The Pirate and The Poet



The Pirate and The Poet

He was twelve years older than me and cut from an entirely different cloth. He was my brother, and although we both felt fraternal love we had little in common other than genes and parents. He was first-born. I was last. He was born and raised in Oklahoma and lived through his teen years during The Depression at a time when our parents were dirt-poor. I was born in OK, but spent most of my young life in a small Kansas town during and after WWII at a time when Dad had a steady job that paid reasonably well. Robert was a swashbuckling, "lead-the-charge" guy who lived the maxim "If anyone asks you if you can do something say "Yes!" and then learn damn fast." And for him that was not braggadocio. He was able to pull it off while earning the respect and even affection of most of the people he encountered. I "played in the band." He "danced to the music." In short, he was a "pirate." I was a "poet."

I was only four years old when he became fed up with the grinding poverty in which we lived and his solution was a precursor to his later life. He dropped out of high school to "go on his own." It was 1936. Civilian jobs were practically non-existent but the army was accepting recruits and he saw that as his ticket to a better life. However being only sixteen he had to have his parents' permission to enlist. That didn’t come easy, but a thing’s being difficult never caused him to back off. It was just a challenge. Eventually he wore them down. They signed the papers and he became a "Buck Private" in the old pre-WWII Army. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie "From Here to Eternity" you will have some idea of what he experienced. Even at his young age they must have seen his sense of presence and leadership. I recall seeing a picture of him sitting on a motorcycle in uniform with a wide "MP" designation on his left arm. He left the Army shortly before WWII started, married a girl he met while "in uniform" (We had that in common.) and started a family. During the early days of "The War" he worked at several menial jobs before becoming a truck driver for a pipeline construction company. Then, late in the war when older men with wives and children were being called into the service he was drafted. True to the wisdom of governmental doings this former soldier was placed in the Navy. His time as a sailor was short-lived. The war ended within months and he returned to civilian life.

He was quick learning, quick-witted, dauntless and ambitious and those traits served him well. Following "The War" he returned to his job as a truck driver tasked with hauling heavy equipment and machinery for a pipeline contractor. But he was too ambitious to stop there. For the next several years his career in the pipeline construction industry was meteoric. He progressed from truck driver to foreman to "Spread Man" (pipeline terminology for the person who supervises foremen. In Mafia terms he was a "Capo di capo.") By the time he was in his forties he had risen to the level of General Superintendent for a major construction company overseeing pipeline construction projects in several different countries at different times – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. He was working in Nigeria when a Civil War broke out between two rival factions, the Hutus and the Ibo. He ended up fleeing for his life in a dugout canoe being paddled by two natives who had worked for him. His last post before retiring was in South America where he oversaw the construction of a pipeline across rugged mountain terrain. By the time he retired the name Robert (Bob) E. Carriker was synonymous with effective, knowledgeable leadership in the pipeline construction industry.

In the course of his career he learned to operate every kind of heavy equipment used in the trade – bulldozers, side boom caterpillars, backhoes, dragline cranes and – as a capstone to all this – while overseeing the construction project in South America, he learned to fly a helicopter. Helicopters were the only vehicles that could be used to deliver the large sections of pipe and other equipment in the high mountains.

The first time I really saw him as being "larger than life" came when I was thirteen years old. He was foreman of a crew that was engaged in some project that involved bulldozers and other heavy equipment. It was during summer vacation and I had ridden my little "motorbike" some 40 miles to where he and his family were living. One evening he invited me to go with him the next day just to "hang out" and watch he and his crew work. I quickly said, "Yes," so next morning, just as he did, I took a sack lunch and rode with him out to where they were working. I don’t remember what they were doing but whatever it was, they were working around a railroad siding that had an empty boxcar on the tracks. It needed to be moved. Normally a switch engine would be called to pull it out of the way but that would’ve stalled the work for at least a day and for my brother that was unacceptable. Like troupers on stage, "The show must go on." He sized up the situation, backed his pickup truck onto the tracks in line with the offensive boxcar, hooked onto it with several heavy chains, and with much spinning of wheels, throwing of gravel and sounds of an engine being strained to its limit, the boxcar was pulled out of the way. That was his approach to life. See a problem, size it up, use help if its readily available – otherwise – solve it yourself.

He had a dry sense of humor and a talent for using quips and short pithy statements to make a point. I recall asking him "When is quitting time?" the first summer I worked on his crew. His quick reply was, "There’ll be a man come around and tell you when to quit." The message was clear. "Do your work without keeping your eye on the clock." Working around the rough-cut men who did this sort of work some of his expressions are best left to imagination. Many, many years later when I was nearing the end of my career as an Educator, I was considering accepting a position in another school. I made a phone call asking him for advice. I described the decision, the pros and cons as I saw them. He listened, then said "I can’t tell you what to do but I’ll just say this, It’s awfully easy to trade a big fat turkey for a scrawny old buzzard." I knew what he was saying – take time to be sure of what I was giving up and what I was getting and don’t let my emotions guide me.

When he retired a great personality change came over him. He had spent his life as a hard-driving, get-the-job-done person. That all changed almost overnight. He settled down in the countryside near a small town in Oklahoma, bought a home, built a workshop and in a relaxed, contented manner began creating things which he and his wife sold at craft fairs and the like. True to form, though, he did this although he had never studied or had any practice whatsoever in woodworking. He applied that old principle that guided his life: "If anyone asks you if you can do something, say "Yes," and then learn damn fast."

That was Robert E. (Bob) Carriker.

My Brother

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Tom Cormier (website) on Saturday, 01 November 2014 17:53


Your brother was obviously a hero for you and our country. That you can write about him in this way is incredible. Had you not been the Poet, he might've been forgotten. Not any more. And not you either. Thank you for this wonderful story.

Don, Your brother was obviously a hero for you and our country. That you can write about him in this way is incredible. Had you not been the Poet, he might've been forgotten. Not any more. And not you either. Thank you for this wonderful story.