PIPE DREAMS: CATERPILLAR DOWN; SS: ONE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
In this episode from PIPE DREAMS, a huge local named Load, provides the excitement in another stirring chapter of fun and games in the pipeliner world.

Submitted: August 29, 2016

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Submitted: August 29, 2016

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  PIPE DREAMS

CATERPILLAR DOWN

Or

The Sinking of the Caterpillar D Nine

  In Two Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter One

 

Rain.

Torrents; sheets; curtains; cascades; buckets.

Coming straight down in freezing pellets

Colder than a witch's tit in December.

Freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

Haig.

The frontier of Northern Ontario.

Between Kapuskasing and Longlac.

Summer, bush-country style.

Even the trees were pissed at the rain by this fourth day. They were having beaucoup trouble working their roots to gather the moisture while their branches had simply given up and were letting the rain roll off almost before it hit.

Water was the word of the day—the week; steady for the past four days.

Puddles gathered where there had been smooth paths. Dirt roads, particularly the ones out to the pipeline sites were like Russian roads in November 1941; approaching the quagmire level.

Cracks and holes erupted in the paved roads.

It was just one hell of a soggy mess.

Even the people appeared to acquire a new layer of something aquatic on all their exposed areas. Thoughts of H.P. Lovecraft monsters began to stir the imaginations of the better-read in the population. Others thought that building an ark would not be the dumbest thing to do.

It was Waterworld, with none of the fun rides.

Sweet Jesus, dear reader. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around his part of Boreal Forest Hell but it is ‘rugged’. Only you, Highway Eleven (what a joke) the CNR line and the moose.

Oh yeah, and black flies. Can get your face red with blood before you can get any lotion on; and even then, most of them just stand on the lip of the bottle and drink the damn stuff.

Some smartass had decided to run a thirty-six inch gas pipeline near the Haig-burg and this was where the workers bedded down after ten to twelve hour days of weird temperature swings, mud, poison ivy, flies and muskeg.

Ah, the muskeg, a swampy bog—or a boggy swamp—of water, partly dead vegetation and covered in a couple of varieties of mosses.

Stinky stuff. Damn dangerous, because the mosses covering it look like other solid-ground mosses.

Anyway, this is where our intrepid four, Harry, Chase, Jack, and The Goose, were freezing their arses off. The goddamned thermometer hadn’t scratched its way past thirty-eight for four days.

All four were refugees from the hot prairies of Saskatchewan and a job that had been halted by a welding inspector who found six bad welds before lunch. So the lads hauled ass to the first site where they were hiring. It was early July and they all had classes beginning September 25th.

Moe ‘Super’ Norman, the Super on the Haig section, was not remotely keen about hiring four college guys ever since that last three had quit two weeks before; victims of a killer heat wave and St. Bernard-size mosquitoes.

All four lads made solemn promises to stay until September 24th.

They also added that they had worked for Indian the two previous summers on the plains of Manitoba as well as on the muskeg-strewn acres around Ansonville, another Black Fly Capital of Ontario.

Super looked each young man hard in the eyes while they made their promises. (which they all kept)

Super was suitably impressed that all four had worked a total of almost eight months  under the lash of Indian and survived. He assigned the four guys to the shit detail, i.e. they were technically mucking about helping out the dozer drivers, the side-boom operators and the welders. They were only laborers, but because of their experience Super upped their ‘status’ and damn near doubled their rate.

The guys shared the floor of a family room of a bungalow in town, belonging to Betty and Ralph DeLong, a pleasant duo in their thirties with three kids, two dogs, and a hairless rat.

They were a damn spunky family who took the rain and the snow with equanimity.

Meanwhile Ralph was gritting his teeth while he knocked the days off before he could use his experience and move his family to a friendlier setting, like North Bay. Betty ran a baby-sitting and nursery school enterprise in the family room when the four lads were at work.

Today, the four lads were off to one of the seven bars on the main street of a town with a population under five thousand residents.

Although the Husky station served a killer chili, that extra half-mile slog today, while the hard biting rain sashayed across tree and dirt with a powerful wind behind it, was not worth it.

Days off were welcomed occasionally, but they put a major dent in their paychecks.

In the short walk from the bungalow to one of seven cruddy bars on the main street, the guys managed to step in at least one pothole and get a soaker, despite their Timberland Pro waterproof high-tops—nasty potholes.

They were wearing every piece of clothing they had packed and their teeth were sill chattering.

Nevertheless, the hot smoke-packed air of the seedy Rusty Spike warmed them the instant they stepped aboard. Half an hour later, they were peeling layers while they drank and played pool with some of the locals.

A couple of the guys, Chase and The Goose were experts at bullshit poker and made their rained-out ‘go to the house’ days quite profitable.

Meanwhile, Harry and Jack were trying to find a pool player they could hustle and, on the side, Jack kept a lookout for a pretty maiden who might wander in out of the rain and invite him hack for some home exercise to both pass the time and keep his muscles in trim.

 

Betty and Ralph hadn’t known quite what to make of the giant rave-like horde called pipeliners when it descended upon the area and entered most of the houses in town like kudzu.

All the citizens appreciated the extra money. With the exception of a guy called Busyhands, they were pretty well behaved.

A few families fractured early on, as some handsome welder was found with something other than a welding rod peeking around the corner of the mistress of the house’s bedroom after hubby hit the road as a driver for Husky Oil.

Life was life, and even with its supreme absurdities, it was still a life; and each day both gave and required love, sorrow, and anger.

 

As all of you readers know from previous PIPE DREAMS,  pipeliners all have nicknames, or, as the southern guys say, handles: Truckee, Black Cat, Brother-in-law, Indian.

The guys on this job were also bearers of handles like Nico, Jammer, Swayback, and Bingo—and Busyhands.

Our story concerns a local from Haig, who, even before he hired on with Super and his gang, marauded Haig and surrounding areas under the name: Load.

Load was about six- six, hairy as an ape, three hundred plus and as a result of a joke by nature, he was completely bald. His eyes (when you could see them) were like black bee bees and a bit on the dead-look side. Even when smiling, which was rare, Load looked like a man who had just killed, or was about to kill.

He swung premature jowls beneath his bee bees and had the soft cruel lips of a pervert.

As to the last, the town jury was still out on that one; but Load had been seen in some aberrant locations.

The rest of Load was a dewlap that must have weighed damn near a hundred pounds all by itself. Load drank beer—usually on a case-by-case basis.

All those suds appeared to show up in the dewlap, the next time a nor’easter or a Polar Vortex lifted the perennial black t-shirt that apparently comprised his entire upper body wardrobe.

As I said, the Tee was black and had a picture of Sonny Barger on the front and some goofy Hells Angels riff on the back. Of course, Load rode a Harley—without a helmet. Every time he was stopped, he said he forgot and took a warning or a ‘fix-it’ ticket.

“Fix-it Ticket” became the prelude of many jokes, koans—and a few poems, as well as a sobriquet for Load.

In and out of the bars, rolled waves of laughter whenever a clever new linkage of Load and ‘Fix-it Ticket’ had been hatched.

Everyone who had spent more than a few minutes in the company of Load, realized he was well past goof ball territory and into the jackass category.

Load was strong.

He hadn’t lost an arm wrestle in five years; in Haig, in Kapuskasing, Longlac or even Greenstone—including Geraldton.

When the Trans-Canada Pipeline came to town, Load was first in line and immediately put to work on a dozer. Load had piloted a small CAT dozer for the Department of Highways on occasion. And, also on those occasions, he had run over a few feet, squashed a dog and backed over four cats.

However, he was a local and almost all of the townsfolk reluctantly put in a good word for Load, just to keep him out of town. The pipeline company’s right-of-way was about twenty miles out of town and them some two miles into the boreal forest.

On his optimistic first day as an employee of the TransCanada Pipeline Company, Haig Section, Load quickly knocked over a stack of forty sections of pipe, which took almost an hour for some side-boom cowboys to re-stack. Three days later he managed to bump an oiler on a ATV into the six-foot ditch.

However, from then on he was without incident. Super kept him busy in the equipment yard, pushing dirt into neat dirt-banks that served to act as a windbreak that shielded the other heavy equipment operators from the chill of a biting north wind when they were coming to or from their machines.

Well bugger.

Treads, the ace CAT D9 dozer driver took ill. He had very foolishly ordered clams in a Haig eatery. There he was, in the middle of a boreal forest, hundreds—if not thousands of miles from a clam bed—expecting fresh clams for his supper.

Treads was a quiet guy with sad brown eyes that appeared to tear up whenever he discussed his home in Selma, Alabama, and how much he missed fishing near the Edmund W. Pettus Bridge.

Most of the other guys thought that eating something that came from the water was the only thing that could satisfy Treads, but he routinely turned down dinners of trout, muskies—or even a prime largemouth bass.

So, dear reader, Treads was on the sidelines and they sent in Load.

 

End of Chapter One


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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