George Lester McDuff was a fiery little fellow. Everyone called him Dink and he always had a story to tell. He had the ability to make me laugh. He could make anyone laugh. I first met Dink in 1963, when I was just a kid. He and my dad worked for the same utility construction company. Dink ran the roadboring division. Roadboring is where a horizontal hole is drilled under a roadway or railroad track a then pipe is installed. It was dirty work with mud knee deep and oil and grease everywhere. But everyday Dink showed up in starched blue jeans, a starched white shirt with snaps rather than buttons and the most expensive of cowboy boots. Oh, let me not forget expensive cowboy hats and gold. He had a proclivity to wearing a lot of gold, nugget style gold that was popular in that day. Sometimes within minutes he would have mud all over him.
I spent a lot of time on jobs with my dad, especially in summers, therefore was exposed to Dink a lot. After I made my way to the working world in 1970 after graduating high school, I started to work for Nelson Lewis, a relative of ours. He had bought the construction company that my dad and Dink had worked for years earlier. At first I was a truck driver, then on to an equipment operator before becoming a job foreman. This was all within the first year of my employment. After a short time, I was looking for more than just a wage, so I starting subcontracting from Nelson. Dink had a similar situation with Nelson.
One day Dink asked me if I thought it made sense for us to combine our efforts. He explained that there was always going to be slack periods from time to time, and by pooling our workforces we would be more likely to weather those storms. I was able to see some logic in that so we shook hands and became partners. As it turned out, our plan didn’t work out all that well so before too long we decided to pursue dreams without each other. Dink left Austin for greener pastures.
He would drift back through Austin occasionally, always calling to meet up for coffee. Dink drank more coffee than any human being alive. I’m not sure he drank water very often and I never saw him drink alcohol. His personality was perfect to be a drunk, but early in his life he decided not to become one.
When we would meet there were tales of mining for gold in Alaska or diamonds in South Africa. He was living a life of adventure. He built machines that they would sink to the bottom of the sea floor and excavate soil and rocks, operating it remotely. He had a good mind for building contraptions.
In August of 73 Nelson and I formed Lewis Contractors, Inc. the company it still operated today. By 1977, Nelson and I had a parting of the ways I bought him out of that venture. Dink called me a couple of years later to ask if I would let him rent a piece of equipment on one of my accounts in Houston. He had contracted for some work and needed a little help. The mining days were behind him and it sounded like he was down on his luck. We had been friends for so long, there was no way I could turn him down. After three months the rentals had added up to just under $5,000 and I hadn’t heard a word from Dink. I was headed down near Houston on other business with my accountant Woody Milsap along for the ride. He had been after me to collect the money from Dink, so I suggested that we go try to find him.
I didn’t have telephone number on him and only knew the general area that he was working in. My luck was running pretty good that day. As I drove down Hwy. 1960, I looked over there he was filling up with gas at an Exxon station. When I pulled up beside him, he said “Ron, so glad to see you. I was just filling up with gas so I could come to Austin and pay you the rent money on the backhoe.” Woody had never met Dink so I introduced them.
Dink told us to pull around the corner and meet him at a doughnut shop for coffee. He said he would be there as soon as he finished filling his truck with gas and paid. Woody and I drank a cup of coffee. No Dink. Woody had heard all the wild stories about some of Dink and my misadventures, so he was already somewhat dubious of him. After a little while of sitting there, Woody said “Ron, I think your friend just cut out on us”. I wasn’t sure what to say. A few moments later Dink pulled up, walked in a handed me the check as he sat down. I slid the check in my pocket. We drank more coffee, listen to a few stories, laughed awhile and then got back on the road.
We had traveled for little while when Woody said “Ron, I notice you never looked at the check”. I took the check out of my shirt pocket, looked at it and handed it to Woody. It appeared to both of us that not only was the check for the correct amount, but he had also signed it. What a guy. I thought, that’s the way friends should treat one another. I put the check back in my pocket, but couple of miles down the road it occurred to me that something wasn’t right about that check. Taking the check back out and giving it a closer examination I discovered that the company name on the check was Lewis Contractors. That was my company name. I found out that Dink had established himself as Lewis Contractors, using accounts I had previously opened when doing work in Houston. He had just had each company send the bills to a new P.O. Box.
He returned the rental piece of equipment and paid all the bills in full before leaving Houston to pursue dreams elsewhere. Sometime later a banker from the same bank that my check was drawn on called to tell me that an IRS agent was there wanting approximately $45,000 that Mr. McDuff had left in an account. How he located me, I’ll never know. Dink must have listed me on that account also. I told the banker that I had no interest in or connection to that money or Mr. McDuff. I never heard another word from the banker or the IRS. Dink reappeared some months later. We never discussed the Houston deal. What would have been the point?