Thursday, February 23, 2006

No One Asked, But I am Going to Tell You Anyway

There is some kind of meme going around, with one of the questions being your first four jobs. Well, no one tagged me, but I thought I would tell you about my First Job:

Colorado summers, while lasting less than three months, were really wonderful in late 1958. The air that raced across the spring snow melt of the Rocky Mountains before crossing our farm at the foothills was crisp and fresh. People would have laughed at you if you had asked about air-conditioning. What for? The ten days of hot weather each year? Most Coloradoans didn't even know what air-conditioning was, including me. Those that knew about it were too Puritanical to consider it anything but a sin. In 1958 the skies were blue and the mountains a crisply dark blue/gray (none of that crappy pollution that hangs on the front range these days). Working outdoors was great.

I had just moved to a small farm the fall before and had just finished my first year in the new Junior High School. I was skinny, flat-chested, and pretty smart. I was also an obedient daughter and knew that I had to comply when my father gave me my first summer job. I 'think' he paid me, but since I can't remember an amount, probably not. My family was not into that remuneration thing and money was scarce anyway. It was just assumed you would work in the summer around the house. After all, you were free all day,... duh!

Dad had planted a crop of wheat, ...wait, maybe it was corn, or ... (?) well I WAS only 12 so who knows what the heck he was growing. Anyway, we were under the old system of irrigation ditches. The ditches were about 2 feet deep and three feet wide. The ditch ran through the center of town and then was diverted by a canal system to whichever farmer ordered it. Our farm was just outside of town. We actually had what were called water rights that came with the land, and therefore, got a subscription of so many gallons through the summer months. (Water rights in the West are a whole book these days.) If anyone tried to steal the water, it became evident fairly soon because Colorado is very dry and you can pretty well determine where the water goes and where it is not going. My Dad's biggest problem was the "city" kids that played in the ditch in town and caused a back up and overflow into the main street when they filled the ditch with their toys and other stuff. When the water got too low, we knew we had to 'ride the ditch' and find out what was blocking the water. My Dad actually had a full-time construction job, so farming was a second career. These were the good old days.

Now to my job. That summer Dad explained that I was responsible to run the dams. Irrigation dams are exactly what they sound like. They are a rubber (or heavy canvas) sheet attached to a heavy wood bar across the top. You set up a new dam in the dry part of the ditch beyond where the water had been soaking. You place the wooden beam across the top of the ditch and the rubber sheet carefully across the bottom of the ditch using a shovel to cover every edge with soil to block the water flow. After everything is packed in place you go to the dam that is currently stopping the water and release it.

This sounds easy, but it means you get down on your knees in the muddy water and remove the packed soil and then jerking and dragging pull up the heavy dam and place it to the side further up the dry part of the ditch. Since I weighed around 60-70 pounds, this probably looked really funny to an outsider. The water then flows and fills the new part of the ditch. You wait until it reaches the edge of the dry field and then you make sure that all the little valleys in rows between the crop lines are clear and that the water is making it all the way to the end of the acreage. This can take a long time. I remember one-inch cracks in the soil that went all the way to the devil's penthouse apartment as water disappeared for what seemed forever in a noisy waterfall before finally filling and continuing on down the field. When all looked good, I got about an hour break.

I ran to the farmhouse, washed off my feet, got something cold to drink, set a timer, and plopped down in front of the TV and watched "General Hospital" or "Dark Shadows" which were THE soap operas for kids my age those days. Once the timer went off I had to go back out and do the process all over again. The water stopped flowing about dinner time and started all over again the next day. This went on for a week.

I hated it because it tied me down, but I also liked it because of the way it interacted with nature. Water making insects scurry for cover, encouraging the birds, and capturing catfish in the ditch. I also loved just being in the great outdoors away from Mom's boring house chores. I was a Tomboy and really liked doing stuff outside. My First Job.


  1. I had exactly that same chore once as an 11-year-old. Ditch rider came by and said I was using too much water and he might have to fine me. I was petrified: 11 years old, and I have no money. He laughed, re-figured my outfall, and went on his way.

  2. I was a city girl and never heard of such a job! Thanks for educating me. I also did not know Colorado was so dry! It is certainly a beautiful state.

    Why don't you do the whole meme - see my blog for the details you wll need! I did my jobs in installments but all the rest on one page about 3 posts ago. I TAG YOU! :)

  3. You have such an interesting background. Even though, as you mentioned in the beginning of this entry, "noone asked", I'm certainly glad you decided to tell anyway. :) This has given me an idea for my blog. Instead of writing about the here & now, why not write about the past? I might actually learn something new about myself as well.

  4. Ok, Sky, I will try the whole Meme, but no promises on when I will get it done ;-)

  5. I like this meme idea very much. Maybe I'll give it a try sometime soon.

    I really enjoyed reading about your farm job. Like Sky, I was a city girl and only read about little kids like you in story books! BUT ... I was always intrigued by that sort of lifestyle.

    Dark Shadows - boy, I remember it well ... but I didn't catch it till the 60s and was really too young to fully understand it.


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