Certain people have all the luck. Somehow, through family, talent, or blind fortune they manage to land themselves in jobs with extravagant pay, free (or at least tax-deductible) trips to exotic places, not too much responsibility, certainly no actual labor, the adulation of thousands, and the envy of us all. “Philanthropist” is a job like that, as are “sportsman,” “rock star,” and “ex-president.” The rest of us have to work, damn it. Really work. In all of the Department of Labor’s 1371-page Dictionary of Occupational Titles, the only job that even sounded cushy was “banana ripening-room supervisor.” There may be more to this job than one would suspect, but I imagine the supervisor coming in about 11 a.m., looking around, saying, “Well, sir, these bananas seem a little riper than they were yesterday,” and then breaking for lunch.
Still, no matter how hard or easy it is to watch bananas ripen, it’s obvious that some people work harder than others. You, for instance, work harder than your boss. In fact, you may think your job is the hardest there is. But that’s where you’re wrong. The six Texans on the following pages have to worry about getting run over, burned, nauseated, blood-splattered, bored, or blown up. After reading about them, your troubles won’t seem quite so bad.
BLAST FURNACE TENDER
The place where Charles Proctor has worked for the last 31 years looks like the entrance to Hell and is just as hot. For all his adult life he has worked around the 22-foot-high blast furnace at the Armco Steel plant near the Houston Ship Channel. Twice a day Charles supervises the “cast” of the furnace, the releasing of 2800-degree flowing molten iron (about 320 tons and hour) down a sand-covered trough and into a 200-ton-capacity ladle that waits below the furnace floor on a rail track. Charles wears special clothes for his job: a full-length woolen “spark coat” to protect his body from sparks and flame, heavy gloves, protective glasses, a face shield, and shoes with metatarsal guards. The temperature around the trough stays near 140 degrees. Showers of sparks, smoke, and flames