February 03, 2007
Originally published February 7, 2005
Yeah, I can drive one of those, too. I mean a BIG BOY--- a Cat diesel with tires that are taller than I am and a bucket big enough to pick up a couple of cars. Those critters are hinged in the middle, so you don't really drive it with the steering wheel--- you use levers like the joy-sticks on a video game to maneuver that rascal on the job. The steering wheel is pretty much for street traffic only.
I had an operator bury one in an ore pile one day. The angle of repose for TiO2 ore is pretty steep, and you don't just drive up to that 28,000-ton mountain and grab a bucketload off the bottom if you have a brain in your head. That shit may fall and cover you up. That's exactly what she did.
She climbed out of the cab and walked to my office to report what she had done. Bejus! I couldn't see anything but the tail-end of that loader when I went to see it. The rest was buried.
I thought about calling maintenance and getting some cable and a couple of cherry-pickers to drag the loader out, but I decided to try it myself first. That probably wasn't the brightest decision I ever made in my life, but I did it. I crawled through the ore, made it to the cab and got the engine cranked. Then, I tried to back out of there.
No go. I was buried too deep. I tried the crab-crawl, using that hinged drive-shaft to walk my ass out. No go. I tried using the bucket to push my way out. All I managed to do was rock the damned thing up on two wheels and damn near turn it over on its side. Scared the shit out of me, because you sit up HIGH in one of those things and the center of balance ain't all that stable.
I don't remember what all I finally did, but I got that loader out. By the time I finished, I had attracted a crowd of about 25 people who gathered to watch me kill my dumb ass, but they all applauded when I broke free. I parked the vehicle on a flat piece of the ore slab and told my operator that I would fire her and then KILL HER if she ever did anything like that again.
She was righteously contrite. And she buried the loader again two days later.
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