In the summer of 1962 my dad encouraged me to sign up for a Maricopa County Youth Work Program as a summer job. The county would randomly pick several hundred young men to work somewhere in the county park system over the summer in work sessions of four weeks for each youth. I was lucky enough to be drawn along with thirty other young men to work on Lake Pleasant for our session. They would have several other groups working one month intervals at different locations during the summer break from school.
This was my first real job other than mowing lawns, making label tags for my dad’s air conditioning company, or chopping weeds and sweeping floors and other chores at Dad & Mom’s industrial property in South Phoenix.
My five day a week work detail started the first week of July. My father would drop me off at Central High School in Phoenix at 6:45 AM each work day. With a sack lunch in hand, work gloves in one back pocket and a blue, cowboy type bandana in the other, I would board a school buss with the other young men along with our straw bosses who were about a year older and had worked the summer before as rookies and were invited back this year to supervise the new recruits. We also had two adult leaders and a bus driver. At 7:00 AM sharp we were off. If you were late, you would have to have your family take you to the lake or you missed out on a day’s work. I don’t recall anyone being late.
We would arrive at the Lower Lake Pleasant camp ground close to 8:00 AM. There was a snack stand with picnic tables near by that they used for headquarters. We didn’t have snack bar privileges before 12:00 noon each day. Our job was to extend the existing campground into an area that was adjacent to the lake but overgrown with underbrush and a wild mesquite forest. You could barely see through this tangled straw and twig fortress. One of our adult leaders was my P.E. coach from my former grade school. Unfortunately he recognized me and acknowledged that fact by calling out •How are you doing Wagner? You will help man the wheel barrels along with you, you, you, you and John; pointing at five other boys. Next he picked out the fire pit crew of six and then three other crews of six for sawing, trimming and raking. Each crew had a straw boss that he would call out my name as the sixth member of the crew. With everybody teamed up, there would be a mandatory, fifteen minute safety meeting and then we were dismissed to go to work. This is how each work day was to begin. Everyone was thankful for their job and eager to work.
Each straw boss took their crew to tool up at the equipment compound and then headed to their assigned work area. We had to leave all our lunches in a big refrigerator at the snack shop for safe keeping and also so there was no snacking. It was time for work and work we did.
Twenty-five feet away from the thicket to be renovated was the fire ring. We were to chop, saw, trim, shovel, rake and shape a new picnic and camping area out of this chaos of entanglement and burn the debris. We all worked like an assembly line with wheel barrels hauling the piles of trimmings and mounds of grass mixed with weeds to the fire ring which at times had flames ten to twenty feet tall. We would dump our loads within seven or eight feet of the fire or what ever distance the heat of the fire would permit and then the fire crew would feed it into the flames at a controlled rate. It was hot and those boys deserved the extra ration of water. I was thankful I wasn’t working the fire even though it was a way to get extra water.
All water was rationed out by the straw bosses at the rate of one cup per hour unless you worked on the fire crew. Then you would get one cup each half an hour. We all had our own stainless steel cups that gave the water a little metallic taste, which was actually a good thing. We grew to appreciate and even look forward to that tasty, icy cold water from the big galvanized water jug. We also learned that if we left the last sip in the cup, we could pour it on our bandana and use it to cool our faces awhile before it would evaporate. Some boys were buying extra water rations from some of the straw bosses for fifty cents a cup. If you had the money, would be well worth it.
By 11:30 AM we were pretty well bushed, no pun intended. At that time we all gathered at the fire ring around the heat of red hot coals. All the chopping. trimming and racking tools were put away. It was time to put the fire out. Part of the crew with flat shovels would go down and stand in the lake. Another part of the crew with round shovels would take their position at the fire ring, while the wheel barrel crew would transport water from the lake where it was shoveled in by the flat shovel crew, run up the hill to the fire ring by the wheel barrel crew who dumped it where directed by the round shovel crew as they churned the ashes and coals to contact the water. The most strenuous part of this process was running the wheel barrels up the hill with my X PE coach yelling at you as you run by ·Keep the handles down and the pick up the pace!” Every once in a while some would have the handles up too high and the front reinforcement cross member would catch on a rock and the back of the wheel barrel would flip over with the operator doing a handstand on the handles as he became air born. All work would stop for a few minutes due to the uncontrollable laughter.
Once the fire was completely out. all the tools were put away and it was time for lunch. This was a good thing, but not the best part of the day. After lunch and for the rest of the afternoon, we would have R&R. Rest and recuperation. We could swim, fish, play water games, hike around and just enjoy the lake and campground until it was time to get on the bus at 3:00PM for the trip home. And better yet, we got paid for this time, a full eight hours pay. What a great experience for me and all these young men going through this program. Hard work, hard play and good friendships made, and to be paid for it all!
The bus ride back to the High School seamed twice a long as the ride to the lake that morning. At the school. I would hang around until my sister Judy could pick me up after she got off of work At that time she was driving the family station wagon and it had air conditioning that felt great all the way home. Dad’s company cars have not had air conditioning by his choice. Go figure.