My Early Work Life

My Life As A Worker

Tom Burnett

July 15, 2007

When I was twelve and living in Harrisville, Utah, the next-door neighbor asked me to mow their lawn. They were sticklers for quality. They showed me what to do because I was to use their equipment, and told me if I did a superior job they would add $5.00 to the pay. I held the regular pay to be adequate; I did not covet the bonus. But I tried, for pride, to earn the higher pay. They inspected at stages; they understood management. They set out lemonade, which I felt guilty stopping to drink. I do not remember them awarding the extra $5, though I tried every minute to mow with superior quality. I wasn’t asked to do it again, but perhaps that was because they only needed me the one time. The detail of the $5 is somewhat vague; perhaps that is melded in from a moralistic tale I have heard over the years. I do remember being anxious to please, and timid. I had never run a lawnmower before. This was my first work for pay. Our parents did not give allowance.

In Deer Lodge, Montana, Mrs.(Sheldon? Miller?) asked me to be lot sweeper and truck unloader at 4-B’s Restaurant where she was the manager. The lot needed sweeping most Saturday mornings and the truck came in at various times. Sweeping was dusty, lonely work, in easy view of patrons. A surprising quantity of fine gravel and dirt was deposited between sweepings. The truck drivers sent their cases of 4 one-gallon cans of pie filling shooting down a long roller cylinder conveyor ramp into the basement. I received these and shelved them. Part of my pay was breakfast at the counter. I ate meekly while people smoked around me. Mrs., (Sister), Miller reminded me to order anything and as much as I wanted, but I tried to order modestly. I particularly liked the canned grapefruit sections. I must have looked like a backwards, impoverished kid.

Del Raye and I had a GRIT newspaper route. Grit was short and thick, filled with non-news, like Nebraska’s largest pumpkin and the history of Clydesdales. We ordered 25 most weeks and peddled them for 25 cents. Some housewives would regularly buy a copy. Some would have to defer for lack of money, or in an effort to get us to quit coming around. We tried to build our base of regular buyers by soliciting new homes every week. We were probably encouraged by Mother. There were promises of prizes in addition to the inducement of extra cash. After selling so many, you got a radio, walkie-talkies, a watch, or even a bike. One prize I earned was a speed-reading course. It consisted of reading selections and a variable speed motorized viewer. As your ability increased, you could increase the speed with which the viewing arm passed over the page. You were tested for comprehension, too. Rhyll and Del purchased an implement for bust development, basically a heavy rubber band for building pectoral muscles. This they discovered in the back section of GRIT, near the Atlas Body Building program, advertised with a photo of Charles Atlas with his shirt removed and his muscles inflated. I knew the promise of quick, easy, guaranteed muscles was hyperbole. I was also afraid that I would be the first customer ever to have to request my money back. I would rather live with my scrawny arms and chest than mortified having to file a claim of program failure.

The Montana Standard needed paper boys and I became one. I walked and bicycled a long route every morning, fending off grouchy dogs, even once befriending a wild fox, persuading it to join our family. I can still picture the doorstep where I discovered the fox sniffing around a bush. The fox came home and we fed it. It hovered around our vicinity for a few days, to our great amusement and delight. One Sunday morning the fox took a tour through Bertoglio’s house, (the door had been left open for air and sun). Bertoglios clubbed it with a bat and called the police chief. He came to the neighborhood and shot and hauled off our fox. I considered a great injustice had been done and scowled every time I passed the motel the police chief owned and lived in.

On the coldest days, my father would drive me around the paper route. Usually, the temperature had to be -15 degrees or colder to qualify. My boots were often inadequate. Collecting monthly charges from the poor citizens of Deer Lodge often required more than one visit. This was one of the more challenging aspects of the job. The coordinator who received the money was an aloof woman who lived near the high school. She smoked through our accounting sessions. At 6:30 a.m., John Jones’ dad’s bakery on Main Street wafted tantalizing smells. How I wanted a maple bar! I eventually saved enough money, ( I think Frank Lewis, the school superintendent, paid half), to buy a hot orange bicycle, a “Dominator”. I could use it almost every day, except most Sundays when papers were too fat for all 75 to carry in two bags, one hanging left and the other to the right. Then I walked.

Pete Beck and Pat Gilmore were my two wrestling buddies. Pet’s dad, Charlie, farmed seed potatoes. After supper we loaded 100 pound sacks on dark rail cars, stacking them at a height over our heads, no small feat considering that both Pete and I wrestled a weight class under 103 pounds. Charlie paid $15.00 for working several nights. Doing this made me feel tough, as if maybe the next time I put on a wrestling leotard I wouldn’t look so much like a famine victim, though of course, there is nothing you can do to make a 94 pounder look threatening in a leotard.

Charlie hired summer help to move sprinkler pipes. Pete told me to talk to Charlie about it. He hired me, knowing I would have to board in their basement as my family was moving to Bozeman. The pay was $600.00 per month, a fabulous wage for a 16 year-old. I worked seven days a week. I only went to church once that summer. I had a line move before breakfast for a couple of hours and one after supper for a couple of hours. Mid-day I was to fix sprinkler heads in the shop and patrol the lines fixing broken risers which caused geysers and washouts. I also had time for napping.

I felt spoiled by three ample hot meals each day cooked by Charlie’s aunt, Helen. The meals had multiples courses, potatoes in one of their many guises always being one. One night we had Rocky Mountain Oysters. I had rarely seen so much tasty food. I gained 20 pounds of sheer muscle.

It was a job that had run off guys twice my size, like a varsity wrestler that weighed 160 pounds. Pete told me he had only lasted about half the previous summer. I was scrawny but I knew I could outlast the weak-of-heart. I liked the challenge Pete had thrown down. Besides my uncommon tenacity, there was the fact of my parents’ move and my lack of a car that kept me at Becks.

Moving pipe was,short of fishing on an Alaska trawler, the most difficult job I could have landed that summer. Mud was Enemy Number One. Mud, laced with potato vines oozed three to twelve inches deep under my step. Plunge the forward foot down, suck the trailing foot up and out, untying it from tangled stems. Alfalfa was generally easier to walk in, though when it was tall, it too tangled. My groin muscles were exceedingly sore from drawing forward my legs against the resistance.

Mosquitoes plagued me like they did the Egyptians when Moses was heckling them. I held a 40′ aluminum pipe in the middle. Wind would grab and spin it. So, though the pipe was not heavy, both hands were required. During each fifty foot march, mosquitoes feasted on my face, ears, hands and neck: “Choose from the menu!” When I could, I raised a muddy hand to attack them in return. They clogged my ear canals and crowded my nostrils. I tried various repellents, even turpentine, but my sweat washed the protection away. If I had to do this again, I would wear rubber gloves and a beekeeper’s helmet, (duh!) Wind and rain augmented the trials. I knew that I was toughening my muscles as well as my spirit. When I got to Bozeman with my pay, a handsome total for any 16 year-old, my sisters took me out to buy clothes. I quickly spent most of the money, the first time in my life I felt clothes-ready for a new school year. And being new to the Bozeman School District, it was important to look decent and up-to-date.

In Bozeman I worked at the 4-Bs as a dishwasher and bus boy. I enjoyed the staff comraderie. I had a favorable impression of our manager, Joe. He seemed fair and exacting at the same time. I still see Cherilyn Braaksma and Kerry Bickel who worked there. I worked some Sundays. This made me feel disobedient. Sometimes I worked until late at night. One night after a shift that ended at 2:00, I drove off the road on the way up Bear Canyon. The Ford Falcon slipped over the road bank near Will Adams’ house, finally braking to a stop on a dogwood bush. It seemed the only thing keeping the car from rolling onto its right side was the strands of the barbed wire fence, 3-4 posts of which I had knocked over. The driver’s door lifted heavily, having to be heaved skyward. I walked home and told Dad. Within a couple of days we went down and fixed the fence. The steel posts we put in are still there. From then on, we, Rhyll, Del and I, drove a dented Falcon. My school acquaintances called it the Burnett-Mobile, partly in derision, partly in good humor, I think.

The only other work I did my junior and senior years was loading hay for Dad some summer afternoons, and one short-term job for Bill Phillips as a construction helper. Dad also worked for Bill on that addition.

After graduation, I went to Arlee to work for Uncle Clint. He was building cabins at Grey Wolf Lodge, 30 miles east of Arlee, near Placid Lake. Dave, my cousin, was my partner. Our abilities and effectiveness lacked. We were frequently low on materials, tools, instruction, and even food. Our home was the picturesque old Lodge, whose screen door bore deep bear claw marks. One night before retiring, I cast a log in the fireplace, mistakenly hitting the chimney damper handle. Dave awoke a few hours later; the great room was dense with smoke. For lack of knowledge, deadlines, or a pay-for-performance system, Dave and I played horseshoes to 100 points, and as bad as we threw, that took hours. Nailing tongue-and-groove boards on the A-frame sides, I laid an end board that was not quite long enough. When we got all the boards up and strung a chalk line to mark the cut to the extending peak, that board was seen to be short by a foot. Uncle Clint ground his teeth, again, and I felt sheepish about my mistake. That A-frame ended up with a lesser extension at the peak.

Weeks later, Uncle Clint was running a few days late bringing up a load of groceries from Arlee. We were famished. In the cupboard we had Corn Flakes, flour, chicken boullion cubes and instant potatoes. We shot a squirrel with the 16 gauge, and after skinning it, discovered that its meat might be equivalent to what you would find on the index finger of the average American male, so we discarded the carcass. I undertook a batch of gravy using the flour and chicken cubes. I had to experiment with the proportions by adding first more flour, then more water, then more flour. In the end, we had 2 gallons of inedible, pasty gruel, though its texture was superb! We ate none.

We had long since emptied the Corn Flakes, so now we choked down some reconstituted potatoes and prayed for Clint to arrive, which he did before thoughts of cannibalism even crossed our minds. The food was strewed around the bed of the pickup, a copious amount, far better than our work deserved.

In Great Falls, I bought a 1954 Ford pickup. In Arlee, I sanded it a little bit, paid for Maverick Grabber Blue paint, and one of Clint’s friends painted it one night. I loved the look of it. The transmission was reluctant to shift gears, producing a monstrous clatter every time.

About year end 1972, I moved back to Bozeman. Washing dishes with Mother one night, she asked when I was moving into the Liahona House in town. I replied, “Oh, in a couple of weeks”, wondering why she seemed so interested. I had only been home a week. She made it plain that she considered it important that I not put it off. She was craftily pushing me out. I worked for Mike at Red Lion Supper Club, busing and prepping tables, attempting to be a ski bum. Mike tried to cure me of whistling noisily as I walked around the tables of diners, but I never understood that he really meant it. I know now why he would object. He needed to sit me down and tell me face-to-face, and explain why. Whistling steals from an elegant atmosphere.

One day on my way to Bridger Bowl Ski Area, the left front wheel came off the blue pickup, rudely halting my progress. The pickup was stuck somewhat in the way of traffic, canted at an angle toward that forequarter. The axle spindle had plowed the dirt road as it hobble to a stop. I had the “bum” portion of ski bum mastered. When school ended that afternoon, Dad came up to the scene of the wreckage and helped me get things right.

In March of 1973, Kent Hodgson, the Elder’s Quorum President, announced a job opening in Townsend at Bruce Seed Farm. Lane Adamson warned me to insist on Sundays off if I applied. I did, and was that ever good advice! This job would be my way to earn my portion of mission funds. Associating with the “enthused” young people of the University Ward had motivated me to served a mission. I worked for Andy Bruce for 6-7 months, prior to my September departure for London, England. I mostly drove tractors, sacked and loaded seeds and grains. I fed a dozen weaner pigs of my own. Andy provided the pens and culled grains. It was a profitable deal even though two of the dozen died of pneumonia. The price of hogs peaked the week I sold and I felt blessed, and grateful to Andy. Dan Quackenbush was my trailermate. He and Andy split after a nasty confrontation.

The hog pen had a water dispenser on a 5′ square platform, 4” thick. The pigs rooted under the edge, inch-by -inch over the hot summer weeks. They found the plastic supply pipe. They chewed a hole in it and a sizable puddle commenced rapidly to grow, making the platform an island. Fetid water and muck was a few inches deep at the perimeter, and a couple of feet deep in the center of the twelve foot diameter body of water. The repair was up to me. I propped the massive, wet platform up at an angle. Reaching into the murky mess, I could feel the rupture on the polyethylene pipe. I was able, by feeling, to cut out the bad section and hose clamp a piece there. The process took two evenings. I was up to my armpits and chin in that thick slurry of hog waste. My skin smelled foul for days afterward.

That was my last job prior to my mission. While plowing from supper to breakfast, I had memorized hundreds of scriptures. In the trailer, I had read volumes of books of doctrine and inspiration. One night, while fixing an irrigation pump, I thought that by earning money the hard way, I would appreciate my mission days more and would be less likely to complain or lose heart facing the comparatively minor privations and hardships there. (Little did I know that the hardships in England would be different, and every bit as hard, excruciatingly hard! But farm work did increase my ability to work and this applied directly to missionary work.)

From GRIT to farm laborer, I considered myself a worthy worker, all except for the Grey Wolf Lodge job. I thought my employers considered me average to above average for effort and dependability, though they rarely gave me reviews or praise or training. I had to guess. Bill Phillips criticized my work, with my Dad present. (That hurt, as it seemed intended to.) I didn’t know what to do to improve, or precisely what I had done poorly, so the session didn’t improve my performance, it only soured me.

Some things that my bosses might have done that could have increased my productivity and worth as an employee were ; better teaching, observations of my work with further teaching, praise when I was reaching expectations, some pay based on reaching standards, more frequent communication. Clearer guidelines would have helped. The neighbors in Harrisville were the best for setting standards and reviewing. I must remember this observation and apply it in the future. President Leach cited a study of restaurant workers who churn among jobs. Why do they quit? Low pay? No. They said they didn’t know what was expected of them.

Such was my early work life, the very pinnacle of variety, glamor and prestige.

The Libertarian Reader- A Report

I read nearly every page of this compilation of freedom writings. It was my first acquaintance with H.L. Mencken. I enjoyed his essay. One of my favorite essays was that of Isabel Paterson, The Humanitarian with the Guillotine, or as I have re-named it, The Near-Impossibility of Generosity. I am determined to read more Rothbard and Hayek and von Mises having been introduced in this way. Douglass’ You are a Man, and So Am I was good. Mill’s Of Individuality was good. Most of the book was engaging and instructive. Michael Prowse had a good essay: Paternalist Government is Out of Date. Bastiat, Simon and Locke were represented.This gave me a “minor” in the literature of freedom.

400-plus pages of, to me, irrefutable reasoning about liberty as superior to compulsion.

I bought this book from The Country Bookshelf. Of course, they didn’t have it in stock. Their belief is in the superiority of compulsion and centralization. They are left-ists. They are the enlightened advocates of government-dispensed justice in such things as racial relations and gender equity. They are one of the two businesses that I know of, however, that refuses to hire males. I know that because an employee of mine applied there and reported that they refused him point blank because he is a male.  They practice a strange justice.

So I had fun asking if they had the book. They didn’t. I asked if they could order it. They said, “sure”. I later asked if they could order anything by Rush Limbaugh, a pariah to socialism lovers. They didn’t and their supply house didn’t even show anything available. They assured me they could get anything I wanted by Limbaugh. It was a fun prank to play. I felt like a censorship guerilla-war fighter.

How We Made It Through College

How We Made It Through College

I returned from a two-year mission to London, England in August of 1975. I applied at MSU. Where the few hundred dollars for application and tuition came from, I can’t remember. I stood in registration lines dressed like a missionary in white shirt, tie and pinstriped suit, the only kind of clothes I had. Professors passing by, seeing me, were reminded of former times when most applicants dressed more formally. What they didn’t know was that these suits were all the clothes I had, my only defense against nudity. Nudity was unacceptable in 1975, not so much now.

I enrolled in agriculture. Here was my line of reasoning: Raising children on a farm would make them wholesome and instill in them a work ethic; Affording a farm was unlikely, inheriting one, out of the question; My agricultural enterprise would have to be funded with as little as $25,000, for equipment- land would be leased. Further, I would have to produce a labor-intensive crop, returning comparatively large revenues per acre. Truck farming- growing peas, lettuce, or carrots- fit the criteria. The degree that MSU offered that most likely called for small tractors was Horticulture. That’s what I chose. Later on, I became interested in Landscape Design, part of the Horticulture emphasis. It was a little more glamorous, too, especially when I was told there was such a thing as a Landscape Architect. I even considered preparing for and applying to Landscape Architecture schools where one could get a master’s degree.

I bought a Chevy Impala for $100.00. Karst Stage was hiring school bus drivers and Vandivers were taking renters so I signed on with both. At the end of the first quarter, I was out of money to pay for another. Dr. Chapman, Assistant Dean of Agriculture, and one of those who remembered my suit, listened to my situation, reviewed my grades which were straight A’s, and said he knew of some money in a scholarship fund he could promise me. A couple of days later, I came back for the $150.00. Now I would consider it a small amount, but at the time, it was a god-send. I appreciated Chapman’s approval and his efforts to get the money. It felt like a big support.

The bus route was Kelly Canyon. I drove from 7:00 until 8:30 in the morning and from 3:15 until 5:00 in the evening. Classes fit neatly into the 9-3 block. I was a lame driver. I ran out of gas more than once. Lucile Sparks, co-owner with her husband, “Sparky”, reminded me that it is much easier to fill up the top half of the tank than the bottom half. I drowsed behind the wheel. I smacked Jack Stonebreaker’s knee cap with my knuckle when his palaver sent me over the edge. Once, the bus stalled on an incline. I got out to survey the situation. Three kids were still on the bus. The bus started to roll backward. One student jumped to the seat and pressed the brake. On the same incline, on an icy day, the bus lost forward momentum. Brakes set, the bus slid backward twenty feet into the ditch. A tow truck eventually came. Sparky had no idea of my unsuitability as a driver. The job paid the rent, bought gas, and afforded few enough groceries to keep me trim.

Though the Impala ran well, it had no heater. It would not keep the windshield outside or inside free of ice. When temperatures dropped to minus twenty, I wore two stocking caps, squinted my eyes and stuck my head out the open window to drive across town at 6:30 a.m. to the bus barn.

I could only afford about half of the textbooks suggested by the professors. If in the first few weeks of class the teacher didn’t refer often to the books, they became a low priority to me. Even if the teacher did refer to the book, I could sometimes find a copy in the library, or borrow a few times from a classmate. Some books simply had to be bought. I bought those, in used condition, of course.

I tried to date. Here, too, I was lame. I liked Naoma Christman from Soda Springs, Idaho.

At the end of my freshman year, I took my brother-in-law’seat cover territory as a salesman. He lent me his pickup and camper and I pointed it toward South Dakota and Wyoming. I’m afraid I was pretty lame at this profession, too. The night before I met Melani, I backed the camper into the rain gutter and eave of a motel, marring them both, and the camper. My results as a salesman aside, I got a wife, and Steven was able to stay in Mendon happily haying and combining. He paid me enough to pay my own tuition in the fall.

I convinced Melani to come to Bozeman to see if we could work toward marriage. It was my most profitable sale of the summer. Her first residence was Ralph and Vanona Olsen’s basement on Kagy Blvd. She subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches and apples from a box of dead-falls Olsens kept by the stairs. She was trying to get an Amway business off the ground, Whoo-ee! I took her a few groceries, finding out what it was like to feed another person, as a prelude to duties as a husband. She was wasting away. Finally she started driving school bus. In September, I sat her down beneath the green ash tree to the west of Leon Johnson Hall and asked for her hand in marriage. She agreed readily, probably hoping for more regular groceries. We planned a December 21st wedding in Provo, the home of the only temple from Cardston to St. George scheduled to be open on that day.

Melani and I moved to Judge Lessley’s guest cabin where my cousin Scott and I had been rooming. The cabin’s floor space was less than four hundred feet and it had seven-foot ceilings. It was built of logs. In May, Sister Cotterell told us her friends, the Degnans, would allow us to live rent-free in the log mansion on Durston. It had walk-in coolers, a California King waterbed, a baby grand piano, a greenhouse and a Bobcat loader which Dr. Degnan said I could use in my new landscaping business. My father also lent me his Massey-Ferguson tractor to use in the business. Degnans even paid the utilities, knowing that they would cost more than we could afford. After a few months there, Mrs. Lessley rented us a home on North Black for a few months. We decided we liked their guest cabin on West Babcock better so we moved back there in the fall. We were always looking for a place with lots of windows and light, not “icky”, quiet and serene. We found that place 33 years later.

Finances were especially tight this fall. Melani was pregnant. Melani had quit driving in March or April, that spring. I was sole breadwinner. Over the summer I had made grocery money, and little more, landscaping. Somehow I made tuition again. My freshman and sophomore years I received Pell grants or whatever they were called. They were about $1,000 per school year. I twice got Campbell Family Foundation scholarships of $750, and once, at Dr. Skogley’s encouragement, successfully applied for a National Federation of State Garden Clubs Scholarship, one of twelve given in the nation. That was huge!

The fall of 1977 we were desperately poor. The only time things were worse was in 1985 when were were not only desperately poor but also mired in debt. Two 14% mortgages, and multiple businesses that were losing money every month.

In 1977 I was driving a new bus route, this time to the mouth of the Gallatin Canyon. It was a drowsy drive home down US Highway 191, tired as I was from arising at 5:00, pedaling my ten-speed which really only had one speed, several miles to the bus barn on North Church, pedaling uphill to MSU, back to the bus barn, and then home. Weather did not alter the routine. I rode in ice and snow, dark and daylight. I used Melani’s orange down parka and down mittens.

We could not afford gas, insurance or licensing for the Chrysler New Yorker Melani had brought into the marriage. So we disconnected the battery cables and let it sit for three winter months. Melani, pregnant, carried laundry to a coin-operated laundromat. We called friends for rides to Institute and church meetings. I served as Elder’s Quorum President at this time.

Food was sparse. One month we had only $5.00 in the budget for food. We used food storage. We cooked wheat muffins, both the pan and cup varieties, boiled wheat kernelsand cracked wheat, and baked bread which we enjoyed with margarine and honey. Margarine was what we bought with the $5.00. Mom and Dad brought over a gallon of milk every few days, and a couple packages of hamburger that month. The grain grinder they gave us as a wedding gift got a workout. Dad and Mom also brought some canned peaches. I took honey sandwiches and carrot sticks in my backpack for lunches. In four years of college, I don’t think I ever bought a meal in the Student Union Building.

A couple of months before Abe was born in March of 1978, Lessleys insisted that we honor the stipulation they had set at first: no children. We moved to Gopher Street, into a recycled Army dwelling in MSU’s Married Student Housing. It was barely a house, but if you kept it swept, it did not feel like a ghetto. The front step was two wooden planks. We placed a 5-gallon food storage bucket with a piece of plywood on it beside the bed and considered it a night stand. ( A bad dream seized me one night. I ripped the board and lid off, pawed around in the whey powder, trying to “repair a sprinkler head”.)

The walls had cracks which allowed snow to drift inside when the angle of the wind was precise. The living room floor also had cracks. These were handy when sweeping; you could simply directed the shards to the cracks and, voila!, no dust pan needed! Rent was $75.00 per month, utilities included. I scavenged discarded house windows to prop in front, a crude greenhouse, to grow some food, but nothing became of this scheme.

I painted plywood signs with my Burnett Landscaping logo- the church’s Family History tree logo- and bolted them to the bed of my light blue Chevrolet pickup. I had bought it from Brad Wild for $1,500. That truck served well until I ran it out of oil near Missoula a few years later. Prior to the snazzy blue Chev,y I paid just a couple hundred bucks for a decrepit Ford flatbed. I bought a few dozen railroad ties from a salvage yard south of Livingston. Hauling them over the Bozeman Hill pass, I wondered if the front wheels would maintain road contact. Suspension and steering were tentative.

The summer of 1978, I landscaped, keeping Melani and Abe fed and the health insurance paid. People who sniff that it is too hard for the poor to buy basic health insurance ignore the people like us who did and do. There was nothing to spare. Our monthly budget was about $300. Our neighbor, Madeline, and her son Yarrow, had it even worse than we did. We shared food with her sometimes. She did not take government food. Her independence inspired me to refuse a Pell grant for $1,000. The financial aid office kept calling, asking that I pick it up. I finally told them I didn’t want it though we were barely surviving. Some of our friends were taking WIC, (Women, Infants, and Children), allowing them to buy more milk and cheese and fruit juices than we could. I felt good not taking that. We didn’t need fruit juice.

In the fall I enrolled again. It never occurred to us that I should quit college to get ahead on finances.

I enjoyed self-employment. It obviously paid more than wages, and the excitement and challenge were stimulating, not to mention the thrill of constant brushes with death by starvation and the threat of bankruptcy. Mom and Dad had quit working for Alco Mfg., as managers of the seat cover shop at 13 South Church. Alco, rather than hire replacements, closed the shop. In their hasty move-out, they had forgotten to disconnect the telephone service. I needed a business that would continue in the winter, when landscaping stalled. I did some figuring, a rudimentary business plan, if you want to use that term with a great deal of liberty. I peered in the windows. I kept hearing the phone ring. I thought, “There is $39.95 calling and no one is here to take the money!” In November of 1978, I became an entrepreneur with a brick-and-mortar store, holding regular hours. Business hours conflicted with college. I missed a percentage of my classes. I soon hired a person to mind the store when I had to be in classes. I only went to the ones considered absolutely essential, choosing in the same way I made textbook decisions. Of the 58 hours the store was open weekly, I was present 35-40. The money I was earning kept Melani and Abe from gnawing hunger, but slender nonetheless. We paid our Blue Cross premium monthly.

We moved to a basement apartment, the Sherwood Apartments on College Avenue for a few weeks. We moved to George and Christy’s cabin in Bear Canyon for about a week. Moths entered the cabin in droves. Then we bought a trailer in Star Mobile Home Court in Belgrade.

In the fall of 1979 I entered upon my senior year of studies. Sometime earlier I had taken in Steven Croshaw and two other Utah investors and opened a store in Billings. I hired a doozie as a manager, Clay, and the store limped. I sent Beth Forsness over from Bozeman to be the manager/sole employee. It was soon obvious that the Billings operation was going to exceed Bozeman for profitability. The next spring, thinking I was done with college and ready to graduate, we moved, trailer and all, to Billings, leaving the Bozeman shop in the care of timid Mike Keenan.

The MSU Registrar disqualified Music Theory 101, which I had worked hard to challenge with Dr. Campbell, because I had taken Composition 315, for which 101 was a prerequisite, before challenging. I should have contested the decision. But I didn’t. Instead, I contacted the University of Utah and enrolled in a correspondence course in journalism to bring my credit total up to the minimum. I put in 55-70 hour weeks at the shop, Enduro Seat Covers, at 15th and Central.

I rode a bicycle to and from work, to save money. Jessica was born in May of 1980. Melani wondered why I didn’t have time to bring Abe and visit her and the baby at St. Vincent’s more than once. I was what you call “overwhelmed”. I finished the journalism course in the fall of 1980.

That, and the blessings of heaven, is how we got through college with one income, two kids, 10 percent tithing, and zero debt.

One incident from the early years bears relating before I conclude this account. Sometime after “the winter with no car”, I met a former bus driver on campus. What was he doing? I asked. Loading lift chairs part-time at Bridger Bowl and taking a couple of classes and skiing at resorts around the West with friends, he said. That’s a good life, I thought. How was he affording it?

“Unemployment”, he said. He said he figured it was his money, that he had earned it and put it in the system or the fund. I’m sure my face blackened. It was NOT his money. It was mine. By then, I had learned the harsh realities of state mechanisms to transfer money from workers to loafers, like him. I had employed Clark Maseman in landscaping and Tim Trafford in seat covers and paid taxes to the Unemployment Division. It wasn’t the ski bum’s money. It was mine, paid when my family ate boiled wheat. I wanted to shove that piece of intelligence down his beer-swilling throat.

But revenge was sweeter than that would have been. I saw him fifteen years later. He had a pot belly. Straggly gray hair fell around a mostly bald head. He was grizzled. No loving wife, no lively, charming children. He rented a crummy apartment with other, much younger, snow worshipers. Though I as an earner had been forced to carry his miserable dead weight, I had my family and dignity, to the extent, that is, that an abused tax-victim can walk with dignity, and he had the lonely fruits of his choices.

When I hear pleas from college students and their advocates in the legislature that college is too expensive and it is hard to make it through, and that more tax funds are desperately needed, I reflect on the years I was in college.