“These guys right in front of me, they made the stairway for me, and I appreciate them every minute. They worked hard to get our name. I don’t want to mess it up. That stuck with me when I joined. It still sticks with me today.”
— Jim Miskell, Jr.
Father and sons on the job in the 1960s. Left to right: John Miskell, Don, Jerry and Jim.
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Miskell legacy spans 76 years
AN HOUR SOUTHWEST of Chicago, knee-high corn dances in the warm breeze. The sun blazes, heating up the small town of Marseilles, Illinois, where the six Miskell brothers sit shoulder to shoulder around the dining room table at middle-brother Jim’s house. The men, along with several other relatives, are reminiscing about their family’s 76-year Boilermaker heritage, most of it spent working out of Local 60 (Peoria, Illinois).
As young men, the Miskell brothers were off to a strong start as Boilermakers. They followed in the footsteps of their father, Hulet “John” Miskell, who’d earned the work handle “Johnny Good Hand” due to his skill, and because he was a man others relied on and respected. John joined the Boilermakers in 1942, working at a shipyard in Seneca, Illinois, out of the now disbanded Local 429. His pride of being a Boilermaker carried to his six sons, sons-in-law, grandsons and extended family over the next seven decades. And though his five daughters didn’t join the union, four of their husbands did.
While some families pass wealth and material goods from generation to generation, John and his wife, Hiddle, passed down something far more valuable to their children: a commitment to hard work, integrity and loyalty. That’s what made the Miskells successful Boilermakers.
During the years John travelled for work, Hiddle kept house and raised their 11 children. The brothers all speak lovingly of their mother, crediting her with keeping their family and home together during tough times, and while their dad traveled for long stretches of work on the road. The oldest, Jerry, recalls how his mother laundered all their clothes with a hand wringer washer. Even with time-consuming household chores, she always found time for her children.
Brothers work for “the old man”
GIVEN THE DISPARITY in ages between John and his younger sons — he was 42 when his youngest son was born — it was the older brothers, Jerry, Don and Jim, who often worked with their father. The younger three — Bob, John (aka “Little John” so not to be confused with this father) and Tom — worked mostly with one another. The only time all six brothers and their father worked together was during construction of the LaSalle County Nuclear Generating Station in LaSalle County, Illinois, a few miles from Marseilles.During the six-year project, the Miskells spent their days rigging and fitting. They built the condensers, and then flew them. And Little John took part in setting the reactors. While building LaSalle, or on any job with their father, all six knew that their dad was the one they had to please.
“When you were on the job, you were working for the old man,” says Jerry, the oldest. “He’d kick your butt if you didn’t do it the right way.”
Little John agrees. “He put a lot of pressure on you when you went to work.”
The brothers admit that this was because they had a name and reputation to uphold. Standards to maintain. Plus, they respected their father.
That respect started early. Growing up, times were hard. When their father wasn’t traveling with the union, he’d find side jobs to earn money until work would break.
“That’s where me and my brothers learned a lot of our work ethic — helping Dad with side jobs,” says Tom, the youngest.
They also learned how to weld from their father, who always had a project brewing around the house, such as constructing a rooftop TV tower from scratch to improve television reception.
Brothers enjoy family fun on and off the job
THE BROTHERS LEARNED their work ethic from their father both on jobs and at home, but they learned how to have fun with him, too. One Saturday night, coming home after a weeklong job in East Dubuque, Illinois, Jim and Jerry were in one car and Donny and their father in another.
After being gone from their families for six days running, they decided they’d race to see who could get home first. As Jim tells it, Jerry slept in the back seat while Jim pushed the car to 90 mph. Suddenly, a tire blew. Jim wrestled the car safely to the side of the road. When he hopped out to investigate, he found all four tires in good condition. Puzzled, he poked around and found the spare in the trunk blew because the tail pipe had rubbed against it. Needless to say, they lost the race.
While on the job, their father always stressed that the brothers needed to look out for one another. So when Tom took his first job working with Little John at Duck Creek Power Station in Canton, Illinois, he knew his brother had his back.
Two of the younger brothers were on a ductwork job when Little John took his lunch break, leaving the area where he’d been welding to eat with other union brothers. Tom decided to skip the food and take his lunch break in the form of a nap, lying down on the plank inside the ductwork where they’d been welding. When Little John came back from lunch, he started closing up the access hole in the duct, not knowing Tom was still snoozing inside.
As smoke in the duct started to thicken, Tom finally woke up. He yelled at his brother, who thought he was joking. Little John believed Tom was calling from behind, throwing his voice so it sounded like it came from inside the duct. So, Little John just kept on welding.
The duct filled with more smoke. Tom, feeling a bit of panic, grabbed the plank he’d been sleeping on and hit the spot where Little John was welding, startling him into action. Little John quickly cut the hole open and Tom crawled out.
It’s a story they still laugh about today, over four decades later.
Family heritage keeps Miskells in the union
WITH MYRIAD PROFESSIONS to choose from, what put one family on the path to the Brotherhood and kept them there for seven decades? Little Jimmy, Jim’s son, a 27-year Boilermaker out of Local 60, says it best.
“These guys right in front of me, they made the stairway for me and I appreciate them every minute. They worked hard to get our name. I don’t want to mess it up. That stuck with me when I joined. It still sticks with me today.”
Local 60 BM-ST Kirk Cooper says that the Miskells’ legacy is legend. Over the last 38 years, Cooper has worked at one time or another with every brother in the clan.
“They’re a very strong union-minded family,” Cooper says. “They exemplify what it means to be a Boilermaker. They demonstrate it on the job.”
Little John aptly sums up the years of working with his family. No regrets. None of the brothers have them. Only praise for the union, their local, and their family.
“We had all our brothers working together, and we still we love each other. There’s nothing better than that.”