It was 1977. Fresh out of high school, with not a clue of what to do in life. A friend calls; they’re building a highway down south and they are hiring!
Another boiling hot South Texas summer; day after day of 100+ temperatures. But thanks to youth and being in the best shape of my life, a job outdoors was exciting!
Besides, the pay was a whole lot better than anywhere else. It was twice the minimum wage back then.
TALK ABOUT EXCITING!
My friend and I show up on the job site; an interstate highway through several South Texas counties. We both got hired; both driving scrapers. The foreman said, “only the best of the best could handle the scraper.”
And I believed him: 15’ tall and over 30’ long; mountains of steel on giant rubber tires. A scraper looks a lot like a big truck and trailer, with a cab out front that turns independently of the trailer. But that is where the comparison ends!
Behind the cab is a huge steel trailer, with an open box like a dump truck in the center. Below the open box is a side-to-side blade, that the operator raises up and down. And scrape it does…when the operator drops the blade, it scrapes long strips of dirt from the earth and into the open box. From there, the operator drives the scraper to another part of the project, lines the scraper up, and opens the door on the bottom of the box to lay out a line of dirt as he drives along.
I spent 3 days riding shotgun with a trainer, on the roughest seat I had ever felt (he had air-ride)! Then I was on my own…on top of the world!
SOUTH TEXAS DIRT
Because the dirt was so dry and hard, the scrapers of that time, even though they were massive machines, could not pull the blades through the dirt without some help. That help was the “push cat”. The push cat was a bulldozer with no blade; it had a huge metal bumper on the front, and it did what the name suggests…it pushed. The scraper driver pulled into line, dropped the blade, and waited. First, you heard that big Allison V-12 bulldozer engine wind up, and then you would feel the push cat meet the back of the big metal bumper on the scraper. It was hold-on time; that big dozer would push you along, and the scraper operator had to watch for the box to fill up with dirt. Then, the round trip began all over again.
It was hot and it was dusty, but it was one of the greatest times of my life!
Today’s scrapers are more powerful, with enclosed cabs and air conditioning on some. Even so, for a kid just out of high school (or anyone looking for a satisfying job), it is an adventure that should not be missed.
Today, there are heavy equipment schools, where you can learn how to operate any kind of heavy equipment. There were not any schools back in the ’70s. Check it out…put some adventure into your life!