Bears preferable to workplace idleness

By Grant McGee: Local Columnist

I recall a saying I heard during my brief career as a construction heavy equipment operator:

“I’d rather wrestle a bear than spend all day doing nothing at work.”

It was the 1980s and I heard there was “big coin” in heavy equipment operating, and I needed “big coin.” After some training I found myself operating a Caterpillar 623B, commonly known as a scraper, the kind that moves across a construction site scooping up dirt.

I was ripping up the land to make way for new subdivisions, dumping dirt on top of a 60-foot pile when my right rear wheel slipped over the edge. This gigantic piece of machinery with me in it went over the side. There were no brakes.

Going down, I put my feet on the dash and held on to the steering wheel, screaming with my eyes wide open, sure I was going to die. I buried the nose of the scraper deep in the ground.

Along came Dave.

Dave was the foreman. He spent his days in the air-conditioned cab of his company pickup reading girlie magazines, glancing up every now and then to see if everything was going alright.

When Dave pulled up I was standing at the front of the buried rig. The pickup’s window came down. I thought I was going to be fired.

“What’d ya do that for?” he said. He was calm.

“No brakes,” I said.

“Next time you need to brake, lower the bowl.”

The bowl was the part of the machine that gathered the dirt.
“Oh,” I said.

“Don’t do it again,” he said.

A few weeks later, I was tooling along on the job when a line on the rig broke, spraying hydraulic fluid over the hot engine. Flames leapt all over the front of the machine. I thought I was going to be burned alive. I reached for the fire extinguisher while the rig was still moving. I killed the engine and sprayed the extinguisher stuff all over the place, putting out the fire.

Along came Dave. His pickup’s window came down.
“Why didn’t you let the thing burn up?”

“What?” The concept was so strange I was laughing. “You didn’t want me to put it out?”

“No,” Dave said, “if it’d burned up they’d send us a newer machine.”

“And I would have been in trouble,” I said.

“I’d cover for you,” Dave said, and he rolled his window up and drove away.

Sometime later my machine ground to a halt with engine problems.

Along came Dave.

I figured I’d be sent home for the day. I would not have minded a day off, but I sure needed the money.

Dave rolled his window down. Out popped a measuring stick and a clipboard.

“Walk around with these for the rest of the day,” he said. “If you see someone else from the company come by, act like you’re taking measurements.”

Dave rolled up his window and drove away.

Moments later another operator stopped in front of me. He asked what was up and I told him. He shook his head and said, “I’d rather wrestle a bear than spend all day doing nothing at work.”

It’s a saying I’ve always remembered.

After a couple of hours of doing nothing I realized the guy was right, but I also realized something else. Dave was a pretty good boss.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: