A Day In the Sandbox

For today’s work, we needed to load over one thousand cubic yards of mixed gravel and soil and bring it to the giant sand and gravel depository which lay at the close distance of thirteen miles. So we were four drivers, my three-axle dump truck, one four axles, one single screw tractor with dump trailer and one twin screw tractor with dump trailer and we were lined up pretty as can be, four bright red ducks, uh, I mean trucks, in a row at 06:15 AM. The excavator driver had just finished his prechecks, and then he climbed into his Liebherr 926 of which he was exceedingly proud of! (It was almost brand new and had a nice clean yellow coat of fresh paint) Me, being the first one in line, backed up into position and the loading began. Two minutes later and thirty thousand pounds heavier, I pulled out as the next one began to back in, and off I went, following the flow of the river in the early morning, cheerfully whistling as if I didn’t have a care in the world, but we all know how quickly things can change, don’t we?

About twenty minutes later I arrived ten minutes too early, so I just spent it watching the concrete trucks getting loaded. At last Hermann, one of the front loader drivers came and opened the small office container door and told me where I could drop the loads. All I had to do was just keep track of how many we were bringing, and he’d tally them up at the end of the day. We didn’t have to weigh anything because the loads were being done by the cubic and not by weight. And so off I went and found myself before two locked gates which led out to the backside of the installation and again, I had to wait for George, another front loader driver, and he showed up two minutes later with the biggest and blackest sunglasses that I’ve ever seen! Actually, George is a small, slender man of around 45 with short cropped hair and energetic and he speaks in a dialect that I sometimes misunderstand. (I’ll come to that soon enough though!) OK, unloading completed and now I’m heading back for the next load, and Jens passes me in the pit and gives me a thumbs up, meaning a good day or my dump body is still up! I check the mirror, nope. It’ll be a good day.

On the way back, the other two pass me in the opposite direction, and I’m feeling fine. The clouds are breaking up, and the brilliant blue sky is filling the heavens, and the radio is playing some old forgotten song called “Radar Love,” and I don’t need a cup of coffee, yet. After receiving my second load, I head back, again, following the course of the river on a German country lane, traveling at 45 mph because that is the speed limit for trucks on these secondary roads. It really is too slow if you want to know the truth, but try persuading some bureaucrat to use some common sense! (It just might land you in some court of law for insulting them, no joke intended!

Shortly after that, I was at the gravel pit and preparing to turn and back up when George pulled up alongside me and told me that he wanted me to go further to the right, along with the edge and then back up across from the miry clay with the surface water. I looked at him and then at the clay and asked him to repeat that again but slower, please! He said the exact same thing in the exact same way. That’s called trouble in translation because the Bavarians have a peculiar way of expressing themselves, especially at 8:00 in the morning and I’m sure he’s not speaking the German that I’m familiar with! So at the risk of looking and sounding like an idiot, I repeated back to him, word for word what he had said to me, more or less and with a nod of affirmation, he then turned and climbed back up and into his giant front loader and shut the door and drove off as I kinda just stared at that huge water puddle that  deceptively hid the clay that lay underneath! I looked around for another truck, but there were none to be seen, rarely is when you need immediate guidance in a demanding situation like this! I felt really very, very small at that particular moment because common sense was telling me, DON’T DO IT! DANGER! IMMINENT RISK OF SINKING! YOU ARE GOING TO GET STUCK!  Do you know what I’m saying here? A fool wearing a dunce cap was going to look better than me if I attempted it! But George told me twice EXACTLY what I had to do! Talk about a rock and a hard place!

So taking a deep sigh and throwing caution to the wind, I climbed back into the cab and that was my first mistake of course, but the second was even stupider, I did not engage the manual shift, but left it in the fully automatic mode! (If I could turn back time,!) So off I went between the precipice that dropped around forty feet down the incline and the mirror smooth body of water that drew ever nearer the further I went, which forced me to draw closer to the embankment that fell off to the piles of gravel and ROCK below! Finally, I ran out of room, and so I pressed the pedal as I began to move through the mere six inches of water that had kept the miry clay soft and mucky, and the trap was sprung! My tires began to spin as the truck shifted into a higher gear and that was my death knell! The engine roared as the tires spun globs of clay and water high into the morning sun! I tried rocking the truck back and forth, but with an automatic transmission, it’s like trying to teach a ninety-year-old Grandfather Chinese, it ain’t happening! I tried the differential and lifting the third axle but nothing! So after putting everything in the neutral position and pulling the brakes, I got out and promptly sank in over my boot tops! Boy, I’ll say this, walking was a drag!

As I came around the front of the truck, I saw George sitting in his front loader watching me, and I would have sworn that he had an ear-splitting grin on his face from what I was able to make out from a distance of maybe fifty feet! And whereas five minutes ago there wasn’t a truck in sight, now there were five of them, and I’ll bet they were enjoying the show from the comforts of a dry cab! At length, George drove over to me and asked if I needed a tow! Well, what did he think I was going to say? No, thank you. I prefer to wait until the water has evaporated! Of course, I said, “yes, that would be nice of you.” Anything less than polite could cost me two cases of beer, and as it now stood, I was one down! So he backed his Volvo wheeler up and took out his tow strap, and I went to my storage box which is to be found on both sides of the cab-over and took out the tow bolt eye. It would be screwed into the socket which is hidden just behind the front body moldings and was strong enough to withstand a maximum pulling pressure of 75 tons, more than enough for my purposes. But where is the panel that hides the socket? In my older trucks, it was always at the bottom, just above the license plates and to the right or left, but it was neither here! And for the next five minutes, I searched for the hidden socket as George stood quietly by, holding the pulling strap. I’m pretty sure I knew what he was thinking even as the drops of anxiety slowly dripped down my forehead and into my feverish eyes as I desperately searched for the by now STUPID SOCKET that I couldn’t seem to locate! The seconds ticked by as the five minutes seemed like an eternity and at length, desperate for an end to this humiliating episode, I called the foreman and asked him in a strained voice, “Where is the damned socket for the eyebolt?” He laughed and answered, “Where it has always been, to the right or left of the cooler grill at eye level under a small plastic cover the size of your credit card,” I retorted, saying, “Well, I don’t have a credit card and besides, the sockets have always been down lower.”

“True,” he said, “that is until the new models came out two years ago and they moved them higher up and hid them out of sight.”  Thanking him, I ended the call and quickly found the small credit card sized panels, but I had to go and get my pocket knife to pry one of them open! Lo and behold, a socket! I would have jumped for joy if it were not for George who was still standing there off to the side, quietly watching me behind his Elton John circus shades. Composure is the better part of relief, and so I held my breath as we affixed the strap from the truck to the Volvo front loader at which point he told me to dump the load of mixed gravel right there for it would make it easier for him to pull me out, I didn’t disagree.

Now here is where it got really interesting for the space of roughly forty seconds. Picture this,  a three wheel dumper with its dump body standing for all intents and purposes, tall and empty, suddenly and without warning, being taken on a wild sled ride over and through the miry clay! I couldn’t use the brakes; they would have been utterly useless, steering in the opposite direction would have exaggerated the situation! I couldn’t drop the body without it being wrenched to one side or the other and all I could see when I had a second to glance in the mirror, was a tall metal box rocking precariously on its two pistons and I held my breath, waiting for one of them to snap, causing the dumper to fall over on its side and with it, my place of employment! How fast can a man pray? How high can a flea jump? The weirdest thoughts come into mind when things are literally hanging in the balance and in my case, it was no different!

Finally, after being swung around on a tow strap and feeling like a water skier, the ride finally came to an end, and the rocking slowly stopped, and my pulse slowed down! Thank God, it was over, and the truck is still in one piece. The moment of decision came when I depressed the lever to drop the body, expecting to hear scrapping sounds or a high pitched screaming or even a piston breaking off to the side, but nothing happened other than the smooth transition to a stable platform. I shut off the pto, and let out a rather long sigh of relief and wiped the perspiration from my brow and murmured a brief thank you. I got out and helped George undo the straps and promised him a beer or two the following day but he just grinned and said that the show was worth it and then asked me if I understood his dialect and it was right then and there that I knew that he knew that I knew that we both knew!

We laughed long and hard for about a minute and talked a couple more before we left to go about our work, but I was not angry, but in retrospect somewhat glad. I made a new friend, learned some new lessons and had something new to add to my book of experience. Tomorrow, George gets three bottles of beer because it’s going to be in the low eighties and because of a well-taught lesson, do not disregard common sense ever again!

A day in the sandbox is part of a day’s work, so I’ll just chalk it up to experience and leave it at that.