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Building an Interstate highway and having fun doing it


Mission, TX
Sooner or later you guys will wonder if I ever took time to sleep.

In 1958 before I went into the Army, I started working for a construction company from Sioux City, IA, R Sam Krage Construction. A couple of young brothers that were sent out on their own by their father with some money to start up a company of their own. I signed on as the operator of a Minneapolis Moline farm tractor pulling a disk as the first equipment through new areas for the construction of Interstate 80 near Gretna, Nebr. Kind of a boring job really but stuck to it. Finally, I asked my boss if there was anything else I could work at that needed done. Well, construction equipment always needed greased, oiled up and fueled in addition to reporting problems to mechanics when I saw them. Hey, for this kid trained by my Dad on the farm, that was really great. My shift was the night shift all on my own since we worked only durring the day at that time. At one point, there was a suspected problem with a union since our company was non union at the time. Being a nice guy like I was (am?), I offered to spend the entire night on site under light plants as kind of a security guard. If there had been problems, I have no idea what I would have done other than recognize intruders. Finally that problem went away thanks to our outstanding employees so back to work at my regular job. Somehow, I became known by the superintendent, possibly from the owners, and was allowed to stay around after my night shift and if there was a piece of equipment sitting idle because someone didn't show up for work, he taught me how to operate it. Because of this, I learned how to operate every piece of equipment to build the roughout Interstate highway rightaway except for a dragline and a finish crawler tractor and scraper. That superintendent taught me almost everything about building highways. Of course, I worked my night shift and for him, I worked the day shift as long as I could keep my eyes open. Talk about fun and worked with a bunch of really great guys.
Well, except for one night that is. I was in the progress of changing out a blown light bulb in a flood light tower and was sitting in a truck with a boom on the back that I was going to use to get to the lights. I was waiting for a 4 wheel dirt machine moving behind me so I could clear it and move in. What I was not watching was another machine headed right at me in a dark area. Needless to say, he didn't see me and all of a sudden, I hear this loud crash and when I looked forward and all I could see is a huge Buda diesel engine about two foot in front of the steering wheel and the front tire on top of the driver side front tire on the truck. That machine was being pushed by another crawler but the operator of the scrapper had enough sense to drop the pan of the trailer and the machine stopped immediately. He told me later that he might not have been really sober but that was on the QT.
When I got out, I had to work my feet away from the clutch and brake pedals to get out. The nose of the scraper took the top of the radiator off as well as the carb, valve train and hood. Windshield was gone also. The night foreman immediately came over and the first question was "is anyone hurt". No one was so next he said get back to work and haul dirt. I finally got a push cat to nose the destroyed truck out of the area and went to find something else to get the bulb changed. I suspect it took some 45 minutes before it really got to me just how close it was and talk about shaking. Had I been 2 foot to forward, I would have been in two pieces. If that operator had not dropped the pan at the second he did, he would have been 2 foot further ahead. Someone sure looked after us that day. I never had to answer to anyone about that situation though.

That project was finished for us but I found a job with a comparable company working near Junction City, Kansas, building a section of Interstate 70. Close to Fort Riley of course, my future home and later the same girlfriends. I knew the head mechanic and kind of worked under him to lubricate the equipment and upon occasion, to help him with overhaul of Cat engines. In my spare time, I also operated some of the dirt machines.

I remember one 4th of July day, very, very hot and we were doing a complete overhaul of a D-8 Cat engine hoping to get it back on line on the next work day. The night before, I had bought some beer since I knew everything would be closed when I got off work on the 4th. Boy, talk about hot. Probably 100 degrees in the shade and there were no trees. We finally got the work done and off I go to my car to get a warm, well maybe hot, beer and there was nothing. Boy was I mad and there were only two others there that could have taken them. Finally, with a smile, the head mechanic asked me to go over the water cooler, which I knew had ice in it, and get him a piece of ice. Guess what, 12 cans of ice cold beer. Sudden friends of course and we drank the whooooooooooole thing.

On another work project in Kansas involving a D-8 cat, we were removing the chains and pads on one track. This involved driving out the master pin that held the chains together, much the same as with the chain on a bicycle. While I am holding the drive pin and he was using a 10 pound hammer, a chip came off the pin I was holding and hit my forehead. Talk about blood. He accused me of doing anything to get out of work, a joke of course. Had that chip of steel been 3 inches lower and 1 inch to the left, I would only be able to see out of one eye now. I stuck some stuff on it, went back to work so we could get the track off and when that was done, I went to the hospital after stopping off for a couple of cold ones first though.
I had fun with that crew but not the same as with R Sam Krage.

Once that job in Kansas was finished for our portion, I went back to the family farm to play and chase girls (an unending project) for a while. All of a sudden, I started getting long distance calls from Iowa but my Mom never got the name of who was calling. Finally, she did get the name and it was good old R Sam Krage again. I never called them back but just loaded up my station wagon and headed to Lenox, Iowa knowing what they wanted me to do. It was a night shift making sure all equipment were taken care of and to hire a qualified helper. When that night shift was over, again, I stayed around and operated whatever piece of equipment was idle. Talk about fun again. I suspect I worked 16 or more hours per day. I ate four meals per day and always at one restaurant in Lenox. They would pack me a brown bag lunch for night and I would drive to town for breakfast and they would fix me brown bag again and when I finally got off work, I would stick my head in the door, wave to a certain, very attractive lady, and head next door for a cool one. When my meal was ready, (she always chose what I was supposed to eat), she came next door to tell me dinner was on the table. Hmmmm close to being a family I guess. We, as a couple, finally started heading to Crescent, IA on her days off so I could make sure she was fed properly. Lets just leave it at that. :wink:

While all of this was going on, there were times when our company needed emergency parts from Omaha, Nebr maybe 100 miles away. I had it set up that I would run the parts after I got off work and since I had a station wagon, I wanted to use it instead of a beat up construction pickup. They paid expenses of course. Many days I worked 24 to 36 hours at a time. Gee, it was fun being young and working for a couple of brothers not much older than I was and that trusted me so much.
At times, loading a 400 pound steel gear in the back was not always that easy but helping the company was sure fun.

Oh yes, one of our company vehicles was a new 1958 Chev with the new 348, 3 carb engine and turbo transmission. What a company car on a construction project and almost useless. I know, I bought the first one that came into Lincoln, Nebr when they first came out in 1957 but I ordered it with a standard transmission. Sold it in Calif with only 7,000 miles on it. A friend of mine from Falls City, NE had bought a 1957 Ford Convertible at Daytona durring speed week and raced it on the beach. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that the engine was turbo charged by Ford and the engine was only one of 101 built just for that year turbo charged. We knew he had modified the McCaulagh turbo charger a little for positive pressure at idle and who knows what the displacement was after he had it worked on. I could never beat him in a legal drag race with my Chevy but than again, I had problems beating him with our 1929 Ford roadster with a very big bad Chev engine with three big carbs on the same strip. Oh the fun of being young again.

Most of the time it appears I might have tried to do things right but consider this and feel free to call me stupid.

While working for that company on the Interstate work near Junction City, KS, a friend and I decided to fly to another town and pick up a couple of girls we knew for a party. Only problem was, we were not in an aircraft, just my 1956 Chevy station wagon. Road was empty and for a change, very smooth. My so called co-pilot told me the road was really good all the way and not to worry. Last I remember looking at the speedometer, it was like 115 or thereabouts. Guess what? My copilot, so to speak, forgot to tell me there was a 90 degree turn just over a hill. When I topped the hill and saw what was ahead, I never even considered turning and went through a T intersection with all four locked up, through a farmers fence headed direct toward a power pole right in front of the hood ornament at probably 80 to 90 mph. At that point, I was on gravel and very little braking action.
When I was teaching my younger brother how to drive, I always told him if he ever really got into trouble in a car, stay off the brakes and drive it out. Somehow this got to me there and I unlocked the brakes and the front wheels caught just enough to move the nose enough to the right that the pole only hit the back side door on my side. Boy did that power pole go by fast. The car was so light at that point, that there really wasn't an impact but just a nudge to move the car. Talk about lucky. Thanks Guy for getting me through it. Never drove like that again until I thought I was a hot shot student pilot and even then, He watched after me.

All of this experience gave me so much knowledge for my very remote living in Alaska. When my employers were operating V-12 cat engines for power or maybe only 8 cys, 6 cys and than 6 cyl International engines at Umiat for power and of course the single cylinder Whitte power plant at Dahl Creek, I was able to do all the maintenance work and understand how to keep them operating. No matter what a person learns when young, it will pay off down the highway of life and no one ever stops learning. Even works on how to appreciate the spouse.
The operation of heavy duty construction equipment helped me understand how to do runway maintenance even with a 15 foot snow fall one winter at Dahl Creek or lots of drifting snow at Umiat at 50 below zero and being able to always keep the runways open.

You guys have no idea of what I have learned from reading your posts here. So much has changed since I was driving a PA-18 or J-3 and I so envy you guys and gals. I only wish.....
Sound like an interesting man - we ever meet first cold beers on me. Im only 20 but with 10 years on a farm ive got enough stories to no ill have a good one or two in my time
sounds like the wrong time to chime in - my late but deepest simpathies to all his family and friends. Sounds like an interesting ol boy - wish i could have met him