Wednesday, 27 November 2019 18:25

COLUMN: My short career with the DOT

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COLUMN: My short career with the DOT J.A. Bolton

I started working with the Department of Transportation in the late ‘60s and worked there until 1975. I worked as a temporary employee for six months before becoming a permanent employee. I got paid once a month and after taxes I drew a whole $90 a month. Back then, their benefits package was a lot better than your paycheck.

The DOT maintenance office and shed was a small block building just below the prison camp just off Prison Camp Road in Richmond County. Later, a new, much larger and nicer building was built closer to the main road.

Maintaining all the county roads was the job of the local DOT. This included building roads, patching potholes, pouring cracks, maintaining right of ways, picking up trash, flagging traffic, removing snow and ice from roads and bridges, burying dead animals, working inmates on and along the highways, and any other projects that were handed down from the main office in Aberdeen.

When you were hired, you worked under a crew leader or section foreman ‘til you learned the ropes. Then you might be driving a dump truck, running equipment or working on a road squad. Whatever it took to keep the roads maintained could be your job.

All my life, it seemed I had worked outside and was used to the hot and cold weather. Probably a good thing, for back in them days, won’t any A.C. in the trucks or on the equipment although some had heaters.

As far as eating dinner (lunch), you best carry your own plus your own water. Sometimes you would find yourself so far out in the boonies there won’t even a mom and pop store. If you wanted a hot lunch, you just placed a can of beans on the manifold or exhaust of the truck or piece of equipment you were operating.

During my six years with DOT, I tried to learn as many jobs as I could even though I was classified as an equipment operator I. I was also an assistant foreman for both tar squads. In those days, prison inmates were assigned to road crews and worked under the foreman. At one time in history, inmates working on the road were under a guard and a gun. During my time at DOT, if one of the inmates decided to run, it wasn’t our job to stop him but to report it as soon as possible.

The tar squads operated a little different than they do today. You see, back then, won’t many asphalt plants operating in our area, plus the state had us on a tight budget, so we made our own cold patch. To make this cold patch, part of an abandoned hard-top road was closed off just off 177 N. Loads of clean sand were piled in a row for about a quarter-mile. A motor grader came in and kinda made a “V” in the sand. Then an 18-wheeler tanker full of hot tar ran through the row of sand with a valve open, spreading tar on the sand. Hurriedly, the motor grader operator mixed the sand with the tar making cold patch asphalt. Every morning thereafter, the patch crew consisting of employees and inmates would shovel out a load of cold patch in the bed of the truck. A tar kettle, which was full of hot liquid tar, was pulled behind the truck. The hot tar was brushed on the roads first, allowing the cold patch to stick to the road.   

Some days at DOT were just plain boring while others bore a little more excitement — like the time I upset a yellow jacket nest while mowing the side of the road. There was a time or two while dumping a grass-filled load of dirt that it got stuck in the tailgate and then up the front of my truck went. Why, I had to be pulled down with a motor grader. Also the time I told the inmates to hitch the tar kettle to the truck and they didn’t fasten the latch — why, that there kettle passed us in the first curve and stuck itself up in a clay bank. Another time while mowing, I somehow managed to scatter about $100 worth of bills from the side of the road. Finders keepers was the rule of the day.

We also held a safety meeting once a month with all the crews. I remember on one occasion, rescuing an unconscious worker off a burning piece of equipment was on the agenda. We got three volunteers. One was to put the other across his shoulder and carry him to a safe place while someone else, if there, used the fire extinguisher. Things went well until the guy threw the other guy over his shoulder. To make a long story short, the one doing the picking up hurt his back while the other broke two ribs. Now, I know you are wondering how the guy got two broken ribs. Why, it seems that he forgot to remove his snuff can from his shirt pocket.

In closing this here story, don’t forget to latch them trailer hitches and whatever you do, don’t have a snuff can in your pocket while someone else throws you over his shoulder.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club, the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies, the N.C. Storytelling Guild and the Story Spinners of Laurinburg. Contact him at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.