“You Want to Ride the Ball…..”

I heard some version of that sentence at least three times. It still haunts me a bit from time to time. Allow me to work up to giving you more information at the end of the blog.

During the summer of 1978, I began working as a Union Laborer. School was out and I wanted to earn some extra money. One of my brothers knew the Union Steward and he had no problem getting me a union card. That is, he had no problem after I paid $500 for “dues” which was interesting since the union only charged $350. It is called “greasing the wheel” and I was set. I had no issue with paying the money because a union worker made a good wage. I was set to work from June 1- August 10.

Grab a Broom

I was assigned to work at the new power station they were building just outside of Havana. The first day they took all my information and assigned a foreman to me. I was to grab a broom and clean all day. They had part of the plant up and union men of all trades were working on it. I was to clean an area that was the outside perimeter of the plant. I was told NOT to clean the inner circle. It was open to the sky in that area and workers were working high and they wanted to keep people out of the area on the ground level. They told me that was to prevent injury and things could be accidentally dropped from high. They assured me nothing had every fallen but it could. By 9AM I am cleaning and sweeping and leaning on my broom like any good union laborer when about 10:30AM I heard a whizzing sound and then workers yelling. One of the groups above had allowed a roll of cable to slip out of their grasp and it can down to the ground with a whizz. Whiping around and it would have decapitated any one in its path. So much for nothing every dropping.

Geniuses at Work

A couple of interesting things happened that I want to share that didn’t directly affect me but is related to the power plant consturction. The first one deals with a railroad. There was a crew that was to build a railroad track from one end of the site to the other. Rails were mounted on five foot planks and then they were placed together (linked) to form the tracks. Problem was… they started with a crew on one end and another crew on the other end and they miss meeting each other by a good 50 feet. They had to go back and remove some of them and re-do the linking so they could complete the project. This took about 3 days to get it back on track.

Another day here was a horrible thing happen. Every day new pieces of steel were lifted up and beams were placed in the building of the plant. One particular day I happened to notice them swinging in the beam and a guy standing on the adjacent beam slowly signalling the beam into the correct place. He got to the last part and told the operator to set it down. Just as he did it moved about 3-4 inches and it was set down on the feet of the guy doing the signalling. Long story short he was taken to hospital and had three toes on each foot gone. The beam had crushed them. Ugh.

Sitting Idly

Another thing was I was working in the back lot of the site and I came across a guy sitting in a crane. He was just sitting there. He sat there for about 4 hours and then when I came back past him I struck up a conversation. I asked him why his crane was not running and why he just sat there. He said several days before he was sent out there to work and when he was done they instructed him to leave his crane and they would have him bring it up the next day. Problem was… in between that time they had unloaded a very large load of lumber in the path of his return. They couldn’t get him back. He was told to go to his machine and just sit there until the path was clear for him to return. It was 6 days later that they finally got him back. He was paid the entire time to just sit there.

What to Do With Lazy Workers

One oddity happened. I had worked there for about 3 weeks with a guy named “Butch”. He didn’t work hard and he showed up about three days per week. The supervisors called a short meeting one morning and informed all of the workers that Butch had been promoted and was to become a supervisor immediately. Wait, this is the guy that doesn’t work hard and only 3 days per week? Yep. About 3-4 weeks later we got the scoop. They put him in that job to make him show up. It worked. Butch was there everyday and didn’t have to work, only supervise. I guess somebody was a genius to think of that.


I had a horrible couple of weeks when I was assigned, daily, to run a jackhammer. They needed concrete taken out of a 80’x60′ area that was 14 inches deep. It was a mistake and they neeed to rectify it. So for about 10 working days I ran that hammer. It was hard work, slow work and when I got home I was shaking a bit like a jackhammer. Then they rewarded me for four days ( I never complained to them about the jackhammer) and was given a job “spotting.”

Making Sure Nobody Gets Covered Up

This job is on the ground as the backhoes are working. The holes are about 40 feet deep they have a laborer in the hole doing some digging to make it a clean dig. So I stood on top of the hole and watched the laborer work as the backhoe also worked in the same hole….. if the laborer should get covered by the backhoe I was to signal the operator to stop and then I was to alert others that he had been covered up. Then three of us were to go into the hole and dig him out. It never happened.

The Ball

One day my foreman’s boss approach me and ask me if I wanted to work high. I asked him what he meant and he pointed to the top of the building. I stood there for a long while and then I began to talk.

Me: “You want me to work up there?”

Boss: “Yes, it’s an easy job. All you do all day is make sure everyone has water. You check the water jugs.”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Boss: ” It’s easy. They have flooring and railings up there and besides you make a $1 more per hour.”

Me: ” Ok, I guess I can.”

Boss: ” Good. You want to ride the ball up?”

Me: “huh?”

Boss: “The ball. The ball on the crane. just grab ahold and ride it to the top.”

Me: “Nah, I don’t think so.”

Boss: “Ok, there are steps that go up there. ”

So off I went. I found the stairs and headed up. Oh but wait! The stairs ended at the fifth floor and there are eight stories to the building. What am I looking at? Oh my. There was a straight up ladder that extended to the sixth, seventh and eighth story. Straight up. I stood there for a few seconds when some random guy came by and asked me if there was a problem. I told him I was unsure about climbing the ladder to the top. He responded with, ” do you want to ride the ball up?” I declined and grab the rungs of the ladder. White knuckling my way one at a time. I reached the top level. What am I going to do now? I had to swing my legs over to get on the flooring of the work area. I froze for a bit. Some guy asked me if I was ok and I shook my head affirmatively and slowly swung my leg over and crawl over to reach the top.

I was at the top and not feeling very well.  My new supervisor approached me and asked me if I was ok.

New Boss: ” hey buddy, you ok, you don’t look so good.”

Me: ” I guess I am ok.”

New Boss: “Great, let me get you started and you now that you make a $1 more per hour working high, don’t you? (I nodded) You have five areas up here to make sure they have adequate water supply. If a water jug gets almost empty you need to signal the guy down there running the ball. Tell him and he will send a new one up.”

So he pointed to my first area and I started over there…but one thing didn’t look good. They told me there was flooring a railings up here. Technically, they were correct. BUT it was boards running from beam to beam with a rope railing around the edge. GULP. So I started over. Slowly I inched my way over, holding on to the railing. The boards were bowing in the middle and I felt really uncomfortable. I reached the water and it was fine. I told myself I couldn’t do this job. I inched my way back and got to some solid footing when another random guy stopped me.

Random Guy: “Hey buddy, you ok?”

Me: “No I don’t think so. I don’t feel real good working high.”

Random Guy: “But you get a $1 more per hour working up here.”

(I thought that $1 more isn’t going to help me when I die up here)

Me: ” I think I need to go back down.”

Random Guy: “Ok, you want to ride the ball down?”

Me: “No thanks.”

So I decided to forego the dollar more and head back down. I walked over and then it struck me that I need to go back down a straight ladder and I froze. I had to swing my leg over and grab the rungs of the ladder at the same time. I stood there. Another guy asked me if I was ok and repeated the same offer to have me grab the big ball on the crane and ride it down. I mustered the courage to climb down. I finally, reached the ground, and my legs were shaking and I felt ill.

Once on ground,  the first supervisor came to me and I told him I couldn’t work high. He said it should be worth it for a $1 more. I made some comment about being at the top and seeing Canton from there and how I wanted to live to have a family and the dollar meant nothing to me. I told him I was sick and was going home.

That night, laying in bed, I could visualize everything I saw from the time starting up to getting back on the ground. I passed up the extra money but that didn’t bother me. The next day back to work, the supervior told me that less than 20% were cut out to work high.

I wonder if things would have been different if I would have ridden the ball.



Previous Blog Posts:

Sunday Fight Behind the Root Beer Stand

Remembering My Time Around Easton

“Oh Well, I Will Strike Her Out Anyway”

What Were Our Parents Thinking?

Call the Sheriff

Kilbourne Condom

I’m Still Paying For It

My First School Basketball Team

The History of Me- My Birthday


He Put His Hand on My Thigh

Just a note to let you know the for past month Linda and I spent it in Florida. This made it hard to continue my blog but for the most part I kept it going. There were many things in the way such as sun, grandkids games, sun, beach, sitting outside, sun, playing games with the kids, helping with homework and of course sun.

I haven’t written many stories about myself as an adult but today I will do that. A reminder, my recollections aren’t coming in any particlar order. Today I write about my first time in college.

Winston Churchill College

winstonchurchillcollegeThis college recruited me to play basketball. It all started after my senior season of basketball ended and one day coach Chuck Conrady pulled me aside and said he got a letter that a school was interested in me playing basketball for them in college. I asked him what it was called and he said Winston Churchill College. Now I knew my history rather well and stated,”cool, England sounds like a great spot” when he informed me that WCC was located in Pontiac, Illinois.

I took the information home and discussed it with my parents. My dad was saying that sounds good if someone is willing to pay some of your college. We made the appointment and visited their campus. We didn’t get to meet the coach as they were “in transition” of coaches. That is another few words for “we fired one and are now looking for another.” Before we left, we worked out a scholarship deal (Wallace Scholarship)  that was acceptable to both parties and I signed my letter and was now one of the  “Bulldogs.” Just a sentence out of order here is that the best class I took there that I still have use for today was a Speed Reading class that they had all the basketball players take. It has paid off for me. It was taught by the basketball coach’s wife and was really just a measure as to whether you could read or not. It was helpful to me.

The Dorm Area

I was in a single room. There study spot was for every four persons. It had a double and two single rooms in each area. The single next to me was a young skinny black kid from Chicago, Heights. His name was Julian and we had nothing at all in common. He came to WCC to get out of the city. He was really weird and preferred to be by himself. That was fine with me. The other two, in the double, were from the suburbs and both were white and very talkative and they also had a propensity for getting in trouble. The dorm was split in half with the right side for the girls and the left side for the guys. In the middle was a big room and then there was a door to the “house parents” residence. There was probably only about 40 men and 40 women in this living quarters and it was the house parents job to be the psudeo-parent when needed. There names were Jim and Jody and they host a Christmas Party in early December.

“Don’t Eat the Brownies!”

This story involves the guys in the C room (the double) and I suppose me to some extent. These guys were always hitting on this good looking girl and were getting nowhere. They kept trying and she tried to be nice and reject them. She knew I lived in the same study area as they do. I probably had talked to her about twice in my life before this event occurred, oh and her name was Carlotta.  I was walking down the hall between classes when she stopped me and said, ” don’t eat the brownies.” I looked at her with a baffled look and asked her what she just said. She said you will find out tonight and “don’t eat the brownies.” So ok. that evening she came to our studying area and entered with a pan of brownies and knocked on the C room. The two guys opened it and had a large smile on their face as Carlotta was standing there with a large pan of brownies and told them she had baked something “special” for them. She handed the brownies to them and turned around to leave. I was standing behind her about 10 feet away when she walked past me. She walked straight ahead and just before she passed me she smiled at me and winked. The boys asked me if I wanted some brownies and I refused. They closed the door and I thought that was it for the night. As the evening went on they ate about 5 pieces each of the brownies and now they were up and making noise in the bathroom as they each had to “go” again and again. I smiled inwardly and went to bed. The next day I saw Carlotta in the hall and she asked me how things went last night and I told her of the bathroom situation and how it went on all night. She smiled and said, “good”, maybe they will leave me alone now.” I asked her about what was “special” in the brownies and she told me they were baked with care and consideration using Ex-Lax as the main ingredient. The guys never bothered her again.

Christmas Party

I went home many weekends and didn’t stay in the entertainment city of Pontiac. What I could see is the town offered a prison, a high school, a college and a Mr. Quick fast food on the north end of town. Other than that, it was rather plain. I stayed for the Christmas party and it was relatively lame but about 50-60 people were in the house parents residence sitting on the floor and on their furniture. I don’t remember what really went on but eventually I left and went to bed. The next morning I heard a key enter the lock of my door as I was in bed and three members of the administration walked in, looked around, open drawers and snooped throughout my room. The never spoke and then they looked at me and left as they re-locked the door. What the heck! In a few minutes I heard a ruckus in study area and got up to find the admins in and out of the double room carrying wine bottles out and sitting them on the table. The two guys had spotted them under the house parents Christmas tree and stole them, drank them and discarded the bottles. Julian and I were questioned about it and let go as we knew nothing about it. The two thiefs were told that when the semester was over in 2.5 weeks they would not be allowed to re-enter Winston Churchill College.


I went to Winston Churchill College on a basketball scholarship so let me tell you a bit about that. We had several open gyms after a coach was hired. It was the former high school coach at Pontiac. He was white ane he had two black assistant coaches. In open gym I did fine. I could tell I was not the best player on the team but I was probably third best. Another oddity for me, coming from Forman High School, was that all the other players were black. I was the token. Open gyms got more and more volatile as it as apparent I was going to play and somebody would get left out. I was not feeling much love from any of my teammates. Which leads us to this story. It was in october about 1-2 weeks before practice was to begin when a student-faculty touch football game was to be played. I played in it and late in the game as things were going well I was playing wide receiver when I went across the middle of the field, caught the ball and turned upfield when I was hit in the right knee by two players and down I went. I tore my cartilage. The oddity was the two faculty members that “clipped” were the two assistant basketball coaches. My season was done before it started. I had surgery just before Thanksgiving and was enrolled at ICC for the second semester.

Phi Kappa Tau

The college had a onesorority  and one fraternity on campus that didn’t appear to have much of a profile around town. The Phi Kappa Tau was recruiting heavily but couldn’t get many to be considered plus they had a few rules. I was asked several times about joining but was unclear as to what value it would have in my life. Finally, Joe Skowronski, got me to join. He thought of himself as a combo of Fonzie and James Dean. So installation was to take place and it as just weird. I was blindfolded and led around somewhere until the blindfold was taken off. I was in a room with other people and they all had maskes on and holding a lighted candle. I was asked a few questions and I answered them to their acceptability and then I was blindfolded again and led around until outside. When I was free again I was told I had one more thing to do to be accepted. Joe was my sponsor and he told me I had to drive to Odell (about 15 miles away) and steal the town sign at the edge and bring it back within the next 90 minutes. I drove their and with tools they provided removed the sign and was back in plenty of time. But by now I wasn’t happy with the Tau group nor did I like stealing things. I gave the sign to Joe and the whole group was there as the president of the chapter told me I was an official member. I told him I quit. I walked away and never heard from them except for once when Joe stopped me and thanked me for the sign in his bedroom.

Student Government

I went to Pontiac to study Political Science. Since that was my new passion I decided to sign up for a Politics class. In that class on the first or second day they allowed a Student Government speaker to come in and discuss their role at WCC. Each year they were required to elect two freshman to their association. I decided to run but I had no realassociation to people yet. I wanted students to remember my name and who they were voting for. I developed a slogan—- ” Have no Scruples, Vote for Knuppel” – At least now they knew it rhymed with scruples. Four ran for two spots and I won. I was part of the college government. Looking back the meetings were like something you would do in high school as it had very little impact and was mostly social.

Meeting the President

I probably should have gotten to know more people in my time at Winston Churchill College. I was clueless when I got a notice to meet the President of WCC. I went to his office and his wife let me in and they had a chair for me in the middle of the room. There was another chair sitting next to it. I was told to sit down and the president would be there soon. He showed up quickly and introduced himself and then sat in the chair that was smack dab next to me. He as on my right and he said he just wanted to get to know the new students and (this is where I think I know what he said next but he placed his left hand on my thigh) asked how things were around campus. He never moved his hand but I felt his sweaty hand through my jeans and he continued to ask me several more questions. He ended by saying that is all, he nodded to his wife and she led my out the door.

What I didn’t know was the college leader was (let me say it as it was said in 1969) queer. He was rumored to like guys. Several around the college told me he often had young boys over to his house for the weekend and the stories were bizarre. I guess I didn’t make the cut because I was never invited. That’s a big thank you!


*Winston Churchill College was only in existence from 1965-1973. It was privately funded and that became the problem. I was there one semester.


Previous Blogs

Remembering My Time Around Easton

Oh Well, I Will Strike Her Out Anyway”

What Were Our Parents Thinking?

Call the Sheriff

Kilbourne Condom

I’m Still Paying For It

My First School Basketball Team

The History of Me- My Birthday



“Kilbourne Condom”

That title. It’s correct. I am not doing a switch-and-bait on you. But let’s get a bit of a background before we turn to the main event.

After College

After college I worked a few years at Firestone Tire Company in Pekin in various capacitites with the last one as Credit Manager. I decided to leave the company after they wanted to slate me for store manager training. I went to substitute teaching while working on a few requirements including student teaching. I completed those and was ready to teach.

I heard about and applied for a 6th grade teaching position at Balyki that included coaching. Why not? I applied and got an interview. I had never heard of a full school board interview but that is what I had. Most of the questions were led by Donald Conklin and things went smoothly. I thought, and rightfully it turned out so, he was in my corner.

Teaching and Coaching

I was out working for Country Companies (that’s a stroy coming) doing hail adjustment when Linda got the call I was hired and would get an extra $500 for coaching. We were pumped! We talked about how it work for both of us teaching and the things involved. Then it dawned on me the extra $500 for coaching. What was I coaching? I called them and asked that question and they answered it with “all of them”. There it was I was coaching Junior High baseball, basketball and track(without a track).

Year One

The first year went well. I loved teaching and the people I was working with. I had a cozy huge room upstairs with one other classroom and the office. Jim Doolan had the other room and he was the varsity basketball coach so we talked sports. At the conclusion of the season they told me I was a good teacher but they weren’t thrilled with my coaching and were going to find a coaching replacement for me. I had heard rumors that Eric Sarff, a local boy hero, would be available the following year. I didn’t mind as I was umpiring and refereeing now and also working 25 games as an analyst on WDUK radio station.

Tornado Rips School

One week after the first school ended a tornado came through and knocked the school building into disarray. It was totaled. Year two was interesting as we had portable classrooms that were rented from the State of Illinois. I was teaching in a small classroom that was independent of itself with a bathroom. It was kind of fun as you were basically on your own and you had a good view if anyone was coming to your room. The coaching was interesting as they hired a guy from the northern part of the state with no sports background. None. That became evident when he lined the diamond for his first home game. He lined from home-to-first-to-second-to-third-to-home. He was clueless but it wasn’t my concern. I went to umpiring and refereeing( that’s another story) and liked it.


The next year came and lo and behold Eric Sarff was hired to teach and coach (color me not shocked). They moved my classroom to another area and now Eric and I shared rooms next to each other with a bathroom and a hallway connecting the front and a door in the back. We had a good year and it was a fun year. He taught a couple of the subjects and I taught a few and the kids changed classrooms for them. We each had a PE class and the administration didn’t bother us. That was nice.

Kilbourne Condom

One day, for some reason I needed to get some from the back of Eric’s classroom. I told you there was an adjoining backdoor as I went through the door I surprised a young man. He quickly put something from his hand into his pocket with a guilty look. Of course, I confronted him and he kept refusing. I took him to the front of the room and Eric and I took him into the hallway in front and grilled him with questions. Finally, he took something out of his pocket and opened it. It was a condom. He said, ” I was walking to school this morning and found it. I don’t even know what it is.” We looked at each other and kept our professional decorum and then I heard Eric say, ” What did you just say?”

The kid recounts the same mantra and looked innocently at us. Now remember early in the story I told you Eric was the local hometown hero? I almost choked on the next words out of Eric’s mouth as he sternly looked at the kid and said, “how in the Hell can you live in Kilbourne and not know what that is?” The kid said nothing and we sent him back to class.

Our professional decorum went away as he left the hallway.

Look for Kilbourne Part 2 in a month or so.


The Wild West- John “liver eating” Johnson


John “Liver-Eating” Johnson  (born circa 1824 and died 1900)

Rumors, legends, and campfire tales abound about Johnson. Perhaps chief among them is this one: In 1847, his wife, a member of the Flathead American Indian tribe, was killed by a young Crow brave and his fellow hunters, which prompted Johnson to embark on a vendetta against the tribe. The legend says that he would cut out and eat the liver of each man killed. This was an insult to Crow because the Crow believed the liver to be vital if one was to go on to the afterlife. In any case, he eventually became known as “Liver-Eating Johnson”. The story of how he got his name was written down by a diarist at the time.
One tale ascribed to Johnson ,while other sources ascribe it to Boone Helm, was of being ambushed by a group of Blackfoot warriors in the dead of winter on a foray to sell whiskey to his Flathead kin, a trip that would have been over five hundred miles. The Blackfoot planned to sell him to the Crow, his mortal enemies, for a handsome price. He was stripped to the waist, tied with leather thongs and put in a teepee with only one, very inexperienced guard. Johnson managed to break through the straps, then knocked out his young guard with a kick, took his knife and scalped him, then quickly cut off one of his legs. He made his escape into the woods, surviving by eating the Blackfoot’s leg.


Ed Barrow- Major League Manager Born in Springfield, Il

A bit of a deviation from players but this manager from Springfield has some really cool things in his background.


  • Barrow was the first executive to put numbers on player uniforms.
  • He also announced the retirement of Lou Gehrig’s uniform number, the first number to be retired.
  • Barrow was also the first executive to allow fans to keep foul balls that entered the stands.
  • Barrow was also the first to require the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the United States’ national anthem, before every game, not only on holidays.
  • In May 1950, an exhibition game was played in honor of Barrow, with Barrow managing a team of retired stars.
  • Barrow was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1953.
  • On April 15, 1954, the Yankees dedicated a plaque to Barrow, which first hung on the center field wall at Yankee Stadium, near the flagpole and the monuments to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Miller Huggins. The plaques later moved to the stadium’s Monument Park.
  • Barrow was an able boxer. He once fought John L. Sullivan in an exhibition for four rounds




Edward Grant Barrow (May 10, 1868 – December 15, 1953) was an American manager and front office executive in Major League Baseball. He served as the field manager of the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox. He served as business manager (de facto general manager) of the New York Yankees from 1921 to 1939 and as team president from 1939 to 1945, and is credited with building the Yankee dynasty.Barrow was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953.

Born in a covered wagon in Springfield, Illinois, Barrow worked as a journalist and soap salesman before entering the business of baseball by selling concessions at games. From there, Barrow purchased minor league baseball teams, also serving as team manager, and served as president of the Atlantic League. After managing the Tigers in 1903 and 1904 and returning to the minor leagues, Barrow became disenchanted with baseball, and left the game to operate a hotel.

Barrow returned to baseball in 1910 as president of the Eastern League. After a seven-year tenure, Barrow managed the Red Sox from 1918 through 1920, leading the team to victory in the 1918 World Series. When Red Sox owner Harry Frazee began to sell his star players, Barrow joined the Yankees. During his quarter-century as their baseball operations chief, the Yankees won 14 AL pennants and 10 World Series titles.

Barrow was hospitalized on July 7, 1953 at the United Hospital of Port Chester, New York and died on December 15, at the age of 85, due to a malignancy. His body was kept at Campbell’s Funeral Home and interred in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County, New York.



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