I run into a lot of people out and about in Pine River while working. I think most people who see me, however, see me when I am wearing some sort of button up, a sweater, a suit jacket or a combination of those. We have a sort of dress code with the paper. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking nice, but dressing in a suit jacket doesn’t exactly represent all facets of my personality, and I wonder if some people read more into my suit jacket than is necessarily true.
Our paper and our sister paper are currently working on a special section celebrating the various industries and employers that help keep our communities alive. Specifically, my contribution to the special section is focusing on the Cass County Economic Development Corportation (http://www.casscountyedc.com/) and the businesses they have helped in the area. It is in doing the leg work for this story that I had a blast from the past. Hopefully it will help us get acquainted. It is good to know your reporters.
I started off with a trip to Scamp (https://www.scamptrailers.com/) in Backus where I was kindly lead through the plant for photos. This was my first time in Scamp, but I am very familiar with various employees there.
Next, I met with Craig Anderson with Trussworthy Components (http://www.trussworthycomponents.com/) in Pine River. Trussworthy is a very familiar place to me, you see, I didn’t always work a desk job. In fact, I worked at Trussworthy during its first two summers of production. It wasn’t my first, or my last manual labor job.
I started off at the Backus Corner Store, where I worked seven years, and made lots of friends, but after my first year of college, I needed something that payed a little better. This was the summer of 2005, when Trussworthy wasn’t quite in operation yet, and I didn’t live in Backus.
However, I was living between Nisswa and Pequot Lakes. At the time, there was a company called the Minnesota Truss Company in Pequot Lakes where a friend from high school had once worked. I applied to the job before the summer break, and got the job.
The job paid very well, but it was neither easy nor completely safe. The equipment there was considerably older than I was, and while truss construction in many plants was considerably automated, the Minnesota Truss Company did what it did with a serious amount of blood and sweat. We built trusses using giant hydraulic C-clamps that could crush a soda can to the thickness of cardboard. When we built a truss, we would lift it on our shoulders and actually carry it out of the building.
The job wasn’t hazardous as long as you didn’t become complacent, though there were occasional accidents. Once, long before I started working there, one of the workers had actually managed to chop a hand off with a saw (they sewed it back on, and he was still there when I started) and while I was there I witnessed one coworker knock another coworker unconcious with a 12 foot long 2×4, and I personally pinged my fingernail off of a sawblade that had kept spinning long after the saw was turned off (miraculously, I was not even a little injured). The job was hard work, if just a little outdated.
My second summer, I was staying in Backus, so the Pequot Lakes company was a few miles too many. I had, however, heard about Trussworthy Components. I applied, and got the job.
For once in my life, I was one of the most experienced people on staff! There were quite a few higher-ups who had worked for Manions, and their experience level far outweighed my own, but other than that, I had a slight upper leg. By the end of the summer, I was even in charge of the floor truss table (the only old piece of equipment in the building).
Going from Minnesota Truss to Trussworthy was not exactly seamless. Minnesota Truss’s equipment was incredibly old and incredibly hands on. Trussworthy’s equipment was brand new and shiny. The C-claps had been replaced by what was essentially a giant steel rolling pin. I felt spoiled. I worked there the following summer as well, though I had lost my level of seniority by leaving for school the past fall.
I couldn’t help but remember how much of an improvement this equipment was when I visited Trussworthy for photos. I also couldn’t help but feel like the employees were now even more spoiled. When I worked there we had to do countless measurements while setting up each new truss with its webs and plates. Some time after I left the company, they got a laser guided jig system to help them lay out trusses. Even more recently, they got a new floor truss table that does all the heavy lifting for those building the trusses. It almost makes me want to return… but not quite. It’s pretty cool to look back.
I have friends and family who assume I look down on people who work manual labor. This couldn’t be less true. I grew up with a father who worked his body to shambles to give us a good life. My mother worked hard to put food on our table as well. My brother Brent went into construction like my father, and my brother Troy went into plumbing. Yeah, I went to college, and yeah I work a pretty soft job by comparison, but there are few people with as much respect for hard workers as me.
At different times during college I built trusses, I worked construction with Vredenberg Construction out of Akeley, I did landscaping with Field Landscaping, and all that time I helped my father, friends and family out with various other manual labor jobs, be they cement pours, logging, throwing hay bales. I did pretty well at these things. I remember how tired, sore and sweaty they can make you. I also recognize that so many people do these things for the sake of the people they care about. These people deserve a pat on the back every now and again, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.
These jobs paid well and I did well in these positions. I’m still on very good terms with my former employers. Those jobs just weren’t for me. After work I was always ready to eat and go to bed. I never got much done, and I was a really miserable person to be around (my family and friends were about ready to kill me!). I kind of suspected I wanted to avoid manual labor in high school. That’s why I went to college. That’s why I am a reporter, but I’m still the same guy I was when I worked manual labor.
So, the next time you see me out and about, if you see my suit jacket, remember that’s not the whole picture. Keep your eyes open for me in the woods and the other sweaty places out there and you might see me dressed very differently, whether I’m doing one of my many hobbies, helping a friend dig a trench, or fighting a fire with the Backus Fire Department.