The more you read, the more you will know, the more you learn, the more places you’ll go.— Dr. Seuss
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A desire for learning can be inspired by many factors unique and personal to each individual. Learning can come from classrooms, trade schools, military service, experience, on-the-job training, or one of the best teachers around, the “school of hard knocks.”
Center friend Tim Perkins expressed his inspiration for learning a couple of weeks ago explaining how a particularly hard summer job instilled in him the drive to get a college education to avoid jobs like that one in the future. Tim’s story was reminiscent of a summer job in 1968 that was no doubt the reason I persevered to get a four-year degree as well, something I proudly accomplished in just five years.
I had walked the stage at Mount Pleasant High School a couple of Texas summers earlier, and inspired by Mr. Murray’s mechanical drawing classes, knew I was going to college to be an architect. However, first-semester math classes with names I couldn’t pronounce didn’t calculate well for me and sent me searching for new inspiration.
Psychology lured me down the road to a degree and work in special education before forks in my career path led me to an offer that paved the highway for my future. Based solely on hobby-level photography skills, Morris Craig offered me a job at his newspaper, The Naples Monitor “ as he put it, “until you find what you’re looking for.” As it turned out, something for which I was not looking and for which I had no experience or education, turned out to be my path to a rewarding career in communication doing something I loved.
First lesson learned: selecting a profession for the rest of your life at 18 can be a toss of the dice. Second lesson learned: Even if you miss the mark to begin with, that drive to acquire knowledge will take you many more places than you would have gone without it.
If I possessed a drive for learning before that summer of ’68, it got a dose of steroids when classmate and friend since the seventh grade David Neeley and I worked for Hinton Production Company in the Talco oil fields of northern Titus County. Those were the days when derricks dotting the skyline readily identified an oil field, and Talco was well defined by hundreds of the tall structures as well as a plethora of pump jacks steadily extracting black gold from the depths of Northeast Texas.
David’s job was helping repair and overhaul the massive oilfield pump motors. I worked on the maintenance crew responsible for every hot, dirty, sweaty, oil-covered, heavy-lifting, back breaking, knuckle-busting, repair job in the oil field. The “exciting and character-building job,” as my father liked to call it, usually involved a derrick or a pump jack and included things like replacing a broken sucker rod, one of the series of rods connecting the pump jack above ground to the pump itself hundreds of feet in the ground. That meant capturing and extracting the broken piece from somewhere way down in the hole, a process requiring a team of healthy and able bodies, a large “gin-pole” truck and an assortment of large and heavy specialty tools.
The goal, of course, was to keep that “Texas Tea” flowing which other days could mean replacing a broken “bridle” on a pump jack: the big “horse head” looking things going up and down like a see-saw. The heavy cable bridle apparatus attached to the horse head out on the end of the arm called the “walking beam.”
The “exciting and character building” part of that job was enjoyed by the person privileged to climb the ladder up to the walking beam, throw one leg over and shinny out toward the end while lugging an assortment of large and heavy tools. Once at the end of the walking beam, the objective was to remove the broken bridle and replace it with the new one being hoisted up.
It wasn’t enough that this duty was challenging to begin with, but a second and often overlooked objective was watching for wasp nests of gargantuan proportions hidden in nooks and crannies along the walking beam. Encountering one unexpectedly required a rapid reverse shinny and daring descent on the ladder utilizing no more than every other rung until jumping appeared as the better alternative to dealing with the agitated and angry insects.
For reasons I don’t recall, I always assumed I would go to college and always knew my ticket would be whatever jobs I could work. There was plenty of love and encouragement from my parents, but very little money for college.
As for Dr. Seuss’s “… the more you learn, the more places you’ll go” admonition, all I can say is the Talco oil field was one place I didn’t ever want to go again if I didn’t have to. If the notion of quitting school before earning a diploma ever crossed my mind, that summer in Talco—as Tim succinctly said of his experience—“made a college boy out of me.”
Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.
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