SSJID Veteran Well Versed In Delivering Water
Nick Fereria knows what it's like to work seven days a week as a "ditch tender" - seven months straight with no days off - bringing water to the thirsty farms and orchards in and around Manteca.
He also knows how a ditch tender can unexpectedly surprise a party of teenagers celebrating in the depths of the almond orchards. They see the lights of a ditch tender's truck and fear it is the police - disappearing in every direction.
He is quick to tell how lucky he is to be working for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District when he goes to bed at night he has the comfort in knowing his job will be waiting for him the next day - the next month - and the next year.
"It's a good place to work," he said.
He also has rich memories of an early classroom teacher, too, and of his grandparents who he credits for putting a special zing into his life growing up in his family.
Fereria and his mother used to take the California Zephyr to visit his grandparents at their home near Oroville. They became friends with the train conductor who would later keep on eye on the 10-year-old when he traveled the rails by himself.
When the train pulled into the Oroville station he remembers seeing his grandparents waiting for him - "and I knew it was time to go fishing," he said.
He said when his grandmother was in her mid-90s he was surprised she was given a five year driver's license. She was parking her car at the post office one day after that when he was nearby watching.
She parked across the stalls sideways. When he cautioned her parking: "She just told me she had a handicapped sticker and went inside," he said chuckling.
It's amazing that a man who has so much on his shoulders at work can remember the important things in life such as his grandmother's cooking that she passed down to his mother, Shirley.
Chicken cacciatore is his mom's specialty - she lives in Modesto- and he was quick to brag about her cooking.
The SSJID ditch tenders keep irrigation on a 10-day schedule rotating the water delivery to farmers, opening the control boxes and moving the water down laterals from over 350 miles of ditches and pipelines.
Much of the winter's work is scheduled for Division 9 where plastic pipeline will be laid next to the existing ditches that will give farmers the option of charging pressurized irrigation water into their sprinkler systems.
He was proud to show me the district's "mystery box" surrounded by almond orchards that is a junction of water flow similar to a freeway interchange with water flowing in numerous directions over and under other flows.
A man of many talents, Fereria is no longer a ditch tender. He works now as a pest control foreman for the district. It is his job to see that burrowing pests do not compromise the ditch waterway system. But over the next six months he will wear yet another hat - that of engineering facilities manager.
Those duties will take him through the winter months when the district will tackle over three years of work in just six months. Workers will lay some seven miles of pipeline plus gunite two ditches. Work is also scheduled in resurfacing two tunnels in the Knights Ferry area. He will serve as the inspector for a total of 11 jobs during the winter.
Fereria's wife, Lisa is principal of Weston Elementary School in Ripon. It's an administrative position she took after many years as a classroom teacher. It's important that a male spouse of a female teacher be supportive - they appreciate it, too.
Fereria said, "I was one of those people, before we got married, who thought teachers were just baby sitters. When I saw how hard she worked and how she cared for all her kids I knew I was way off base."
He emphasized that he does anything his wife asks. It is a fact that he even helped put up TV mounting brackets on classroom walls. Now that this is in print she may be asking for more of his help.
He said her time in education has changed his profile of teachers once thinking they had an easy job. That's not true, he said, most teachers are dedicated, take too much work home and spend too much of their own money on classroom supplies.
Fereria has vivid memories of one classroom teacher he had in his early years - all the kids liked her - "she had a lot of respect," he said.
"I remember she threw erasers, big erasers - she'd hit you every time, and leave a big chalk mark on you- it didn't hurt," he said. "She just did it to get your attention, which was a good thing - you couldn't do that today."
While Fereria has been with SSJID for 20 years, he has sidelined his number one sport of motorcycle racing in lieu of fly fishing. With a wife and a family of three young girls he said he just can't afford to get hurt.
His racing was done mostly at Lodi's Cycle Bowl. Other tracks he has raced were in Ventura, Newman and Chico. "It was one of my passions," he said.
Fereria grew up in Castro Valley moving to Harden Flat above Groveland in 1972. Sonora High was his new campus using the school bus every day to get to his classes from his distant home.
"I was the first one on the bus in the morning and the last one off at night - it made for a long day," he said.
After high school he worked for his dad in the logging industry up Highway 108 near Beardsley. His logging days later took him to Redding and the Bass Lake areas.
And it was 20 years ago that Fereria came to Ripon and went to work for SSJID. He doesn't plan on leaving any time soon - it's become his home.
Working in the SSJID farmland territory he has seen quite a bit of vandalism in recent years including graffiti on power boxes and copper wire theft. Six solar panels were recently stolen from the district's solar farm near Woodward Reservoir. Thieves just unbolted them and carried them off, he said.