A Brief History of Labor


While I was a kid, I earned a bit of spare change mowing lawns, but my first fill-out-this-W2 job was shelving books as a stack assistant in a university library. I was 16, and the “trainee” job paid 70-cents-an-hour. It was indoor work, but required some heavy lifting. One of my stacks contained bound archival copies of newspapers. Bound copies of a week of the New York Times or a month of Pravda are big and heavy. I kept the job through high school.

During the summer between high school and college, I took the examination for a First Class Radio Telephone Operator’s license. I passed the exam, but because of the slow bureaucratic nature of the paperwork, my license did not arrive until after classes had begun in the fall. Because of my family’s support, I didn’t have to work during my freshman year. The following summer, I was offered an on-campus job working as a technician in the Department of Electrical Engineering (my major) for the summer break. During my sophomore year, I picked up occasional odd jobs at businesses that has some sort of technical task that required sign-off by someone with a First Class RTO’s license. That eventually led to my being hired at a local AM station in Nashville. When I went in to pick up my first paycheck, the Program Director heard my voice, and when he found out that had some announcing experience on a campus radio station, he offered me a job.

I spent almost a decade, interrupted by an active duty tour in the Army, working in the broadcast business in Nashville, and the connections made there got me into the music business. Those music business connections got me into pro audio equipment manufacturing jobs in Switzerland, Nashville, and California. Pro audio equipment manufacturing led to the satellite communication industry, which led to work with the flight test community at Edwards AFB. A call from a former Nashville colleague led to a move to the DC area to work on active noise cancellation. And when I decided to get out of management and just sell technical advice, I wound up as a contractor for NASA designing instruments and support systems for both Earth-science and astronomy missions.

Which shows you how things can turn back on themselves. My original interest in science and engineering stems from my fascination with astronomy when I was in elementary school.

I’ve left several gigs on the cutting room floor because they were brief detours from my real career path.

What’s next? I’ve retired twice from working with NASA, but I was asked both times to come back, and I did. I’m 73 and tolerably heathy. I’m still having fun at work. I had been sorta/kinda thinking about retirement around my 75th birthday, but I’m having too much fun still working. I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it.

1 thought on “A Brief History of Labor

  1. My first W2 job was as a summer hire for the Army. I worked in a corps headquarters in the main military police office. I answered the phones, filed incident reports, and most importantly, kept the coffee pot full with fresh coffee following the captain’s specific instructions.

    One of the more memorable calls I took was when an ordnance battalion called to report a missing MGM-51 Shillelagh missile. That got everyone’s attention. The odd part was, I was the only person in the office who knew how big they were and how much they weighed.

    I made $1.75 an hour. The missile cost between $2000 and $4,000 each.

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