Hammerin’ nails

When I was 9 years old, I used to go with my dad to his second job. I did this until I was 16 years old and enjoyed all my time with him. At first, my older brothers also went, but they soon found their own jobs and left. Yes, I used to work with my dad. Yes, technically it was illegal for me to work there at such a young age. No, I was not abused. Instead, I loved it.

What we did was build pallets, or skids. If you don’t know what they are, they’re the wood base platforms that nearly everything getting shipped in bulk is stacked on. This was the 1970s and we built them by hand at first. My dad was paid by the pallet so the more he built, the more he was paid. After school, I would make my way there and put in 4-5 hours pounding nails, stacking pallets, driving a forklift (how cool is that at 9 years old?), and generally spending some good father-son time together. If I had a school project or too much homework, I would skip going, but otherwise, I never missed and always showed up.

What this experience gave me were skills like driving (even though the back wheels do the turning on a forklift and it took an adjustment when I switched to cars), using a hammer with both hands, surgical-like ability to remove wood slivers, and pride in my work. All of these things came in handy later in life. A good example was when I was stationed in Germany. Every Fall we went to the giant festival in Stuttgart. There was lots of beer, music, food, beer, games, beer, and plenty of beer. There was one game that drew my attention and after some beer (did I mention they had a lot of beer?) I went to play. The object was to pound a string of 20 nails into a block of wood without missing or bending the nails. If you did it, you got a HUGE stuffed animal. Seeing as I was trying to impress a German girl at the time, I saw this as a great opportunity. I walked up to the game.

GAME GUY: Ah, are you American? (They could always tell).

ME: Yes…how much?

GAME GUY: 5 Marks. (I handed him the money and he handed me a hammer. I put it in my right hand.)

ME: (Pound, pound, pound,…pound, pound). There. (I handed the astonished man his hammer back).

GAME GUY (pointing above him at the animals): What do you want?

ME: The bear and I want to play again! (So I did).

ME: (Pound, pound, pound,…pound, pound). There!

After winning the second animal, he wouldn’t let me play again. The next night, I returned to the game. Same game guy, same answer.

GAME GUY: No! Not you! If I let you play, I lose my money!

ME: I’ll do it left-handed this time.

GAME GUY: Ok, American. Let’s see.

ME: (Pound, pound, pound,…pound, pound). There!

He wouldn’t let me play again after that. Apparently, I annoyed him so much he actually remembered me the next year and still wouldn’t let me play.

So, we determined my hammering skills were good for obtaining large stuffed bears. We also determined that my early years of driving a forklift helped with driving cars later…except that rear wheel turning bit. Also, the surgical sliver removing skill came in very handy when I had kids. There’s only one skill I haven’t mentioned yet.

When I was closer to 16 years old, the pallet place had gone through some changes. We were now using pneumatic nail guns instead of hammers, there were about 12 of us working there now, and some of these new employees were violent. What happened was, the owners of the company decided it would line their pockets more if they hired guys on work-release programs. They could pay them less because all these guys wanted was any job to get them out of jail for the day. Most of them were nice guys who treated my dad and I really well. One day, however, things got out of hand.

Two of the work-release guys seemed to be mortal enemies. They were always shouting at each other and if my dad knew what kind of words they were using, he might’ve had a word with them or sent me away. If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, you’d know my dad was deaf, that’s why he didn’t know what was about to happen.

It was a quick escalation between the two. One minute they were yelling at each other and then they turned their pneumatic nail guns into weapons. They began to fire at each other and I hit the floor along with most of the other guys. I began to crawl towards my dad because I wasn’t sure if he knew what was going on yet. I reached him and found him blissfully building pallets with not a care in the world. I tugged at his leg, saw the look of confusion on his face for a second, then watched as he took in the scene. Then I watched as my gentle loving father transformed into a force of nature.

“SONFABITCH!” my dad bellowed. If we would’ve been in a forest, the trees would’ve swayed backward from the force of his yell, it was that powerful. Everything went quiet and the nails quit raining all over the place. The two enemies just stood there as my dad laid into them. They actually looked scared and I never looked at my dad the same after that. He didn’t back down because he felt I could’ve been hurt and he let them know what would’ve happened if that had happened. The looks on their faces showed that they believed him and everyone went back to work. This is why my dad is the only person I’ve ever really looked up to. He was the real deal.

So what skill did I gain from this experience? How not to get shot, of course. This skill came in handy when I joined the military. I can honestly say I’ve never been shot. Well, there was the BB gun when I was younger, but we were just being stupid boys and seeing if we could take the pain.


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