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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Bob, Bewildered

Apropos yesterday’s observation that no one much is interested in real work, the lovely reader and commenter and very amusingly named Joan of Argghh sent me that video. Joan’s so wise she sent it to me a week ago or more, knowing I’d need it.

I really can’t watch a regular news story like a normal person. Everything is weird and wrong and every question is begged and I find it boring and infuriating at the same time, which is a particularly noxious combination.

Dirt is something the effeminate, ill-educated newsreader hires Vietnamese women to dig out from under his fingernails, but he doesn’t know that. Excavators dig earth, or soil, or loam, or fill, or processed gravel, or sand, or stone and a handful of other things, but “dirt” isn’t one of them. I’m like a fortune teller, too, and would bet cash money that if a mixer was present he would have referred to its contents as “cement,” which is of course one ingredient in concrete, and the one ingredient in that fellow’s head.

Don’t get me wrong, just because I know a little about earthmoving, I don’t think this fellow needs to, although it’s amazing to me how ignorant your average educated person is about everything that doesn’t have an apple on it. His job is not to know about excavation. His job is to ask questions about things so he can report on them to a third party. He sucks at his job. They all suck at their job, and don’t even know what their job is.

There’s a thumb on the bucket. Why is there a thumb on the bucket? You don’t use a thumb for excavation. It’s for grabbing things, like in demolition.

Back when I did a bit of this sort of thing, the operators needed a Hydraulics License. I can assure the public that there’s precious little that looks like buttons on an iPad or a Bob the Builder episode on there. Here ya go, have at it. Don’t forget to pick up the half-million or so of liability insurance you need to sit in the cab and fart if you’re getting paid. You’re going to need the insurance for funeral expenses at least, because outside of Las Vegas the ground has a lot more than mouldering gangster corpses in it for you to hit, and the first thing you do when you climb in the cab will be to touch the arm on the bucket to the overhead power lines and kill everyone within shouting distance. If you survive that you can hit a gas main later for a change of pace.

Ah, well, the people look like they’re enjoying themselves fooling around in the, ahem, dirt, and the instructor is my kind of guy, with his sunny “beats working” attitude. And since the representatives of the class of people who entirely destroyed the construction industry by being so smart want to rent out the residue of constructive work still hanging around, I say knock yourself out, everybody. Make Excavators of the Earth into Pirates of the Caribbean. It is rather fun to use big equipment, after all.

But please don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you’re getting a taste of the real thing. Because the real thing involves being handed a shovel, and being pointed at a pile of something out in the sun and rain as very skilled and highly trained persons cruise past you in that machinery, while a very cross gentleman stands behind you and directs your efforts in a volume and at a temperature that exceeds the Caterpillar exhaust. Because the first thing you learn in that sort of enterprise is respect for the process, and for the people who have mastered the process, and you don’t have any; and you’re going to have to get it the hard way.

12 Responses

  1. Wow, get up on the curmudgeonly side of the bed today? L-)

    But I get you – I spent a lot of time hauling plywood sheets across a muddy site before I was taught how to drive a bobcat from point-to-point. And I carried shingles up a ladder for weeks before they'd let me run the lifter.

    But that still looks like fun – I always wanted to drive a bulldozer.


  2. I know what that is – it's an excavator!

    I think the average person's understanding of heavy machinery is almost to the level in that kids' video (and I include myself in that number).

    We no longer live in an age of respect for the process. Unless the process is gold farming, but even there it seems most people would rather pay some Chinese prisoner to do it. People – especially younger folk – expect to just jump in the game and "level up" after a few minutes of play. And so they'll pay for an afternoon of digging in the "dirt," and consider themselves knowledgeable, and every time they pass a construction site they can have the warm feeling that they totally know how to do that.

  3. "Everything is weird and wrong and every question is begged and I find it boring and infuriating at the same time, which is a particularly noxious combination."

    Combined with the manic, abrupt pace and the insane topic juxtapositions, I stopped watching. Made me want to shake a cane at the screen and curse them youngsters for wasting my time, and I'm in my late 30's.

    I had done enough construction work in my youth to know I didn't want to spend my career there. Alas, I hadn't spent enough time in cube farms to known I didn't want to spend my career there, either, so a bad bet was placed and now my days are filled with florescent humming.

  4. The only experience I had remotely resembling this was running a forklift in a Crayola plant back in the '70s (and finishing guitars at night.) Got fairly decent at it after the requisite knocking-a-buncha-shit-down OJT. It added deep resonance to that old Brother Dave Gardner line that went "Get away from that wheelbarrow, sir. You knows you don't know nothin bout machin'ry."

    Most of my experience with shovels was on the other end of cow exhaust in a livestock barn, which I eventually got the hang of, but not before taking about as much shit as I moved.

  5. I know little about earth-moving equipment.

    But if you want to know how to take a destroyer from 25 knots in a 180-degree hard right turn, to a dead stop alongside an anchored aircraft carrier half a a football field away, then I might be able to contribute.

  6. My husband takes it for granted that, while discussing the acquisition of a used outboard motor I would be able to correctly posit the reason this particular motor was built for pontoon boats. "It must have more torque at low speeds, probably a bigger prop, too."


  7. You can teach about anyone to pull levers. What you do with the dirt is more important. I've seen rookie operators (me included) literally dig themselves into a corner.

  8. When I was a kid I though being a machinist, actually turning metal into useful things, was really cool… so I became one. It didn’t take long to find out other people weren’t impressed with my skill. They just wanted to know why it took so long, and why what I made wasn’t cheaper.

    Heavy equipment has always been fascinating, as have locomotives, farm tractors, and big trucks.
    Look how many toy models of those things have been sold. I’m not sure if there isn’t a chicken/egg thing going on there.

    Whether someone normally wears a three piece suit, an apron, or coveralls, they’re probably curious what it would be like to “drive” that “bulldozer” or “steam shovel”.
    OK, the jargon, dangers, or even the process, will remain a mystery to them. But they will experience the noise, the vibration, and probably the whine and lurch of mishandled hydraulics. Some may wish they could be operating engineers, but most will happy to be entertained for a bit, and tell their grandchildren they once “drove” a “bulldozer”.

  9. After Hurricane Ike, I happened to need to spend my days in a marina where really, really big cranes were untangling the mess of sunken and beached boats.

    It was astonishing. It was like watching neurosurgeons. It was as though the men and machines had melded and decided to do cross-stitch embroidery. Huge machines, delicate touch.

    Every day, boat owners came down from their insurance agencies and law offices and board rooms and stood around and watched. You could tell they would have traded places in a minute, if only they'd known what to do.

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