Willard, My Meticulous Brother

The gene pool from which American families draw is a wondrous palette onto which our “Artist-Creator dips his brush.  The genes floating in that pool are as countless as the stars, making it possible for Him to send several children to the same parents:  Children who, while sharing some commonalities, are as different as snowflakes.  In few large families could this be truer than in the six children entrusted to “Jack” and Adeline Carriker.     Five of them were boys but aside from some definitely identifiable physical characteristics they were conspicuously distinct individuals. First born was Robert E., second, Raymond R. and then a girl, Frances E.  Following the gender exception came Willard M., Billy G, and M. Don.  The first five followed as close upon the heels of one another heels as nature permits.  I joined that family as the “baby,” six years later.  This is a tale of the fourth-born:  Willard.  Willard and I seldom did anything together in my childhood or in my later adult years.  But we did work together on pipeline construction jobs in the summer months of `49, `50, and `51.

In the summer of 1950 we worked for a company that had a contract to lay a pipeline “as the crow flies” over the hills and across the valleys and rivers of WVA.   The base of operations for this project was the small town of Clendenin WVA.  I arrived in June and moved into a back bedroom in the same house in which “Willard” and his wife had rented a small apartment. Although my room was separate I ate with them.  I was just a common laborer but Willard had an a more responsible job as the driver of a “Skid Truck,” and he had two swampers assigned to him.   Building a pipeline takes a huge number of “skids” which were raw pieces of native lumber not much smaller than a railroad tie.  Each skid weighted around 90 pounds.  The skid truck’s job was similar to that of the kid at Walmart who brings carts in from the parking lot.  When the pipeline was lowered into the ground the skids that had held the pipe off the ground were left lying about helter skelter.  The skid truck crew’s task was to pick up the discarded skids and haul them to a point in front of the pipe welding  crew and throw them off onto the right of way in such a way they would be available when the skid setters needed them. Like most of the work on these pipeline construction jobs it was fast-paced.  God help the skid truck driver and his swampers who didn’t have skids in place and ready to use when they were needed.

That wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds.  If you’ve been to WVA you know that it is very mountainous.  In1949 the few roads that ran back into the hills and hollers were little more than cow paths.  The distance between where the discarded skids lay and a point in front of the pipe gang might be no more than a couple of miles along the pipeline right of way but with the mountainous terrain and non-existent roads the skid truck driver sometimes had to drive as much as 30 miles from “pickup” to “throw off” point.  That meant the skid truck had to go “hell for leather” all day long.    

Brother Willard was a meticulous man who wanted nothing more than to live in an orderly world where all was well, well-planned, and according to plan.   Given that trait he was as careful with that shiny, new, red truck as he would have been if he owned it.  In the hot, dry summer those backwoods roads and trails of WVA became very dusty.  It didn’t take long for all the equipment, including the skid trucks to become covered with dust and mud.  In picking up the discarded skids we occasionally had to ford small creeks.  On those occasions, despite the fact that we had to get the skids relocated as quickly as possible Brother Willard would often stop in the middle of the creek and make the swampers WASH the truck.  He wanted it to be as clean and pretty as possible.   Of course the swampers bitched but he was their immediate boss – the rule was: his way or the highway.

As I said, it was a hell for leather job loading and unloading those skids.  The swamper on the ground picked them up and hurled them up onto the bed of the truck as fast as possible while the other swamper just as quickly stacked them like cordwood until the truck bed was fully loaded.  One day when I was substituting for one of the swampers I hurled a skid “javelin-like” toward the bed of the truck.  It missed the bed and hit the truck behind the driver’s door with a loud bang.  Willard threw open the door, saw what I’d done and became livid, complaining harshly with words and tone of voice that only “big” brothers can use against “little” brothers that I was “beating up” his truck.  I protested in words along these lines:  ‘It’s a work truck, Willard, it’s SUPPOSED to get beat up!”  That really upset him.  He got on my case with a vengeance – we were yelling back and forth while I kept on throwing skids onto the truck bed.  BUT . . . I took care to aim better from then on.  Just a little anecdote, but I think it says a lot about Willard’s personality– and how two brothers can be so very different.
Text Box: This was in the halcyon days immediately following WWII.  A LOT of off the wall things happened.   The State of Kansas’ procedure for obtaining a license to drive a truck in those days consisted of surrendering my Driver’s License and paying a $4.00 fee.   No questions were asked and no driving or written tests were required.  But there was also nowhere near as much traffic on the roads nor did cars cruise on the roads as fast as they do today.
Two years later, the summer of 1951, we were working together (for brother Robert) on a job that was just being finished in Weatherford OK.  The pipe was in the ground so all there was to do was get all the leftover supplies, machinery, and equipment back to the company’s main warehouse in Tulsa.  All the “regular” pipeliners had moved on to other projects leaving only a handful of local workers for mop up operations. Willard had been driving an 18-wheeler for a while when I got there.  Since manpower was short and although he knew I’d never driven anything larger than a pickup truck Robert,my brothr and boss,  in desperation I’m sure, asked me if I thought I could drive an 18-wheeler.  Recalling he’d told me two summers before that if anyone asked if I could do something say “Yes, and then learn damn fast” I said “Yes.”   Before that week ended and me not yet 20 years old I was behind the wheel of an old International truck pulling a flatbed semi-trailer loaded with various pieces of machinery on a 2-lane highway headed for Tulsa OK.   I learned enough about handling the truck over the course of the next couple of hours on the drive to Tulsa that I was able to handle the more dense city traffic when I arrived there. 

  Usually Willard and I were nowhere near each other while we were out on the road but for some reason that I’ve forgotten, we were together one day and our trailers were not loaded.  I was following along behind him on a two-lane highway running across the flatlands of western Oklahoma.  You could see for miles and there was very little traffic.  I got tired of trailing along behind him – he was driving slower than I wanted to – so I built up a little speed, laid on the air horn and pulled out to pass him.  That didn’t set well with “Older Brother.”   He took it as a challenge.  “Little brother trying to outdo big brother I guess.”  Before he could really spool up his truck our cabs were “neck and neck.”  I couldn’t believe it.  He wanted to RACE!  So there we were – two 18 wheelers running as fast as we could in a dead-heat race down the highway.   I was young and impetuous: I thought it was great fun for a while.   I soon saw I was never going to be able to get in front of him.  I chickened out, dropped back and pulled in behind him.  We drove on that way with “Little Brother” tailing “Big Brother” all the way back to Weatherford.  When we got there and got out of our trucks I said something about “that was quite a race.”  He looked at me disdainfully and said nothing.  No more was ever said about it.  

I loved him and by and large enjoyed working with him.  We were too far apart in both age and personality to ever be really close but I never doubted but that brotherly love was there.

We never worked together after that summer.  I went on pursuing my dream and he his.  We seldom crossed paths afer that summer, but that was just the way our lives worked out.  There was no enmity between us.  He spent the last ten years or so of his working life doing a job that was ideally suited to his temperament.  He became a “Quality Control Inspector” for the now-defunct “McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Company located in St. Louis.  I am completely sure that NOTHING defective that “crossed his desk” was allowed to leave the factory.  When the horrible “Challenger” space vehicle rocket exploded years later due to a defective “O” ring I couldn’t help but think “Too bad Willard wasn’t the inspector for the company that made that “O” ring. 

 He died at a fairly young age of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma,” a cruel type of cancer.  I don’t know whether he did or not but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if before his death he left written and VERY precise instructions as to how his funeral was to be conducted.  

Memoir Monday - Thanksgiving
Speedy's Lost & Found

Comments 1

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Dick Pellek (website) on Monday, 24 November 2014 18:12

Nice story, Don. You have now put a couple of pounds of flesh on Willard's legacy.

Nice story, Don. You have now put a couple of pounds of flesh on Willard's legacy.