Odd Jobs I Did While at Tech
by Marcia Goodrich
Inside every chunk of white cedar, there's a bear (or an eagle, or a gnome, or a Sylvester the Cat) struggling to get out.
And Chad Denkins is just the guy to set them free.
Denkins, a business administration major studying information systems, has been making ends meet at Michigan Tech by firing up his Jonsered on the weekends and carving everything from sports-team signs to cartoon cats. A six-foot Betty Boop was his weirdest commission; bears are a perennial favorite. "I make them cute," he says. "Sometimes they are baby bears, or with little sad faces."
He dons safety goggles, ear protection, and a pair of serious-looking chaps, and prepares to give a short lesson in chain saw artistry. Carving bears, et al., may be a wacky way to work your way through college, but Denkins is all business as the chips fly where they may throughout his Hancock backyard. Cut by definitive cut, an earnest little bear begins to take shape.
Denkins has been surrounded by chain saw sculpture since he was a child growing up in Cooks, Michigan. "My dad's a carver, and I learned from him," he says. "He's been carving for about thirty-five years."
He got his start when he was fifteen, making a snowman for his grandfather's birthday present. Five years later, Denkins has graduated to custom carvings soaring six feet and higher and shows his work alongside that of his father, James, who is among the top chain saw artists in the nation.
What does Denkins get for his work? From sixty or seventy dollars for a simple bear to several hundred for an elaborate sculpture carved into an eight-foot-high standing stump. It's not all profit; maintaining a stable of high-end chain saws in mint condition isn't cheap, and neither is driving to job sites throughout the UP.
But it has its advantages. It covers Ramen noodles, books, and gas money. "And I don't have to work eight to five," Denkins notes.
I worked at Wolverine World Wide in Rockford, Michigan (makers of fine Hush Puppies shoes). I never had to handle the raw pigskins, but can't say the same about the cow hides. These hides had bits of meat, fat, etc., still clinging to them, and of course the flies loved them (lots of fly eggs and their hatchlings around). For some reason, I was the only girl ever willing to do this job. :-)
I worked the Twin Disk out of Big Traverse with the Erkkila Brothers. During November, the herring were in, and the fishermen needed help removing ("choking") the herring out of the gill nets.
November on Lake Superior is indeed memorable. Working on a boat drifting through five-foot swells is a real rock-and-roll experience.
Working in a sausage factory.
You've heard the saying, "You are better off not knowing how sausages and laws are made," right? Well, I can vouch for the first part!
As summer approached, and being very short of money, it occurred to me that if I could get a summer job in Houghton I could avoid transportation home to Toronto.
I visited the mayor and asked if the town had any work available. The mayor asked me if I'd like to be a town policeman. "You bet" was my quick answer. Minutes later I was interviewed by Chief McGuire—a great guy.
About two hours later, I trudged back along College Avenue to my place carrying a police hat, badge, newly acquired blue pants and shirt, and a gun belt with bullets, as well as a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver!
The '57 Chevy police car had no radio, so I was told to watch out for a yellow overhead light on Sheldon Avenue, which indicated a request for police attention.
Loved every moment of the job, including the first call to the fire hall. "There's a rat in Mrs. Smith's toilet," the fireman told me. I argued that this was a fireman's assignment, not a police officer's. No luck!
Over the years I have told this story many, many times and haven't met anyone who believes me. But it did happen, and I didn't even have a Michigan driver's license.
I spent two summers "living" in 1870 at Fort Wilkins [in Copper Harbor] portraying the post laundress. During the days, we lived, dressed, acted, and spoke to visitors like it was the summer of 1870. The guy portraying my soldier husband that year was my fiance. Visitors would ask us "Are you really married?" And we would wink and say "yes, in about six weeks."
During the summers before and after my freshman year, I worked part-time at a funeral home. I mostly parked cars and set up chairs for funerals, but I also did many a removal (the term used for picking up the body of the deceased) and often drove the hearse to the cemetery.
I was fortunate enough to get employment working underground in an iron ore mine, tramming iron ore, the summer following my freshman year. During the school year, a part of my football scholarship was a job at the ROTC supply. People who wore a 9B shoe didn't realize they could also get into an 8-1/2 D when "push came to shove." I was able to leave Tech in four years, not owing a soul a dime, and with one-hundred dollars in my pocket.