Back in Portland for the summer, I faced the fact that I, too, would not be returning to the University of Oregon in the fall. I was broke. I needed a job, fast.
What I wanted was a high-paying job in the shipyards. So did several thousand other workers, pouring in from around the country. Shipyard jobs were closed shop, union jobs. And Tommy Ray, hardheaded boss of the local Boilermakers, ran a tough guy union. Waiting lists were long. At the start of summer, the union wouldn’t take new applications. So I was on the outside, looking in. Then my grandfather asked, “Why don’t you call Andy Hawkins? See if he can help.”
“Andy Hawkins? He’s still alive?”
It turned out that old Andy Hawkins, retired, was not only still alive, he still pulled the strings behind the scenes at the AFL Laborers Union, Local 296. The word on the street, my grandfather said, was that he showed up at his office every day of the week, rain or shine.
“It’s been years since I met Andy Hawkins. He wouldn’t remember me.”
“You’re damned tootin’ he’d remember you. Andy Hawkins remembers everybody he ever met. Go ahead, call him up. Remind him you’re Jim Dewey’s grandson. Go on now, do it.”
To my amazement, Andy Hawkins did remember me. With a roaring laugh on the phone, he said he remembered me as a feisty nine or ten-year-old kid tagging along with his grandpa.
The vigor of his voice after ten years astonished me. The rasp was still there—a voice like a box of rocks.
We had a good talk. He was interested in the fact I had gone on to college. And he said he damned well understood my need for a job. We talked for about ten minutes as I remember it. Then he told me to call him back that afternoon.
When I called back, Hawkins told me to report in at Tommy Ray’s office first thing in the morning, at the Boilermakers’ headquarters.
I never met the man, Tommy Ray, that next morning or any morning. One of his henchmen signed me up and—just like that—I became a card-carrying member of the great International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America, AFL, Local 72.
Three days later, they put me to work on the swing shift at the Willamette Iron & Steel Company shipyards that sprawled along the North Portland waterfront. I began as a lowly helper. Within two months, however, I gained my license as a journeyman shipfitter, a job that paid almost three times what I’d been making during the year I spent at Meier & Frank’s Department Store.