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When it comes to hottest job in Navarro County, is it the fire-walkers who work next to a 2,900-degree furnace, the road warriors bent over 350-degree hot asphalt for eight to 10 hours a day, or the nimble cats on hot tin roofs 20 feet off the ground?
It’s essentially the difference between being baked, grilled or broiled.
Roger Bryant and Frank Schmidt work at Guardian Glass repairing the furnace while it’s running. Their job is to replace the ceramic bricks in the furnace walls, then mortar them into place. It’s a year-long job, but it’s made worse in the summer because these men go outside to cool off.
“One hundred degrees feels good,” Bryant said on one of their much-needed and frequent breaks. After removing the two ski-mask-looking hoods, Schmidt looked as if someone had dumped a bucket of water over his head from the sweat pouring off him. They wear multiple layers, starting with long-johns or sweats, long-sleeve shirts, protective gloves, and topped with heavy green suits of dense cotton. They bring two or three changes of shirts with them to work, so they can put on something dry during lunch, or for the drive home. There can be no skin exposed, and counter-intuitive as it is, the more layers they wear the cooler they stay in that environment. The air in their workspace is hot enough to cause spontaneous combustion, making it that much more important to work with a partner, Schmidt said.
“Your boots catch on fire, there’s somebody watching out to put them out,” Schmidt said. “Those are very well-appreciated slaps.”
The work is hot, but it’s interesting and it’s something different every day, Bryant said.
“I hear them all the time at the other plants saying ‘it’s hot, it’s hot,’” he said. “They don’t know what hot is.”
Bryant thought a minute and then added: “You’d think there’d be lots of little burns, but I’ve been burned worse at home than here.”
Like many of the workers and bosses interviewed for this article, Bryant and Schmidt keep healthy by taking breaks, drinking lots of cool water and replacing salts. Schmidt recommends pickle juice, although his doctor doesn’t.
It’s water, ice and sports drinks when it comes to the road crews laying seal coat on U.S. 287 near Eureka. The hot mix has to be just that — hot — in order to stick effectively, explained Angel Ciddeleon of Clark Construction, the contracting company doing the work.
The oil is about 360 degrees when it’s sprayed onto the road, so the men are working between the hot asphalt mix and the unrelenting Texas sun, all of which pushes the temperatures to well over 140 degrees. They wear long-sleeve shirts and pants to protect them from the sticky tar, heavy leather boots and often two hats — a hard hat topped with a straw cowboy hat or sombrero to offer a little shade from the sun.
Machines spread the hot oil, followed by gravel, then workers with shovels patch the low spots. The final steps are rollers that compact the material and brooms that brush out the loose gravel. The mix won’t stick in the winter, so it has to be done in the summer, and preferably in the hot afternoon when the road is already hot enough to blister flesh. Throw in the additional risks from snakes, insects and frustrated motorists, and it makes an already miserable job even more dangerous.
“It’s hot. It’s hard. It’s a nasty job. And sometimes people don’t understand, but a couple of days after, when the striping is done and the reflectors put down, the road is going to look good,” Ciddeleon said.
It’s that same sense of professional satisfaction that keeps Terry Holt going back up onto roofs. Building something that will last, and that’s also beautiful and functional. He’s currently working on a specialty tile roof that reflects heat right into the roofers’ faces. By 2 p.m., the brown shirts of his crews are stained white with salt from evaporated sweat.
“It’s a rough way to make a living, but it’s worth it,” Holt said.
With roofing, it makes more sense to avoid the sun whenever possible, explained Roger Weir of Your Way Home Builders, who works with composite and metal roofing.
“When it’s too hot you can’t be up there and grab the metal, either,” he said. “If it’s 100 degrees outside, the roof’s probably 150 degrees on your feet. The pressure of the heat in the attic, it’s like standing on a stove.”
His crews prefer to start early, near dawn, then knock off when the sun reaches its zenith, then return around six or seven p.m. and work until dark. Roofers wear kneepads, long sleeves, gloves, hats, and sometimes safety belts with ropes and specially designed shoes for better traction. Like the other heat workers, it’s a matter of staying hydrated and taking precautions.
Weir pointed out that the men on his crew avoid air conditioning when on the job, preferring to find a shady tree for breaks.
“They say they get fatigued faster when they have to go right back into the heat,” Weir said, adding: “Not me, I prefer air conditioning.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com