25¢ An Hour Electrical Apprentices
by George Chevalier

The thrill of your first job! It was 1941 and the final summer before Pearl Harbor when a good many of us sought jobs for the summer vacation. With so much defense build up it was easy to land a decent job. So five or six of us went to work for Louis Sommers the electrical contractor who at the time was installing all electrical fixtures in the new barracks at Fort Clayton. These buildings were along the right side of the road going up Miraflores Hill.

We were taught how to solder and wire in all fixtures required in those big barracks and each morning after reporting in, Louie would drive us to those buildings and drop us off with our tools and fixtures. We were kept together as a work group and seldom visited during the work day for we were faster than his other crews in work accomplishment. But let me digress and tell how we got to work every morning from Balboa where in the still dark of night we waited for the Sommers labor truck coming out of Panama City. It would pick us up on Gaillard Hwy. by the PRR station in Balboa. These were open stake bodied trucks with long boards cross wise to sit on and we were packed in tight. Every day as we would pass other labor trucks the Sommers workers would hurl insults at the other truck loads. After a few mild words it got serious as the usual insult flung out would be;"Tu Madre, La Phuta Pobre de Chitre" and mixed in with this they would plenty of "Buchis". By now the other truck load would begin to buzz like angry bees and then the ultimate insult was flung and it was a reference to an aspect of their Mothers anatomy. This was a call to battle and the other truckload would attempt to form a boarding party but alerted to our screams our driver would complete his passing action and thus avert a battle.

Each morning at the job site we would eagerly await the passing of the Summit Garden truck which would be carrying three of our classmates who had taken jobs at Summit as Landscape Engineers, so they said. Each day as they passed we would cheer them on with ancient Chinese Victory Salutes. Now we could seriously start the days work having observed all mandatory rituals.

After several months, a newly arrived to the Isthmus twerp was added to our crew and he was quick to inform us that his Dad was a foreman for Louie Sommers. We plotted some form of mayhem and finally hit upon a plan. Those barracks had large walk in closets on each floor with an air shaft that came down from the 3rd. floor and ended in the first floor closet. Knowing we would be installing the electrical outlets in those closets the next day we brought Cherry Bombs to work. Making sure the twerp was working in the first floor closet we went to the third floor. Yes! You know it! We lit those things and dropped them down the air shaft. Of course there was one hell of a roar and the twerp staggered out with his ears ringing a mad tune and he left the scene swearing revenge. It was not long in coming as Louie Sommers arrived with his cigar nearly bit in two and as a crew we were broken up and assigned to other adult electricians. No change in pay,still 25¢ an hour, but we worked a lot harder until September and return to school.