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A day in the life of a small town


Ran into Bob Jedlicka in Solon the other day.
Bob served as the city superintendent during the 1980s and ‘90s while I lived there, ran the newspaper and sat on the city council. “
A barrel-chested man, his knees began giving out on him years ago. As a result, he doesn’t so much walk as rock like a washing machine with an uneven load. His large chest also serves as an echo chamber. A man of few words, the ones he does speak echo long and deep before erupting from his mouth.
Bob was a huge asset for the city. A professional electrician and all-around handyman, there wasn’t much he wouldn’t tackle. If it snowed, he ran the plow around the clock until the job was done. If a city vehicle broke down, he’d fix it. He also ran the sewage treatment plant and hung the Christmas decorations on top of the water tower.
You name it, he did it.
Once, on a walk from the newspaper building to the post office, I noticed Harry Kral standing in the middle of Main Street looking into an open manhole. I walked up beside Harry, curious to see what was happening. At the bottom of a 30-foot shaft, I could just make out the top of Bob’s bald head as he worked a large wrench in a confined space on an encrusted valve that hadn’t been turned since maybe the Eisenhower administration.
I’ve written about Harry before.
If there was a good cause, say to build a medical clinic or a care center or a library or a new firehouse, Harry’s hand made it happen. From his office at 132 E. Main St., he kept a watchful eye over the city. He was a fun man to be around, always ready for Miller Time and to buy the first round and the next. He was also a lifelong and avid Cubs fans. He loved Wrigley Field and every spring he made the pilgrimage to Arizona for spring training. He also smoked cigars and may have had one lit that day we looked down at Bob.
“Hey, Harry, what’s going on?” I asked as I leaned over the startlingly deep pit.
“Don’t know,” Harry responded to me. And then, into the abyss, asked, “Hey, Bob what you doing down there?”
“I’m trying to close this $%#ing valve,” the reply rumbled up to us from the depths.
Harry looked at me and reported, “He’s trying to close a $%#ing valve.”
Mentioning the Christmas lights on the water tower reminds me, I once requested permission to climb it. Why? It’s a hard question to answer. As detailed many times, I’m deathly scared of heights. My theory is, in a previous life, I was tossed off a cliff as a human sacrifice. But I’m also a curious person, or a person who is curious, or... you get what I mean. Anyway, inquisitiveness is a good attribute for a journalist, and climbing the tower seemed like an interesting thing to try. And, it was in the city code council members were allowed to inspect any city property.
So one fall day, we met at the base of the tower with Bob holding the necessary keys and climbing belt. In reality, it was impossible to fall from the ladder. Thick straps connected the snuggly-fit harness around my midsection to a safety rail. You could jump, but the farthest you could fall was about a foot.
Nevertheless, it took me a heart-pounding hour to reach the midpoint where there was a small enclosure to get off the ladder and rest. Bob waited and offered encouragement until I made it the small recess and then scampered up the ladder to join me in a matter of minutes. After the break, Bob raced ahead so he could open the hatch on the top of the tower and begin his work. I followed, again at a snail’s pace, and managed to reach the hatch. While Bob walked around the edge of the tower, I watched, half-in and half-out. I’ve always appreciated that he took the time to let me go up there that day. And, I’ve always appreciated that he never teased me about how slow and scared I was.
Anyway, back on Main Street, a passersby crowd soon formed in the middle of the street around Harry and I when Bob’s voice vented one more time from the shaft.
“Jiminy Cricket! Doesn’t anyone in this town have anything better to do? You’re blocking my light!”