Opinion

Big boys Tonka Toys shape dirt-piles

Bob Graef -
Bob Graef
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Have you taken in the best shows in town? Theyre not to be found at the Casino Amphitheater or Everetts Events Center but spotted around town where new schools are going up.
I cant complain about the fences surrounding Marysvilles school construction sites. There was a time, before the price per panel skyrocketed, when construction barriers were made of plywood. Lousy for viewing. You had to peek through seams to catch a glimpse of what was going on inside. These modern woven-wire barriers offer unrestricted visibility which can become an issue when passing drivers slow to a crawl to admire the action.
Have you noticed the dirt pile near the new school on the Rez? Its the mother of all dirt piles. When I was a kid, a pile like that would have been a magnet. Harold and Bill Palmer, Dick Thiele and I would have claimed it as ours and clambered up its sides to play King of the Mountain. In case King of the Mountain is another childhood game that disappeared into history along with work-up softball, here are the rules.
There are no rules. Think of a Marine Corps pugil-pit where the winner is the last one in the pit, having thrown everyone else out. King of the Mountain is similar in that the object is to be the last one on top, having thrown everyone else down. No rules doesnt mean the game was without tactics. It goes without saying that the one on top owns quite an advantage over whoever might be clawing his way up so Harold, Bill and Dick joined in a three-point attack when I was on top temporarily.
Good dirt piles are temporary features of most construction projects. Their lives are too short to grow grass and brush so the dirt is loose, good for kicking toe-holds, good for tumbling down without suffering serious injury, good for invading shoes and pockets and grinding into scalps and ears, good for a thorough scolding afterwards at home.
Dirt piles have universal appeal. Back in the early 60s when Homer and Lou Goodrichs house was going up next door, there was a dirt pile. We had quite an assortment of neighborhood dogs in that time before leash-laws. Our dog, Sam, joined his buddies atop the dirt pile each morning to figure out their plan for the day. They sat in a small circle until consensus was reached, then down the pile they skidded to trail off to whatever mischief gets invented in dog-brains.
The spoil-sports of modern construction feel they need to erect fences around their dirt piles. I suppose there is a reason, what with some hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machinery lying about. That wasnt a problem when I grew up. Mr. Beamis had a white horse named Silver that pulled a thing called a Fresno scoop which, with Silver, was the only piece of earthmoving equipment on a site. He and his horse took it home with them each night.
Think of a jumbo flat-bottomed open-fronted wheelbarrow with no wheel. Mr. Beamis directed it by shouting Gee! Or Haw! to turn his horse right or left to scoop up whatever soil was to be moved. Once hed collected a load, the horse dragged it up a growing dirt pile where Mr. Beamis threw the handles up and forward to dump his load. How things have changed.
On our school construction sites, hard-hatted operators twiddle joy-sticks to control multi-ton snorting diesel diggers. The controls are so delicate and precise that, should an operator drop his hard hat, he could probably retrieve it with his bucket and return it to his head, suffering no more than a mild concussion. My kids and grandchildren love to watch, having grown up watching Dave the Builder, a video titled, There Goes a Bulldozer and an ABC book titled, B is for Bulldozer.
The action at the new elementary site at 67th and Grove is especially entertaining. Operators atop track-hoes spent the month shuttling transient piles of dirt. To onlookers, it seemed they were forever finding that something has to be done right under where they last made a pile. One day a pile is here, the next its there. Equipment operators seem to be especially fond of slopes and summits where they enjoy perching their machines. Precarious, but it adds a little spice to the routine. They scoop and dump, scoop and dump a gazillion times each day and face more days of the same. Surely the thrill wears off but Id still love to get my hands on the controls for a few minutes.
We sidewalk-superintendents had a treat watching a big auger bore holes for pilings at the elementary site. A 60-foot tall drill supported by a monster crane brought up peat and gray sand that was too mushy to support a two-storey building. The one-time corn field is so soft that houses bordering the site on the south rest on wood pilings set years ago by Wes Goheens amphibious pile-driver. Hundreds of pilings now underlie the school building to assure safety during earthquakes.
Youll have to be quick about it if you want to watch the remaining action on the 27th Avenue project. One week it was all bare foundations, the next week a modular school was stuck together, ready for finishing.
Everywhere you look you see new houses. Here and there a new school. Im betting that the thousands of new houses will generate so much added enrollment that our new schools will open with portables on the sites to handle instant overflow. Any takers?

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