Have you envisioned a total stranger, even from a distance, and you knew this was a person worth knowing better?
Meet Rick “Swamp Man” Budd, age 54, an employee with wife Pat’s oldest son, Karey Amick, who has a crane lift business to retrieve fallen planes and sunken boats out of the Gulf of Mexico.
Rick’s work ethic as “first ship mate” and trusted “manager” at Pleasure Island Marina in Port Arthur, Texas, first got my attention.
“Rick will do any job, no matter big or small, dirty or dangerous, at the marina here,” verified Karey.
Initially, Rick and I didn’t talk, as if this man was getting a read on this recent visitor from Tennessee hill country.
Our initial breakthrough came as Rick hosted a crab boil for neighboring harbor friends, along with shrimp harvested straight out of Lake Sabine.
Sometimes, I use the unusual “Whittle” name to start a conversation: “Sir, my name is Whittle, but I can’t whittle a lick, but that is one unique-looking paddle you’re using to stir the crab and shrimp.”
“A friend named Deasey ‘whittled’ this paddle for me from a tree here on the Texas coast,” testified Rick, obviously a man of few words.
The scheduled crab boil that day was carried on despite the harbor professional men working six tedious hours on wrenching an 18,000-pound boat out of the water for repairs.
“Lifting a big boat out of the water can be tricky,” crane operator Karey shared. “Ground foreman Rick is a very cautious man in balancing a boat just right when we hoist one out of the harbor.”
But, what about the crab boil?
“The crab boil goes on, that’s a tradition,” Rick noted as his wife, super cook Darlene, prepared trimmings.
“When we get busy here in the harbor, someone takes over the cooking pot,” Darlene explained. “Tomorrow night, we’ll have red snapper and ocean trout for our evening fish feast with all the neighbors coming in.”
After a feast of crab and shrimp, Rich shared about his boyhood swamp experiences back in native Florida.
“It had rained for six straight weeks, which kept us out of logging,” Rick floated back in time. “We finally figured out where an old logging road would let us get at some timber, in order to make a much-needed pay period.
We talked late into the evening …
“That’s the day we walked in swamp water up to our necks, toting our chainsaws over our heads, stepping one step, then searching with the other foot, before taking another tentative step, trying to avoid falling in a hole or tripping over a tree hidden under the flood water,” Rick described.
“But, what about water moccasins and cotton mouth snakes, not to mention alligators?” I asked of my new friend.
“Mocs and cotton mouths, they don’t bother me, they don’t attack, unless surprised. You keep your eyes peeled. Most of the time, you can safely take a stick, killing them with a firm swift whack to the head,” Rick shared.
But, there is a snake that bothers Rick!
“Rattlers, they’re different and will attack you. They unnerve me,” Rick shared. “I recall one rattle snake so big, its body was as thick as the thigh on a big man’s leg.”
But there was something else unique about this rattler.
“A neighbor drove up the logging road, and we decided to kill the big rattler, since it had a bulge in its body as big as a water melon,” Rick added. “Upon dissecting the rattler, we found it had consumed a big swamp rabbit. Whewee, that was the awfulest smell we ever ran across out there in the swamp!”
However, it was an accident that nearly cost the life of a relative that helped end Rick’s logging career.
“We were cutting small trees,” Rick recalled. “It was another high-water time there in the swamp, when my brother-in-law sought to cut a big vine that hung between him and next tree that needed cut.
“But, when the chainsaw went through the vine quicker than expected, it caught in the tree, which caused the chainsaw to buck back in the face of brother-in-law!” Rick shared.
The result could be part of a horror movie: “The bucking chainsaw not only knocked my brother-in-law back through the air several feet, the saw blades came back in his face, cutting his head and face open from the top of his forehead down past his eyes and nose. I’ll never forget his eyes looking east and west, with his head gashed open!”
Miraculously, the injured man survived.
“Doctors said if the chainsaw had cut another one-eighth inch, he could not have survived,” Rick noted. “Today, you can hardly notice the cut place on his face, due to miracles performed by God-gifted doctors. That tragedy started me thinking about ending my logging career.”
“But, isn’t raising and lowering big boats out of the Gulf dangerous work too?” I asked.
“We pray a lot, and pay attention to detail when we tackle a vessel that weighs thousands of pounds,” Rick shared reverently. “We try to pay attention to detail and watch out for one another.”
Writer’s Note: So, what does a man who makes his living with words have in common with a man who does dangerous work retrieving vessels, and sometimes the bodies of drowned victims out of the Gulf of Mexico? Rick and I agreed: “We like real people.”