Monday, June 27, 2011

The Baptist Boys

Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.
I Chron. 16:9

Five days out of high school I walked to the nearby Drackett Company for my first day of real work. I was told to report to the extraction building and received a friendly warning, "When you're just starting, they kind of test you out, but once you're in the union it won't be so bad. " I was told to go to the tool room and check out a scoop shovel and a foreman led me up the metal stairs to the roof of the extraction building. A ventilating blower was shooting soybean meal and dust onto the roof.
In a corner of the roof this meal had accumulated and been rained on and in the heat had begun to spoil. You could smell it before you got there.

Another young man was working with me, he had a bunch of sacks. We were to shovel this spoiled meal into the sacks. As I looked down at this mass I saw that it was filled with wriggling maggots. We each held a sack until the other man had filled it with this paste. The foreman told us to follow him down the steps. We swung the sacks over our shoulders and onto our backs. Our tee shirts became soaked with this maggot filled mass. We worked all morning filling sacks and carrying them down the

At lunch time we were told where we could ring out our cards inside the building. When I went through the door a sign warned that anyone carrying matches into the building would be fired. The atmosphere was laced with hexane, a flame or even a spark could blow the whole place up.The sound of the blowers and machinery filled the air as I stood by the timeclock, waiting to punch out. I had a little time. From high above you could hear the sound of men singing. They straddled the beams near the roof. They wore yellow hard hats and had their tools in canvas tool bags. I found out later they were putting in a new sprinkler system.

Here is what they were singing as they worked. They smiled as they
emphasized key words:

Blessed assurance, Jesus is MINE!
O what a foretaste of glory DIVINE!
Heir of SALVATION, purchase of GOD,
Born of HIS Spirit, washed in HIS blood.

I must have been staring, because one of the workers came over to me to explain "Those are the Baptist Boys", he said. "They do this all the time. The bosses don't like it much, but there's no rule against it. I asked if they were all Baptists and he said "No, but they are the ones who started it." I rang out for lunch and went to the lunch room. It had heaters along the walls, but no air conditioning. The vending machine was warm to the touch. I pulled the knob for a ham sandwich and when I unwrapped it, the meat had turned green. An old timer saw it and said "Try the cheese, it holds up pretty well".

I thanked him and he was right. The milk machine had a refrigeration unit, so I did ok. After lunch, a foreman told me to check out a dust mask and a wire brush and report to the boiler room. Two flights of steps up the side of the water tube boiler a mechanic had unbolted an access plate. The foreman showed me how to pinch the aluminum tabs around my nose to help keep out the soot. That is why we were there, the water tubes were clogged with soot and they had to be brushed off.

The foreman told me to climb in and hold on with one hand. The tubes were slanted like a roof. "I'll hold your brush until you get in" he said. He had a kind manner, he knew I was having a rough first day."One hand for the ship and one hand for yourself" he recited. Maybe he was an old navy man? I held onto the pipes and brushed away the soot with the wire brush. The mask helped a little, but pretty soon I could feel soot in my mouth. I was a mess with soot on top of the meal dust. But before too long this chore came to an end and it was time to turn in the brush and return to the extraction building to ring out.

The Baptist boys were still at work, but no longer singing. One of them called to his companion. "Let me have your wrench a minute, will you?" His friend answered "You have one in your tool kit, don't you?"

"Yeah, he said, but I don't feel like going down all those ladders to get it. I've been putting in hangers all day so I didn't need one until now." Each leaned out, very carefully, while one man slid his wrench on the I-beam towards the other man. They were aware that if the wrench fell it could
kill anyone it struck, and if it hit the concrete floor it would make a spark that could cause an explosion. Then they began to sing again;

What a FRIEND we have in JESUS,
ALL our sins and griefs to bear!
What a PRIVILEGE to carry
EVERYTHING to Him in prayer!

I checked out and walked out the gate to head for home. I had about two miles to go. I was a total mess. My hair was caked with rotten soy flour and on top of that, soot. A wind started up and dark clouds moved in. Trees along the street began to sway as I walked towards home. Then a big car slowed down and stopped. The driver opened the passenger door. I stepped to the car. It was one of the Baptist Boys. He had the front seat of his Chrysler all the way back but his shirt still touched
the steering wheel. He reached down and picked up his gloves and put them onto the seat before I sat down. I realized how bad I looked and was grateful that he let me ride with him. The rain that had been coming finally hit. He turned on the wipers. Little branches with green leaves attached blew across the road and onto the hood of his car.

"Looks like its going to be a rough one", the big man said. "This will be a good night to stay home and study theology."

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