Cat Work

One year, the Village decided to open the alley going west from the Standard Station and there was a huge willow stump in the middle of it. I had the job of taking out the stump, so we dug all around it with the new Cletrac "cat." It was so big and heavy I couldn't tip it over and break it loose in the center. [266-4]

A couple of Highway Patrolmen stopped at the Standard Café for coffee and came over to watch. One of them said, "Why don't you put a stick of dynamite under the middle and jar it loose?" He said they would stop the traffic on Highway #52 while I blew it, so I went home and got some dynamite. [266-5]

When the cops weren't looking, I put three sticks of dynamite under the stump instead of one. It wasn't under the stump very far on the north side and it really blew that way. The Texaco filling station hadn't been built on that side yet and the dirt balls landed on Fred Johnson's roof (in the house on the corner) while Fred was home for supper. He came tearing out like the house was on fire, but the dirt hadn't hurt the house any and the stump was loose. [266-6]

It was more than the cat could lift or move, but I managed to tip it onto the cat trailer and haul it to the dump ground and roll it off with a chain on a truck. [266-7]

I had the only "cat" with front end loader in the area for quite a while and had a lot more work than I could do, digging basements, hauling gravel, and especially digging basements under houses. We went as far as Breckenridge, and 10 miles north of Rothsay, and clear down into Stevens County. The first time we took the "cat" to Evansville, we had enough jobs right there in town that we worked there a solid month. Kenny and "Poofy" were along to haul dirt and gravel at that time. [271-4]

There was a big backlog of work after the war ended, and prices hadn't gone up yet. Gravel truck drivers were 80 cents an hour and I got $6 an hour for "cat" and operator, to start with. Of course, the Cletrac "cat" and loader only cost $6,400 new. [271-5]

Evansville is built on a swamp, the same as Ashby. An electrician had bought the old bank building and he wanted a basement under it for storage. There already was four feet of clearance and he wanted it four feet deeper. [271-6]

We started working under it, from the back end, with the "cat." It was pretty soft under there and all of a sudden, about 15 or 20 feet in, the cat mired in the swamp muck and wouldn't go forward or back. Quite a novelty and no joke to be stuck with a "cat" under a building! [271-7]

We went home and got a long, heavy cable. The County blade man was a nice, accommodating fellow and he snaked the "cat" and me out with the County's blade. The basement plan fell through [271-8]

Another time, a fellow wanted a basement dug for a plumbing shop between two store buildings, a couple of doors west of Ostrum's Hardware Store. There was a small, shallow, cellar in there, grown up to weeds and sod, and I went in there with the "cat." As soon as the sod was off the bottom of the cellar, the "cat" sank. The "cat" would have had to go almost straight up for several feet to get out over the sidewalk. [272-1]

Kenny and "Poofy" and I went home to the gravel pit and loaded both trucks full of gravel and hooked them both on the "cat" and managed to snake it out of there. In the meantime, the guy who hired us disappeared and I never did see him again. I guess he was afraid he would have to pay us for our trouble. He never did build a plumbing shop. [272-2]

In 1950, we were hauling gravel out of the Stavaas pit and I decided we would have enough money when we were through and got paid to afford a new pickup. I had never bought a brand new car or pickup, and haven't since, either. I was too busy to make the negotiations, so I told Twila to go in to the bank and ask Vernon Hauge if he would buy me a new pickup. He said he would, so she called Cliff Berglund and he came down to the gravel pit. [270-4]

I had my choice of a fluid drive or a 4-speed transmission for about the same money, so between gravel loads we made a deal for a fluid drive and traded the Plymouth pickup in on it. The list price for the new pickup was $1,150. I didn't even get off the "cat" to look at it and I didn't go and look at the new one until he delivered it, a day or two later. Whenever someone commented on the pickup, Twila would say, "Vernon Hauge bought it for him." [270-5]

I built the high box on the new 1950 pickup to haul pigs and feed, etc. and thought nothing could jump over the high, smooth sides. One winter day, I bought three good-sized feeder pigs in the sale barn. Coming home, around the big curve north of the freeway exchange now, on #59 by the Swan Lake turnoff, I heard one go over the top. [270-6]

I backed up and parked on the highway and tried to catch him or chase him out in the deep snow. I finally had a row of traffic, including a Greyhound bus, stopped clear to the top of the hill. Finally, a farmer and his son came along and got one on each side and caught the pig. They shoved him into the pickup while I held the end-gate down. [270-7]

Another time, I was taking a pig to Dalton to butcher. Half way there, I looked in the rear view mirror and saw him sail out onto the highway. He was kind of woozy, so I could catch him and drag him into the pickup by myself. When I got to Dalton, he was still more woozy and they butchered him right away. He had landed flat on his side and the butcher said he wouldn't have lived much longer. [270-8]

During the summer of 1951, the Fergus Theatre Company that had the downtown theater decided to build the outdoor, drive-in theater. They had their architect call for bids and they were so high they rejected them all. They thought they could make a private deal for a lot less money. [272-3]

Sherman Ferguson was a real good friend of Bernie Pretts, who was the manager of the downtown theater, and Bernie was supposed to see what he could do in behalf of the theater company. Sherman started needling me to give them a price on the whole deal, like the bids were for. [272-4]

After much needling, I talked to Orville and Art Jacobson about the dirt moving. All they had then was a D8 Cat and scraper and a D6 Cat and dozer. Not even a blade. They said they would do the work by the hour but would not be involved in setting an estimate to bid by. (The screen was not included in our part of the job.) [272-5]

If I had known all the things that could have gone bad, I would have stayed clear away.

Bernie and Sherman knew everybody in Fergus and who to call and get things from. We all met together one day: Sherman, Bernie, the Jacobsons and I, and went through the list of things involved. [272-6]

We called Elk River Concrete Products and got a delivered price on the specified culverts. Then we called the assistant city surveyor and he promised to do the surveying and staking, as we went along, on weekends and evenings, by the hour. Nobody knew how many hours would be involved. We found out the price of gravel, per yard, on the DeLagoon farm, which had an open pit then, right by the road, a short way south of the proposed site. [272-7]

The height and angle of the parking ramps was real complicated and had to be right to the inch -- and the ones closest to the screen had to be much higher and narrower. We had to screen and haul gravel and put it on in different depths on different parts of the job. [273-1]

Bernie started down the list and said it shouldn't take you more than this or that long to do the different things, and after mostly guessing about most of it, he came up with an answer that was two or three thousand dollars less than the big contractors, like Marks and Dieseth had bid. The Jacobson brothers said they would do the dirt moving by the hour but assured me that if I came out short, it was my hard luck. [273-2]

I signed the contract and they started moving dirt in the fall, but the gravel and finishing wasn't to be done until spring. We took the Cletrac "cat" up there to put in the culverts, etc. and Art and Orville worked steady on the dirt moving, of which there was quite a volume, as the place was on a hilly spot. (Art lost a day or two when Bonnie (England) was born and when someone mentioned the baby to her mother, her mother would blush and say, "Ugh! And us OLD people!" [273-3]

When it was shaping up, the architect came up from southern Minnesota to look it over and said to Art and Orville, "You've got to get a blade" and Art just said, "I think I can put the ramps in with the scraper." The architect said, "No, you'll have to get a blade." [273-4]

We had the conveyor in the gravel pit by the road in the fall and were hauling some odd loads of gravel from there. I took a 300 gallon gas tank up there and set it up on a pile of dirt with a hose and cheap padlock on it, and put 300 gallons of gas in it, just before it suddenly turned winter. Whenever I went to Fergus, I would stop in there and fill the car or pickup with gas. I thought it would be fun to have a cop stop by and catch me stealing gas from myself, but none ever did and nobody else stole any of it, either. [273-5]

We had a real early spring and the theater company started pushing to have it ready for the opening on May 1. We had all the field work to do at home, too, and I started to sweat. They wouldn't listen to a later date, so we went up there early in April with the only two trucks I had. One hauled four yards and the other hauled five yards. [273-6]

I got the surveyor to figure out how many feet nine yards of gravel would be spread to get the gravel the required depth on the different areas. Then I measured a twine string half that long with a big spike on each end. When the truck was dumped, the driver would move the "far end spike" back for the next load to dump by. In the pit, I could pile a heap on the conveyor and then jump off and start and stop it for each truck. [274-1]

In the fall, the Mark and Dieseth foremen would stop by to see how we were doing and indicated that they thought I would be wishing I had never gone near the place. They were real nice, though, just sympathetic, and I hired their blades for a few hours to spread our gravel on the roads and ramps. [274-2]

Belvin Benson was working for me and one morning when I stopped to pick him up, one of his small boys came to the door and stammered around a little and said, "Pa isn't home. He had to take Ma to the hospital to have a kid." [274-3]

Before we started the graveling, the architects came up and got the surveyor to check the grades and ramps and found the front ramp was much higher than it was supposed to be. I was home that day and Bernie called me and said I was in real trouble. The Jacobsons had taken the Cats somewhere else, too. I went right up there to sweat it out. [274-4]

Later in the day, they called back from the office and said the distance to the screen had been measured for a different type of screen and was closer to the ramp than the original blueprint. That made it their mistake and they just brushed it off and said they would park pickups on the front ramp. If it had proved to be our mistake, we would have had to change the whole front ramp. [274-5]

We tried to do a good job and Bernie went into town and told people we were even out there with garden rakes, smoothing the gravel around the projection house, etc. When we were working there in April, it was an odd, early spring and the City hired the whole city sprayed for mosquitoes. They even flew the planes over us and sprayed us, too. [274-6]

When the whole thing was finished, just before May 1, the architects called us all up there to check the job with the surveyor. We all stood waiting while the surveyor checked every inch. Art was real nervous and paced back and forth, wondering how tough the architect was going to be and muttering to himself, "Well, it SHOULD be right," etc. [274-7]

Finally, the architect came over and said, "We've checked every inch of it and it's the most perfect job I've ever seen!" Two or thee times, in later years, that architect called me to see if I would build an outdoor theater somewhere, but it was Art's work he remembered and it was only my name he had to call to. [275-1]

The opening night was during a real heavy rain and all the water gathered up in the road around the outside edge where there had been a big hole filled in. The cars leaving after the show went clear down to their axles and barely made it through. I was there and Bernie came running to me like a wild man, pointing at the cars wallowing through. "You better get up here tomorrow morning and do something about that," was all I heard. [275-2]

In the morning, we loaded up two loads of rocks from the pile that had gone over the screen in the gravel pit at home, as we had used up all the rocks in the Fergus pit for various things on the job. We put an old road drag on one of the loads. It was an iron drag with two blades on the underside. We dumped the rocks in the soft spot and hooked two chains in a V from it to the two trucks, one on each side of the hole, and pulled the drag back and forth until it got level. By that night, it was the most solid spot in the whole place. Bernie could hardly believe his eyes. [275-3]

I came out with $3,578 after everyone else was paid, the most I ever made from one job. Ben DeLagoon said, "Well, you ought to make money; you did all the work yourself!" [275-4]

We were all through before the sheep lambed. We got them sheared and got busy with the Chalmers B, the "H" Farmall and the Oliver Hart Parr and got the spring work caught up in no time. We had the best of luck with an extra-early spring. Just beginner's luck! [276-1]

The next year, the contractor who was building Knollwood Memorial Gardens (cemetery) wanted us to gravel their drives nine inches deep from the DeLagoon pit, right across the road. All we had to do was screen and haul the 1,637 yards of gravel for about the same price as we got for hauling it about 10 miles on township roads. They had a small blade and spread it and kept track of the depth. [275-5]

The day after we started, the clutch throw-out bearing went out of the Cletrac and we hauled it into Fergus for repairs. The foreman at the cemetery came over and said I could use their bulldozer, which was twice as big as mine, until ours was repaired. That was the best deal yet. I used their Cat and we didn't get the Cletrac back until we were through with the job. They didn't charge me for it and even sent their man over to grease and service it. [275-6]

In 1953, the year Beaver turned 2, we converted the gravel pit to electricity and supplied the schoolhouses with gravel and crushed rock to build their gyms. We got two, used, 5-horsepower electric motors and a used 4-horsepower electric motor to run the four conveyors with. [284-5]

We loaded the rocks into the crusher then by dumping them on the 24-inch conveyor and elevating them up to the crusher. We had to start and stop it every few minutes to control the flow. It was so simple to just move a switch lever up and down on the electric motor, instead of keeping a Model A Ford engine running all day. [284-5]

We also had been using a Briggs & Stratton engine to power the screenings conveyor and a 1/2-horsepower motor took care of that. We made innumerable trips to the Jaenisch Machine Shop at night to get the motors mounted with transmissions and pulleys, etc. [284-6]

Iver Hanson worked there all summer and was pretty rough and broke a lot of stuff, but he was also a pretty good fixer and mechanic and was a big help in getting everything converted. [285-1]

In 1953, both Ashby and Evansville built their first new gyms on their schools. We supplied all the gravel for both of them. They poured all their own cement, as ready mix wasn't available around here yet. We worked almost steady in the gravel pit. Iver Hanson and Ralph Samuelson were the main help. [288-3]

To get enough rocks to crush, we would go to the Stavaas pit or the Erickson pit, southeast of Erdahl, and haul home all the rocks from former screening that the gravel pit had room for. When we got them crushed up, we hauled it full again. [288-4]

When we went on trips, I always told my help to turn down all gravel orders and not to run any of the machinery until I came back. When we were gone on one of those trips, someone talked "Poofy" and one of the other young truck drivers into hauling a couple loads of gravel. They thought they could get by with starting the Cletrac "cat" and loading only a couple of loads. [295-4]

There was a flaw in one of the brass shifting forks, and that's the time it picked to let go. They frantically worked all day on the 4th of July, getting it out, and Bruce Melby welded it. The weld didn't hold and it broke again right away. When we got home, they had the whole middle of the "cat" out to get to the work again. [295-5]

It wasn't their fault at all, but they sure felt dumb and penitent. I didn't say anything but just looked at them with the look that said they should just keep on and fix it. [295-6]