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Summer Work with the Racine County Highway Department in Wisconsin

Racine, Wisconsin


Summer Work With Racine County

During the summers of 1963 and 1964, I had summer jobs with the Racine County Highway Department in Wisconsin. This was my first work experience off of the farm, and it helped to pay my expenses while attending the University of Wisconsin. These jobs were interesting in that they afforded me the first opportunity to work with others outside of the family. In this article, I recall my experiences with the highway department during the early 1960s.

Map of Wisconsin with Counties Listed


Why Work For Racine County Highway Department?

After graduation from high school, my parents had no money saved for my college education. Dad was a poor small dairy farmer who had to take a second job to make ends meet. Besides this, mom couldn't do outside work with three younger sisters and a brother.

During my last semester in high school, dad said he would sell the steer we were raising and put that money towards my first-year college expenses. The black Angus sold for $400, and I picked up another $300 by winning a local Burlington High School scholarship. Still, that wasn't enough money for my first-year expenses at the University of Wisconsin because I would be staying in the dormitory on campus. Although tuition was only $250 a year, room and board at the Lakeshore Residence halls were about $1,700 per year. Consequently, I applied for a student loan from the State of Wisconsin. Dad co-signed a loan for the first-year expenses.

At the end of my freshman year, my dad suggested I get an outside job to help pay my school expenses. After talking to some people in Burlington where I had gone to school, my father discovered that the western division of the Racine County Highway Department was hiring college students for summer employment. He also learned that the father of one of my graduating classmates was the Racine County Highway Department Commissioner. While I was still in my spring term at Madison, dad approached Mr. Earl S. the commissioner and pointed out that Jim, his son, and I had both been on the football team and co-valedictorians of our class. To make a long story short, dad persuaded Earl to give me summer work at the County Highway Department whose western depot was just outside of Rochester about five miles from our farm. I now had my first real job and knew it would be an adventure.

How to Find a Summer Job

Working For The Highway Department

1. Getting to Work And Hours on The Job

The first thing I required was wheels to work. Dad only had one car which he needed, but he had an idea of how to get me another vehicle. Grandpa had died earlier in the year, and his old late 40s Chevy was still parked in the driveway next to the house where grandma was still living. One day I went with dad to West Allis to visit grandma. After explaining my need for the car that grandma couldn't drive, my father gave her $25 for grandpa's car. I now had transportation to work even if the brakes were a little poor.

It was a 15-minute drive to work over county and township roads. My working hours would be Monday through Friday from 7:00 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. The hours were great because I could still help with the barn and fieldwork after I got home.

2. Nature of My Work With The County

I was one of two college kids employed for summer work. "Dar," the other guy, I only knew because we both went to Burlington High, and he was a jock on the basketball team. We were assigned to work with a regular full-time employee on his fixed county road route. Our duties included weed control along roads, litter pickup along roads and at county parks, occasional patching of potholes in the roads, and disposal of dead animals. If we had worked during the winter, we would have plowed snow from the roads. My weekly paycheck was around $80.00.

3. Employees I worked With

"Dar" was assigned to work with "Art", and I was paired with "Rusty' Russ D. He was a short, slightly chubby 50-year-old man who had red hair just starting to turn gray. "Rusty" was quiet, but he had a temper when he got upset. Wally G., a short obese middle-aged man, was our supervisor. There were about 10 other full-time employees, but "Bud" and "Smokey" are the only others I can remember after all these years.

4. How We Did Our Work

Each two-man team was assigned a dump truck and two weed mowers. The trucks were equipped with shovels, brooms, and picks. Blades could be mounted on the front of the truck for the plowing of snow. For weed control, we had both a rotary mower pulled by a tractor and a tractor with an 8-foot sickle bar. "Rusty" usually operated the sickle mower, and I drove the rotary mower.

Rusty and I were assigned a route in the northern part of western Racine County. When it didn't rain, we usually spent all day mowing the weeds along the shoulders of county roads. Most of the time we cut for a distance of 30-40 feet from the shoulder of the road to a farmer's field fence line.

State highways were designated by numbers like 75 and 36 while our county roads had letters like K and F. In addition to the state and county roads, there were also township roads that we didn't touch.

When it didn't rain, or at least once a week, we would patrol all of the roads on our route looking for litter or dead animals along the side of the road. We would also stop at a few county parks and collect trash.

I remember that there were very few occasions when we had to do a lot of hard work. Some of my hardest work included unloading from a railroad car onto our county trucks 80-pound bags of chloride which were used for salting the roads during icy weather. Also, on one of the hottest days of the summer, a four or five-man crew of us had to sink posts and build a retaining wall along the side of a road.

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What I Learned From My Summer Job

Working for the County those two summers during the early 60s was a good experience, and I learned some valuable life lessons. They are as follows:

1. Value of Money

Before getting my summer job, I had always been dependent on my folks for money. Now realizing how hard it was to earn, I could understand why mom and dad had no allowance to give me, and why they saved and didn't buy the most expensive things.

2. Tolerance

My route partner "Rusty" was a perfectionist, and he would always get on me if he thought I wasn't mowing weeds according to his standard. I learned to put up and deal with him in our work together.

3. Responsibility

During my two summers on the job, I quickly learned that I was responsible for performing all of the duties assigned to my route. By not doing them, I knew that I would be held accountable.

4. Teamwork

Although I had learned and experienced the value of teamwork while playing football in high school, its concept was taken to a higher level in my summer job. Rapidly did I learn that a job could be done more quickly and efficiently by people working together rather than going in their separate directions.

My early 1960s summer work with the Racine County Highway Department was a significant time in my life. It was my first job away from home, and it helped to pay for my college expenses. The work taught me valuable lessons in life that are often hard to learn in the classroom.

Benefits of Summer Work for College Students

Summer Work with Racine County

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 25, 2013:


Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this hub. I never really understood the value of money until I worked, so my summer job really gave me valuable lessons. I appreciate your good comments and I'm happy you liked this hub. Thanks for pinning and sharing this article.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 25, 2013:

Hi Paul,

A very valuable lessons here for. It is very important that a child works a job. It makes for understanding the value of money.

Voted up, interesting, useful, pinned and shared.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 02, 2012:

Thanks for reading and the favorable comment, moonlake. It was long hard work, but most of the time I was operating a tractor.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on May 02, 2012:

Peg, Thanks for reading and the favorable comment. I would recommend summer employment to any college student.

moonlake from America on May 02, 2012:

Up here in Norhtern Wisconsin a highway job is a great job for earning extra money. Even girls are now working on highway jobs. It's long hard work I think, standing in the heat all day.

voted up.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on May 02, 2012:

Working your way through college gave you more of an education than your professors probably did, Paul. It does teach a person really fast that money does not grow on trees and every dime earned means trading in your time. Perhaps this is a taste of what today's young people need to appreciate the value of their education.

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