I love to tell stories that combine two of my passions: baseball and pipelines. I happened to turn on a Phillies game against Milwaukee just as the Brewers were honoring Johnny Logan, the standout shortstop on the 1957 World Series champion Milwaukee Braves. I had an abiding interest in Mr. Logan because he was a native of Endicott, NY where I was a reporter for several years.
As they honored Mr. Logan, I did a Google search and read that he was a welder’s helper on the Trans Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s and later on a gas pipeline in South Dakota.
Trembling with excitement, I knew I must act. I contacted the Milwaukee Braves Historical Society (unlike the Braves who moved to Atlanta in 1965, the Logans stayed in Milwaukee). The director, Buddy Lea, suggested calling a son, Jeff. Mr. Logan is 86 and in failing health that requires thrice weekly dialysis.
Jeff could not have been more helpful. It figures, because he was also a pipeliner, led into the business by his dad. He gave me his dad’s phone number, suggesting I call on a “good day.” But Mr. Logan didn’t feel well when I called so I politely thanked him and said goodbye.
Jeff persisted. On Father’s Day, he persuaded his dad to pose for the picture on our cover and answer some questions if I called back. The pipeline business was extremely important to the Logan family, said Jeff, 54, who worked from 1982-93 also as a welder’s helper and a card-carrying member of Local 798. He still holds fond memories of our industry.
“I was very fortunate I had that opportunity. The pipeline was like a working vacation because I learned about life first-hand. It was much more educational for me than sitting in a college classroom would have been,” said Jeff, the second of three sons, who acknowledges he might have followed in his dad’s footsteps as a ballplayer if he hadn’t lost his focus.
That money his dad sent from Alaska was crucial to the family. Players were vastly underpaid so jobs in the post season and after retirement were a necessity. The next time I called, Mr. Logan was ready. The answers didn’t correspond exactly to my questions, but so what?
“A contact here in Milwaukee convinced me to go up there because I needed a job. I didn’t know anything about oil or pipelining. I had that desire. It excited me, working on a pipeline. Instead of going to a bank, everything every day is adventurous, new. Just like playing baseball, but no game.
“I had no clue what the job would involve. I had to ask a young kid working for his dad, ‘well, what exactly do I do?’ If I get good instruction, I know how to follow.
“The only bad thing was that after a hard day’s work a lot of guys liked to drink, play cards and gamble. I didn’t even know how to play blackjack. There was no place to go but the barracks. Kind of boring, isn’t it?”
One challenge was the extreme cold as temperatures fell to minus 40. “I just put an extra jacket on, but I didn’t put any booze in me.” Then there were those always-hungry bears. “They were stealing our lunches from the buses at 5:30 in the morning. What the hell, they needed to eat too and knew where the sandwiches were.”
Mr. Logan worked two years on the 900-mile pipeline but wasn’t there when it was completed in 1977. He remains enormously proud of helping to build the most important pipeline in history. At one point though, he recalled looking out over the vast system, wondering if it was ever going to be finished.
Then we discussed baseball. A four-time All-Star who once led the National League in doubles and defense, his fondest memory is touching home plate after Hank Aaron homered and scoring the run that clinched Milwaukee’s first pennant in 1957.
Before we hung up, Mr. Logan offered some advice for those trying to find their way in today’s world, be it pipelines, athletics or otherwise. “It’s dog eat dog out there. When you’re young you have to do whatever it takes to progress yourself into a good profession.”
We have a saying in the industry that once a pipeliner, always a pipeliner. So, if you worked with the Logans and want to send best wishes, Jeff’s e-mail is email@example.com.