It rained for pretty much the entire length of the day. When it wasn’t raining, the wind picked up, bringing bitter, raw gusts that would make anybody wince and their eyes water. You can hear the creaking of the tin roof over one of the pole barns being battered by the elements. Some plastic slowly drags along the wet pavement, dancing in the chilled north wind. Despite the elements though, the world does not stop for the laborers who work outside. No heat comes on in the warehouses which are open to all climates at either end, and trucks don’t stop entering into the yard loaded with various lumber products and insulation or concrete. There is never shortage of work that has to be done. The daily grind of the lumberyard can't take a day off because of inclement weather. As long as the house frames are going up, remodels are in the process, and contractors are working their job sites, Mid Cape Home Centers does not stop for anything. Snow brings surmountable challenges that require the entire staff of yard workers and delivery drivers to grab shovels and clear product so the day to day workload can continue normally and as quickly as possible. The weather that you are introduced to in the morning is the cards you are dealt for the day. There is no stopping. You just adjust the attire to battle the elements.
This is the day to day life for those who have made a livelihood in the lumber business. The days are long, and there is very little rest. Starting at 4am the first of the forklifts fire up. Orders need to be picked for the upcoming day. As quick as the worker can read the paperwork, the orders formulate into lifts and are neatly placed into staging areas. By 5am, Mid Cape drivers start to load their trucks with the morning deliveries. The hum of diesel engines breaks the deafening silence of the predawn hours. The hum is quickly muted by the back back up alarms as trucks make their way to loading docks to stock up on doors, lengths of lumber, kitchens cabinets, and pre-cut window and door trim. As 6am draws near, trucks start lining up at the gate. Soft sided trailers are loaded with primed lumber while the flatbeds are stacked with multiple lengths of kiln dried and pressure treated lumber along with cedar shingles, a Cape Cod favorite. When the gates open, the yard will be nearly completely alive. Forklift operators will scurry across the lots from pole barn to pole barn, pulling orders, loading and unloading trucks. Customers start to cohabit in the warehouses with workers as they pull supplies for their jobs that day. Everyone seems to be on a first name basis. Progress is occurring as a chaotic orchestrated dance across the business. The day has begun.
The folks today who work down in the yard are from all walks of life, and each hold a unique story. These aren't the privileged. They are not the chosen ones. There is no trust fund or monthly allotment check. There is a paycheck at the end of the week. Work to someone who braves the elements is a means to provide shelter and food for themselves and their family. Some are hiding from less than ideal situations from the past, while others need any type of job to survive. Most love the job and their co-workers. All of them are asked to perform at an above average pace and provide stellar service to the building industry and the home owner. These people are the organs to an ever changing builders economy. They are the teeth in a constantly moving gear. They put the weight of the construction world on their back and their knees day in and day out. This is where respect from your peers is earned and not given. This is where bonds are built between all of the yard workers. These are not coworkers. They are brothers and family that rely on one another and support each other. These are guys that believe a job is never done and there is always something else to do. They believe in doing things right and complete. Every time.
These folks are no longer co-workers. They are now friends and family. Their life inside of the yard co-mingles with their personal lives. Some meet up for breakfast before the day begins. They sit and talk about life and their families and some of the daily struggles. Everyone in one way or another is intertwined with each other. There is an understanding on the job, that if one person does not do something correctly, this affects the entire body of work, so instead of putting people down, they rise up and help to make sure tasks are done correctly and in an an amazingly nearly immediate moment. Everybody there gets a long, talks, smiles, laughs, swears and most importantly, helps out. If someone were to stop and talk to the yard workers they would be surprised at the amazing talents most of these gentleman have. The man who loads the Vineyard truck is an amazing artist and is a well known name in Provincetown and on the Cape. He studies the medium and creates beautiful bodies of work that reflect his moods and his personality. A driver would tell you about his time in the Navy and how he was a pilot. The mechanic would tell you about the tractors and old cars that he restores and wins awards with the perfect rebuilds. All of them incredibly smart and well versed in using their hands to create and build.
When it comes down to it, there is something to be said about punching a time clock. There is no shame in it. When they start the day, there is a laundry list of things to do. Everything done is a real product that can be felt and moved. There is a tangible product and progress is shown instantly as a project comes together. At the end of the day, most will go home with a bit of pride that they put in their best effort for that day. There was laughing with others, hard times, bad news, rushed orders, and weather related delays, but the job got done. To many this type of work is becoming a lost culture in many parts of America. Long have been forgotten are the laborers of many businesses. It seems that time and time again society turns a blind eye to the industries that provide services to them. In this case the forgotten members of the work force present themselves as members in the supply chain that help to provide shelter for families. A true necessity in life.
Cape Cod has mostly been a seasonal service industry economy. This means that the summers are generally super busy and everyone who lives on Cape spend a majority of these months catering to seasonal home owners or tourists. Many Mid Cape workers capitalize on this to make extra money. This helps to get through the long winter months. Year round survival is about paying the bills, making sure the lights stay on and the furnace stays hot. Folks often trade services instead of hiring out to do something to save some money. Everyone is very quick to help out, and if you are a patron of a business in the winter, chances are there may be perks in the summer if one were to visit. No matter what the challenge is at any time of the year, the mindset is to get it done, and done right. This mentality is out of necessity for the cost of doing something twice is never in the budget. This work ethic flows into the livelihoods at the lumber yard and is translated by the sometimes hard labor during the days.
Most of the laborers are self-sufficient and can work on their own without stopping from the time they arrive on the job to the time they leave. They constantly hustle and never find a shortage of work to do. When things are slow, there is always something to clean, to build, or to innovate to work better. This work ethic is known as the Old Cape mentality. It is bred out of survival and needs but it relates to the blue collar work ethic of getting your hands dirty and going after what you need to take pride in the job you do. This is a group of multiple generations that are self-reliable men who rarely have to depend on anything but their own knowledge of how to do a job and get it done correctly. If they cannot figure something out, someone they know does, and they will surely help when the time arises. The support system is a community bound niche where it is rare that outsiders and tourists can capture a glimpse of it. They work together, eat together, drink together, bond together, and share their lives with each other through stories and small conversation. They never stop working. There is no slow motion or downtime. There is always a buck to be made or a project that needs starting.
This culture of the self-motivated blue collar worker is quickly receding into the history books of American heritage. It perhaps is dying at their own hands as they try to build better lives for their children and help them to not make the same mistakes they did in their younger, wilder years. This isn't the future the parents of newer generations see for their children. The demand for the work is still high, but the people willing to accept this livelihood is dwindling. This is the story of the aging labor force in the fields that aren't romanticized about as kids grow up. Success isn't in getting your hands dirty, but in the office working a 9-5. Who wants to get up at 4 am in December to layer up and meet the frigid morning head on as the work rolls on outdoors with not stop? Who wants to unload trucks and stack lumber in the midst of a July heatwave? The climate control is set to whatever the weatherman says. These jobs used to be what the middle class thrived on. There is no shame in this. There is no shame in using your hands to make a living. There is no embarrassment in building orders and offloading trucks on a daily basis. There is nothing wrong with pulling a radial arm saw, or building something. This is the life of a lumber yard. This is the trenches. This is where your newly built home starts. These are some of the jobs no one wants. These are the jobs of the dwindling amount of tradesmen in our culture.
Below are a collection of the some of the faces inside of Mid-Cape Home Centers. Many of them I am proud to say I work along side of and talk to them daily. All of them have their unique viewpoints, and their amazing stories. All of them I am lucky to be able to call friends if even for a short time. I have worked on this collection for roughly two months and I hope it brings justice to life in the lumber yard. It might not be pretty work. It may be tough days. People aren't as polished and presentable as your office worker or store clerk. All of them are willing to offer a helping hand though. These are the faces of the folks I am proud to work next to. I hope you enjoy the following photos.
These are just a few of the faces of Mid Cape Home Centers. If I could I would capture all of their photos. Every one of them tells a story with the lines in their faces. These are my co-workers. I don't feel any words I would use or photos I would take could do these people justice. It makes life easier to get up at 4am and get to work with a group like this.