Your Sunday Brunch Special: Stealing a Bull Dozer

During the summer between my first and second years as a grad student, I needed money bad. I had been married for a few years and had one child. We were living in campus housing and it seemed terribly expensive. I had a car but it was dreadfully old and unreliable (the heater didn’t work, so it was a nightmare to drive in the winter. We lived pretty near campus, I had about a 2-mile walk to my office.[1] Unfortunately, I had no funding that summer and my campus job just didn’t cover our expenses. A friend at school mentioned that a large mine about 20 miles from us was hiring students for the summer and the pay scale was much higher than the campus job. We figured out that if I got hired, the money would tide us over until fall. I applied and got a job, along with another student, working at the mine truck maintenance facility. It was an astonishingly large operation where the regular crew repaired the mine trucks. These trucks were, like the mine itself, outsize monsters. The drive systems were essentially the same as railroad diesel-electric locomotives.

My job was nothing so glamorous as working on the trucks. No one was going to let me near such machinery, although I had a long history of messing with hot rods and such (I still have one in the garage). I think I drove a forklift around the shop once and nearly speared someone with a fork. Our work consisted of cleaning up around the shop–mostly this involved picking rags that were embedded in the gravel. Not the sort of thing designed to spark the imagination. The restriction was a result of the mine being unionized. We weren’t in the union and could not do, or function as, apprentices say, in any regular shop job. We spent a lot of time circulating around the spare parts yard collecting garbage or laying around with the wrecker crane crew who seemed to be professional slackers most of the time. The shop boss finally got tired of trying to find make-work jobs for us and sent us out to the fueling stations where the trucks would stop and gas up. These spots were fairly distant from the shop and nobody was really watching us. Our job was to use a pick and shovel to clear the crushed stone away from the fueling island (the trucks compressed this stuff to a concrete-like consistency). You can imagine that this was backbreaking smelly work. Both of us were physical weaklings, being academics whose heaviest exercise consisted of pushing chalk and pencils, and walking to classes.

After weeks of this, one Sunday I got so frustrated I had an idea. We worked three Sundays out of the four (I’m still not sure why but it may have correlated with the fact that the shop boss never worked Sundays). My big idea was to get one of the very large dozers, drive it over to the island we were working on and just use the blade to push the rubble away from the island. Seemed reasonable. I’d never operated a D11 Caterpillar, but I’d watched plenty are war movies. Didn’t tanks and dozers operate the same way? You had some brake pedals for turning and stopping and a couple of sticks to controls the tracks, throttle, clutch, and gear shift. Starting one of these was a mystery, however. I thought, it can’t be too hard, can it? Turns out it wasn’t. There was one of big Cats

D11 Cat. That blade is 22 feet wide.

sitting in the maintenance yard, waiting for service. I hopped up on the track, climbed to the cab (it seemed like 20 feet off the ground), got in, looked at the controls, figured out how it started, started it up, backed it out, and drove out of the yard. I was tooling along at about 15 miles per hour when a road grader pulled alongside. The grader driver stared at me and shouted “where you goin’?” I couldn’t think of a good answer, so I just said, “around back.” He was offended that I, clearly a non-union employee, was doing a union defined job, so he shouted, “well, I’ll be a grievin’!” Which meant he would be complaining to the union which was a fairly serious matter I knew. But I kept driving and he went on his way. I got to the island and finally, good sense penetrated my skull and I realized I didn’t have enough skill with the 20 odd foot blade to plow alongside the island without knocking over one of the fuel pumps and creating a major disaster. So I drove it back where I got it, parked it, and walked the mile back to my shovel and went back to work. The thing was, I wasn’t bad at driving the thing. War movies teach you stuff.

It was probably my most adrenalin fueled Sunday in memory. I think maybe I felt a bit like Wilford Woodruff limping along through a snakey swamp heading to Memphis. I’m sure I would have been fired if the boss had been around. But he wasn’t, and neither was I.

What was your most exciting Sunday?

[1] I usually didn’t eat during the day to save money. Once in a while, someone lent me money and I used to get a Hostess Apple Pie from a vending machine. Man, that tasted like heaven. I often stayed at my office late and one night I didn’t leave until 3am. The campus was so dark it was hard to see the sidewalks. A campus cop was parked by the bookstore and hailed me to find out what I was doing. Had to show ID and such. He just shook his head.


  1. I’ve never had a Sunday near that exciting.

    Did that guy ever go a-grievin’?

  2. I got griefed by BYU rent a cops coming home from studying w Tyler Jarvis. It was for your class…:)

  3. Nothing so exciting, but the trip from my house to church gives me two or three opportunities every year to spend the Sacrament Meeting first hour pulling somebody out of a ditch or snowbank, or driving them to get gas for their vehicle. The nice thing is that my friends at church are envious–“you get to do good instead of sit in a boring meeting” kind of envy.

  4. Rebecca, yes, he did. The next week the boss grilled us about it: of course, neither of us knew anything whatsoever.

  5. Dave, that *was* a long time ago.

  6. Christian, I need to send you one of ca 1200 Catholic sermons about getting into the confessional more often (grin).

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I had a post-mish job helping an auto meter company move their factory. It was a terrible recession (late 1979) and I was lucky to get the job, which only happened because one of the owners was a member. I would drive a truck full of stuff from the old facility to the new one, maybe 20 miles away. At the old place I had to back into a narrow garage. I had done fine doing this on my own, but one day there was a new employee there to help guide us into the garage. Instead of just pointing in which direction I needed to veer, he would spin his finger around in a circle. I think this was something he picked up in the service, but he did it so fast I couldn’t tell what he was trying to communicate to me, and I ran the truck into the brick wall next to the parking space. The damage wasn’t bad, but that was the end of my driving the truck. After that I was relegated to backbreaking labor actually moving stuff.

  8. I think reading this story qualifies as making this Sunday an exciting one.

  9. Once, a few years ago, I stayed after church to practice the organ. We lived 40 minutes from the church at the time. My husband had taken the kids home in our van and left me with his car. But he didn’t leave me with the right set of keys. I was stranded at the church (no cell phone), locked out of the church and unable to start the car, on a cold and snowy day. I waited in the car for over an hour and a half hoping my husband would figure out that I hadn’t returned home and come back looking for me. When it became apparent that this would not be happening any time soon, I had no choice but to walk half a mile or so through the snow in my church shoes (no sidewalk), cross a busy and icy highway, and look for a phone in the only business establishment anywhere near our chapel–a local bar. When I did call home (the employees at the bar were extremely kind and helpful to me), my husband was asleep and didn’t even get the message. He did eventually come get me.

  10. nobody, really says:

    On my mission, one Sunday, the landlord kidnapped me and my companion and took us outside mission boundaries to a Civil War reenactment in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

    I have been forever grateful to that kind, kind gentleman. The local ward members didn’t even notice that we weren’t there.

  11. First Sunday of the year in an unnamed Western European mission, 20 years ago. Long time investigator who typically showed up to church didn’t, so we stopped by on our bikes, still on empty stomachs from Fast Sunday, to check up on him. His Russian friend, who we were acquainted with, met us at the door in his black leather trench coat. Our investigator was in bed. Turns out he had been badly beaten New Years Eve. Black eye, fingers looked like they were all broken.

    Turns out something had gone down New Year’s Eve. Three Eastern Europeans had been staying with him–a middle-aged man, a middle-aged woman, and a young man, all unrelated, and all undocumented–and for some reason they beat him badly and then they made a run for it. We never found out why–my guess is our investigator got drunk and did something stupid, but we never got the details. He refused to go to the hospital, given that there would’ve been awkward questions from the police as to his involvement in smuggling Eastern Europeans into Western Europe.

    We gave him a blessing, and as we were leaving his friend, guarding the door, patted a pocket on his trench coat and told us, “If they come back I’ll be ready.”

    They never did come back.

  12. It’s tough to follow Tim, but somebody has to do it. My story was a typically exciting Sunday but most memorable.

    45 years ago, my new husband and I had moved to the East Coast for grad school. Having very little money and no car, we had to hitchhike to church. One morning in Nov an older man picked us up. We learned that he was newly widowed and lonely. I wanted very much to invite him to our meager Thanksgiving but was not able to counsel with my husband for agreement. I’ve never forgotten that man and apologize to him for my timidity and missed ministering opportunity.

  13. My first trip to Europe included a Sunday in Paris. I was with my wife and 19 year old daughter. My daughter wanted to go to church but my wife and I said no way, so while she spent the morning at church, my wife and I did a walking tour of the touristy parts of Paris.

    A close second was the weekend my wife and I decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary with a staycation. We sent the kids away, enjoyed a second honeymoon, and tried to beat a couple of our “records”. That was pretty awesome too, even staying at home.

  14. Tim, that was a great one.

  15. We were fairly newly married (1970) and on a cross country trip at the end of the summer. We stopped at Haun’s Mill on Sunday and found a little sign pointing down a farm road. We were driving a Dodge van. It had just rained and the mud road became as slick as ice. The road was a little sloped and had a crown, so we slipped off the road at 1 mph and could not get back. I walked a mile to the farm house and the old farmer laughed and got out his tractor and pulled us back on the road and up the small incline. We laughed about that for years as the second Haun’s mill massacre.

  16. Fun story. There’s a great passage in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang about stealing a D8 cat, and the whole sequence of starting a smaller gasoline engine to use as a starter for the larger diesel engine. It sounded a lot more complicated than your cat adventure.

  17. October 7, 2001. It was General Conference Sunday, and I was studying abroad in a small town in the UK. I realized that I missed the bus to go watch Conference at the church building I usually attended, but I figured out that I could take the train to a different town that also had a church building. When I reached this other town, it was raining, and by the time I walked the half mile or so from the train station to the church, I was quite literally dripping wet. As I watched Conference, a small puddle formed under my chair.

    President Hinckley concluded the session with his talk, “The Times in Which We Live.” It was deeply sobering to hear him say, “I have just been handed a note that says a U.S. missile attack is under way.” I felt very far from home. It was the first time I had watched Conference from outside the U.S., and references such as “this land of America” or “the Constitution under which we live” sounded strange in a way they never had before.

    Afterward, I found a quiet corner and thought I would read my scriptures or something until the next session started. But the church building got steadily darker and quieter, and then it was completely dark and quiet, and it dawned on me that because of the time difference, no one was staying to watch the next session. I left my hiding place, and — WEE-OOO-WEE-OOO-WEE-OOO! I had set off the church’s alarm! I hurried away from the scene of my crime (breaking and exiting?), still able to hear the alarm from several blocks away.

    Back at the train station, I had an awkward conversation with a few youths who seemed incredulous that I believed in God, and whose impressions of the US seemed largely based on rap music videos. Eventually I made it back to my room, where I could finally change out of my wet clothes.

    I don’t know if that qualifies as an exciting Sunday, but it was certainly memorable.

  18. Great story Wednesday.

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