The Plank Road, My First Job

D. E. Larsen, DVM

We had moved to a small (160 acres) farm up the river from Broadbent in December of 1949. There was a lot of snow that winter. We probably had a foot of snow on the ground that January. That was unusual for Southwestern Oregon. With 2 older brothers, I learned every corner of the farm, exploring the hill in the snow.

I learned when a grouse is roasted over an open fire, you don’t want to eat too close to the bone. Drinking from a bubbling brook was a new experience for me. Finding a long dead sheep in the same stream a short distance up the hill taught me to drink upstream from the herd.

By the spring of 1950, I was a hardy 5-year-old farm boy. Left at home by myself and Mom while the other kids were in school, I was allowed to roam the farm’s lower reaches by myself. I was not supposed to go to the creek, and I could not cross the road to the fields by the river.

That spring, I acquired a new job. I became the construction supervisor of the plank road going to the mill being built up the creek. In those days, they often would build a small mill at the timber source, harvest the timber, and saw the lumber right there. When the job was done, they would pull the mill’s hardware and move to the next location.

  The creek road was gravel, but the lower road that crossed the field was a plank road. This road was being built along the fence on the neighbor’s place. I could scurry across that fence in a flash.

Ernie Bryant was building the road. He was a friend of my folks. They had been in school together, years ago. 

Ernie knew who I was before I introduced myself. I had him explain everything he was doing on that first day. I wanted to know everything if I was going to be supervising the rest of the job.  

Ernie laid out two parallel rows of railroad ties, staggered, so the joints between the ties were never lined up with the opposite joint. Then he would lay the large planks across the ties. These planks were large, rough-cut planks, probably 3 by 12 inches. Ernie nailed the planks down with large nails that looked about 6 inches long. The planks were 8 feet long. They extended out from the railroad ties about a foot on each side. I am sure the work was hard. Ernie built the entire plank road by himself.

Most of the time, Ernie showed up at 8:00 AM. That gave me plenty of time to see the brothers and sister off to the school bus and finish breakfast. The first day I didn’t pack a lunch and had to run back to the house when Ernie stopped to eat his lunch. 

After that first day, I always showed up with my lunch in a paper sack and a thermos of milk. I stowed these in the old stump on the fence line. This was an old cedar stump with a rather large cedar tree growing out of its center. All the time after that first day, I would sit and eat my lunch with Ernie. We would discuss the progress we expected to make on the road in the coming afternoon during lunch. Sometimes we would talk about Mom in her school days so many years before. After lunch, I would stand partway around the stump as Ernie and I would pee on the stump.

One morning when the plank road was getting close to the gravel road, I showed up at 8:00 AM, and Ernie was not there. I had learned from my Grandfather and Uncle Ern that to be late for anything was terrible and to be late for work was the worst thing you could do on a job. 

I sat down on the ground by the stump. I would sit on the plank road, but the planks were very rough, and I thought it would probably give me splinters in my butt. I had had splinters in my hands before. I didn’t want Mom to be digging a splinter out of my butt with one of her sewing needles.

Finally, Ernie came driving up the plank road. I stood up and greeted him as he came to a stop and got out of his pickup.

“You’re late for work,” I said. “My Grandpa says you should never show up late for work.”

“I bet you have a time clock in that pocket of yours,” he replied with a smile on his face. “I figure that if I work hard today that I could finish this road. Then you are not going to have anything to do.”

Ernie was right. This had been a fun couple of weeks. I had not thought about the fact the job would be over one day.

“I have lots of stuff to do,” I replied. “One of these days, I was going to convince Mom that I am big enough to fish in the creek by myself.”

Ernie finished the plank road that afternoon. He was picking up his tools when I came running down the road with a small bag of the large spikes that had been left on the old cedar stump. Ernie finished, reached in his pocket, and pulled out his wallet. He handed me two dollars.

“Here you go, young man. I appreciate all your help. We will have trucks using this road next week. You make sure you stay out of their way,” he said as he handed me the two bills.

Two dollars was a small fortune to a 5-year-old in 1950. I had nickels and dimes before, but I don’t think I ever had a dollar bill, let alone 2 of them. Ernie was driving down the plank road on his way home when I scrambled across the fence. I stopped and returned to retrieve my lunch sack and thermos from the stump. Then I was off again to show Mom that I was a rich young man.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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