Things are so different today than when I first got into the business some 49 years ago. When people were out on a jobsite and you needed to tell them something, you drove out and delivered a message in person. Austin was a much smaller then, but a message could be delayed several hours at times. I think we had better planning skills then or our expectations for getting much done was a lot less.
Somewhere along the way voice pagers came into vogue. But when you were out on a job with machinery running, if you heard the thing buzz, you grabbed it and cupped it to your ear hoping to hear your message. Some had a feature where it would let you run to the truck and replay the message. Then you drove to a pay phone to return a call if you had time. Years later the digital pager came along that saved phone numbers in it, if people calling were smart enough to punch in their correct number.
There were Motorola 2 way radio’s back then that big established companies used, but was out of our price range for a long time. We finally got established ourselves by about 1978 enough to buy 2-ways and had them installed in all the pickups. We felt like we were (for lack of a better way to say it) doing #2 in high cotton. (If that doesn’t translate for the younger crowd, ask me next time you see me and I’ll explain it).
I need to mention, these things worked like a party line. Maybe 8 or 10 other companies on with you and you had call signs you said before you transmitted – “WFA 407, unit 52 to unit 51” was how Kenny & I would have contacted each other. I think I choose 52, since that was my birth year.
It was in the fall of the year and the first really cold spell had just blew in (or blown in if you prefer) We had a project that we were doing up on Far West Blvd. Kenny was with me and we were sitting in my pickup watching a crew work. We were doing some guy-talk, you know like brothers will do. We launched into a diatribe about how good it was to be the Lewis Brothers sitting in that pickup with the heater running, instead of being out freezing our butts off. What I failed to realize was when they installed my radio mic holder clip, they put it too close to steering column. If you hung it up with the cord down it was fine, but if you hung it up the other way, upside down, the mic button would be engaged. I had hung it up the wrong way.
When it became obvious to Woody, our office manager that all the BS being broadcast by the Lewis Boys was unfiltered and not for public consumption, he panicked. He figured we were out at the new jobsite on the other side of Austin so driving there to tell us was out of the question. So he figured the base station in the office would be more powerful and would drown us out if he started talking over us. He yelled into it for awhile. Finally he got one of the guys with a company pickup that was in the office to go out and listen. Sure enough, with the base station mic pushed you only heard a garbling sound. So he laid the big Austin phone book on the button and went back to work.
Sometime later during our bull session, I looked down and a little red light on the front of the radio was illuminated. That meant I was transmitting. How could that be? Then I saw why it was on and remembered how long since I’d talked and how long we had been sitting with on it. All I could think of is “this is a very unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in”.
Later when I got to the office, Woody proceeded to lecture me on the proper use of those radios and how profanity shouldn’t be used and blah blah blah. “If you and your brother keep doing that they’ll revoke our license”. That may be the only time I ever raised my voice with Woody. I felt bad afterwards. Heck, I was already feeling bad when I got to the office that day.
Oh, did I mention that the vehicles all had big bullhorns installed so the men could hear them across the whole jobsites.