I grew up by Lake Alhambra in Antioch and graduated from Antioch High in 1990. At age 12, I began working for our family-owned Turnage Construction company and thus took my place in a family tradition extending three generations into the past. My dad and uncle had begun working for my grandfather when they were about my age. When he was 14, Grandpa had run away from home to begin his lifetime in the construction industry. I still have his old hand tools including a brace-and-bit, some handsaws, a hammer, plus some nail straightening and forging tools. There’s not an AC power cord in the lot. The nail-straightening tool harkened back to the days when nails were more valuable than workers’ time. Modern construction projects are littered with nails after the workers leave because nowadays it costs more to pick up a nail than the nail is worth.
My first tasks consisted of carrying lumber and other construction materials from the trucks to the work sites, plus hauling tools for the workers, digging ditches, and holding “the smart end” of the tape measure against whatever board was being measured. It was a source of pride to get a paycheck each week. The satisfaction from that was mostly symbolic, however, because I started working at a dollar an hour. My dad would allow me to keep only five dollars out of my measly income, and put the remainder into savings. To make the wage-earning part even less satisfying, when I began earning my five dollars, he stopped paying me my five-dollar allowance for doing my chores around the house, even though I was still obligated to do those chores.
Construction is in my blood, and I fell in love with the work. The business focused upon restoring residences that had been destroyed by fire or flood. Nothing was more satisfying than watching the expression on the faces of the homeowners when they saw the beautiful place that we had built to undo the heart-breaking destruction they had experienced.
By the time I was 13, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life and spent as much time after school, on vacations, and during the summer working hard and applying myself diligently to the challenge of mastering the skills involved in every phase of home construction. Ours was a non-union business, so there were no restrictions on what I could do. I would even work on the parts of a project that we subcontracted out — being on loan, for example, to the drywall company that was putting up interior walls. I wouldn’t rest until I had learned to mix the mud and tape a wall or ceiling as good as anybody on the crew. Eventually, I learned all the phases of building a house. I could probably pass the journeyman tests for all of the trades, and qualify in most of them.