The talk goes on and on about what the minimum wage should be. It is commonly referred to now as a living wage. This is not going to be a commentary on that issue.
The first minimum wage I read was $.25 per hour back in the 30’s. When I entered the workforce in the early 70’s I think it was around $1.60 per hr.
Graduating high school in 1970, left me bouncing around doing several jobs for the first few months. I had an independent streak going, so I didn’t stay tied down to any one thing for very long.
Sometime in early 1971, my dad, Cecil sold the John Deere 450 front end loader he owned to Don Huffman, the plumber in Marble Falls, for many years. It was the same loader that I started operating back when I was 15. He had bought it brand new in 1967 and I think he paid about $16,500 dollars for it. Today an equivalent machine would cost more than $100,000. I had been operating that machine for about 3 years by the time he sold it. I won’t say it was completely worn out in those 3 years, but the rode hard and put up wet analogy could be used.
Don was going to use it to do various jobs around the area, to supplement his plumbing business. When Lake LBJ (we still called it Granite Shoals Lake) was lowered in the early part of 1971, probably February, Don had lined up a lot of work for that machine to do along the shores while the water was down for boat dock repairs and weed control and probably flood gate maintenance. The only problem, he hadn’t lined up someone to run it. He had tried various local men and each time it didn’t work out.
So he asked me if I’d entertain running it for a few weeks. Without giving it much thought, I signed on. We didn’t talk money, I just went to work. The going rate for an equipment operator when I started in business in 1972 was $3.75 per hr. I never made anywhere close to that working for Cecil Lewis, but I’m sure I thought I was worth that much.
I worked my first week and Don came by and got my hours from me. Later he came by with my paycheck. It was for $8.50 per hr. I guess that was the going rate for a journeyman plumber. I told him that was more than I thought it would be. He told me to keep moving that silt and mud around and everything would be fine.
I worked another week and then there was a major mechanical problem that required taking the machine into the shop for repairs.
By the time the repairs were completed, the lake was being re-filled and the demand for that machine was no longer there. That was the end of my making 2 or 3 times the going rate for my services. But it was good while it lasted.