On A Highway Paving Crew
Top: Steam shovel and water tank wagon helped pave highway from Fergus Falls through Elbow Lake to Evansville, 1932.
Bottom: The gas shovel (1932) worked on the same project with various truck fleets. Donald was "crazy to drive a truck" and some of the truck owners would let him drive when he wasn't busy.
Excerpt from Donald B. Johnson manuscript:
"About the time the Depression hit, the paving contract had been let to pave from Fergus Falls through Elbow Lake to Evansville. A big gravel washing, crushing, and screening plant was set up across from the Ashby motel site. The gravel was loaded onto rail cars for shipping." [23.145-3]
"The gravel plant was set up right at the beginning of the Depression. It employed a lot of men and helped Ashby survive the Depression. [23.146-2]
"All the unemployed from a big area came and went continuously looking for work at 30 to 35 cents an hour [for several years]. They worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and changed shifts every two weeks. The plant never stopped, night or day. When they changed shifts, the crews worked a 24-hour shift every two weeks and had 24 hours off at the end of the next two weeks. No overtime pay, Social Security, withholding, or government red tape, either. [23.146-3]
"I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't even have to ask for a job there. We had good, big horses and they came and asked us if Pa could send a team down to work on the stripping crew, plowing the black dirt and sod and clay with a walking plow and hauling it off to the edge or into a hollow with fresno scrapers." [23.146-4]
"I guess I had the biggest and best stripping team and I was lucky to get the job of hauling the water and coal for the steam shovel. We supplied both teams for that, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Walter Shultz drove them one shift and I the other. It was the best job down there, but we had to leave the farm at 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. and got home at 7 p.m. or 7 a.m. [23.147-4]
"I got the bright idea of hooking the tank wagon to the undercarriage of the steam shovel with a chain. When it moved up, the wagon went along and I could lie in the sand and sleep until the tank was empty and the fireman would wake me up. It took about five tankfuls in 12 hours if the plant ran steadily. [23.147-5]
"The first night I worked the night shift I was sort of keyed up and wasn't sleepy when I got home in the morning, so I took the team and went to town for a load of lumber for one of the sheds we were building. I stopped at the Equity and got a Mr. Goodbar to eat on the way home, 1/2 pound for 10 cents, worked all day and went back and hauled water in the gravel pit that night.
"I thought, 'This is a breeze -- I'm not going to bed until fall.' By the end of the second day it was a different story: I went to bed in the daytime." [23.148-1]
[Amelia said he walked and talked in his sleep on this job. Once, in the middle of the night, he took the lamp off his dresser and put it on the bedroom floor "so the horses wouldn't step on it."]