This is only a test
If you’ve been around a fast-paced, production-type job site, then you know that when you get a new crew member, he has to live up to certain expectations. You know—the standard unspoken rules.
I can already hear my wife saying that’s not fair. Fair is not part of this equation. It comes with the territory of paying your dues. With the young guys, it might be having them look for a board stretcher or maybe a sky hook. But with a new guy who has been around or is somewhat seasoned, you just have to let time and his skills show his steel. No matter how you slice it, we’ve all had to take the test at one time or another.
Several years ago, I was working a big job as a foreman of a framing crew. It was one of those bitter-cold winter days in early January when the clouds are gray and depressing. We’d been framing in damp mid-30s weather and were happy to take a midmorning break just to warm up and talk over hot coffee, a snack, and a smoke if anyone was so inclined. We older guys knew when to break. Most of us didn’t wear watches, but we could tell when it was around 10 a.m. A certain tiredness would set in. You could feel it down to the bone. The young guys waited till we went to our ever-changing break area and dropped our bags. Like horses ready to feed, the rest of the crew showed up.
One of the new guys walked up to take his break. Alex was from the southern coast of Oregon and had been with us since late autumn. This guy had worked other jobs before but was new to my crew. Alex wasn’t much of a talker, but he was one of the best carpenters I’d seen in a long time. In my eyes, he had already shown me what he was worth—very thorough, making sure to check and recheck before making a cut. One less guy for me to worry about, and even less for the pickup crew to deal with.
Robert, one of the younger guys on the crew, trying to make some sort of points with the team, asked Alex jokingly why he hadn’t gone back to the beach in the colder months: “Doesn’t the cold hurt your little fingies?” And then he began to laugh. Alex just smiled and headed for his lunch box. Robert didn’t like the silent treatment and tried to razz Alex again.
I thought Alex could outframe this youngster and probably outmuscle him in the insult department. Instead, Alex took a 16-penny out of his bag and, with a flip of his wrist, flung the nail and stuck it in a 2×4 about 10 ft. away. That’s in the 2x part, not the 4.
“Wow!” Robert said. “That was totally lucky.”
You could say that again.
“Bet you can’t do that twice,” sneered Robert. Even I would have taken that bet. I figured it was just a lucky shot and that would be the end of it. Without a word, Alex did it again, and only inches from the first one. A ghost of a smile crossed his face. Now it was Robert’s turn to be silent.
Turning back to the break area, Alex walked over, dropped his bags, and poured a cup. Nothing more was said. Alex had passed the test, and then some. Looking over at him, I raised my cup, then finished it and figured a second cup would do before I headed back out there.
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers