Writer

Don’t be a Closet Painter

My dad, Ralph Jones, has been in the Construction and Residential Design business since… well, way before I was a twinkle in his eye.  He has some stories to tell, so I thought I’d share some of there here on my blog.  We are thinking about writing a book about the process of designing and building houses, but some of these stories will probably work their way into the book to lighten up the process if not educate everyone in better building practices.  Hope this gives you something to smile about as well as watch out for in your own building endeavors!

“Back in 1952, when I was about 15, I started working for G&K Construction Company in my hometown of Pontotoc, MS.  The ancient two story elementary school building with a full basement had burnt to the ground during the winter.  I was fortunate enough to secure a job with the company doing the construction of the new building when they began the next spring.  That first summer was a tough one, digging footings and grade beams; and since there were no redi-mix concrete company’s within 100 miles, we mixed our own concrete on the job.  That sun baked red clay was almost like digging in concrete itself, but we made it through somehow.

The boss Mr. Charles Gaskin saw that I was not going to quit, however bad the job was, so he kept me on.  When school was about to start again in the fall, he told the foreman to use me in some capacity whenever I showed up for work through the winter.  Working Saturdays and holidays through the winter it rewarded me with a little spending money and also kept my job in-tact.

As we got the frame of the building up, a roof installed, and began the interior finish, some wood work was to be added; and a painter was hired.  He was an old gentleman; tall, skinny, a good natured guy, but very quiet.  As far as everyone knew, he did his job with no complaints from anyone.  His job got done, but no one saw much of him during the day; just when he came to work and as he left.

Being a school job, an architect of the project visited on a regular basis to check and see what was happening and if all was up to his required standards.  One of these requirements was the wood trim had to be coated with a coat of primer paint on both front and back before it was installed.  This old painter would lay the strips of wood trim on saw-horses and prime them in each room.  Since I was sort of an “extra” on the work detail my job might be working here one day and there the next, moving around sweeping, cleaning, whatever.  As winter progressed, I noticed that a stray Gordon’s Gin bottle would show up occasionally; empty of course.  The further into winter we went, the more bottles showed up.  I would discard them as I went about my job of keeping the job at least ‘broom clean.’  I had no idea of who was drinking the gin but I had an idea.

One day while working in a particular class room there were several empty bottles, some saw-horses with freshly painted trim lying across them, and a tall metal scaffolding setup there in the room by some other tradesman.  This room had a medium sized storage closet opening into the room, but the metal scaffolding was pushed nearly up against the only door to that closet.  Again I thought nothing of this scene but a noise or something told me to move the scaffold and see what was going on inside the closet.

Screeching back the scaffold on the concrete floor, and opening the door; there was a scene that would never be forgotten, even though more than 60 years have passed, the old painter was sitting, ‘spraddle’ legged on the floor, head down on his chest, drunker than ‘Cooter Brown; either passed out or asleep; reeking to high heaven of paint primer and Gordon’s Gin.

Gordon's-Gin - 1952

I probably should have turned him in to the boss or foreman, but I had not been exposed to such a scenario before, so I just eased the door back closed and pushed the scaffold back near the door just as I had found it.

That was the last time I ever saw the old painter.”

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