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March 2, 2021 By R.A. Jones

Moxie and A Bulldozer

The Alaska railroad ran flat and unswerving across the taiga. Section gangs, who kept it running, insofar as it ran at all, were at the bottom of life’s social and economic ladder. Ennui ruled. One day a message was relayed from the Road Master. The bulldozer gang needed qualified new dozer drivers. Were any available?

“I drove a dozer once in the Marines. But not for long, though, and not a big one,” laughed Earl, an all-around good guy by local standards although he had left LA ahead of a posse. The story was that he’d had a dust-up with his sister’s unsatisfactory boyfriend. That counted for nothing compared to other members of the rag-tag gang.

Anyway, the gang chief submitted Earl’s name as qualified. Two days later, a colossal bulldozer on a reinforced flatcar was parked on a local siding.

“Have your man take that dozer off the flat car and clear a 500-yard strip out beyond the side track,” sent the Road Master.

“Off the flatcar! How to do that? Bulldoze a clear strip?” Earl didn’t even know how to start the motor. But Butch did. Butch was one of life’s roving crew of untrained fixers who roamed the earth after WWII and could fix anything.

“To get the dozer down you make twin ramps of old cross ties tight up against the flatcar’s side. Then you drive the dozer down the crosstie ramp.”

“But the dozer faces the length of the flatcar. And I don’t know how to drive it, let alone turn 90 degrees to face a ramp!”

“Learn to drive it right up on the flatcar,” said Butch. And that’s what Earl did. A few inches forward, then reverse, and do it again.

“And how do I turn it 90 degrees to face the ramp?”

“Position the ‘cat’ by the ramps. Gently rev up one track forward and the other in reverse.”

After a lot of sweat, Earl got the dozer turned facing the ramps. It began to look like he might avoid crashing the whole rig off the flatcar and onto the main line.

Butch signaled for a gentle drive forward. The huge machine, still level, roared very slowly out into space. Then the weight of the colossal dozer blade out in front made the dozer nose-dive. An unperturbed Butch signaled, “Come ahead slowly.”

It was done. Earl climbed down, sat on a stump, and buried his head in his hands. It took him three days to successfully, more or less, level the brush.

The Road Master shook his head but finally said, “Good enough.” The next day Earl caught the flyer headed north to the dozer gang.

Maybe any of us could finally have done it. Surely Butch could have. But only Earl had the moxie to try. The lesson for the rest of us was to reach for one of life’s ladders and never stop climbing.

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