Dewey Turnbow, Concrete Loader, Prairie Material
58 Years and Counting
Nearly Six Decades In, Teamsters Local 786 Member Still Working

Dwight Eisenhower was President in 1955. And the AFL-CIO was founded. Scrabble debuted as a board game, James Dean died and in Alabama Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus.

In Chicago, 19-year-old Dewey Turnbow was hired to haul concrete for Material Service. The company eventually became Prairie Material, one of the Midwest’s largest construction outfits and concrete providers. It was then and remains today one of the largest employers represented by Teamsters Local 786. And Dewey’s still here, still working, 58 years later.

Now 76, Dewey began his longstanding Teamster career on Feb. 14, 1955, the birthday of James R. Hoffa, who’d be elected the Teamsters General President just three years later. Today, in honor of Dewey’s impressive and continuous work, General President James P. Hoffa has gifted the Local 786 veteran with an official Certificate of Recognition and a 50-year Teamster Service pin.

(Because 60-year pins don’t exist.)

You are one of the longest working Teamsters in the entire United States. How does that feel?
“I never thought it would get to that point, you know. I never dreamed it would get to this point. It’s hard to believe it’s been 58 years now but, you know, I am proud of it. I’m proud of it.”

Where did you think your career would go when you first started?
“Well there was no thought to it. I was happy to be in the union. Material Service was a union company first and they were Teamsters all the way. Always. I was always a member of Local 786, even back in 1955. But I never really thought about it, you know. I was just working and going about my job. I never really imagined how long I’d be doing it. I took it day by day.”

You still show up for work every day at Prairie Material on Chicago’s Southwest Side. What’s kept you here?
“I guess I enjoy it. I enjoy what I’ve been doing here all these years. I’ve been treated real well. I like the work. I get a solid paycheck, I get my benefits, I can take care of my family. That’s it. That’s the whole thing right there.”

What’s a typical day like for Dewey Turnbow?
“Well I feed the plant with material. I also ran the plant for many years during my career.  We’ve mainly been producing concrete here for a long time, so I’ve helped run the plant to break down these materials, to feed them to the trucks, to keep the line moving in and out to different jobs. I was never really a truck driver like a lot of the guys hauling it around the city. I remain at the plant, working the yard.”

Anything catastrophic ever happen at the plant? Any fires you’ve had to put out?
“Oh no. No, no, no. Are you kidding? We’re pretty safe here. We’ve always had fine guys here, great groups of guys. And we all take care of each other. We always have over the years. We’ve looked out for each other, take care of one another.”

What role has the union served in keeping this place safe?
“Most definitely. The union most definitely had a role, no doubt about it. The union was the best protection we could have asked for. That was the safety net that protected what we did, what we do. It was the safety net for my whole career.”

Why you don’t retire?
[Dewey laughs.] “You know, well, OK, here’s the truth. You want the truth? I’ve never really done anything else. I’ve never done anything else my whole life. I don’t go to strange places and take big vacations. I don’t know what else to do with my time. So I just keep working. I mean, maybe that’s sad, but I don’t know what else to say. It’s kept me active all these years. Kept me happy.

“I never really planned to have this long of a career though. I never really thought about it. It just happens. Life happens. And I’m proud of mine.”

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