Gerald Erickson

This year Local 49 member Gerald (Gerry) Erickson reached a tremendous and rare milestone. On October 13, 2017 Erickson officially achieved his 70-year membership status – something that Local 49 Business Manager, Glen Johnson, says has only happened once in his 15-year tenure.

Erickson is from Bena, a small town in northern Minnesota that is home to about 100 residents. “If you blink your eyes you wouldn’t see it,” Erickson says.

Before becoming a member of Local 49 in 1947, Erickson served in the United States Navy during World War II. “I was in the Navy for two years on a small aircraft carrier over in the Pacific, and I was involved in five different invasions,” Erickson explains. Two of these invasions were the historic battles that took place at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

“We listened to a lady that was broadcasting over the radio, and her name was Tokyo Rose. She told us how many suicide planes were going to be sent in the morning and again in the evening, and you could count on it. There they would be – a whole fleet of them,” Erickson says.

It was later discovered that “Tokyo Rose” was a name given by allied troops in the South Pacific during WWII to all female English-speaking radio broadcasters of Japanese propaganda. The programs were broadcast in the South Pacific and North America to demoralize allied troops and their families by emphasizing troops’ wartime difficulties and military losses.

“She would say things like think about your family at home, and she’d know names…she had a lot of information,” Erickson explains.

Erickson served as gunner on the aircraft carrier and describes one mission where the fleet of aircraft carriers and destroyers was attacked. During this mission, the carrier he was on was used as a decoy and managed to avoid massive damage. 

“They almost sunk all of us…all we had was our small carriers and destroyers and there was probably around a dozen aircraft carriers,” Erickson said. “But we went off as a kind of decoy because we had an admiral on board. So we took off and avoided most of the attack.”

After serving his two years in the Navy, Erickson returned home to Minnesota to find work. He began working in Deer River, Minnesota for Guthery Construction in 1946.

“I was first put on as an oiler for a crane, then they had me on a grease truck. One day my boss asked me if I knew how to run a scraper, and I said sure,” he said with a laugh. “That’s how I got my start in construction.”

“I didn’t know about Local 49 at first, that’s why I didn’t join in 1946,” Erickson said. “But after I joined I liked that they found the jobs for you and the wages were so much better compared to other work around…even back then.”

In 1947, Erickson was working in Buhl, Minnesota when a Local 49 business agent approached him about joining.

“I didn’t know about Local 49 at first, that’s why I didn’t join in 1946,” Erickson said. “But after I joined I liked that they found the jobs for you and the wages were so much better compared to other work around…even back then.”

Erickson said one of the first pieces of equipment he operated was called a Terra Cobra, which was a crude oil scraper. After gaining more experience, Erickson says he began operating “Super C’s”.

“The Super C’s were really wicked because they had steering clutches and you’d have to pull a steering clutch every time you wanted to change directions, depending on whether you were going up or down a hill,” Erickson explains. “There was no driving wheel, just levers, and you’d just coast along because there was no steering.”

One of the major projects Erickson worked on early in his career was the Garrison Dam in North Dakota. “I was there for two years and I operated the Terra Cobra out on that project.”

In 1949, Erickson began working for a contractor near Fargo, where he operated an electric scraper.

“They had little buttons you’d push to steer with and buttons to operate the scraper,” Erickson says. “That was new technology for its day and it was really nice.”

“I was in North Dakota for a quite a bit…see I was a beginner and they sent the beginners outward,” he laughs.

Erickson eventually returned to St. Paul in 1950, where he found a job that worked all year long. “It was a 70-hour job and we got double time back then… so I’ll tell ya, other guys wanted my job.”

Erickson stayed at that job for two years and worked for a few other contractors from 1953 through 1957. In 1957, Peter Lametti Construction Company hired Erickson on as a mechanic and he stayed there for 20 years.

“I started as a mechanic in their shop, but after two years Peter came out and told me I was his new master mechanic,” Erickson said. “I stayed there as master mechanic and I was in charge of all of the equipment in the shop.”

“Then one day he told me that I was his new superintendent,” Erickson laughs. “For a time I was overseeing the other operators, but I didn’t really like that work, and eventually returned to master mechanic.”

In 1978, Erickson left Peter Lametti Construction Company and began working at Acton Construction as a field mechanic for cranes. Through this position he was able to work all over the United States repairing cranes. Erickson ended his career with Acton when he retired in 1990.

Erickson says that he’s been proud to be a 49er throughout his life, and has even helped his son Rick Erickson become a member of Local 49.

Gerald Erickson was honored during the October 2017 Minneapolis union meeting, where he received his 70-year pin.


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