Behind the lines: The Hovering Hammer

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    A hailstorm devastated our neighborhood on Eastview Drive in Riverton back in 1994. The hail pattern was interesting to follow. It hit one house hard, ripping apart the shingles while leaving an adjacent home untouched as it passed through.

    Our house was hit hard enough to knock the mineral off some of the shingles and made a couple of small divots, but it wasn’t that bad. State Farm honored our homeowner’s policy anyway and paid for a new roof.


    Roof replacements include labor and materials. Labor wasn’t a problem since I’d worked for almost two decades already laying down new roofs, removing the shingles, and repairing old, damaged roofs.

    Yes, we made a little profit on our new roof, profit on my labor that is.

    The house was a split level, with a 1 ½ story lower roof and an addition above the garage. I finished the upper floor first and was about to lay down the final two rows on the west side of the lower roof when my hammer flipped out of the tool belt and dropped to the ground.

    Sure, I could have climbed down the ladder, picked up the hammer, and gotten back to work but that was too easy. Sue was outside in the backyard with Brian and Staci. The kids were eight and six that summer.


    I asked Sue to toss me the hammer. She obliged but in a half dozen throws she couldn’t get it close enough for me to catch without diving out into space.

    To her credit, Sue is very athletic when it comes to swimming, tennis, walking, and running, but she grew up in a home where athletics were non-existent and never learned how to throw.

    I asked her to call seven-year-old Brian over and have him throw it to me. She was hesitant and got Staci out of the way but on his first attempt the hammer hovered just a few inches from my outstretched hand, and I caught it easily.


    Athletics in the workplace is not often mentioned but on a construction site, farm, ranch, oil field or shop you’ll find the need to make very athletic moves as part of your daily work.

    Tossing tools, ropes, supplies, and even filled syringes occurs often in the blue-collar world of work.

    The simple act of climbing is an athletic move, as is getting out of the way of an enraged cow when she is defending her calf.


    As a young man, I had a summer job pouring concrete and tying iron. If you’ve done either of these trades you know how physically demanding they can be, if you haven’t, trust me, you don’t want to pour concrete or tie iron after your late 30s.

    The foreman had misread the iron blueprints, leaving out four 22-foot lengths of #14 rebar. The walls that the rebar belonged in were 16 inches across and 24 feet high.

    He told my friend Frank and me to get on top of the wall, pull up the heavy rebar, and drop it down inside the form.

    We suggested using the crane to drop those in place, but instead of answering us he questioned our heritage, dropped a few choice words, and told us to get after it. In his defense, we already had the four-yard concrete bucket tied to the crane for a pour the next morning.

    The rebar weighed 168 pounds, just a dozen or so pounds less than we weighed at the time.

    We slid the 22-foot rebar onto a couple of sawhorses, so the upper end extended beyond the top of the wall and then climbed into place.

    I pulled up one section and Frank pulled up one from his side.

    We lifted the 168-pound iron hand over hand until it started to wave above our heads. It was a test of strength and balance all tied into one while standing 24 feet above a concrete floor straddling two 2×8 forms.

    The rest of the crew watched us from below with money changing hands on whether we’d be able to pull it off or not. Frank and I made eye contact as we dropped the first rebar into place, laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of the situation.  The second rebar dropped in easier since we knew what to expect and the one guy who bet on us made some money.

    What are athletics aside from strength, ability, endurance, speed, and hand-eye coordination? All those come into play in the working world.

    Caleb was a tall eighth grader and I couldn’t find a position for him one football season. He wasn’t heavy, wasn’t exceptionally fast, and wasn’t overly aggressive. My answer came in an unusual location.

    My daughter Staci was in a piano recital at the Robert Peck Theatre. To my surprise, Caleb came on stage and played a very complex piece with ease. The light went off in my head, I’d found my tight end for the season. He had a great year and played that position until he graduated four years later. Hand-eye coordination, whether at the keyboard or on the gridiron is the same skill set.

    The best example you can find of athletics merging seamlessly with work comes late each summer at the Fremont County Fair with the Rancher’s Rodeo. Yes, the traveling circuit PRCA guys and gals are outstanding athletes in their showcase events, but the skills displayed in a ranch rodeo are perfected every day in working in the family operation. (Ok, maybe not the hide pull but that’s just fun)

    Sometimes the merging of athletics and agriculture can be humorous. We had a cow calve one spring. She was docile unless she had a calf. We saw the calf on the ground and Brian walked down to check it. The cow wasn’t pleased. I watched from our deck as she snorted, pawed the ground, and chased Brian back to the house. As he approached our buck-and-rail fence she closed in. He sailed over the fence without an issue, he was a natural hurdler, the most challenging of track events.  A couple of weeks later when fifth-grade track practice began, I had him working with the hurdlers. Hurdling paid a chunk of his college costs a few years later.

    Working on a four-man hay crew used to be a rite of passage. One guy drives, one guy stacks on the trailer and two guys throw from the ground. On each trip, you rotate a position, so you never have to do the same thing twice in a row.

    Being boisterous teenagers, my friends and I used to make 10 cents a bale and on a good day could pick up and stack 1,200 small square bales.

    That boisterous, testosterone-fueled energy often extended to blindsiding the guy on the trailer by hitting him in the back with a bale. You always threw a lighter bale when you wanted to have a little fun.

    If the target wasn’t a buddy, it was a feat of strength to show how high you could throw a bale onto the stack. With a windup, I could get a 75-pound bale to the seventh row. I had a couple of bigger friends who could toss it nine rows.

    Competition made the dreary, dusty, sweaty hard work of the hay field a little easier.

    Whether you’re throwing a hammer, tossing tools across a workplace, or lifting, and moving heavy objects, athletics and the workplace share a lot of similarities.


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