I was the first of my friends to learn how to drive. As soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, I was driving on Grandpa's farm. I think I was 9 years old. I thought it was the greatest thing to ever happen and all my friends were jealous as hell. What I didn't know was I was being taught to drive so I could actually work on the farm. I started working the next year. While my friends were at the swimming pool, playing ball, at a matinee or hanging around Widman's Candy store. I was mowing ditches, cleaning, granaries or hauling wheat, barley and flax in a big old farm truck. It was always hot, dirty work and I have memories of shoveling grain with a huge grain scoop and crying, the tears making tracks down my dirty face.
My dad was an asshole, we were the last family to get a power mower. Why? Because the old man said he didn't need one, he had me. I'd struggle through our 1/2 acre of thick, heavy grass, pissed and angry.
I was running boats at our lake cabin when I was 7 or 8 years old in exchange for the maritime activity I had to do the yard work, maintain the dock and the beach. My other grandfather insisted on perfection, I had to deliver or I had to relinquish my captaincy.
I worked as a busboy, you think all busboys do is pick up the dishes and wipe the tables? Think again, I cleaned the back kitchen, trimmed meat, made hamburger, mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables and made salads. I was also the caterer, I hauled tables, chairs, crates of dishes and silverware. Did the set up and then brought the food and helped serve it. When it was over, I hauled all of the shit back to the restaurant, cleaned it and put it away. I also did janitorial work, to this day I can run a buffer with the best of them.
Hauling grain in a big truck as a child opened the door to hauling farm implements on a huge flatbed truck, which lead to taking the bus to Saginaw Michigan and picking up specialty trucks and delivering them. Imagine a 17 year old driving a big truck with another one piggy-backed on the back, from Saginaw to Grand Forks. I pocketed the expense money and slept in the truck, bought a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and fed myself on the road. It was a trip of 867 miles each way. I left Saginaw at noon, slept for a few hours alongside Highway 2 and was home the next morning.
I used to pick up one way rentals for National Car Rental when I was in high school. When school was out in the afternoon, I'd pick up the paperwork, take the expense money and hitchhike to where ever the car was located. My record? Left Grand Forks at 3pm, hitchhiked to Minot, picked up the car and arrived home in time to meet my girlfriend at a school dance at a quarter to ten. A 420 mile round trip in 6 hours and 45 minutes including dropping the car off, changing my clothes at home after a quick shower. At the Kegs later that night a pal of mine said, "Didn't see you after school, where were you?" I just looked at my girlfriend and smiled. Interesting isn't it, at 16 I wasn't old enough to rent a car, but I could pick them up and drive them hundreds of miles.
A friend of the old man owned a farm implement dealership, one summer I used to drive down to a rail siding and pick up swathers, balers, plows, combine pickups, combines and tractors. I'd haul them back to the dealership and assemble them. All that play with erector sets came in handy. I think I could still put together a New Holland self propelled baler or a Case combine with a Melroe pick up to this day.
I pretty much hated all those jobs when I was a kid, but looking back on them, I learned a lot about the nature of work, met every kind of person imaginable and achieved a level of self reliance today's kids don't get a shot at.