June 1999

Mexico City; NYC RR Tower Wasps

While in Mexico on service trips I have found things quite different than here in the good old U.S.A. On my first trip to Mexico City to set up and conduct a course on the maintenance and operation of a large model 187 Stinson band organ, I was given a room in a hotel which would be considered third rate here at home.

The room was reserved for three days, and I had the key in my pocket. When I left to go to the organ location the next day I took my suitcase and my tool kit along with me. It was a long day, and I was taken back to the hotel around midnight.

When I opened the door I found my room was occupied, and the hotel clerk could give me no satisfaction— I was told there were no other rooms in that part of Mexico City. It is a strange feeling to be alone in a city where you cannot speak the language and have no place to go. I could not call the circus where I had come from (now, no smart remarks!), as they were closed down for the night.

I was trying to find a lounge chair to spend the night in when my luck turned slightly better. One of the members of the circus who could speak English walked in with a Russian ice skater he was dating, and I told him my problem. If you can call it good luck, I was placed on a roll-out bed in a room with two other people working for the circus. One of them snored all night, and the other, shall we say, experienced the effects of eating hot Mexican food, although he slept through it all.

The next morning the circus owner put me in a different hotel, which is another story to be told later. This was my introduction to Mexico.


Back at the New York Central railroad, things were different. I was still an apprentice boy when the electrical supervisor called me out to go with him and change some light bulbs. Now the electrical supervisor was a very nice old man, but usually he got what he wanted from his men until he chose me for his little job.

When we arrived at the site he told me I was going to replace the floodlight bulbs in the hundred foot tall tower overlooking the downtown tracks. The tower did not look one hundred feet tall to me—it looked about a thousand feet tall as I had never climbed in anything much higher than the wing of a B-29 bomber when I was in the Air Force.

He told me to put a coil of rope around my shoulder and drop it over the side when I arrived at the top. It was his intention to tie his end to a bucket with light bulbs and I was to pull them up and install them. Not wanting to appear like I was uneasy about climbing, I went up to the top and opened up the first large floodlight cover. As I opened the door, the airwas filled with wasps which had found a small hole to go through and established the light fixture as their home. They were all around me and I threw the rope over the side and went down much faster than the trip up.

When I arrived at ground level, Grover proceeded to read me the riot act until I told him why I made the fast trip down. He looked up and we could both see the wasps swarming around the fixture, and he turned to me and said, "Sonny, them things won’t hurt you, and I expect you will go right back up there and finish the job you started!"

Knowing my job might be on the line, I thought about it for a few seconds and then refused his order. Even at his age Grover was known to be an excellent climber, and he also did not go up the tower.

Two days later we had a very cold morning, and he sent another man up to replace the bulbs. He later laughed at the situation and told me the wasps were not moving much during the cold spell.

It was a real pleasure to be employed at this time in our country, when the supervisors were real men who had worked the same jobs before they were promoted to management positions. They knew how to handle men and as I recall, not even one of them was asked if he had a college degree when he was offered his job.

And so it was in the old round house.


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