Summer Work With The Racine County Highway Department in Wisconsin
Summer Work With Racine County
During the summers of 1963 and 1964, I had summer jobs with the Racine County Highway Department in Wisconsin. This was my first work experience off of the farm, and it helped to pay my expenses while attending the University of Wisconsin. These jobs were interesting in that they afforded me the first opportunity to work with others outside of the family. In this article I recall my experiences with the highway department during the early 60s.
Map of Wisconsin with Counties Listed
Map of Racine County in Wisconsin
How to Find a Summer Job
Why Work For Racine County Highway Department?
After I graduated from high school, my parents had no money saved for my college education. Dad was a poor small dairy farmer who had to take a second job to make ends meet. Besides this, having three younger sisters and a brother, mom couldn't do outside work.
During my last semester in high school, dad said he would sell the steer we were raising and put that money towards my first year college expenses. The black angus sold for $400, and I picked up another $300 by winning a local Burlington High School scholarship. Still, that wasn't enough money for my first year expenses at the University of Wisconsin, because I would be staying at the dormitory on campus. Although tuition was only $250 a year, room and board at the Lakeshore Residence halls was about $1,700 per year. Consequently, I applied for a student loan from the State of Wisconsin. Dad co-signed on the loan for the first year expenses.
At the end of my freshman year, dad suggested that I get an outside job to help pay my school expenses. After talking to a number of people in Burlington where I had gone to school, my father found out that the western division of the Racine County Highway Department was hiring college students for summer employment. He also learned that the father of one of my graduating classmates was the Racine County Highway Department Commissioner. While I was still in my spring term at Madison, dad approached Mr. Earl S. the commissioner and pointed out that Jim, his son, and I had both been on the football team and co-valedictorians of our class. To make a long story short, dad persuaded Earl to give me summer work at the County Highway Department whose depot was just outside of Rochester about five miles from our farm. I now had my first real job, and I knew it was going to be an adventure.
Working For The Highway Department
1. Getting to Work And Hours of The Job
The first thing I required was wheels to work. Dad only had one car which he needed, but he had an idea how to get me another vehicle. Grandpa had died earlier in the year, and his old late 40s Chevy was still parked in the driveway next to the house where grandma was still living. One day I went with dad into West Allis to visit grandma. After explaining my need for the car which grandma couldn't drive, my father gave her $25 for grandpa's car. I now had transportation to work even if the brakes were a little poor.
It was a 15 minute drive to work over county and township roads. My working hours would be Monday through Friday from 7:00 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. The hours were great because I could still help with barn and field work after I got home.
2. Nature of My Work With The County
I was one of two college kids employed for summer work. "Dar," the other guy, I only knew because we both went to Burlington High, and he was a jock on the basketball team. Each of us was assigned to work with a regular full-time employee on his fixed county roads route. Our duties included weed control along roads, litter pickup along roads and at county parks, occasional patching of potholes in the roads, and disposal of dead animals. If we had worked during the winter months, we would have plowed snow from the roads. My weekly paycheck was around $80.00.
3. Employees I worked With
"Dar" was assigned to work with "Art", and I was paired with "Rusty' Russ D. He was a short, slightly chubby 50 year old man who had red hair just starting to turn gray. "Rusty" was quiet, but he had a temper when he got upset. Wally G., a short obese middle-aged man, was our supervisor. There were about 10 other full-time employees, but "Bud" and "Smokey" are the only others I can remember after all these years.
4. How We Did Our Work
Each two man team was assigned a dump truck and two weed mowers. The trucks were equipped with shovels, brooms, and picks. Blades could be mounted on the front of the truck for the plowing of snow. For weed control we had both a rotary mower pulled by a tractor, and a tractor with an 8 foot sickle bar. "Rusty" usually operated the sickle mower, and I drove the rotary mower.
Rusty and I were assigned a route in the northern part of western Racine County. When it didn't rain, we usually spent all day mowing the weeds along the shoulders of county roads. Most of the time we mowed for a distance of 30-40 feet from the shoulder of the road to a farmer's field fence line.
State highways were designated by numbers like 75 and 36 while our county roads had letters like K and F. In addition to the state and county roads, there were also township roads which we didn't touch.
When it didn't rain, or at least once a week, we would patrol all of the roads on our route looking for litter or dead animals along the side of the road. We would also stop at a few county parks and collect trash.
I remember that there were very few occasions when we really had to do a lot of hard work. Some of my hardest work included unloading from a railroad car on to our county trucks 80 pound bags of chloride which was used for salting the roads during icy weather. Also, on one of the hottest days of the summer, a four or five man crew of us had to sink posts and build a retaining wall along the side of a road.
A County Highway Department Truck
Benefits of Summer Work for College Students
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What I Learned From My Summer Job
Working for the County those two summers during the early 60s was a good experience, and I learned some valuable lessons in life. They are as follows:
1. Value of Money
Before getting my summer job, I had always been dependent on my folks for money. Now realizing how hard it was to earn, I could understand why mom and dad had no allowance to give me, and why they saved and didn't buy the most expensive things.
My route partner "Rusty" was a perfectionist, and he would always get on me if he thought I wasn't mowing weeds according to his standard. I learned to put up and deal with him in our work together.
During my two summers on the job, I quickly learned that I was responsible for performing all of the duties assigned on my route. By not doing them, I knew that I would be held responsible.
Although I had learned and experienced the value of teamwork while playing football in high school, its concept was taken to a higher level in my summer job. Rapidly did I Iearn that a job could be done more quickly and efficiently by people working together rather than going in their separate directions.
My early 1960s summer work with the Racine County Highway Department was a significant time in my life. It was my first job away from home, and it helped to pay for my college expenses. The work taught me valuable lessons in life which are often hard to learn in the classroom.
Summer Work with Racine County
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn
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