William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Top 10 Manly Jobs: Popular Mechanics’ Cool Gigs List

Popular Mechanics published a list of four dozen or so “Coolest Gigs on Earth.”

They ought to have said “manliest.” This isn’t The Atlantic or Time. This is Popular Mechanics!

The catalog is admirably inclusive, but it smacks of padding. For example, “Food Scientist” is pegged. This is a job which I’m sure is at least interesting—the guy profiled develops, among other things, blended iced coffee—but it isn’t manly.

Like “Food Scientist”, “Statistician” can be interesting. But is it a manly gig? “Don’t mess with him, Jim. He’s a statistician!”

Before laughing, try swapping your own title for mine. See if the sentence becomes less ridiculous. We “Account Managers”, “Financial Specialists”, “Insurance Brokers”, “Customer Relation Managers” are all in the same meek boat.

What’s a manly job? One that if you were to announce it at the bar—a drinking establishment where Pinot Grigio is not on the menu—the men sitting there would not smirk. Preferably, it is something that is done with your hands. Bonus points if it requires dangerous tools. A manly job is one that makes something tangible. It does something noticeable. It’s one that, at the end of the day, you can look back and actually see progress.

Here, then, are my entries. I’ve taken as many as I could from Popular Mechanics (marked with PM) and made inclusions where they were negligent. The entries are in rough order of what I’d rather be doing. Daydreaming is, of course, the real purpose of the list.

  1. PM Try that “Don’t mess with” sentence with “Bladesmith” as the occupation. It’s a fancier name for Blacksmith. Few titles sound manlier. PM profiles Burt Foster, who can make knives “that can chop through a 2 x 4, shave hair off an arm and bend 90 degrees.” He can also snap your neck in two and is impervious to heat.
  2. PM Stuntman. If you’ve seen—and appreciated—Burt Reynolds in Hooper, then nothing more need be said.
  3. PM Baseball Bat Maker. Johnny Damon steps up to the plate and takes the first pitch for a strike. Inge is on third from an earlier single, Ordoñez walked to first. Tigers are down by two runs. Crack! Home run! Tigers win! And it was your bat that did it. That’s both cool and manly.
  4. PM Field Mechanic. Any kind of mechanic, to include tool and die men, is surely manly. But fixing flats under fire ratchets up the required testosterone. This is one of the military professions PM included without resorting to admitting the necessity of soldiering.
  5. PM Grand Canyon River Guide. River Guide—Outback Guide, Tundra Guide, Jungle or Steppe Guide, any kind of expert of navigating nature’s nastiness—just smacks of a movie waiting to be. Here’s rugged Walker Mackay, who has lived on the river all his life. He’s taken hundreds of tours. But something is different about this one. Maybe it’s a chase, maybe it’s hidden treasure, maybe even something about a modern Hole in the Wall Gang. Adventure is just around the next bend.
  6. Soldier. The profession of arms is nowadays seen as low class when it’s not downright despised. People say, “We support our troops” by which they mean, “Those fools couldn’t find any other job.” An army is an indulgence and not a necessity. History is filled with societies anxious to beat their swords into plowshares only to find their neighbors have done the opposite. But what of men like Alexander, Patton, Ceasar, Joshua, Nelson, Washington, Wellington. That I can just write their last names and that you know exactly who I mean and why, shows the true importance of this profession.
  7. PM Demolition Blaster What true man doesn’t like to blow stuff up? And to get paid to do it? Sheer bliss.
  8. PM Fisherman On the open, raging sea. Trying not to be washed overboard. Drinking rum. Hauling in tons of smelly fish. Gutting, scaling and hacking them into Mrs Paul’s you leave to others.
  9. PM Distilleryman Drink up, men. Anybody can make beer: too many have. These days, microbrew ingredients more closely resemble fruit pie than beer. But it takes a real man to make whiskey.
  10. Astronaut. A rocketman on a mission to the stars! Even the training is brutal. Nothing is manlier. Unless on that mission, aliens are attacking and you are the Last Hope. Staving off an alien invasion must be the pinnacle of manliness.

Athlete is not on the list because it’s not a job a man can keep much past thirty. Unless it’s golf or curling. Fine sports. But manly?

16 Comments

  1. What happened to lumberjack? That is one of the most dangerous jobs. Of course, with the invention of the chain saw any wimp could easily cut down a tree.

  2. “Manley” implies jobs best performed by people with high levels of testosterone. British spy (James Bond) and gigolo (Richard Gere as Julian Kaye) are two that come to mind.

  3. Ray – might like to watch this:

  4. Ray,

    Please allow me to correct your terminology. Nobody involved in the profession calls themselves a “lumberjack”. The word is “logger”. That is a general term. The specific job you refer to is called “faller” or “timber faller”.

    And wimps do not fall trees. Chainsaws are heavy and dangerous. Severed trees are dangerous. The job of faller is hazardous, backbreaking, and exhausting. You have to be strong, smart, alert, and quick. You need endurance. No wimps need apply.

    Also, you don’t want to pick a fight with a timber faller. Even if you are an astronaut or river guide. You will lose, and it won’t be pretty.

  5. “Bladesmith” reminds me of an unfinished business. I haven’t watched the movie Kill Bill Vol. 2!

    It would be fun, not sure if it’s manly, to be a custom car specialist like those on the show. Pimp My Ride.

  6. “Choker setter” is another logging job that I would rate as dangerous or more so than timber faller. You wrap a cable around the fallen trees, usually on a very steep hillside and get out of the way before they are hauled into the air and up toward the trucks waiting to take them away. Sometimes they break loose and come crashing down. I had a friend who did this and it was very hard work as you were constantly running around on a steep hill.

    One of the more fun jobs in older sawmills was the sawyer who rode the log carriage. This was basically a mini-railroad car that the log was placed on and was usually steam powered. Many logs in those days were 6 foot diameter or larger. The sawyer actually rode on the carriage as the log was pushed through a circular or band saw to cut slabs off of it. Sometimes the log would come loose and break the saw or it would just shatter for no good reason. Little pieces of metal would fly off and you didn’t want to be anywhere near when this happened. Around 1950 or so when automated controls were available, they started to put the sawyer in a booth nearby and later put protection around him. Typical design here:

    http://www.climaxlocomotives.com/sawmills/?pg=6

  7. Ray says,

    “What happened to lumberjack?”

    Ohhhh, I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay. I sleep all night and I work all day. I cut down trees, I eat my lunch, I go to the lavatory. On Wednesdays I go shopping have buttered scones for tee.

    Chorus

    ….suspendies and a bra. I put on women’s clothing and hang around in bars.

    :-)

  8. Apologies to Monty Python et al.

  9. There must still be cowboys, surely. Miners also strike me as tough guys. The job that scares the bejeebers out of me is ironworker: Heights are not my thing, to say the least.

  10. Last year at age 37 professional bicycle racer and 7 time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong came out of a 3 year retirement to place 3rd in the Tour de France, the toughest athletic competition on the planet. This year at age 38 he’ll race the TdF again; this time on his own team, and anything can happen.

  11. A Halloween Logger’s Tale

    http://westinstenv.org/sosf/2009/10/31/a-halloween-loggers-tale/

    True story, although the names were changed. Happened about a week before I wrote about it. One item I left out was that they used the carriage to yard Buck up the hill. One of the crew asked me not to mention that in case the insurance company got wind of it and made some kind of fuss.

  12. I guess “logger” is way too PI (Politically Incorrect). Or how about “farmer?” PM used to have some imagination.

  13. Isn’t the underlying dichotomy between #6 (soldier) and #10 (astronaut) interesting?

    While it is true that most of the public views people that went into the military somewhat negatively in a variety of ways…but…military experience (especially as a fighter pilot) was basically the only means of becoming an astronaut until the mission specialist function on the Space Shuttle (and later ISS) came along. At that point & thru to the present, being a highly educated (aka “geeky”) PhD physicist, or other comparable PhD “brainiac” has clearly suddenly become “way-cool” IF it leads to a rocket ride.

  14. Life is nothing but a cool job .

  15. From the Wall Street Journal:

    “Masculinity, however, can come at a high price. Women often think of high-testosterone types as uncooperative, unsympathetic, philandering, aggressive and disinterested in parenting. In fact, there is evidence that they really do have more relationship problems than other men.”
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704100604575145810050665030.html?mod=rss_Today's_Most_Popular

  16. Baseball bat maker? We made those things in eigth grade shop class. Who cares if it was your bat that won the world series? Whose gonna know? Are the guys who make the cleats all dancing around then too? Carpenters are definently manly, but at least choose the ones making boats or houses. Baseball bats. Sheesh.
    How about cops. firefighters, park rangers, helicopter pilots, (pilots in general!), ranchers, cowboys, loggers, oil riggers, miners, gunsmiths, hunting guides, deep sea divers, and farmers? Holy smokes, I just made my own list!

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