EPISODE #8: BOB “THE WOLF” LOPEZ

November 5, 2018

Welcome to the Precast Podcast, episode number eight. With us today, we have Greg Stratis, company president, and a special guest, Bob Lopez, AKA “The Wolf.”

That’s me “The Wolf,” could be “Bob,” “Trini,” or “The Wolf.” Depending on my era. But yeah, this place is awesome to work for, I don’t know what kinda questions you want to ask me, but go ahead, buddy.

Okay, we’re pretty well loaded. So, this is, we started off kinda podcast one through four, we had almost a monologue. And then podcast two, three and four, we had Greg involved and also Ed Shea and Bob Flores. And we kinda went through the whole company history. So this is really the first podcast where we’re getting some different employees on from Shea Concrete Products. I’m sure we’re gonna hear some different perspectives today. We’re looking forward to that. But Bob why don’t we start off with, how long have you been with the company?

41 years. Yeah, I’m actually behind the scenes guy. I’m the one that broke my ass in the yard.

Like my first day for instance. I cut wires all day. I remember going home from work after working twelve hours, and my first wife at the time said, “You already quit. I know you hate it.” I said, “I can’t wait to get to back to work tomorrow.” All my friends work there with like a big party. We just broke our ass, and we made cement and poured forms. And back in the day if you didn’t do what you were told, the old man would hit you in the ass with a two-by-four.

True story. Today they own the company, back then it was more fun.

Like at Wilmington for example, at lunch time we’re goin’ out back with, go swimming. Before we’d go home, we’d go take a shower in the pond down back. We’d leave soap down there at lunch time and make sure we went home clean. It was a great place to work.

So fair to say, how did you first hear of, at the time, E.F. Shea, am I right?

I just found out, I never knew the company existed, ’til a friend of mine at high school got a job here. And he said, “Yeah, that old man’s always hiring.” I had to come down three times for a job, ’cause my hair was too long. ‘Cause Mister Shea wouldn’t hire me. Went, “Aw, you lost a day. Your hair’s too long.” I went and got a haircut, come down two days later. He goes, “Naw. It’s August. I mean it’s too hot.”

I told [Marin 00:02:32], I need a job. The third time I came down, my hair was actually up to my ears. And he hired me.

I could picture him doin’ that too.

Oh yeah. He gave me a week, but I had friends that worked there, and it was more fun than work. You know, two bucks an hour. All the hours I wanted. I was stylin’. Had two cars. Had an apartment within a few months.

And I just watched the company grow. I seen a lot of people leave. You know, they meant to better themselves. I just stayed. And every year I would see him buy new form, buy new truck. I watched his girls turn from seven or eight years old to now their all married in their fifties. I just watched it grow and grow. Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve bought something. Either a truck or a new form. And I always tell people, it’s the precast company that has the most molds wins.

Any small one, like this … you know Greg, that sawtooth form we just got. We saw it at first, got to go, “That thing, ain’t never gonna sell that shit.” Now we just, anytime we sell a bulkhead, we sell sawtooths.

I don’t know, half the product that we sell anymore.

Neither do I anymore, Bob. (laugh) I used to know ’em all, but I don’t know ’em all-

Thank God we have all these guys that know everything. It’s just. I get goosebumps when I talk about this place now.

So you started doing cages and stuff like that?

Oh yeah. Yup.

So what did you do after that?

I started making cages, was my first few weeks. And then the college kids who worked the summer, went back to school in September. They came back every year though. Then I started greasing forms, which today, it was unbelievable. The old man would buy five gallons of pig tallow which they get from the piggery up town. And you mix it with kerosene, and you splash it on the forms. And you use a brush. You’d have zits the size of eggs. It was horrible. That’s why you had to, it was horrible, but it was still fun. During the winter months-

It probably smelled good too.

Aw, it was awful stink. It’s just amazing. Amazing how that was then and now you-

So greasing forms is a step up from doing cages?

Yeah. Oh yeah. ‘Cause cages you started roll it, and you’re in the back all day long and you’re by yourself. Greasing forms, the yard truck would come up and put the form on top of the shell.

And then after that then you became the guy that would drive the yard truck. That was an awesome job. I did that for a year and a half.

That was an A-frame truck, like striping cranes. Is that what they use? Serpentine-

Yeah. Rather than have a building, we’re out in the yard. We had two old A-frame trucks that Eddie used to use. And I used to strip the forms. And you’d bring it down back, flip it over, put it on the ground. And by the time you got back up, the cage was on it and it was greased. And you lay it on top of it.

And this happened in the rain, or the sun, it didn’t matter what the weather was. You didn’t want to work outside, you just go home. If it was freezing, or it’s, it was just fun.

Did you have your CDL then?

Nope. I got my CDL almost my second year here.

So how long, so within your first year you were already driving a yard truck?

I started ’77, and I ended up going on road in ’79.

Really? Wow.

Beginning of ’79.

So you moved along pretty quick?

Yeah. I just wanted to learn more. It’s kinda sad about it now, but I liked to work in the yard. But once you went on the road, it was freedom. The old man wasn’t there yelling at you. You go to do something, you do it quick and as good as you could. And you get back and you do more.

How’d you just do the CDL on your own? Or did Ernie help you?

Yeah. I took a Shea truck down to get it. They took me down, got my Class 2 first. And then a few years later … I drove a stage truck for eleven years. And that’s back when men did a lot of bulkheads. I did 21 in one day. 20 with no doors.

When first started driving, though you weren’t doin’ bulkheads though were you?

Oh you were? Right off-

Well, no I started with a little six-wheeler putting septic tanks in. That’s not even work. You just back up the hole, stick it in the hole, get back to the yard. Putting the bulkhead in, you got to drill holes and install so it doesn’t leak. Make sure it looks good.

Back when I first drove, the condo market was huge. So people weren’t just buying one or two bulkheads, they were buying 50, 60 or 100.

I remember doing for a summer, I did doors. And you were doing-

The precast.

The precast part. And I’d follow you behind in the flatbed with all the doors on it. And we’d go to condos and help a little bit. I can remember calking doors, and you told me to stop calking. You’ll take care of ’em. Because I was doin’ such a lousy job.

Calking job. I had it down to a science.

“I’ll calk those. Don’t worry about it.”

I had no finger prints for a while ’cause you rub your finger in it. But yeah. It just shows how like the company grew.

So you did the A-frame truck, then like a PC25, I’d assume.

Yeah, it was a small, it was an eight series. It’s a smaller crane. We didn’t have the deep bulkheads, we had the S, A, B and Cs. At times we had bigger bulkheads, we get bigger cranes.

And then you ended up going on a tractor-trailer, right?

Yeah, in 1989-

You remember what year that was?

1989.

Was that the Kenworth? Or was that something else?

No. My dad drove a truck. So it was like my thing to drive a tractor-trailer truck. Oh, I got my Class 1 license through my dad, and then Eddie was away. And Mister Shea asked me if I could go down and get bulkhead doors.

And I go, “Really?” I couldn’t sleep that night. I came to work at like four in the morning. Get the truck started. Go to the [candi-cate 00:08:28]. Backed it in with a box trailer, which I really never pulled before. It was like goin’ on vacation.

Using the CB. And I…

I bet your handle was “Wolf.”

Actually my handle back then, I didn’t have one that first day. So I’m listen to people, getting used to it. And once I get on it full time a few years later, I had a handle. But that first day I was back by noontime. Usually the guy that got bulkhead doors was back at four o’clock. I flew down, flew back. The old man goes, “Why don’t you take your old truck and throw a couple bulkheads in while you…” It was only like one o’clock in the afternoon.

So, I did the bulkheads and after that it was my gig. I got doors half the time. I came back and still did product.

So what happened to the truck driver that use to go and get the doors, after you cut his time in half?

That was Ed, right?

No, that was the fireman, [Stevie Robbins 00:09:23]. He worked part time. We put him on a ten-wheeler. He’d work like a couple days a week. So that was my job. It was awesome. But we really weren’t busy back then to keep a driver on it full time. But that’s about the time we started doing the five inch wall material.

Five inch material, yeah.

And corn holes and stuff. And that really took off.

Delivered a lot of man holes, too.

Oh yeah. Manholes up the ass.

Imagine if you could count how many manholes you delivered.

I tell you, I had a little book once that I keep track to myself. Half the way through the year, I was like 1.5 million. Or more.

I was gonna say it had to be almost a couple million manholes.

Right. Just by myself. But back then, we didn’t have to tie anything down. And now the poor guys gotta put two straps on. But it was fun. I mean, see who could do the most trailer loads. And I did like seven in one day. But it was all close. I would rather go to Tewksbury or Woburn. I mean seven trailer loads.

We definitely travel a lot farther now.

Yeah, now they go further, now it’s like goin’ on vacation. Beautiful trucks. I mean we always had good trucks.

Yeah, our truck was probably pimped out the most out of anybody’s. That Kenworth.

Oh yeah, the Kenworth had a huge motor in it. I mean you could leave the yard with the left front tire off the ground, a couple of feet. I mean it’s the way they made it. That thing was sick.

On the highway, after all I got a CB, and I called myself “The Big Bad Wolf.” ‘Cause I could huff and puff and blow your doors off. That was good for a couple years until guys get bigger motors in their trucks, and I kinda calmed it down to “The Wolf.”

So, that’s officially where “The Wolf” comes from?

Yeah, “Big Bad Wolf” shortened down to “The Wolf.” As time went on, like the blizzard of ’78, that was my second year there. We still had work. The old man said, just come to work. We shoveled out. A few days later we had the yard clean enough so we could ship some forms. Pour concrete.

We never ever did not have a day where we did not have work. Could be so slow, but the old man would always say to us, “If you make it today, it’s worth more tomorrow. Because the sand and stone are gonna cost less.” Back when your pay’s gonna be so you stock concrete. It doesn’t go bad. We didn’t have four yards to fill up. We had one yard and maybe a couple other small yards, we did.

What was your biggest memory of Ed’s father Ernie?

Hitting me with a two-by-four. Across the ass. (Laughter)

Well he never liked trowels. You’d be screening the form off and you had a screening bar. And then everyone had too much cement in it, and you’d put it in a wheelbarrow. And you’d bring it over to [D-box 00:12:05] cover and put the waste in there. If he saw you trowel off to make it look pretty, he had a two-by-four in the back of his Ford. He’d catch when you weren’t looking. Hit you across the ass with it. It happened more than once.

But after a while it was kinda funny. People thought he was mean, but he was a fair guy. I remember once, it was hot out. We were gonna quit. We’re all gonna quit. “It’s Friday night. We’re goin’ home early. He can kiss our ass.” He came back at three o’clock, said, “I got six more yards coming. We’ll be out of here early.” And we’re all going, “Yeah, whatever.” He goes, “Ken come here.” There was four of us left. He goes, “Get in the back of my car.” He bought us a twelve pack of Fudgeicles. And we’re eating in there, air conditioned car. We all had three apiece.

And the cement truck came. He’s all, “Get out. Get to work.” Like he was still trying to be mean. We get out and he goes, “That was a, that’s pretty good thing he ever did for us.” The other kid goes, “I just started here. And you said he was mean.” I say, “What. He in’t mean.” But, he was an awesome … that’s like another reason why I just stayed.

I just watch it … and now that you’re here, Greg. It don’t end. And see look what we’re doin’, we’re talking into a frickin’ microphone talking to you. You gotta be shitting me. I should be at my desk, the old man yelling at me.

Now Bob, in front of your desk as you walk in, you have the Shea flag, or that banner. Where’d that come from?

It come from the closet over here. (laughter) We had the desks lined up. And I talk a little loud. As I get older I’m getting more deaf. I realize Joey’s always, he’s raising his voice. To get on the phone. So I figure I rearrange it, maybe my voice would go away from the office. And like a groundhog, I find stuff that people … that thing would’ve been there forever. I think that flag might be thirty years old.

I think it came from Wilmington when we cleaned out the offices. ‘Cause we just did the Wilmington office over, so a lot of the stuff got move up here. And that was in the archives in the attic.

So it kind of fit. I was gonna put it away, but the girls come in. They said, “Yeah, it looks awesome.”

I call Bob “The Idea Man.” He is constantly coming up with ideas. Most of ’em good.

Some of them are off the wall.

Like that commercial on Comcast that we’re doin’ now. That was all his idea.

The girl on stairs.

The whole thing was your idea. I mean-

I wanted to have like a, the first time we were gonna do, it was raining out. That would’ve been perfect. Woman comes out of the house, a T-shirt-

White T-shirt.

Raining out. She’s sitting on her stairs drinking coffee. But whatever.

I mean that was his idea to do the commercial. He’s always coming up with stuff.

My head ain’t right. You know the three stooges when we were little, and Curly had a little cuckoo bird in there? My head just got … especially when it comes to this place. Weekends I would drive around look at people’s front stairs. I don’t know what to say.

I might be blowin’ smoke up your ass really. I think this place is awesome.

So back to stairs, right. What is your primary responsibility right now at the company?

I dispatch. I was steering bulkheads. I make sure ones get work. I answer the phone, take orders. Try and make people happy, sometimes. To make them happy I transfer them to Greg. Pretty outspoken. I tell the drivers, “I don’t care what you do just come back empty.”

So, he does dispatching for the steps and bulkheads. That’s his primary function. And the idea man.

Yeah. The idea thing, that just comes natural. There’s so much, you know, there’s just so much going on now. Look at this table. Made out of concrete. And our name’s in the middle of it.

The embedded logo, yeah. It’s awesome.

The name means a lot now to a lot of people. I don’t know. I mean I could go on and on. We can talk on this thing for four days.

Well I’ll say one thing, my first day of work, one of the guys I was working with, [Timmy Shiguse 00:16:13], said “Hey, go move that wheelbarrow over there. Wheel over that thing.” The wheelbarrow, it’s broken. So I spilled it on the ground. And the old man saw me shoveling it and told Timmy to go away.

We were such a close bunch of friends that we used to have that big sump, we used to wash our hands in. The end of the day they threw Timmy in it. Took four guys to get him in it. But it was that day I realized that, “These guys all got my back.” That’s one of the reasons why I came back the next day.

We played softball. You owned a softball team, right?

Oh, that’s right. Yeah. Now that you mention it, we used to have our own softball team. That was a blast.

Really?

That was a blast. We should get back into that.

We had one team that was over 30. And these are guys that worked together, back in the ’80s. Friday nights or Thursday nights, we’d play softball. It was like a different thing. We’d have a few beers, then we’d get into a league that the women could play. Which I’m not a big fan of that. It’s a man’s sport. The men go out. But then we need a couple girls to play. I think Kathy played once.

It was just something that we did. We didn’t even talk about work for a change.

I remember I pitched a few games. And I struck out this lawyer across town that was on the other team. I said, “Court adjourned.” When he went back to the bench. He remembers that ’til today because he’s my buddy Joey’s lawyer, Peterson. It was so much fun. I’m surprised I didn’t get my ass kicked. But it is what it is.

How about the transition from Ernie Shea, and then Ed Shea? Could you talk about that a little bit?

Basically it’s the same people. Ed’s just like his dad. Ed never hit me with a two-by-four though. Coulda killed me when I married his daughter, but besides that, well, that’s another story.

So you think Ed did a lot to expand the company?

Yeah. Ed had done a lot. Mister Shea never wanted to get real big. He wanted to stay small and be comfortable and live out lives have a nice little company. Eddie wanted to try new things, and it worked out. Like the five inch wall. Uncle John came and the old man never wanted to get a core machine. Never wanted to make our own cement. And Eddie kinda did anyways.

The main thing in this whole company is brought for us, Ed would go racing while we’d run the company, right? We could have the worst day on the planet ever, Ed would call up? “Everything’s great, Ed.” I just said, “You just lied to the boss.” He goes, “Listen, he doesn’t have to know what’s going on.” And you’re the same way. Greg’s the exact same way. Place could be on fire, and Greg would. “You busy?” “Oh yeah.” There’s not a truck moving, big snowstorm. “Everything’s great, Ed.” It’s all he had to know.

And look at ‘him. He walks around here, he can’t believe it. As long as he’s smiling we’re all smiling.

I forgot Ernie was the one that invented the brick, well not invented it, but he’s the one that really did the brick around the stairs. That was his idea.

Oh yeah. Frickin’ horrible idea that was. It took me-

Yeah, but look at what we’re doing now.

I know. He took me off my trailer truck and put me in the yard to brick. Ernie did.

Brick stairs, yeah.

So I bricked all winter. I couldn’t joint ’em. So he went up town to a bakery and get a baker’s bag. The end of it was stainless steel the rest of it was canvas, and you’d pour the cement in it and squeeze it out. And then you’re jointed. And they come out pretty nice. And the old man goes, “You’re getting the hang of this.” I didn’t want to get the hang of it. Joey would drive by with my trailer truck, go, “That’s mine.”

“Listen, we’re gonna do good here.” So we did. We sold a lot of brick stairs since we started it.I learned how to be a mason. Which I would never want to be a mason. It takes patience, I don’t have patience.

I can picture you not wanting to do that.

No. But at the beginning, I would brick ’em, we would put ’em up top and stack ’em. On Saturday, I come in. The old man said, “We’re not gonna brick stairs today. We’re gonna rearrange the inventory.” So people would drive by and think that we sold them.

We’d move ’em around for a couple hours. We go have lunch, figure I’d go home at noon time. No, “We’ll put that one over there.” And people would drive by see the truck picking ’em up thinking, “Well they must be selling ’em.” We didn’t sell nothing. People would see the inventory being moved around.

But as time went on, we sold some. And sold more. It’s another idea that your old man had.

Now we get calls for those across the country. One in California.

Yeah, people call up and want ’em.

Had a guy call wanted one in Pennsylvania.

Well, it’s funny. You know last week we had a seminar downstairs. Part of the plant tour we were out at the stair facility. We took a video and posted it in social media. With that automated, you know, the gun. That they now use to put the grout in.

The mortar gun. Yeah. Unbelievable.

It really is.

And you thought you were stuck with it with the bag.

If I had the mortar gun, I’d be shooting people. It’d be awesome. But the technology. Rebar, it’s hide rebar now with a gun. We used to have a twirly thing. Took forever. But it’s changed.

You get a lot of comments on social media about that did we?

I mean tons of views on the video. A lot of likes. People will always ask questions too like, “What’s that called? Does it work well? What’s your recommendation? Where do I get it?” So always reach back out to, typically plant managers. And just kinda say, “Hey, you know, can you provide the information? We got some folks asking.”

It’s just changed. I don’t know what it’s gonna be around the next ten years. Think about, what’s next in the concrete day? God. This goes on. I think a newest thing’d be that they’d call thinking their buildings. This office furniture, we made it.

You have two kids that work here too Bobby.

Yeah. Actually three.

That’s right, I’m sorry. Three kids.

My daughter Katy, my son Eddie, and my son Shane work here. It’s like family. The whole company’s about family.

It really is. We talked about that earlier today. Just that feel.

It’s awesome. Joey’s got his big brother, and his son works here. And you got your wife and your kids come in and work.

My kids don’t come here anymore.

They’re older, and they’re smarter than we are. But no, it’s all about family.

Frank [Demondo 00:22:54] and son. There’s a bunch of people like that.

It’s just, you go home from work sometimes and, you get home I think of something wanna go back to work. It’s crazy just to watch them.

When they were building this office, I’d look up the little office that we had. Every day we’d look out the window going, “That’s never going to get done. It’s never gonna get done.” Little by little.

We still gotta do the back parking lot.

Right. But still, we’re in it.

Wilmington been remodeled, looks crazy. I wish we video’d back when I started. I know it probably would be before then was, but it was so different. Just different. Different era. But we don’t know. We started taking more pictures now with things as we go. Go little by little.

So that’s about it. I could go on and on here, but you don’t got enough time. You’ll be getting gray hair.

Actually I’m in need of a haircut, and I do have quite a bit around the sides unfortunately. But we’re gonna address that.

And me and Greg get gray hair, we- (laughter)

Now, you know, product specific. When did some of the stairs start to be veneered with the stone?

Probably in the early ’80s. I wanna say ’87. ‘Cause I got my Class 1 license ’89. So ’87. But we started playing with it, with the brick. And back then we only had a seven-and-a-half inch rise, so you know, put one brick in the middle of it. And made a front.

We didn’t do stone until we got here, right?

No, we did. Yeah, Wilmington we just did brick and limestone. Mister Shea made that form up. And I was the first one to deliver a set with the limestone and the brick. And he came to the drop site, make sure I was doin’ okay. And we put ’em on different, we did it a little different.

Yeah, I was gonna say, we’ve gone through so many different ways of lifting those stairs up. Now the stuff gets applied and all that. We’ve changed it so much.

Yeah, and when we did one, and two. Mister Shea was so proud of himself. Now, I think we sell a lot. Stone stairs are awesome.

I mean you’re out in front of someone’s house, but we could have like a mason would be. You pour a pad, the truck’s out of there in 45 minutes. Leave a tire marks here and there, but that’s, the grass will grow back.

Well it’s funny to, my aunt, one of my wife’s aunts and uncles, they had, I guess they probably built their house in Ipswich maybe five, six years ago. They talked a lot about their Shea bulkhead. And then always at trade shows, we’re down in Boxborough last week. Kinda setting things up the day before. Lot of the exhibitors were walking by, talking about their stairs and how old they are. Was this person still around? I’m still learning names, right? I’m sure some of the drivers are still around. But everywhere you go. Stairs and bulkheads, it’s always something that people are asking about.

That was a big thing. I mean it still is a big thing. But back when I did ’em in ’78, I think a year later we bought another truck. It was like me, Phil, Joey and Richie [Walstead 00:26:15]. And we were pumping bulkheads out like 20, 25 a day.

And you’re doing six bulkheads on a truck.

Actually yeah, I could leave with eight S’s on, and six C’s on our mobile-

They used to flip ’em up back-to-back. Didn’t strap ’em down.

Used to have to put the doors on. And back by noontime, I did six and maybe do three or four more at the end of the day. But on a good day you could do a good ten with doors. And without doors you could probably do 20 or 21. But basically go to the drop site, you’d mark ’em out. Finish your concrete, smoke a couple Marlboros. Get down there drill the holes. Put ’em in. And you always wanna get back. Yeah, there was no phones then. There was the two way radio. They’d never came looking for them ’cause they’d know where I was. You get back as early as you could, and the old man’d give you another order.

I remember coming back once and we’d just turned the clocks back. When is that, next month? November? It’s five o’clock on a Friday night. He goes this guy needs a bulkhead in Boxford. And to me Boxford back when I first started driving was far. That’s like three towns away. Now we go near New York. So he goes, “Well, you have to go there tonight.” Well, Missus Shea, who is Eddie Shea’s mother, said “Bobbie Lopez is not leaving until he eats.”

There you go.

We used to get our order down on a string on a clipboard in Wilmington. She’d put down a plate of spaghetti in a Tupperware thing. I sat down. She sent me down a water or soda, the old man’s in the car waiting. My truck’s running. “He goes can you eat quicker?” She goes, “Leave him alone.” So I ate as quick as I could. I give it back to her, and I thanked her. He followed me to the drop site. We get there like at quarter past six. I threw it in in like 45 minutes. There was no one there. The old man just wanted to do that last bulkhead on a Friday. I think it was the end of the year or end of the quarter or something. Just to put it on the books.

Wow, really? (laughs)

It was like October 31st or something. So I get home at like eight o’clock. Probably the reason why I’ve been married three times is I was at work more than I was… I remember the judge telling me once during one of my divorces, says “You’re a great father. Great employed. But you’re a shitty husband. You’re never home.” I was at work more than I was, and I was. Four in the morning and I would go down to Boston to get powder. After my truck was parked, I’d weld to nine o’clock at night. I think I’d rather just be at work.

Go, go, go.

Go, go, go. I’m still kinda go, go, go.

You are.

I go home early now at 4:30, I say, I still got four more hours to go. That can go on and on forever. You probably don’t have that much time.

Well how about we’ll do a rain check for a future episode.

Yeah. We can go on and on. I could make 30 episodes. It’ll be like Hawaii Five-O.

You can give us a bunch of ideas on the next episode.

Yeah. I get more ideas as I speak. In fact we gotta start putting the lights on.

Yeah, that’s right. We got the color lights outside. We gotta do that.

Thanksgiving colors, yellow, orange. Do got black? We don’t go black. Halloween’d be orange anyways.

So you ain’t seen nothing yet, baby, alright? Every year we’re gonna, buy something, and I’m just waiting to buy another precast company up. Do something.

Never know what’s in that back pocket.

Alright, well, “The Wolf,” thank you very much for a great episode. We’ll look forward to doing more of these.

Yeah, this is awesome.

All of our listeners and our subscribers, thank very much. This is gonna wrap up podcast number eight. And we’ll be back soon to keep it going.

Right. Thanks.

Bye now.

See you.

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