Mr. Charles Perkins of Bay Minette retired from Baldwin EMC in 2006 as a crew chief in our North Baldwin district. We asked him to sit down with J.D. Harrison, who has been with Baldwin EMC for two years and works as a groundman.
J.D. Harrison: When did you start working at Baldwin EMC?
Charles Perkins: I started working at Baldwin EMC in July of 1966. I’d bought a little house over on 16th Street where my wife and I could raise a family, and I started out on the line crew at $1.67 an hour. That first year I made $2,900.
J.H.: That’s hard to imagine.
C.P.: It is now, but back then you could buy two or three bags of groceries for $10. I saved every single pay stub over the course of 40 years. And in 32 years, I only took one half sick day, until I broke my wrist and had to be out for ten weeks. I was 30 minutes early to work every day because I loved my job, and I [didn’t] ever forget where I came from.
J.H.: If you took your job that seriously, you must have had some pretty high expectations for your employees.
C.P.: Well, sure I did. I had high expectations for them, but mostly it was for the company. You have to be that way to succeed. I was hard on the guys sometimes, but it was because the company always came first.
J.H.: Yes, sir.
C.P.: You know, back when I came on board, you climbed every pole. Do you know what an A-frame truck is? That’s what we set the pole with. I can remember one time setting an 85-ft. pole with an A-frame. It never occurred to us that we couldn’t do it. We had a CEO back then, Mr. Thurman, who thought we needed some equipment and he saw to it that we got a bucket and a digger – we thought we were in high cotton, then!
J.H.: One thing I’ve learned since I’ve been here is that everyone I work with has an insane amount of pride in this co-op.
C.P.: It’s pride, and it’s that feeling of family, too. That’s the way it’s always been, just like a family.
J.H.: What sticks out as one of your favorite memories from working here?
C.P.: Oh, that’s easy: building new lines, seeing a project completed and that the line sagged just right, and then seeing the lights come on in a house for the first time. I can remember a house, it must have been the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, and the family had never had electricity. When those lights came on, bam, you talk about some happy people.
J.H. What were some of your greatest challenges?
C.P.: On a big line, having a goal of how much you want to get done in a day and then accepting that not everything’s going to go the way you want.
J.H.: I’d say that’s still the case for us today.
C.P.: Well, that’s just life. You’ve got to go with the flow. That’s what I always told the new guy, that it’s a lot to learn and you’re not going to learn everything in a week or two.
J.H.: I’ve still got a lot to learn.
C.P.: Just remember that because you’re the lowest man on the totem pole doesn’t mean you don’t have good ideas. It’s the good ideas that rise to the top, and that makes a better job for everyone.