Sit back and relax for a minute. In the deep, easy southern drawl of a fellow from the country outside Lake City, Florida, Rusty North is going to tell us a story about boats.
“I've had boats all my life. I think I bought my first boat when I was 20 years old, something like that. You know what I mean? Up here where I live at, you know, my father, when he was alive, he had a house on the Santa Fe River down there, which the Santa Fe River runs into the Suwanee River and, in return, the Suwanee River runs into the Gulf. So, I grew up on the river. I grew up in boats, so I've just loved them all my life.
“My neighbors I've got down in Ellenton down there, the old guy across the canal from me, I'm just up a canal, about a hundred feet from the Manatee River. He's got a boat, and they're begging me, him and his wife, saying, ‘C’mon let's go, you know. We'll take off, we'll go down to the Keys.’ They want two of us to go along there in case one breaks down. So, they're saying, ‘Come on, now, you need go ahead and get you a boat, or get you a different type of boat. So yeah, that's my next game plan.”
So, maybe the story isn’t so much about boats as it is about Rusty North, a 21-year Haskell team member and one of its most experienced, and colorful, Project Superintendents.
He’s proud of and connected to his North Florida roots.
He grew up fast. He said he bought his first boat at 20. What he didn’t say was that he bought his first house at 19.
He can spin a yarn, and when he does, which is often, it tends to meander like the Santa Fe flowing into the Suwanee and then into the Gulf.
And despite his rural upbringing, he isn’t afraid to navigate the open water and see the world.
“Rusty, because of that Southern hospitality that he has, has an ability to be able to develop relationships with both clients and subcontractors quickly,” Haskell Senior Project Manager Jerry Langford said. “He’s appreciated, trusted and respected by everyone for his ability to make a path amid the chaos that we call construction.”
Not only has North been working in the industry for nearly 50 years, he’s been running job sites and making order of the chaos for almost 40 of them. He started his career building power plants and was promoted to superintendent at age 30. He moved on to a building contractor that did primarily government work, and, in 2001 after that firm went under, he was recruited by a friend to Haskell.
“And I’ve been on the road with Haskell ever since, doing whatever they asked,” he said.
In addition to his easy-going style of managing a job site, he’s a master of Haskell’s design-build method of project delivery, which integrates a facility’s architecture, engineering and construction under one roof in a collaborative process that speeds delivery and reduces costs.
“That’s what I love about design-build,” he said. “I've got the luxury of, if I see a better way to do something, I can call the engineer, shoot him an 8½-by-11 and say, ‘What do you think about this?’ And they'll be like, ‘Yeah, but add this to it.’ It’s a collaboration. They know that if I’m calling, it’s for the betterment of the job, or it’s an easier way to do it or a cheaper way to do it or a more productive way to do it, and they'll go with it. That’s what I love about it.”
He’s worked on nearly every type of facility from the Pacific Northwest to the Rockies to the Northeast, Midwest and back down to Florida. Most recently, he was assigned to a warehouse renovation that would accommodate a new canning line at the Ball Corporation Manufacturing Plant in Pittston, Pennsylvania.
Jacob Perdue, an Assistant Project Manager, was on the Ball project, too, and appreciated having North there with him.
“When you speak to him, it's clear, having been in the industry for as long as he has, he has a grasp of every facet of a project,” Perdue said. “Everyone in the trailer always enjoyed his stories and how he would open a meeting with them or fit them in to break the tension of a situation.”
North even taught Perdue to speak a little North Floridian.
“Rusty had a name for every tool and a saying for every method of fixing something, and he said them as though you were supposed to understand him the first time he told you about it,” Perdue said. “But I always needed him to explain to me what he was talking about.”
Told of the communication gap, North just laughed.
“It took Jacob a while to understand what I was talking about -- me being a country boy, you know what I mean?” North said. “When we were pouring concrete, he wasn't familiar with the tools I talked about. We’ve got concrete come-alongs, and we’ve got hickey bars, they call 'em. That's just a big bar that you bend rebar with. He'd look at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He's from the Chicago area over there. It took him a while to understand my terminologies.”
It's pretty clear that you can’t take the Lake City out of the boy, and in this case, there’s at least part of the boy that you can’t take out of Lake City. North still owns the same house he bought there when he was 19.
He has branched out. Three years ago, his daughter, Melanie Fasold, who lives on Sarasota Bay in Bradenton, coaxed him to buy a place near her in Southwest Florida. That’s how he ended up with a house on the Manatee River, just up the canal from those folks trying to coax him into a different boat and down to the Keys. And that’s how we get to finish by having Rusty wrap up that boat story.
“I’ve got a 35-foot go-fast boat right now. I'm going to get rid of that and get me something I could sleep on – they call 'em pocket cruisers these days – so I can just go around Florida, just pull up at a little cove and spend the night. You’ve got a generator and everything there, you can cook, you’ve got water onboard, sewage treatment, the whole nine yards.”
Just don’t equate his plans for boat living to retirement life. He’s been idle since leaving the Ball project, and it’s not a fit.
“I'm ready to go back,” he said. “I can't do this. I've worked my whole life. I'm going stir crazy. You know what I mean?”
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