After high school, I bummed around for four years, working as a gas station attendant, a factory line worker, heavy equipment operator, farm hand, construction laborer, and finally a carpenter’s apprentice. Between recovering from school, working, and hanging out with friends I had hardly seen for four years, my reading had gone on hiatus.
However, I do remember reading J. D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”, recommended by one of my friends who had gone off to college. I was engrossed with the language, and, as I later found out, many others who were as shocked. But that’s the only book I recall reading during this time of my life. There may have been others that I cannot recall. Those years were spent with late nights and some late mornings in bars or partying somewhere with copious drinking involved.
I found I liked carpentry. Building things was fun and I learned a lot very quickly. My first winter as an apprentice, I was working on a large commercial poured concrete building one winter. Iowa winters can be harsh and this one was particularly brutal. One particularly cloudy, cold, and windy day, while having a morning break to have some coffee and to warm up, an old carpenter (he was old to me, but probably in reality, like 40) said, and I paraphrase, “Son, you’re smart, too smart to be doing this all your life. You can already read blueprints better than most old carpenters. You should go to school and be running jobs like this in a few years. Look at me, I travel to these big jobs, away from my family all week. It’s no life you want.”
I had never thought of college, although my dad tried to get me to go, but who listens to their fathers? However, this old carpenter got me to thinking. I had never thought of myself as smart or capable of being able to go to college. I still didn’t have the confidence that I could do anything like a four year engineering degree so I researched tech schools and found a two year Associate of Civil Engineering program at Iowa State University and applied. Much to my amazement I was accepted for fall term, 1963. Little did I know —
That same spring I received my draft notice. My heart sunk, but I was accepted into college and went to the draft board but was denied a deferment by the nasty woman in charge who felt I had decided to go to college at the old age of twenty three only to avoid the draft. I was not going to go into the army and be sent off to the growing conflict in Viet Nam as a foot soldier, so the very next week I went down to the U. S. Navy Seabee (Construction Battalions) Reserve Center in Des Moines to check it out. I was told that I could join the reserves having to eventually serve a two year active duty commitment, but I could finish my associate degree first and then do my active duty. I signed up on the spot.
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