Cooperative Ditch Digging

A few years back I was on a consulting engagement visiting a co-op in a very rural area of the Missouri Ozarks.  The town only had one motel and I’m being generous calling it a motel.  It was a fishing camp on a river and its marque board advertised water-beds in every room.  I didn’t check into it, but I believe they might have offered an hourly rate.

As it turned out, the motel was one of the few things the town had going for it.  The town was so small not only did it lack a stop-light, it had no restaurant either.  So what’s a traveling consultant from the city supposed to do?  Fortunately my planned stay was just one night.  After a day of consulting the client offered to take me to dinner.  I said, “Where are we going, there’s really nothing here?”

He said, “Yeah, we get a few places open up in the summer during tourist season but there’re all shut down in winter.  We’ll go to the Station, they’ve got pretty good sandwiches.”

I thought maybe I had missed a local eatery.  I got in his truck and he drove around the block and stopped at the gas station.   Inside was a redneck version of a Subway shop.  Only instead of sandwich artists they had Jimmy.  Jimmy also did all the other odd jobs one does at a gas station.  I wasn’t particularly happy with the way the evening was headed, but thought I would go with the flow as this was a new client to the firm.  What choice did I really have?

We sat at a table next to a display of automotive oils and other related products.  Jimmy brought our sandwiches and I carefully unwrapped mine not really knowing what was in store for me.  To my surprise the sandwich was actually quite good.

I was enjoying my sandwich and day-dreaming about getting back to civilization when a booming voice shouted, “John, there you are!”

My client John replied, “Damn it Sam there’s no reason to yell!”

“Well John I may have a little job for you.”

John said, “Really, how little?”

“Fairly little.”

“What is it you need me to do Sam?”

“Well you know mom had to give up her house on the farm so we’re moving her into a mobile next to our place.  We need your co-op backhoe operator to dig a trench so we can run water, phone and power to her new place.  You think that’s something you can do for us?”

“Sure Sam, shouldn’t be a problem.”

“How much do you think it will cost John?”

“Not much,” said John.

“Not much?” said Sam.

“Not much ,” said John again, “Actually, very little.”

“Very little?” said Sam, “I think we can live with very little.”

“Great, then its set,” said John.

“When can you get on it John?”

“Well Sam, its slow this time of year, shouldn’t be long.”

“Do you think you might get it done in the next week or so?”

“Probably, let me send our operator over to look at the project.”

“Okay John just have him set up a time with me.”

“Will do Sam, now you have a nice evening.”

“Good doing business with you John.”

And with that Sam left the station and John asked what I was smirking about.  I said, “John, your friend is moving his mom soon and needs to get the power and water hooked up quickly.  You agreed to do the small job, maybe in a week or so and have no idea how much it’s going to cost him.  And he agreed to it?

“Terry this ain’t the big city.  I know Sam and his mom well.  They’ve been members of the co-op for a really long time, probably my whole life.  I’ll have my guy out there yet this week and we’ll get it done next week and I’ll charge him a little labor for my guy’s time and that’s it.  It will be well below what anyone else would charge and Sam knows it.  It’s something we do for our members when we have the time.  We trust each other and that’s the way it works out here.”

To bad it can’t work that way everywhere.

2 thoughts on “Cooperative Ditch Digging

  1. shoreacres

    I lived in that town for a while. It was rural south Texas, but otherwise? Completely recognizable. It had a Texaco station with a grill that produced fine hamburgers, and its own versions of Sam and John — not to mention Ida and Sally. I’d move back there in a minute if I could.


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