Monday, May 6, 2024

Shovel Leaning

     I read that today is the date of the creation of the Works Progress Administration in 1935.   Notably it is a date just a few weeks past my birth day in April.  So 89 years later, why am I taken by this event?  For one thing, I have benefitted from the good works on infrastructure that it produced.   Improved roads, parks, bridges and other public works was the result.   One can go to state parks and forests and see the handiwork of those employed in those projects.  In the midst of the depression, unemployed people were put to work by the thousands and acted as a backstop to the rampant poverty.   I had a World War II Cornell colleague who benefitted from that program before he went to fight in Europe.  He told me some fascinating stories of his adventures.  It was stop gap employment until he went into the Army after Pearl Harbor.  

    Like all government programs, there was frequent criticism of make work programs.  Some are quite critical of those employed in these programs as a give away for the lazy and indigent.  I am not in that camp.  What was the beef about this program?   One that was often heard came from watching a work party on site.   By some appearances, the individuals were not particularly vigorous about their tasks.  Critics would say they spent more time leaning on their shovels than working!  So out of this came the expression "shovel leaning" on the job.   I'll admit that surely there were some slackers.  However, I am confident that for the main, most gave an honest day's work for a day's wage.

    Let me explain my reasoning for my last statement above.   Casual observers who just stop by a site, only see a snapshot of the day.  As a college student I worked construction.   I had a job building the New York State Thruway over the Montezuma swamp.   I helped build a water line in Fairport, New York and an electric utility building in Sodus, New York.  On these jobs, I was doing grunt work!  Many were long days, up to 14 hours on theThruway from sunup to sundown.   If you had observed me in those work days, there would be times I was leaning on my shovel.  Even in the prime of my youth, there is a limit to the length of time you can shovel, lift etc.  Let me close with an anecdote of how cruel a superintendent of a work party can be in preventing "shovel leaning".   On my electric utility job one day I was assigned the task of manually tamping the fill around the duct installed within the foundation.   The tamper probably weighed twenty pounds.   Since I was probably going to be at the task for the entire day.  I was doing it in a rhythm that I knew I could sustain.  My boss from his comfortable hut was observing me.  It wasn't long before he came out of his hut and chastised me for my slow progress.  I guess he thought I was a slacker.  So he grabs the tamper and proceeded to do a few seconds of rapid tamping and said that is the way you should be doing it.  He was a wisp of a man and he really angered me!  He could walk away and sit.   No way could he  have kept that up.  So in conclusion,  I think it behooves every one of us to be careful of our criticism of others in whatever task they are doing.   They say when you are pointing a finger at someone, three other fingers are pointing back at you.

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