Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 21, 2015

Sixteen (Tons/Years/Candles)

Well, I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine.

I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine.

I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal, and

The straw boss said, “Lord, bless my soul!”

(Now, everybody!)

You load 16 tons, and whaddyou get?

Another day older and deeper in debt.

Saint Peter, dontcha call me ’cause I can’t go,

I owe my soul to the company sto’.

I hope you joined with gusto on the chorus. If you didn’t, you’ll have one more chance at the end, so get ready.

I sing these words because I was thinking about the sixteen years I spent at my previous job at the Big Firm. I started writing a parody, “Sixteen Years:”

I was hired one mornin’ ‘fore the sky had got light.

I picked up my pencil and I started to write.

I wrote me sixteen pages of corporate dreck, and

The VP said, “Lord, I’ll wring your neck!”

Ya work sixteen years, and whaddyou get? ….

We do a lot of impromptu parodies here. The Counselor is especially good at them. Several years ago I left that long term job for the one I have now. I haven’t left many jobs in my life, because, well, I haven’t had many jobs. Few people my age can claim as few stints of employment as I. The universe has smiled on me and given me several long runs of steady work: 9 years with the family construction biz; 9 more with my first corporate employer; a few smaller gigs after that, then the long 16-year haul with the Big Firm. Now, more than 4 years and counting in the current gig with The Counselor.

The short-term gigs were interesting, if not well paid. One summer in high school I pumped gas and washed cars and stood around looking at the deserted corner of Mechanic and Main on Sundays while I held down the desk at the Texaco station. I met a lot of interesting people, but didn’t become much of a car mechanic.

I had a job at the local harness track the summer between high school and college, selling programs. The star of the show there in the lower level of the grandstand was “Doc” B. who sold tip sheets. I wrote a couple of blog posts about those days at the track, Doc B’s Swan Song Part 1 and Doc B’s Swan Song Part 2.

I did some teaching, first as a substitute teacher at the local high school. Because I’d done construction work, I always got the call when the woodshop teacher was out. I watched 15 year-olds using big shop tools that scared me to death. I prayed none of them would cut off a finger or an arm. As a graduate student, I taught Education majors to use the state of the art in instructional audio-visual technology . Are you old enough to remember an overhead projector? I, my friends, am a MASTER of that medium. I mastered other skills: threading a 16mm projector, creating diazo prints and processing photographic film in formats long forgotten. After that, I taught video production to students who, I hope, suvived the limitations of the analog era.

And, one dark and dismal holiday season, with all prospects for full-time work having failed, I signed on for my sole experience in RETAIL WORLD. I rang the register in a (long extinct) chain book store and, on stints away from the counter, tried to get books shelved into some part of the store reasonably close to where they belonged.

Mostly I’ve been lucky. After college I spent nine excellent years driving nails and learning the construction biz in the family construction business. Thanks, Dad. It’ll never be any better than that. After Reaganomics and the now-forgotten recession of the 80s, I ended up in the corporate world. First, nine years at Never Completely Recovered Corp. in Dayton, a short stint at an agency in Cincinnati, and after a short freelance period (including that RETAIL WORLD experience), before I started the 16 years at The Big Firm.

Sixteen years, one job. One quarter of my lifetime. Most of them truly excellent years.

Of the three long-term jobs I’ve had, I can quickly point to one common element that has made them worth the aggregated 34 years: I didn’t stay for the money, I stayed for the chance to work with great people. Working with Dad, my grandfather, with Bodie and Moe and all the outstanding, skilled characters (and they WERE characters) made every day another adventure in living. Then at Never Completely Recovered, it was like being a part of a real-life Alan Brady Show: Gerry, Fitz, Steve, Lubes, Jai, Rog, Maureen, Winterhalter, Freddie and Tim and Guy: these were some of the most creative and hilariously enjoyable people I’ll ever know. Leaving the Big Firm, I left not a job but a cast of characters that spans the world. I traveled across North America, to Europe and to Asia, and met hundreds of people who I’ll never see again. Some of them read this blog, and I hope they and all my former colleagues, wherever they are, will JOIN ME in singing:


You load sixteen tons, and whaddyou get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter dontcha call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company sto!

© 2015 Brad Nixon

Credit for lyrics to “Sixteen Tons” goes either to Merle Travis or George S. Davis, depending on whose version of the tale you believe. I’m unable to determine who owns the rights to these lyrics, but they are quoted here with no commercial application.



  1. Long-term memory is not one of my greatest features, but I DO remember that song from my long distant youth. “Sixteen Tons” was sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford (in the 1950s?), and I do not know why I remember that, either.

    You are very fortunate to have had such a wonderful professional life with so many fabulous people. I can tell you from my experience that this is very rare, and is to be treasured. It took me 25 years to finally get my dream job; but at least I did ultimately get it. That position lasted 10 years, until the firm went out of business, and that was the end of my professional life.


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