By: Mark Abrams
Back in the early 1980s, one of our customers needed to have a mobile radio installed in one of their vehicles. Raycom was called to perform the radio installation in the pickup truck and in those days there were two of us who did this type of work. The vehicle was working on a large job building the center divider of the Pomona (60) freeway in the Ontario / Riverside area.
When I received the call from the customer that they needed an installation, it seemed to be a routine call. They explained that the vehicle was tied up on a large job working on the freeway center divider and it could not be brought back to their yard for the installation. It was essential that this person who was a supervisor at the company have a radio to keep in touch with the other personnel on the job. This happened years before cellular phones came to Los Angeles area so that was not an option. In those days, the two-way radio was the only reliable method of communicating with your personnel in the field, so the importance of having the radio was significant. I asked the customer where was the radio that needed the installation and was informed that he had possession of the radio, power cable, speaker and antenna.
I was given an intersection in the Ontario area where the construction yard was located. Most construction companies set up a yard near a large construction project to store equipment an materials as well has having field offices to handle the required paperwork for the job. I spoke to the main office and arranged the time & place for the installation which was to be at their field yard at 10AM the next day. So when I got up the next morning, I got ready for work like any other day. I performed some tasks including fixing some radio equipment, making certain that I had all the supplies necessary to install the radio and then I proceeded to drive out to the customer’s field yard to perform the installation. I arrived a few minutes early so that I did not keep the customer waiting. Unfortunately, when I arrived, I found out that the vehicle was not in the yard and that it was out at the job site. I thought that meant that the vehicle would be parked off the freeway near the construction, but I was directed to pull into the center divider of the freeway inside the lane closure.
I left the yard and proceeded to the construction site. As I approached the construction, I slowed down and pulled into the lane closure. I stopped my vehicle and proceeded to find the supervisor who needed the radio installation. At any construction site, there is a significant amount of finger pointing to others since most people only have information on a need to know basis, so there is usually a delay in finding the person whom you seek. This time was no different as I did not know the person by sight and only had a name from which to find him. After about 10 minutes, I located the supervisor upon whose truck I needed to perform the installation. I was expecting him to direct me to some other location, but he pointed at his vehicle which was parked in the center of the freeway about 100 yards from my current location. I asked him for the vehicle keys so that I could move the vehicle and get into the cab in case it was locked, then proceeded to drive over to the pickup.
The vehicle was inside the lane closure, but it was too close to the edge of the closure. I wanted to turn my van around inside the lane closure so that I could use my van as a buffer shield between the work and the traffic, but I did not have the room. I had to park behind his vehicle and I moved his pickup closer to the center divider, but I had to leave sufficient room to be able to fully open the doors to perform the installation.
I started the installation by locating the radio and the accessories. I also had to locate the on-site generator and run an extension cord to power my drill since this was long before cordless hand tools existed. I then mounted the radio and the speaker. Then I mounted the microphone hang-up clip and the power wires which were run through the firewall to a connection at the battery while tying down the wires so that they would not move. While performing these tasks, cars & trucks would whizzed by at 70+ miles per hour causing wind gusts and shaking of the vehicle. When one large double trailer truck drove by, the pickup rocked back and forth for what seemed like minutes even though it must have been only few seconds. I needed to install the radio antenna in the center of the roof which entails standing on the passenger seat with one foot and standing in the open passenger window on the passenger side of the vehicle since I did not have a ladder to use. I gathered my tools and placed them on the roof of the truck after I pulled loose the headliner so that I could fish the antenna cable down the cowling. I proceeded to climb up on the passenger seat and stood on the window sill as I measured the vehicle to determine the exact location to mount the antenna. As I was fully engaged in this task, large vehicles whizzed by causing the pickup to rock back and forth. The traffic was loud and shook my brain inside my head to the point that I was thinking that I must be crazy to be doing this installation in the middle of the freeway. I could have refused to do the installation in the first place, but that would have made me look like a wimp. Now that I was in the middle of the job, I could not stop or back out, so I kept rocking as the trucks drove by while trying to determine the exact location of the antenna hole to be drilled in the top of the vehicle.
Finally, I was convinced that I had the right spot to drill. When drilling the top of a vehicle for an antenna, there is typically only one chance to get it right. So the idea of measuring once and drilling twice is not an option. The reverse is the way it has to be done so that there would not be a hole in the cab for water to leak inside. If that happened, the customer would need to take the vehicle to the body shop to have the hole filled and the vehicle repainted. Imagine charging $50 to do a job so that you can pay the customer $500 to have the vehicle repaired. So it was imperative to get it right the first time which was difficult to do when you are working in a constant earthquake that does not stop. I lined up the drill, held my breath and proceeded to risk my life to get the hole right the first time. I then ran the cable and attached it to the mount. Then I needed to solder the antenna connector which required my soldering gun which also required AC power. Once that was done, I was able to test the radio and installation.
The job had been successful as the radio worked properly, but now I had to clean up the work site, collect my tools and put everything away. I then had to find the supervisor and return his keys, fill out the service ticket and have him sign for the work. I then watched some of the traffic fly by for a few minutes and realized how close I came to not living through the experience if one of the vehicles had veered off course just a little bit. However, this was the life of these workers who did this every day, so I felt like my stent in the life of a freeway worker was short lived and over. I only had to deal with it this one time, but it gave me a new respect for the workers who did it on a daily basis.
I just went there to install a mobile radio in a pickup truck……………….