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Like Hilton Head’s Renourished Beaches? Thank this Longshoreman

Posted on June 28, 2016

By Wade Livingston, The Island Packet

James Dollison used to keep a scrapbook, and in it he kept pictures of the places he’d been.



North Carolina.

The Bahamas.

The dredging ships have taken him far from his home in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

“Growing up I never thought I’d see the Atlantic Ocean,” he said Friday afternoon as he walked around the beach renourishment work site near Hilton Head Island’s Mitchelville Beach Park. Sunglasses hung from the collar of his orange T-shirt, and an orange safety vest and green hardhat completed his ensemble.

A bulldozer and a backhoe sat nearby in the sand. Overhead, the intermittent whine of jet engines and buzz of propellers as private planes made their final approaches to the island.

“How beautiful,” he’d said earlier of Hilton Head, as he sat in a chair and smoked a Newport in the shade. “And the people, they’re pretty friendly.”

Dollison — a Weeks Marine longshoreman whose veins descend sturdy forearms rooted in thick, rough hands — is commuting from Hardeeville as work on the $20 million renourishment project commences. He’s a week into the job, and he’ll work 12-hour shifts seven days a week for 28 days before he gets two weeks off. Then he does it all over again.

The money is good, he’ll say, and that’s all he’ll say. He’ll smile.

Which he does a lot, and which helps when you don’t know any of your coworkers, which often happens when you bounce from job to job. The union does a good job keeping him working, he said, and the new friends he makes along the way become his “union brothers.”

“Somewhere down the line you’re going to run into them again,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

He walked over to a sand mound taller than his six-plus-foot frame and, as he neared the ridge overlooking the dredging pipe, spotted an alligator climbing atop it where it emerged from the water.

“See, I don’t mind the water,” he said, “just what’s in it.”

See, I don’t mind the water, just what’s in it.

James Dollison, longshoreman for Weeks Marine

He pointed to the pipe and traced its path with his finger four miles out to sea where the dredging ship was anchored. Once, he said, he’d been on a dredger like that and, as it raised anchor, a buddy told him to look over the side. He did. A “school of hammerheads” circled below.

He works on the beach now as a longshoreman, placing the pipes that pump in the sand to widen the beach where tourists will sunbathe, but he used to work on ships. Over the past 11 years he’s been a cook, a deckhand and an oiler.

He’d served as an oiler aboard a dredger anchored in the Bahamas’ Freeport Harbour nine years ago, he said. He was working nights then — he likes nights, “Cooler,” he says — and he and buddy were sitting on the deck when they saw a light in the sky. It came on bright like someone had switched on a bulb, then disappeared just as quickly.

He worried people would think he was crazy, so he never told anyone — just his wife.

Now, she’s back home in Pine Bluff, where she’s raising their two youngest children.

“She teaches them, makes sure they do right, teaches them about the Good Lord,” he said. “It’s a job. She does a good job of it.”

He hopes she can come out for a visit in a month or so when he has some time off. That will be his vacation, he said. He’s been driving around the area when his shifts end, and he’s found a few places he wants to go. Golden Corral, he said, IHOP, Cracker Barrel, places like that.

And they might go to the beach.

Pine Bluff — where his father made cement blocks and his mother worked at the U.S. Army’s arsenal and cleaned a lawyer’s house — is another place he vacations, he said, in between jobs. It’s nice to get home, back to the country. “A wonderful place,” he calls it. “Home.”

Still, he likes to get out and see things.

“If you get tired of doing one thing, you can always go and do another,” he said, referring to the jobs he’s worked as a dredger. “I just love the opportunities.”

He sat in a chair and finished his cigarette as he told the story about the strange light he’d seen in the Bahamas, and the scrapbook he used to keep.

“I can’t really say,” he said, when asked why he abandoned the book. “I used to love it. As long as I’ve got the pictures in my mind … .”

It would be nice to have the pictures to show the kids, he said, but he just doesn’t have the time.

And, he said, his eyes lighting up with realization, I used to work a lot of nights.

It’s hard to take pictures in the dark.

Source: The Island Packet

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