NDI In the News

July 19, 2010


Delivering kegs taxes reporter's strength

Maine at Work: A job with a beer distributor sounds like fun, but Ray Routhier learns it takes both muscle and concentration.


Reporter Ray Routhier puts an empty keg back on a National Distributors truck while delivering beer and wine in Portland.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Ray Routhier, right, works with Steve Gale of National Distributors delivering beer and wine to restaurants on Commercial Street in Portland last week. Gale starts work at 6:30 a.m.
Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

ABOUT THIS SERIES

MAINE AT WORK takes an interactive look at iconic, visible or just plain interesting jobs. Reporter Ray Routhier shadows a worker or workers, reports what he sees and tries his hand at some of the job’s duties.

TO SUGGEST a job to be explored in this feature, e-mail rrouthier@pressherald.com or call 791-6454.

THIS WEEK’S JOB

TITLE: Driver/delivery for National Distributors, South Portland.

WORKER: Steve Gale, 42.

HOURS: 6:30 a.m. to when the route is finished (usually 4 to 7 p.m.).

SALARY RANGE: $45,000 to $55,000 a year.

DUTIES: Driving a truck full of beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages, and making deliveries to up to 45 bars, restaurants and stores in Portland’s Old Port area. Making sure paperwork and payments are correct.

SURPRISING FACTS: It’s a very physical job – drivers lug beer kegs weighing 160 pounds up and down stairs and into cramped coolers.

PERKS: Lots of free bottled water to drink; guaranteed overtime pay, even if you work less some weeks; being outside on nice days.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Steve Gale had parked his big red truck — with Budweiser advertising painted all over it — on Commercial Street in front of the Dry Dock restaurant.

He told me we'd be delivering kegs of beer there, and opened one of the truck's 12 bays to reveal them. Eager to help, I grabbed a keg's handle and pulled upward.

It didn't budge. Not even a little.

"Yeah, those are pretty heavy. They weigh about 160 pounds," said Gale, 42, of Biddeford.

Gale, who weighs about 165 pounds, grabbed the same keg, slid it to the edge of the bay and lowered it to the street. Then he slid a dolly underneath it.

"I've been doing this about 20 years," he said. "I guess I'm used to it."

I've long thought that delivering beer — or chips, or some other fun product — would be a fun job. Until I spent time with Gale, a driver and delivery person for National Distributors in South Portland.

I had no idea what a physically demanding job it is.

'LET THE WHEELS DO THE WORK'

Gale would deliver beer, wine and nonalcoholic beverages to some 30 restaurants, bars and shops in the Old Port this day, with high humidity and temperatures in the 80s. He would roll two kegs at a time up stairs and down into crowded basements. He would put six or seven cases of juice, water or beer on his dolly at one time, sometimes wheeling it down the sidewalk a few blocks.

Not to mention all the climbing in and out of the truck, between and behind high stacks of beverage cases, trying to find the specific products to be delivered.

Gale told me he usually keeps extra T-shirts in the truck on hot days, because he'll need to change out of sweaty ones every once in a while. Some days he works until 7 p.m. to get his route done.

After a few minutes of intense concentration, I worked up the strength to ease a keg off the truck and slide it on top of another keg that was already on the dolly. Then I leaned the dolly back, and the weight of the kegs fell against the dolly. It was all I could do to keep it balanced.

"Can I show you a better way to do that?" asked Gale, and I, of course, said yes. "Don't tip it back so much; let the wheels do the work. And when you go downhill, don't let it ride you; you want to stay in control."

I managed to wheel the kegs up the sidewalk and to the cellar door of the Dry Dock. Then Gale took over, wheeling them down narrow stairs, through a basement where neither of us could stand up straight, and into the cooler. There he hooked up the taps and took some empties out.

And that was just the first delivery.

KEEPING COUNT OF HIS CASES

Most of the orders are packed onto the truck overnight, ready for Gale in the morning. Although some similar products were in the same bays, Gale told me I basically had to go "bay to bay" looking for what I needed to fill the order.

That meant climbing up onto the bay, which was about 4 feet off the ground, and moving heavy cases of beer or wine to see if the case I needed was lurking somewhere behind.

After about half an hour, I lined up all the cases I found on the street near the truck as traffic whizzed by me. I counted the cases as Gale instructed and found I was about 10 short. Then I realized I was just picking out one of everything, while the order called for two or three cases of some.

So I went back and found more, but I was still one case shy. After about 10 minutes, I figured out I had missed one case of Fiji water. Once I got that, the order was ready to be wheeled in.

But Gale had only one dolly with him, so it took about six trips to get everything into the store. Often, Gale has a "helper" to give him a hand with deliveries, but on this day he got me, and I'm sure it slowed him down.

He didn't seem to mind.

"I like being active, meeting nice people, seeing my regular customers," said Gale.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: rrouthier@pressherald.com