It was the summer of 1977. I was on strike. I worked at a soybean processing plant and though I didn’t know it then, it was on the verge of being sold because the owners had made a deal with the buyers that would benefit them both greatly.
I had just been divorced and had no savings. I was staying temporarily with my parents but I was seldom there. The night before I had partied with some friends all night and was just coming down off mediocre LSD when they dropped me off at my parents’ house.
The backyard of my parents’ house was totally fenced. Their dog Duke was mostly St Bernard. Near the gate, Duke stood, tail wagging, hoping for some attention. I opened the gate and he came out to greet me. He was big and stood nearly up to my waist. But he was gentle, good natured, and permanently pup clumsy.
The sun was just coming up in the east. It looked like an egg yolk as it peeked over top of the trees next door. I fondled Duke’s ear. We set out around the house, heading east down the road in front. Duke would bound ahead for about 30 yards, then return to walk alongside me. I felt a strong connection to him. He was excited to be free. Excited to explore new surroundings.
I figured we would walk out to the picket line at work. It was a mile from my parents’ house. They lived on the edge of town.
Duke and I started down the country road that would take us to the bean mill. On one side of the road was a corn field with waist high corn and on the other a set of railroad tracks. Duke ranged 20 yards ahead of me, exploring both sides of the road as he went.
The earth, sky, cornfield, the railroad tracks, the road, the dog, and myself were all of one, inseparable, invincible. The drug was mellow.
We crossed the railroad tracks which curved into the plant to run west along the 300-foot-tall concrete storage silos. The dog ran ahead to investigate the small group of men sitting under an awning near the entrance to the mill. As I neared the gate to the plant entrance, I could make out Jim, George, Bill, and Terry. They were drinking plastic cups full of water or soda.
All of us were paid 25 dollars a week by the union. The only requirement for receiving the pay was showing up for your scheduled picket duty. At times, there were only the 4 scheduled picketers present on the picket line. At other times, there were as many as 30-40 guys hanging out on the line. There were only 80 union employees, so we all knew each other.
Duke was greeting each of the four men on the picket line. He was pretty friendly. They were all laughing and petting him as he moved from one to another. I walked up and talked with them a bit. They were tired and ready to go home. Their relief would be here soon. There were two company men inside the gate, one on either side of the entrance to the plant. They were just kind of being paid to keep an eye on us, more or less.
Company men were doing some of the work that we had been doing before the strike, but we heard they weren’t doing a real good job. They had derailed several rail cars in the switch yard and nearly buried an end loader in soybean meal in a flat storage building. They had processed only a small amount of soybeans due to inexperience.
There was a mongrel dog, slightly smaller than Duke, who lived at the plant. We called him Wonder Dog. He was now trotting out to the plant entrance to check the arrival of Duke. His tail was erect and his posture stiff as he approached.
Duke ran into the plant entrance and fought briefly with Wonder, then began hunching him from behind. George was shaking his head to signal his disapproval, but the other men were laughing. I felt bad for Wonder Dog.
Duke came back to the men at the picket line, and while Wes laughed, Duke drank water from the cup he was holding. He was a young dog and his behavior was atrocious.
Bill told me that just before sunrise they placed nails in the road for the company people coming into the plant at 8am. The picketers scheduled for day shift had all been told about the nails, but Bill said they couldn’t get a hold of Mario.
About that time, coming down the bean mill road toward the entrance gate was Mario, smiling and waving from his shiny Oldsmobile. The guys at the picket line tried to warn him to stop but he just kept coming. He ran over the nails and got 4 flat tires.
Shortly after that, Duke and I walked back to my parents’ house. I put Duke back inside the fence. I then went into the house and headed upstairs to bed. The drug had worn off.
Later that summer, I would go to Mexico with a couple of friends. I would also meet my second wife. We were on strike that whole summer. We voted to go back to work when we were right at the point where we might have gotten a little something from the company. We just couldn’t hold the line. Too many of the guys needed money to support their families. The mill, like so many other places, would soon be a memory, until there was no one left who could remember.