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Archive for Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hottest jobs: Heat does not stop the work clock

At 300 degrees, the asphalt was pretty hot for workers like Roy Moss of Topeka, who works for Hamm, Inc., of Perry. The crew was paving the East Lawrence Turnpike entrance on the hottest day of the year so far.

At 300 degrees, the asphalt was pretty hot for workers like Roy Moss of Topeka, who works for Hamm, Inc., of Perry. The crew was paving the East Lawrence Turnpike entrance on the hottest day of the year so far.

July 18, 2010

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Roofers Tim Borer, left, and Tyler Green were dealing with searing heat while installing rubber material for a new roof at the Sunflower House, 1406 Tenn.  Both work for Mesler Roofing Company.

Roofers Tim Borer, left, and Tyler Green were dealing with searing heat while installing rubber material for a new roof at the Sunflower House, 1406 Tenn. Both work for Mesler Roofing Company.

Brian Hooks with TD Wilson Painting out of Topeka was painting storm windows at the Kappa Alpha Theta house as the heat index outside was hitting triple digits.

Brian Hooks with TD Wilson Painting out of Topeka was painting storm windows at the Kappa Alpha Theta house as the heat index outside was hitting triple digits.

If you complained more than once about the heat this week, read on. Your annoyance is about to be tempered with a sizzling serving of perspective.

While most of us spend our days in the air-conditioned environs of offices, stores or other indoor places of enterprise, some local workers toil in the hot sun with little, if any, relief from the elements.

Oddly enough, none of them seem too hot under the collar.

•••

Tyler Green, Lawrence, a 10-year roofing veteran who currently works for Mesler Roofing, spends his days on housetops, 15 feet closer to the sun than the rest of us.

“It’s hotter up on the roof than it is on the ground,” he explains. “I’ve heard anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees hotter, depending on the material you’re working with.”

Not that Green needs (or wants) to do the math, but that’s upward of 125 degrees on a typical July day.

“If you don’t have any wind up there, you feel like you’re in a frying pan. You can feel the heat coming up from your shoes, and you try not to touch anything with your bare skin.”

Green takes the oppressive heat in stride. He drinks plenty of water and wears long sleeves to protect his skin, shedding it only for an hour or two every day.

“You do what you can do, but you can’t change the weather,” he says.

Still, Green admits conditions can get extreme, forcing the hardiest roofer to cry “mercy.”

“There have been times where, by the end of the day, I’m drained and I get a headache. The trick is to drink lots of fluids and replenish at night. If it gets too bad, we’ll just quit in the afternoon.”

How does he know when it’s hot enough to throw in the towel?

“It may not be the nicest of things, but we do a spit test,” Green laughs. “Basically, you spit on the roof and if it evaporates in 10 seconds, you know it’s too hot. That’s kind of our rule. If you can watch it disappear, time to pack it up and go home, if you can.”

•••

Brian Hooks of Lawrence, who works for TD Wilson Painting in Topeka, says adequate hydration and the buddy system are the keys to surviving the Kansas sauna.

“We’ve got Gatorade and water, and each one of us takes a break,” Hooks says. “Everything that goes in the body, you want to sweat it out. You don’t want to stop sweating out here. We just look out for each other, and it goes pretty good.”

Like Green and crew, Hooks and his team start early in the morning so they can hang up their paintbrushes before the worst heat of the day.

“It doesn’t get hot, really, until you get home,” he notes. “That’s when you go ‘Whoa!’ And I don’t go right into the air-conditioning when I get home. I stay outside and cool down on my porch in the shade for about an hour, because you don’t want to cool down too fast. That’s not good for you, either.”

•••

Mike Garrett, of Mike Garrett Farms in Lawrence, is a fourth generation farmer who has been laboring in the fields for 50 years.

“I’ve been hot since I was 5,” he laughs.

Garrett avoids working in direct sun during the late afternoon hours. But, that doesn’t mean he’s taking a siesta, either.

“We get up about 4 o’clock, get to the field at daylight, work anywhere from until 10 to 12, come back (to the produce stand) in the afternoon where it’s shadier, then go back out in the evenings after 5, until 7 or 8,” he explains.

LIke Hooks, Garrett rations use of the A/C, even on the most sweltering days.

“I don’t even use it in my truck,” he says. “We go to the field and come back with the windows open and cool off. Air-conditioning defeats the purpose. It’s nice at night when you want to rest, but it makes you want to stay inside. There’s nothing wrong with it, but when you’re farming, you can’t.”

•••

Courtee Smith, owner of Gran-daddy’s BBQ, is glad he can duck in his 72-degree restaurant, once in a while. Especially after stoking his red-hot smoker in the back parking lot all day.

“I’d say it’s probably around 400 degrees,” Smith says, as a blast of intense heat and smoke pour from the cooker’s hatch. “And that’s just the cooker itself. That’s direct heat.”

Smith, who barbecues ribs, chicken, beef and pork year-round, admits the first few days of summer are rough, but he acclimates quickly and follows just one rule.

“Old school. Just get out and do it,” he says. “It’s just like being in the service: rain, sleet, hail or snow, you get out there and do it. It’s hot, but we don’t have any choice, you know what I’m saying? You just do what you gotta do.”

Smith acknowledges his as one of the hottest jobs in town. But he says there’s another occupation that’s got everybody cooked.

“The asphalt layer has the toughest job,” he says. “I’ll give him his due. I’ll bow to him.”

•••

John Wilkinson, Baldwin, who works for Hamm Inc. wouldn’t put up a fight over the distinction. Wilkinson spent the latter part of the week shoveling molten asphalt onto the new East Lawrence interchange of I-70.

“This is 300 degrees right here,” he yells over the roar of a paver, as his boots sink into the blacktop under his feet. “I’ve heard some guys’ shoes just melted away in it, if they wear tennis shoes or something.”

Wilkinson, who has sweated on the asphalt crew for only a month and always carries a bottle of water in his breast pocket, spent years driving heavy equipment. And, how does the new gig stack up?

“You mean, compared to working in A/C?” he asks, referring to the air-conditioned cabs of big construction vehicles. “It don’t.”

Comments

mr_right_wing 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm as fond of money as the next guy, but you'd have to pay me a whole lot to stand out in this heat for 8 hours.

We're talking a minimum of $50/hour

kujayhawk 4 years, 5 months ago

Brutal. I hope these guys get breaks and a bunch of water. This is heat stroke territory.

1234 4 years, 5 months ago

This heat sucks, I work in Lawn care industry.... just think of how much you sweat while you mow your own lawn at home in the evenings or mornings..... Pretty much what we go through all day long but with trying to hurry and get things done it is worse..... theres no hurrying in these conditions. what i would give it be able to sit in an a/c office all day :)

Flap Doodle 4 years, 5 months ago

Warning, "back in the day" story ahead.... In the summer of 1980, temperatures went over 100 for more than 40 days straight in much of the South and Midwest. I was working at a sawmill in Arkansas at the time. Thought I was gonna die. The company moved the shift start time to 6:00 AM & would have to shut the place down around noon because people could not stay beside the machines and keep working.

chamilton 4 years, 5 months ago

I remember that summer, snap. Just married and poor, I drove a VW Rabbit with black vinyl interior and broken A/C to work from KC to Raymore and back every day. Miserable.

But, we still can't hold a candle to the asphalt guy.

fancy80 4 years, 5 months ago

I remember that summer too. I had just graduated from High School and worked at a bank. I drove from Valley Center to Wichita every day in my VW with no air conditioner at all. It was miserable. By the time I got home in the afternoons, my clothes were plastered to me.

As a side note: my son was one of the roofers pictured. So thank you, Cathy, for the article. It's nice to know that people acknowledge the conditions they endure every day.

Dixie Jones 4 years, 5 months ago

My hat goes off to thoes who work out in this heat day after day !

mr_right_wing 4 years, 5 months ago

I do appreciate that these people are working...jobs are not easy to find these days.

I am not trying to downplay (or be dismissive) of what these people do, but there is an even more impressive group; they go out with very heavy clothes on in incredibly hot weather and face extreme heat from flames they bravely get close to; I'm talking about our firefighters. Not payed even close to what they should to risk their lives for our safety.

We can NEVER thank you folks enough.

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