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Job hunting, what a drag

Monday, November 19, 2012

Anyone who has ever been job hunting will tell you that it is "experience" that often makes the difference between being hired or told "we'll call you." Of course, the great conundrum is how to get the first job when you have no real experience.

That is exactly what Billy Joe "B. J." Schaffer faced as a young man looking for his first job.

B. J. grew up in Lilbourn, and, like many area young men, migrated north in the 1950s to find employment. He moved in with a friend and began reading the want ads, hoping to find a good-paying job.

Onlookers watch B. J. Schaffer and his dragline hang the steel in the 1991 expansion of the New Madrid Historical Museum. [Photo from author's collection
It seemed everyone was looking for a dragline operator and would pay good wages for one. The problem was B.J. didn't know squat about operating a dragline. In fact, he'd never even been on a dragline. In his imagination, he would practice for the interview and tell about all of his work experience, but he could never get by the part when the imagined interviewer looked at him and asked: "Now, Mr. Schaffer, tell me what you know about draglines?"

What he needed was someone to show him how to operate one, but training would cost money. He didn't have any of that either.

It just so happened not too far away was the Manitowoc Company that manufactured draglines. B. J. decided to give them a phone call. He explained that he was looking to purchase a dragline and wanted to visit their plant and see their line of equipment.

Of course, draglines are pricey pieces of equipment and a potential sale brought forth the invitation from the representative at Manitowoc for B. J. to come as soon as possible.

Back then, if you wanted to impress someone you wore a suit. Not only did he not have a job, B. J. didn't own a suit either. That problem was quickly solved with a small loan from his friend and a visit to the local thrift shop. Soon enough B. J. looked like a respectable businessman. Briefcase in one hand and a suitcase in the other, he boarded a Greyhound bus for the Manitowoc plant. Back then riding a bus was also respectable.

B.J. was a very personable and friendly sort of person. A broad smile and gentle eyes that naturally warmed to everyone he met were his greatest assets. He exuded honesty and sincerity. The folks at Manitowoc had no idea what was coming.

Arriving, he was greeted by the salesman and given a first-class tour of the plant. There was lots of conversation as he crawled over the massive machines--everything but kicking the tires, which they didn't' have.

"Any questions?" the salesman asked at the end of the day, hoping to conclude the sale.

B.J. looked him in the eye and responded: "Well I sure am interested, but to tell you the truth I don't know anything about operating a dragline."

The salesman assured B.J. that was no problem because, they could teach him how to operate one. Over the course of the next few days, they did just that.

Before boarding the bus, B.J. thanked everyone at the plant, told them he would be calling, and headed home.

Back at his friend's apartment, he picked up the paper and scheduled an interview. The next day he was sitting across from the interviewer and telling him about his work experience.

Then came the question: "Mr. Schaffer, tell me what you know about draglines?"

Before answering, B. J. could only look back at the man and give a wide smile.

He took a deep breath, launched into his long and detailed answer, and added at the end how he was especially fond of the new Manitowoc dragline.

He was hired on the spot.

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H. Riley Bock

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