My favorite summer job was practically an accident. I was in college, and had been trying to get on board with a trail crew somewhere in the National Forest system, and had been spinning my wheels. With my sophomore year in college coming to a close, I shipped off one more application to the Nez Perce National Forest. When I called to find out if they'd received my application, the leader of the fire crew happened to answer the telephone. I explained who I was and what I was trying to do. He said he'd look around the office for the trail crew supervisor but didn't find him. Returning to the telephone, he gave me a choice that changed my life.
"Are you sure you want to work on a trail crew?" he asked. "Because I'm hiring for my fire crew, and it's more or less the same work."
More or less. Yes, you do use an axe and a shovel on a wildland fire crew, but that's about where the similarity to trail work ends.
I accepted the fire crew job over the phone, gave my horrified mother the news and packed my bags. In a few weeks, I was marching through a burned-over forest, a firefighter's Pulaski tool in my hands and a column of smoke over my head.
I spent the majority of three incredible summers hustling through wildfires big and small, roaring around forests in various pickups, fire engines and helicopters, and getting so dirty I couldn't see my own skin. They were some of the best times of my life.
My summers on the fire crew were the perfect antidote to my winters spent in college. They gave me stories to tell and let me escape academia for something simpler. Life gets a lot more basic on a fire crew. Whether I was lounging around a helipad waiting for some kind of action, or running through a forest that was on fire, I was happily disengaged from my schoolwork.
But over the course of a full summer, I found myself yearning for a little more mental stimulation. Maybe that's the best thing a summer job can do for a kid: get him or her far enough away from his academic drudgery that he or she yearns for it in the end.
Herein, we tried to find others whose particular jobs last only a summer. Some of these will only ever be three-month gigs while others can become a life's work. But the heart and soul of these jobs is limited to the finite terms of a summer's beginning and end.
As we roll into another hot season, here's hoping you have your job lined up, if you're lucky enough to be able to have one.
Lifeguarding for fun, profit and a tan
Perhaps no other warm-weather job says summer like lifeguarding. For those of us who spent sunup to sundown at our neighborhood community pool as kids, the lifeguards were like surrogate older siblings. Perched high on their lookout chairs, they set the bar for cool, with sun-bleached hair and tanned skin. From behind a pair of sunglasses, they mitigated the chaos cool as sweating cucumbers with a puff of a whistle, giving out time-outs to miscreants and clearing the water of thrashing kids to make time for adult swim.
Ask any kid who spent summers swimming; we all wanted to be lifeguards when we grew up.
So did 21-year-old Boise Parks and Rec lifeguard Kelly Knapp.
"I love working outside," says Knapp, who will be starting her sixth year as a lifeguard at Fairmont Pool on the Bench this summer. "And I love the kids. There's a group of kids that come every single day from the time we're open."
Fairmont on Northview Street is the pool Knapp grew up swimming in (Knapp now works for the woman who taught her to swim as a kid), and in addition to afternoon rotations as a lifeguard, she does the pool maintenance and teaches morning swim lessons five days a week.
Knapp says for her, the funniest part of lifeguarding is the kids who get in over their heads. To swim in the deep end, kids have to pass a swim test. Knapp says some kids will jump in eager to take their test, even though she's pretty sure they're not ready.
"You let them try and they'll get about four feet from the wall and freak out."
If she's doing her job right, though, Knapp says those times are the closest she gets to an actual rescue.
"The main thing is preventative lifeguarding," she says. She and her coworkers constantly scan the pool, steering the little ones away from the deep end and keeping an eye on kids trying to dunk their friends. "If you're not paying attention, something will happen."
When the pools close for the season, Knapp doesn't stray too far from the water. She's a full-time Boise State student and a member of the university's swim team. She also stays involved with Parks and Rec, working at Fort Boise Community Center's front desk during the school year.
Want her job next year? Knapp received her training and CPR certification in a two-week course offered through Parks and Rec. Applicants must be at least 16 years old, and will have to apply for a job online, as well as go through an interview process in the spring. For more information, visit cityofboise.org.
Up The River
Driving tubers back to the starting line
Few summer jobs are truly unique to a community. Every little league game in the country has an umpire. Stage managers wrangle professional summertime stages all over the world. And even the smallest of American towns is likely to have at least one lifeguard. But picking up busloads of waterlogged, sunburnt river rats lugging around armfuls of rafts and coolers? It ain't a summer job you'd find in many cities.
Chip Smith, who will be starting his fourth year as a river shuttle bus driver between Barber and Ann Morrison parks this summer, says his job is part bus driver, part unofficial city tour guide.
"It's really interesting to hear the conversations and to hear how many people from other countries come here," says Smith. "A lot of times, they're just touring the United States and somehow they heard about floating the Boise River." In the mid-90s, Smith drove the river shuttle for two years while he worked for bus company Mayflower, which provided service for Boise-area schools. Last year, he returned for his third year.
This summer, Smith and one other driver provide service seven days a week. He calls the shuttle a sort of melting pot of people: old and young, Boiseans and tourists, families and fun-loving revelers. For as many familiar faces as he sees (the river has plenty of regulars who float several times a week), he says he also finds himself giving pointers to tourists and answering their questions about the city.
A native Idahoan, Smith remembers when the river shuttle was an old gray bus called the River Rat.
"I don't think he even had any kind of contract with the county," says Smith. "It was something he just did." Today, the service is much more official. Ada County has been running the shuttle for years, and Smith says it's a common misconception that it's a free service. This year, the city will contract out management of the work to a Salt Lake City-based company, although the buses—and Smith—will all return.
When the season starts next month, Smith says he'll be packing in the floaters to the tune of 60 riders per trip during the peak times. Since the alcohol ban went into effect on the river, he says those rides are much different. He estimates that these days, only about 20 percent of the riders are inebriated compared to a much higher number when he drove in the '90s. But, he says so long as those people who are a few beers in are of a friendly nature, he's happy they're having a good time.
As for no-no's, Smith says don't expect the shuttle driver to stop and pick you up just anywhere.
"We can't hold up traffic; the police will give us a ticket if we do," he says. "We just can't pick people up and drop them off [somewhere] other than the designated area." And be on time because even though they are but two drivers, they run a tight ship when it comes to their schedule.
Raise The Curtain
Shakespeare's traffic controllers
Not all summer jobs are fun in the sun. At Idaho Shakespeare Festival, one of Boise's most popular summertime attractions, the seasonal cast and crew may be in the valley only for the summer months, but they're hardworking professionals year round.
This summer, stage manager Corrie Purdum returns for her fourth season with ISF to wrangle the production behind the scenes.
"I'm kind of like an air traffic controller," says Purdum. "I don't actually fly the plane myself, but I'm the one who is making sure everything is going on time and things aren't running into each other."
Purdum arrived in Boise last weekend after spending the winter in Cleveland, Ohio, at Great Lakes Theater Festival, ISF's sister company. She arrives ahead of the cast to set up the rehearsal hall and ready the paperwork so that when the actors arrive, rehearsals can start immediately. From there, she says, her job is two-fold.
"At rehearsal, I coordinate everything. I'm the paperwork queen," says Purdum. Once the show opens, she moves to the light booth, where she's on headset calling cues. When the lights dim, it's Purdum's doing. When bad weather rolls in during an ISF performance, it's Purdum's job to decide whether the show must go on. When audience members have heart attacks—which has happened twice on her watch—Purdum's in charge of stopping the show, calling 911 and keeping the audience calm until the show can resume.
Clearly, stage managing isn't a typical lounging-in-the-sun summer job. It's lots of long hours and lots of responsibility. In addition to getting her degree in theater from Ohio's Baldwin-Wallace College, she's also a member of the coveted Actors' Equity Association for actors and stage managers. Purdum says during her studies, she took it upon herself to specialize in stage management. She started out by assistant stage managing to learn the ropes before taking on her own assignment.
Ten years after earning her degree, Purdum may be in the theater world full-time, but she's definitely rooted in Ohio, making Boise just her summer gig. She'll return to Cleveland in August to start her next production with Great Lakes, and resume her teaching duties at her alma mater, where she instructs a stage management class.
This summer, you'll be at Purdum's mercy should it start raining at either of her two ISF productions. In June, she'll bring The Crucible to Boise from Cleveland, where she's just closed the show, and in August, she'll head back east with Into the Woods after putting it on in the Treasure Valley.
For more information, visit idahoshakespearefestival.com.
Tear it, rip it, harrow it and water it
Chris Giannini is not a betting man, but for his job as racetrack superintendent for Capitol Racing at Les Bois Park, he spends his days out playing on the field. The 29-year-old from Nampa runs his own construction business, so maintaining the horse track is kind of like his side job or "a paying hobby," as he puts it. Giannini got started in the business at a very young age. His uncle was a superintendent for a racetrack in California.
"I started driving tractors when I was 6 years old," Giannini said. "I love the equipment, that's my thing."
Giannini, and his crew of seven, speed around after each horse race using 180-horse-power farm tractors and harrows, water trucks, tractors and a motor grader.
"We only have 25 minutes between each race to get the track ready for the next race. By the time the horses get off the track and we are able to get out there, we only have about 12 minutes," said Giannini. "That's why maybe it looks like we are going fast from the grandstands, but the tractors only go 7.5 mph."
Giannini's crew has as many as five or six pieces of equipment out on the track at one time. The water trucks hold up to 6,000 gallons, so a certain speed must be maintained in order to get a whole load of water onto the track. Blading the racetrack requires grading or leveling it up by using a motor grader to establish the proper slope.
Matt Heggli, operations manager at the track, loves Giannini's work "They're a talented crew. The work that they do ... not just anyone can do it," Heggli said.
Between each race, the goal is to keep the water on the track at an optimum level so they water between races as needed. Then the crew harrows the track, taking out all the hoof prints. Ripping is done when the surface starts to get hard.
"We try and make it so everyone has a fair chance each race. If the track is too loose, too steep or too hard, it'll change the time of the horses," said Giannini. "Because we can control the time a little bit on the track, it's important to try and keep it the same all the time. I get satisfaction in making sure that the horses get around safe and nobody gets hurt."
The job doesn't pose any physical danger for the crew but one of the biggest concerns is the possibility of knocking down the fence around the track. If the races have to be stopped, the track loses betting money because all racing must conclude before dark.
"If it's really windy, it dries out the top of the track but it's wet underneath so you can't put too much water on," said Giannini. "Then later on in the summer when it's 100 degrees, you can put 10,000 gallons out every race and it still might not be enough water."
Giannini says the weather might be the hardest thing to deal with but it keeps the job from being monotonous.
Trail crew life can be a blast
Somewhere in the woods of the Boise National Forest this summer, some 18-year-old kid is going to play with dynamite and get paid for it.
Call it skills development or on-the-job training, but when Jim Ciardelli brings someone on to work for the U.S. Forest Service for the summer, you can bet that person will be exposed to a wide range of possible job activities.
"If I hire somebody and they're a good hand, I'll try to give them all the experience I can," Ciardelli said.
Ciardelli, 52, has more or less done it all for the Boise National Forest. But every summer, when it's time to get trails cleared, he hopes for assistance from younger folks willing to work hard and learn some odd, but useful skills. This summer's lucky recruit will get to help him and other trail crew workers blast out a rough section of trail using dynamite. Up near the Silver Creek Plunge area, horsepackers and hikers were having a tough time navigating a rough granite section, so the area needs to be re-cut.
Likewise, Ciardelli expects to be building a bridge or two out in the woods this summer. Trail crew workers might expect to handle a chainsaw, too.
The job includes a wide variety of tasks. One online job posting for a trail crew position in the Panhandle National Forest states that the work involves "hiking up to 10 miles a day in mountainous terrain, backcountry camping, tree and brush cutting, stump and root grubbing, construction and installation of recreation site facilities, and campsite cleanup." Workers are expected to be willing to camp out, work in "all weather conditions," and not be afraid to sweat.
"It is not easy work," Ciardelli said.
Sometimes, Ciardelli said, he's surprised by what he encounters in summer laborers. He deals with volunteers and workers of all ages.
"I still like to get out there and prove I can do it," he said. "But I'm 52. It's not as easy. I don't like to show it until I get home." He's been on firefighting duty at times when guys half his age are having trouble keeping up.
Students are a popular source of trail crew workers. Their academic schedules mean they have to be back on campus at about the time when the seasonal trail work funding dries up.
"You feel bad. A lot of people don't want to come to work in June knowing they'll get laid off," Ciardelli said. "But the students know they're going back to school."
The trick when hiring students, he said, is that they tend not to have many references available.
"You never really know what you're going to get," Ciardelli said. Still, these blank slates are relatively easy to hire.
"All they've got to do is call us up," Ciardelli said. "It's a good opportunity for a kid to get his foot in the door."
Local umpires stick with the game they love
You're in, you're out, you're foul or you're fair. Ask Chuck Gerry. For the last 12 years or so, he's been the guy who knows.
Gerry is one of about 65 slow-pitch softball umpires who step behind the plate to monitor the action for the hundreds of people playing summertime softball in Boise, Meridian and surrounding areas.
He generally works two nights a week, up to three games per night.
"I have the time and it helps pay for my golf game," said Gerry, 63.
What might seem like a thankless job is a way for Gerry to get outdoors and enjoy a game he played for a long time.
"You're outside, in the fresh air, and you make a couple of bucks," he said. "You have to enjoy it or you wouldn't be there very long."
Umpires can net about $16 to $20 per game, Gerry said, depending on their experience and availability. Because the games are time-limited, they're almost certain to make a decent night's cash. Especially if they work a field where players run the ball under the lights; a field like those at Fort Boise Park can book as many as three games a night.
And, despite the chance of a drunk player getting ornery or a bad bounce sending a ball into your shins, it's not as bad a gig as you might think.
"Ninety-eight percent of the time, it's fun," Gerry said. "We really don't have very many problems with ballplayers. They're friendly, they're out there to have fun. In most cases, the umpire is having fun, too."
Getting bonked in the chest by a tipped foul ball, as Gerry did last summer, is rare, a "freak happening," he said. He has, for the record, never been beaned. But let's remember, we're talking about slow-pitch softball, here. There are few 100 mph hardball pitches. Gerry doesn't even wear so much as a shin guard.
Gerry got his start in the late 1970s, he said, because back then, the city's rules were that if you were playing, you had to do a little umping, too. After a while, he quit playing in the games, but drifted back to the action.
"As long as you're healthy, you want to be outside, and you have an interest in the game, you're eligible," he said. "A lot of ex-players are out there."
And you do even keep in shape. Umpires, Gerry said, are always moving around.
"You're never a statue," he said.
The season runs between April and September, he said. But the umpires begin recruiting in the winter. By springtime, the group is hosting clinics to teach new umpires the rules and mechanics. Applicants take a 100-question test. By the middle of April, those who get through the training start getting scheduled for games.
But the job has gotten to Gerry: These days, if he happens to be watching a professional ball game, he's watching the umps. He's checking their positioning, to see how they ready themselves for the upcoming action.
Gerry said he's always looking for replacements. Anyone who's interested should contact Wayne Darling at 208-601-1002.