by Ralph Jones

The first subdivision I worked in had small, lower cost homes in the south-east part of Memphis.  These houses were only 900 to 1200 square feet in size, 3 bedrooms, one bath a living room and eat-in kitchen.  A sink with a two foot cabinet on each side of the sink and a washing machine hook up was the extent of the kitchen.  There was a space allotted for the range and refrigerator as well, but neither of these was furnished.  All were built with a concrete floor, no garages and only the larger units had a single carport.  All the driveways were gravel unless extra money was paid, and most folks did not have enough to purchase the house hardly, much less, a concrete drive.

We had regular sub-contractors that did all of the building, be it concrete work, framing, electrical, plumbing, heating or whatever.  There was a foreman and one hourly labor, “step and fetch-it” guy on the job other than the sub-contractors.  This hourly laborer cleaned windows, hauled debris, and was there just in case an extra set of hands were needed.  Except where I was concerned and they were trying to teach me how to be a foreman so they put me with one of their best, Robert Herring.  I took almost every step that Robert took and sometimes more.  I learned all that I could from him and soon enough they turned the subdivision over to me to complete and moved Robert on to a new area.  We started early in the day, about sun up, and quit late in the day at dark or past.  It is almost like Mr. Kimmon Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn use to say, “You only have to work half days for me, the first 12 hours or the last 12 hours.”

The company I worked for had about 8 or more subdivisions going at any one time and these sub-contractors would move around to the other jobs as needed.  There were three brothers that did concrete work for several of the subdivisions, named Bohannon.  These guys worked for me out in the Parkway Village are and one day the payroll clerk, Pat Roper, called me in and asked me about their payroll.  They had worked for three different foremen that week and had spelled their names different on each work sheet they had turned in.  I told her they were indeed all the same people and to just pick the name that looked right and pay the guys, they too were good men and hard workers.

One of the contractors we had was a very nice person that did our electrical work.  He had a crew and they did a good job.  However the boss of that crew, let’s just call him “Frank,” had broken his neck in the past somewhere, and although it had healed; his head always leaned to one side.  We all got use to this head leaning and thought nothing of it, like I said; he was a real nice fellow and a hard worker.

Sometimes when things were very busy he would jump in and help his men wire the house.  I could tell when he had been helping with the “finish-out” of the house.  All the receptacles and switch plates were crooked.  They all leaned in one direction.  I’d walk into a finished house and there it would be staring me in the face, all the electrical plates leaning.  I’d call him over to the house and say, “Now Frank, you’ve got to straighten all these receptacles and switches up before it will pass final inspection.”  His reply to me was always, “Well, they look alright to me!”  We’d both laugh and he would have them repaired and corrected before the inspector came.

I would have him wire anything we had and never would there be a problem except if he did the “finish-out” all the visible plates would be crooked; but they “looked alright to him.”



Introducing Ralph’s Writings

Ralph Jones, now retired, began his lifelong career in construction, and later home design way back when he was just a kid.  He began working on construction sites back in High School in Pontotoc Ms.  His parents had always taught him to be a hard worker and give a man an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

Through the years, he has collected some rather good stories of people he worked with, or worked for.  He has learned some lessons along the way too.  These are too valuable to let fade into obscurity, so I have decided to have him write some of his favorite stories down and I will forward them on to you, his friends, family and former co-workers.  I hope you enjoy his stories.

If you are interested in reading his stories, be sure to bookmark this page.  You will see off to one side or another the topics covered in this Blog.  If you click on “Ralph’s Writings” you will see all the stories I publish for Ralph.  Feel free to click on any of the other topics as I think they are also worth the read.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Janne (aka Ralph’s daughter)

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.”