PIPE DREAMS: CATERPILLAR DOWN: SS: TWO

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Another tale from the PIPE DREAMS collection spinning a stirring comedic yarn form the days of adventure, surprise and suspense in the wacky world of pipeliners.
Here, Load takes a huge CAT D 9 on an unforgettable--and unforgivable ride.

Submitted: August 30, 2016

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Submitted: August 30, 2016

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PIPE DREAMS

CATERPILLAR DOWN

Or

The Sinking of the Caterpillar D Nine

In Two Chapters

Nicholas Cochran

Chapter Two

 

Singer was the line boss. He was singing all the time—mostly dreary Russian dirges— and had a real name: Andrei Gogoloff.

Singer used his considerable experience and moxie to keep Load employed at the completed end of things, piloting nothing bigger than a CAT D 6, just to make sure he wouldn’t run over anyone or bump some unanchored sections of pipe onto a group of CAT operators enjoying their lunch.

Next day, the rain paused and Super ordered all hands to get to the site ASAP before he had to cancel another day. Black-bottomed clouds never let a beam of sun hit the right-of-way. They kept moving and held their rain for Kapuskasing—or even Ansonville.

When the four guys jumped out of a gang van, they immediately sank about two or three inches into the water-logged soil. All had on their Timberland Pro waterproof high-tops and filed the squishy quality of their footing in the file closest to their awareness lobe.

The wind was now swirling over a wide area of the forest and the chilled pipeliners. Even the side-boom cowboys had their umbrellas up and their waterproof Timberland  canvasback jackets on, while they  huddled in shriveled positions trying to maintain their smugness.

All in all, as crappy days go, this was a beaut.

The temperature was about forty, the wind gusts about forty, and the number of chilled buggers on the line was about forty; at least at the front end of the line where Jack and Chase were welders’ helpers.

Well bugger.

They were moving their welders’ mud-racks, as well as handing them rods and something to clean any dirt or moisture off the front and side windows of their 3M Speedglas welding masks.

Chase was helping Darryl Long, nicknamed, Rootah. He was considered the finest root welder in the country—and maybe the states. He was tall, angular, red-haired and jovial.

Harry and Jack were working the middle section of the line helping the welders do the final weld before inspection and x-rays.

These were the elite corps of welders who, every day, heat or cold, muddy or dry, could lay on their backs on their racks, and do a perfect overhead final weld that was five times better than the basic requirement.

These men rarely had an iffy x-ray. Ninety-nine percent had never had a bad weld.

They wore their uniforms with a certain élan: perfectly pressed grey pants; a matching long-sleeved grey shirt with two buttons on each cuff; and, quite often; their last name or nickname, sewn with grey thread—in italics—across the top left pocket.

Their waterproof boots were top of the line in strength, comfort and protection.

The spectrum of welding caps was broad and deep. The fancier the hat, the more protection for the welder.

They turned them sideways when they were doing most welds so that the bill could act as protection against the sparks. The top of the line overhead welders all had bigger caps that they could pull down around their head to give them maximum protection.

 

Around noon, a dozer was ordered to report to the front of the line where the rain had caused dirt to move and form a small embankment on the other side of the ditch from the sections of pipe, the welders and their helpers,as well as a number of side booms who were lifting the sections of pipe to receive the root weld before going to the next section and repeating the process.

The presence of so much uncontrolled dirt on the other side of the ditch was a bona fide hazard and in clear violation of the strict safety requirements for that side of the ditch along the right-of-way.

Most of the dozers were occupied either ahead of the root pass welders (who put the first pass of welding rod on two joined pipes) or in the area where the final welds had been completed, x-rayed, doped, and wrapped, and the dozers were pushing dirt into the ditch and over the completed sections of pipe.

And now, readers, for the fun. Because, here comes Load.

 

Super and Singer found a half-drunk dozer driver, Shaky, near the starting point of Load’s fabled ride.

Shaky and Load had girth in common: three hundred and twenty pounds on Shaky jiggled all over Shaky’s six foot chassis any and all the time he was not straddling his CAT D 9.

Apparently Shaky had received the call and happened to be taking a leak beside Load while they jabbered and sprayed the waterlogged forest.

Even Load could see that Shaky was soused and clearly hors de combat and asked Shaky how he could help sober him up to take the call.

Shaky had responded with a projectile barf and between gasps, asked Load to take his mount to the requested location.

Load was ecstatic. He had always daydreamed about driving one of the big suckers and he gave Shaky a bone jarring whap on the back and with a practiced and loud, “Yes Sir!” he mounted the monster while Shaky continued to burp and barf.

Load had been next to Shaky when the call came over the walkie-talkie to get his goddamned treads to the front of the line—immediately.

Load cranked up the engine speed to around seven miles per hour and kicked the D 9 to its top speed while the powerful treads gouged the surrounding soggy earth.

At its top speed of 7.3 mph, given the slippery conditions, the dozer almost plowed through moss, water, mud, loose pebbles, and broken rock.

 

When Chase first caught sight of the D 9 he immediately concluded that Shaky was shot and shoving his mount to the max while operating inside a soporific stupor of Jack Daniels.

Chase told The Goose, Jack and Harry over Molson Blues later that evening, that something about the way the big Cat D 9 rocked and wiggled along the oozing mud on the other side of the gaping ditch, caused him to come up from his crouching position assisting Rootah and follow the bucking and weaving CAT as it jumped and slithered from side to side over the muddy moss of the gradually sinking firmament.

The ground was rapidly deteriorating in both texture and firmness.

Chase’s first thought was how the hell—or where the hell—did they get the monster D 9 onto that side?

The plan had been to travel down the pipe side to a crossing about four hundred yards beyond Chase’s position, cross, and then come back up on the other side to the area of the sliding dirt.

This had been the only sound plan because there was a suspicious-looking area of sodden, mossy, territory about fifteen yards back the line from Chase’s position.

By now The Goose as well as his welder, Top Gun, were on their feet and waving in Load’s direction while also making stop signs with their outstretched arms and bent wrists that allowed them to put the full face of their palms up in a warning to the driver.

About thirty yards from Chase, The Goose, Rootah and Topgun, the big D 9 began to lose speed—and elevation.

Now chaos jumped the time frame and orders and feet were moving in all directions. Moments after the panic began, the features of the rotund mountain of flesh at the controls of the D 9 was recognized, not Shaky, but: “Oh, shit! It’s Load.”

On his immense charge, Load was watching and feeling its power; and he was laughing so hard that he occasionally hit the wrong lever or pedal, causing his CAT to squiggle and squirm like a kid in a mud bath.

The more his CAT bucked the louder Load laughed.

Suddenly he looked up to spy the point of the land slippage. He saw it, but he also saw a number of hands—quite a few of them, holding up their palms in a stop position.

A number of the bodies attached to the hands were jumping up and down while they waved their arms like a animate railroad crossing sign.

Load thought he heard continuous screaming, but the noise of his machine smothered all ambient sound.

Abruptly, Load pitched forward and damn near impaled himself on a lever. His Cat had stopped dead and was—sinking.

Load laughed.

He looked to the side once more and there were now at least twenty men scrambling over and under the pipe, crawling through the mud, ground up moss, and soil.

One had a rope and was twirling it as if to throw a lasso toward Load.

Load also noticed two CAT D 8 Ts coming toward his position from both ends along the pipe side.

Load cranked up the CAT to everything it had in top speed but—like Load would—in the forward gear. Had he placed the CAT in reverse he probably could have backed away form disaster.

However, Load had never backed away from anything in his life; from brawls; death –defying motorcycle wheelies, or arm wrestling challenges. So forward it was.

The two D 8 Ts were now almost directly across from Load’s sinking position.

Their helpers grabbed the cables from the winches and rapidly pulled them out and handed them under the pipe to Chase and The Goose.

Drawing on their experience of a similar situation around the Ansonville TCPL right-of-way, they each took a hook, pulled it out and jumped into the ditch which had been fortified with iron pilings at that point to stem the water and muskeg.

They then climbed with awesome agility to the top of the ditch and began to make their sinking way toward the D 9 and its rear hitch where they attached the hooks and then raised their right arms for the D 8 Ts, to start pulling.

The best they could hope for was to hold the D 9 in place until another D 9 or two could get up behind Load and pull him and his dozer to safety.

That might have worked, but the Might was not favoring Load and his D 9 in this instance.

Suddenly, both D 8 Ts began slipping backward.

The front of their treads were rising.

You could hear the engines screaming while they struggled to get all the tread back on the ground and find some traction.

However, the four days of non-stop rain made the usually firm pipe side just another morass.

The two D 8 Ts began to sink until they hit some rock, about two feet down.

 

Singer had just come out of a company trailer to see Load rushing down the wrong—and very dangerous—side of the ditch.

Instantly, he foresaw what would happen. He called for two D 9s to immediately go after Load down the wrong side and be prepared to winch out Load’s  machine.

 

Meanwhile, the D 8 T’s barely maintained their grip on the Load’s mount. They had succeeded in turning the D 9 around in the watery slough so that the rear of the D 9 and its driver was across the bog and the ditch—and the rear of the D 8 Ts.

Load insisted on keeping the engine running as he persisted in trying to go backwards or forward. His idiotic persistence only made the D 9 sink farther.

Then it began to rain.

This was no summer shower with a rainbow and tweeting robins at the end.

No, dear reader, this was three times the ferocity of the previous four days. The cold painful pellets of rain fell with frightening frequency.

The black-bottomed clouds came to a sky-screeching halt directly over Load and proceeded to try to drown him as he sat while the storm pelted the others with a savage water attack of biblical proportions.

Suddenly Load was lost behind the freezing veils of rain that whooshed back and forth in curtains, sometime revealing a huge piece of flesh still wrestling with the controls of his D 9, and the next minute hiding him behind curtains of the biting pellets of water.

The D 8 Ts began to slide off the underlying rock into a drenched patch of wood, leaves, ferns, bark and rotting tree limbs.

Singer slogged up to the two drivers and told them to stop before they too slipped into a drowning pool of their own creation.

Chase and The Goose were trying their damnedest to get Load to turn off the engine but their screams over the now-shrieking wind were dismissed with the middle finger that load pushed in their direction as far as he could manage without falling off the CAT and into the menacing muskeg.

The two D 9s commanded by Singer were in column and at full throttle while they pushed their mechanical steeds to the limit toward the hazy outlines of men, machines and mire some fifty yards away.

 

Chase was now up to his thighs in the muskeg.

He was holding a rope with a noose.

He reached around and pulled himself up onto the sunken tread of Load’s D 9 and reached over to try to get to the ignition and turn it off.

Load wheeled on him, holding a large wrench.

Chase grabbed Load’s left leg and pulled. Load and his wrench tumbled into the swirling and gnashing pit of muskeg.

Chase expertly dropped the noose over Load’s head and shoulders and pulled the rope tight around his waist.

Chase held the rope in place with one hand and raised the other as a signal for the collection of helping hands to pull the Load out of the muskeg to safety.

Chase held the rope as well while he avoided the punches directed at him by the muskeg-trapped Load.

Load was quickly delivered to the reinforced ditch and then up the pipe side to a safe spot that was rapidly becoming a lake of mere survival.

Singer got in Load’s face before Load could find Chase and kill him.

“You’re fired, you sack of shit!” Singer screamed in Load’s face and he pushed him over into the deepening pool of muck created by the two D 8 Ts.

Load was spent. Singer stood on his chest until Load nodded an ‘uncle’.

Singer let him find his own way to get up out of what was nearly his watery grave.

As a couple of the bigger guys marched Load to the administration trailers to pick up his last check, all three men disappeared into the invisibility generated by the sheets of rain.

Load was loudly told not to approach any part of the pipeline area or any pipeline personnel. If this warning were ignored, vengeance would be wreaked upon the him in a very nasty—and perhaps permanent—manner.

There was a strong hint that Load could end up in the ditch just before a dozer covered a section of pipe and Load at the same time.

The four lads never found out exactly what the warning was, but Load moved to Geraldton a week later and never showed either his face or his dewlap—in the same black tee—around Haig again.

 

The two D 9 rescuers eventually sloughed their way to the position of the sinking D 9 and saw that the CAT had sunk up to the driver’s seat. Both operators jumped down and were suddenly up to their knees in muck.

Chase and The Goose were right next to them and Chaseoffered to try to put a hook on the back of the sinking D 9 or get the D 9’s winch and bring a hook to their two D 9s.

Both of the D 9 operators thought Chase and The Goose were nuts. Nevertheless, over the howl of the increasing storm, the two drivers heard from both that they had rescued a CAT from muskeg last year around Ansonville.

“Its worth a try.” shouted Chase. The wind increased its deafening roar.

The D 9 captains shrugged and helped pull out a cable form the front of the two D 9s.

The Goose then had the six welder’s racks lined up in a path to the back of the sinking D 9.

 Chase skipped along the racks and attached one hook and pulled out the hook from the winch at the back of the nose-diving D 9.

Chase skipped back and was up to his thighs by the time he reached the edge of the muskeg and some relatively firm ground beneath the churning mud.

The Goose and the two D 9 drivers pulled him up and out and the two drivers jumped up onto their machines and began to back up. All the bystanders and cheerleaders believed that the two D 9s would have to back up onto some very firm ground before they started to winch in the D 9 or they themselves either would sink—or be dragged by the sinking D 9 into the bottomless bog.

They quickly found some mud-covered but somewhat solid ground and began to winch in the fated D 9.

For an hour, it was like trying to pull in a barracuda or a sailfish. The two D 9 drivers would pull some and then slide their CATs to one side or another to get new ground with more stability.

However, the rain quickly became their worst enemy in their efforts to affect a rescue of the now almost-submerged D 9.

The Goose thought it was much like the rainy last scene of Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” as almost twenty men fought to save a machine. Ghostly outlines of men in various shades of murky rain-soaked black, fought to rescue the huge yellow CAT D 9.

After that hour, almost before the entire sky revealed nothing but blackness and silver pellets, the gathered rescuers bowed their heads in shame and defeat, as the top of the yellow and black umbrella slipped beneath the mossy mire.

The rescuers' D 9 cables, as well as those from the lost ship, were severed with huge shears.

Night fell.

All the pipeliners had left the right-of-way, “when the dark green forest was too silent to be real”, and the forest bent slightly in the gusts of wind that packed the hammering rain.

Somewhere at their feet lay a large yellow machine displaying the single word: CAT and a single digit: 9


© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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