"The Hot Mix Job" by Neal Murphy

January 29, 2019 - In 1959, shortly after my marriage, Roy Crowe hired me to work with the Texas Highway Department. I had completed three years of college, so I assume that Mr. Crowe felt I had enough “learning” to be trained as a draftsman. Mr. Jesse Price had his hands full trying to teach me the finer aspects of calculating the amount of steel and concrete for a bridge, or a culvert. Plotting curves always gave me trouble.

One summer the state let a contract to have Highway 96 from San Augustine to the Shelby County line resurfaced with hot mix. As I recall, the contractor was from Waco, Texas. Little did I know how involved I, a lowly draftsman, would be involved with this project.

The state required continuous inspection of the hot mix itself, as well as its installation. Suddenly, I became one of those inspectors. Mr. Crowe set up an inspection station on the location of the hot mix plant, about eight miles north of San Augustine. I had never even seen hot mix, much less checked the finished product from its source.

Grady Arbuckle and I were assigned to the little shack on the plant premises. Grady had prior experience with hot mix and was the chief inspector. I was the gopher.

Early in the morning dump trucks waited in line to receive their load of hot mix to transport to the paving site. Apparently the truckers were paid for each load which increased their desire to get in as many loads per day as possible. My job was to spot check the hot mix to make sure the temperature was just right. I was given a large thermometer along with the authority to stop any loaded truck and check it.

The hot material had to be within a temperature range as it left the plant. I would stop a truck, stick the thermometer down into the hot mix, then read the results. Most of the time there was not a problem. However, several times it was too hot, or perhaps too cold, and the load had to be dumped, much to the chagrin of the trucker, who then had to get back in line.
Several times a day I collected a bucket full of hot mix off a truck, and took it to the shack. Grady would then perform several tests on the contents. I recall a machine that pressed the mix into a compact cylinder about three inches in height. It was then immersed in water in order to check its “specific gravity”. I never knew for sure what that meant, but it seemed very important to the job. I took notes of the results for the permanent record.

Since it was rather lonely in the crude shack, I took an old radio to listen to music while working, sort of like “whistling while you work”. I could only receive two AM stations, Center and Nacogdoches. Both featured country-western music. Buddy Pratt, who was driving a dump truck, chided me several times for listening to that kind of music. “But, Buddy,” I explained, “that’s the only kind of music I can get here. I will be careful and not let it affect me in a bad way.” Buddy went on to become a pastor, and I still don’t really like C/W music.

On several occasions I was assigned to walk alongside the steaming hot mix laying machine, again to check the temperature of the mix. That made for a long, tiring day, however I was rewarded one day by finding a half dollar on the side of the road.

After several months the job was finished. It was the custom for the contractor to give gifts to the state inspectors which usually was a bottle of whiskey or bourbon. The contractor, Mr. Probost, gave me, instead, a leather bound Bible. I have that Bible to this day, and every time I pick it up I recall the hot mix job which earned it for me.