WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
Laying pipe is hard and dangerous. I remember one job in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near the shore of Lake Superior, that characterized both.
We were laying twenty miles of pipe through the Porcupine Mountains for the White Pine Coopering Mining company. While we expected it to be hard, we didn’t expect trouble between union and non-union contractors working on the same contract.
One night one of our large semitrailers mysteriously burned and a fuel tanker blew up. We figured it might be mining company workers because whoever did it knew how to handle the kind of explosives commonly used in mining. The culprits put an explosive charge on top of the truck transmission which then blew through the cab floor and out through the roof. It looked like a huge can opener had torn it open.
At the same time this was going on, Van Ess had another crew working in Florida. One morning a boring machine operator noticed extra wires attached to his equipment. Explosive experts were brought in to check it out. I heard a bomb went off in the bore pit, hurting at least one person. That spooked all of us operators. From then on, we carefully checked over our machinery before we would ever turn a key.
It was on this same job in the Pine Mountains that I nearly lost my life. Running through the area was the Potato River, which had steep hills along much of its banks. On our side, we had dug trenches for the large pipes to be laid. On the opposite side where we were heading was a particularly large and steep hill. On the top of that hill was a gravel road the gas company wanted us to carefully dig or bore under so as not to cause an erosion of any kind.
A boring crew on the top of the hill on the opposite side began boring under the road at a very steep angle. Since I couldn’t get the Case track hoe across the river, it was loaded and hauled around by road to where the pipe line was to continue. My job was to remove rocks the trencher couldn’t and to dig for pipe bends where the ditch had to be very wide.
A cable was put on the back of my Case track hoe to secure me as I was let down over the steep side. When I got down to the river’s edge, the cable was removed. By the end of the day, I had dug a path for the pipe to be laid and prepared to be pulled back up the steep hill. A crew members came over the top of the hill dragging a cable and hooked me up to reverse the method we’d used to get me down. Once the cable was secure, they began winching me up the hill.
I was helping with the lift by pushing with the hoe when suddenly the hoe began slipping back down the hill. I quickly jammed the hoe bucket into the ground and looked up the hill to see what was going on. I saw our foreman, Bob Morris, standing beside a winch truck. The driver had the truck door open and was trying to jump out. Bob pushed him back into the truck. I learned later Bob ordered him to step on the clutch to stop the winch from slipping. If the guy operating the winch had abandoned his truck with the winch still running, it would have pulled the truck over the edge, taking me and the Case track hoe along with it to the river 100-feet below. Bob saved my life that day.
After several decades of working the pipelines all over American, I retired. I bought a house for my family on the Ouachita River in Arkansas and can honestly say I am finally at peace with the world.