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banner - just a soft political job

Excerpts from the Letters Home
Benton Hickok

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May 5, 1934
Oneida, New York

Counterfeit money. That is what these D--n Yankees call our money. Being Southerners as we are, they won't let us spend our money at all. They want to do all the treating. And are they generous. You ask me a lot? I'll say they are.

This is our most pleasant location yet. Believe you me, it is. The whole house is ours. Stacks of towels and bath rags in the bath-room. One a day if we please. Play the radio and read their magazines as much as we want. Mrs. Hunter's two sons are her pride and joy. When her West Point grad son was in training at Kelly Field she used to pray for him to wash out and at last he did. But she was so relieved - didn't want him to risk his life flying. Her other son is on the high school faculty at White Plains.

Our work has gone very well the past week. Although these larger 225 lb. 4 ft. concrete posts are quite a strain on us we have managed to plant 38 of them on this Cortland-Richland line.

Where my apparent strength to handle them comes from, I can't imagine. Al, a 180 lb. husky has quite a time heaving them himself, - and here I am still only 150 lb. The line is complete now and we are moving Monday over onto the Buffalo-Erie line.

As I hoped it would, the season has changed all of a sudden - jumped from the dead of winter right into the heat of summer. For the past four days I have been sweating with my shirt off. The trees have all come out - just "popped out" over-night. Everything is warm and green and fragrant now. The country is so much more beautiful. The other day on one of our long drives up to Pulaski, N. Y., we drove over the old familiar US 11 - the same as the Lee Highway in Wythe County - but it didn't make me homesick…..

July 19, 1934
Mio, Michigan

… “My country ‘tis of thee,” this place is awful. Imagine the “comedown” from 76th Street, N.Y.C. to Mio in Oscoda, County, the most sparsely populated county in the entire state. Atlanta was about like Bland, but Mio is no larger than Ivanhoe. We asked our landlady here, after she had showed us her bedrooms, what bath and toilet facilities she had, and she said, “Well, you will find the toilet “out in back and the nearest bathroom is in West Branch 25 miles from here. We all bathe in the river these hot days.”

Well, we didn’t stay there. But our present location is not much better. It is known as the Log-Cabin Beer Parlor and Grill. We have rooms up over the beer parlor…. It used to be owned and operated by some Detroit gangsters who made a regular “sporting house” and “speakeasy” out of it – so tough that none of the local women dared enter. Now a Mr. Ingalls owns it and trying to run a decent “joint.” All the room partitions are built of pine slabs with big wide cracks between. One can see from room to room easily. The chef and his young wife room next to me. My bed is “home-made” out of pine poles nailed together. There are no toilet or bathing facilities in the building at all. I shave and wash up the street in a gas station “rest room.” All the streets of this place are cluttered up with milk-cow herds. This morning their neckbells woke me up. Even the trunk highways up thru here are used as cow pastures. We have to rock them from in front of the truck. This is because the only fences up here are road boundary lines. Today while speeding along the U.S. rout to Harrisville, we saw one doe and two fawn stroll across in front of us, and when we stopped and yelled at them they just stood there and looked at us. I can’t see how Grandpa Thomas could have had the heart to hunt and kill such beautiful and appealing looking creatures.

I saw my college chum, (this year’s St. Pat) Bill New yesterday, on Logan’s “O” Party. He told me that next year’s St. Pat had been elected to be represented by Wilmer Barnes, one of my closest friends in Architectural School. This is the highest honor that can be paid any engineering student at N.C. State. If I can get back to school in January, I will have you over the St. Pat Grand Ball, introduce you to Ole St. Pat himself, and to his many attendants. Ole Barnes is a great kid and surely deserved the honor. I mailed him my congratulations right away.

Maybe you think its hot in Wytheville, what? Well its been up 108 degrees here and the natives all say they would rather have last 30’s and 40’s below back, rather than all this heat. Wythe County does have a remarkable year-round climate, I am beginning to realize.

This is a funny country here. The people all say “fetch” me this or that, and “So you say you are planting a bench mark, “a.” If they fail to understand your question they will reply “a”?

As a companion Lyons is about on a par with “Zeke” Dodzion. If not already, be sure and see Manhattan Melodrama starring Bill Powell.

Your devoted nephew,

Late July 1934

Mio, Michigan

…I am glad also that we are not in the Midwest. The heat has gotten up to 104 degrees [July 25, 1934 the temperature at Saginaw, Michigan was 105 degrees, a record that still stands] which is almost suicide when one is working in the sun by the hour. Tell me, how often has it been raining in Southwest Virginia? Our last good rain fell while we were in Bad Axe. This place will soon be a desert…

… Don't think there is much chance of me getting transferred to any other B.M. party. [Benchmark setting crew.] Yes, I still prefer "B.M. setting" to "rod pushing." [Carrying the level rod between points and setting it up for the instrument operator to make observations.] As recently issued "Office Orders" stated no raises could be given without a distinct change of duties. Gibson recalled my $5 raise. Page is in Lake City now and has just told us our next line will be the Alma-Saginaw one. We should be finished here by Monday or Tuesday. So far we have worked lines out of Mio north to Hillman, east as far as Harrisville, west as far as Roscommon, and south as far as Union City and West Branch. The digging has been pretty tough in spots and the heat and drought have made it still harder on us. My shirtless back has been tanned as brown as a nut.

To ease "Pap's" mind, tell him that even though I have lived in New York, New Orleans, Washington, and Birmingham, I had to come to Mio to get my first taste of genuine Chinese chop suey, which I enjoyed here in the "Barn" day before yesterday. To be candid, this is the most excellent cuisine we have enjoyed since leaving New York City. The chef here is from Detroit and used to ply his art at the Country Club there. We have certainly been delighted with his culinary triumphs and varied menu. He is a real artist in the selection and preparation of his dishes. My appetite has been much better this week and I have enjoyed several new "taste sensations" such as blueberry cream pie, candied pineapple sponge cake, creamed chipped beef, and breaded pork chops….

Yes you are right this hotel is appointed after a rustic fashion. The interior and all furnishings are of charred and varnished white pine, creating a very pleasing effect. It is really quite "doggy." All the tables and booths are of the white pine construction as are the bar and grill counter… On learning from Dillon that Reher's parents have been separated since he was a baby, my conclusion is further strengthened that the geodetic field parties are almost entirely made up of fellows who are either family "black sheep" or whose home life has been visited by some misfortune, thus depriving them of their normal advantages and forcing them to make their own way at an early age. That is the category into which I fall….

The last two days have been much cooler, "praise the Lawd,"only hope it will last. As they say up here, "we have two seasons up here - July and winter." I hope winter is setting in now. As we have decided to work the Gladwin line from here, we should be here until Wednesday or Thursday.

I had my weekly bath the other night - in the river….

November 4, 1934
Upper Sandusky, Ohio

… I am planning to resign on the 15th of December…. Both Slug and Don are taking Civil Engineering. Because he didn't take to the hardships of the job, Allan quit….

Monday we ran 11 miles of levels out from Galion, Ohio, west over the Erie R.R., thru a fairly heavy snow storm. We started off that B.M. Which I set in the station back in April. That afternoon it cleared partly and we saw four flocks of geese at different times migrating south. There were about 75 in each flock, and they were flying in a perfect "V" formation just like Navy airplanes. A very beautiful sight. They were flying real high but we could plainly hear them honking to each other. As we were on the ground freezing our ears off, and with many more freezing days in prospect, I for once, wished I were a goose going south. Do wishes ever come true????

As Slug wanted to spend this weekend at home in Bradford, Pennsylvania, we undertook to run 5 miles extra levels in two days so we could take Saturday morning off. So Tuesday we managed to run 11.6 miles in 6 hour and 15 minutes. We ran one mile of 5 ½ setups in 22 ½ minutes flat. My nose was also running so bad that I used up a whole clean bath towel during that day. On Wednesday we broke all our records by projecting 13.1 miles of levels in 6 hours flat west from Marion, thus bringing our total for the two days almost up to 25 miles. During which two days every other section I had to make a 440 yard dash or ¼ mile in nothing flat. [In spite of his preference for "B.M. setting", Ben had become a "rod pusher" at this time.] And I stumped my toe and fell flat on my face between the rails skinning my shin all up. Poor Ole Unger measured his 6 foot 6 inch length flat on his stomach three times during the two days [apparently the second rod pusher as there were always two rodmen, one for a foresight and one for the backsight] during the two days, skinning his knee all up and ripping the knees out of his pants. It was a killing pace but we made up on our extra mileage.

Thursday we did 10 miles and for the last two we worked thru one of the thickest snow blizzards I have ever seen. Slug could barely see my snow plastered rod at 10 rails distance. And were we soaking wet when we at last reached the truck. On top of that we had a 50-mile drive back to Upper Sandusky, where we re-ran the spur line to the high school in a freezing wind. My wet gloves were frozen stiff on my hands. All the while I was blowing my nose on the towel every two minutes.

Friday morning it was down to 28 degrees when we started work, but it cleared and the day turned out beautiful. We worked thru McGuffy, just east of Lima, which was the focal point of the big onion war of recent months. We ate our lunch in the shadow of the ruins of a big onion elevator that had been burned by the striking "pickers."

Yesterday I ordered some Arctic overshoes and fleece lined boot slippers from Sears to wear thru the snow slush to come.

Friday night Slug, Don and myself took in a show over in Marion after which Slug caught his train to Pennsylvania. Smith is spending this weekend at his home near Springfield with his girl friend. So we three being alone, Don and I decided to celebrate ourselves. We bought pint of Dixie Belle Gin and a couple of bottles of ginger ale. I don't like the taste of gin any better than I did the brandy, and the brandy was worse than the rye whiskey. I think I will stick to milk shakes from now on.

It is Cincinnati where Gibson has moved his office. We heard last week that he has transferred Logan's and Jenkins' parties down to N.C. and S.C. to rerun some old lines there. What a break for them. You know Jenkins is from Raleigh and his wife is Prof. Mann's stenographer.

I had planned to save all my future checks and stop by Columbus for a few days on my way home and shop for a drafting set, saxophone, and Christmas presents for all of you. Slug had decided to move to Springfield next and finish all the lines from there. From Columbus I would come home over the ole N. and W. [Norfolk and Western] The returning hero on the crack N. and W. Cavalier. But that is all off now. - Tch, tch, tch.

As Slug was away, we opened his special delivery letter from Gibby this morning and - I believe you asked me to drop you a card immediately on receipt of your letter telling you how I felt - well now I can say that I feel even happier than those geese I saw migrating in formation last week. For that is just what we will be doing - migrating South for the winter and we won't have to fly either.

Gibson is detaching Hastings' and Hill's "O" parties and is sending us down into eastern Tennessee to run some lines in connection with the T.V.A. We are to leave within several days. I imagine we will go by way of Cincinnati, Lexington, Ky., and Cumberland Gap, Va., to be located down near the Norris Dam.

Last night our new man arrived. By name Bill Chisholm, from Pittsburgh, Pa. He is a very refined and likeable fellow. Now for one of Edna's delicious fried chicken Sunday dinners….

P. S. Judas priest! Here's a good one that I forgot to tell. While on our record run of 13.1 miles, just after we passed an Erie R.R. section gang, I overheard one extra bright fellow exclaim, " Hell yes, they are in training. Why any working man, sure as Hell, wouldn't run that damn fast."

Just a soft political job
--- to be sure ---

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