we would say guess again. We had dial phones before we'd moved to that area of the country and being a preteen, I really wanted a dial phone again. We eventually got them. Being an operator must have been interesting. Did you get many prank calls? Not that I did anything like that.

Snookie--Your life fascinates me. I don't think I'd like to go down an incline shaft. How need that you get to do something biological for a living. Most of my friends wanted to work in life science, but ended up teaching.

Kay--I only worked as a motorman for a year, then I went back to grad school. Then I did an underground thesis where I went to a different mine and went underground whenever I wanted. I took my husband sometimes. I also had a parttime underground job during grad school on weekends, doing underground maintenance.

Linda--Tractors are way cool. We just sold our antique Ford. I have tractors in Maddie Inherits a Cowboy. I can see how that song would get old, though.

Debra Salonen said...

Jeannie, sorry to have missed this fun post and all the great replies. You are an amazing woman! Of course, we all knew that but now we see more of the pieces that made you into such an amazing woman.

And, Rula, now I know why you asked about my job as a flax seed counter. LOL. Very boring compared to Jeannie's job. But safe.

Great giveaway, too, my friend!!!


Karina Bliss said...

Jeannie, I've been racking my brain for two days to come up with an interesting job and nada...But. At primary school we had a girl who was the undisputed queen of the playground...blonde, gorgeous, haughty and with an older sister to facilitate her wishes when we stopped following her lead. She ended up grading bull sperm in a lab which I find fascinating.

Jeannie Watt said...

Mary--The correct term, as I understand it, is Fishing with Dupont. If you toss a quarter stick of dynamite in a pond, it'll shock the fish, they float to the surface. It's highly illegal, of course, and I heard the guys discussing it a lot, but never saw it in action.

Mary again--I so agree that more is done by one woman doing a job quietly and well, than with legislation.

Deb--Thank you. That said, I have to say, "Flax seed counter?" How did I miss that? What is that? I need more information.

Karina--That is too, too funny. Where do these power princesses come from? Nature or nurture? What a delightful end to the story, though.

Snookie said...

There are people that dynamite fish on the reefs. haven't heard of any here in teh islands for a long long time, but you do hear about it from southeast Asia and south Pacific atolls and islands. It's probably highly illegal everywhere. People have gotten themselves hurt and destroyed fishing areas.

My job is interesting! We end up in all kinds of different environments. Well, as we went down the shaft, I was thinking I hope the cable doesn't break, we're going to have a very abrupt stop! Then as I was going up I was thinking I really didn't want to have to walk back up all those stairs. Luckily the cable was strong and we had no problems. :)

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