I had no intention of working in construction when I was a kid. I live in a family chock full of educators, nurses, homemakers, farmers and ranchers. Construction is not in my blood. But I was too smart for an education and ended up divorced with a small child and the need to make more money than a receptionist makes and a boss who gave me a chance to learn what is traditionally a man’s job.
As a feminist, it appealed to me. That I, a woman, was doing a job traditionally done by a man. I was the kind of mother who didn’t give her daughter a baby doll; I didn’t want her constricted to traditional roles. Because I was already working in a construction office when GE was born, she had a toy chest full of excavators, maintainers, and front end loaders. I knew I was fighting a losing battle when I saw her Polly Pocket driving a dump truck that Barbie had loaded with the track hoe. GE dressed them for a night on the town and was burying one of the maintainers.
I’m working for a utility contractor. It’s a start-up company owned by a man who did utilities and drainage for our former employer. Starting a company means that we bid and respond to every inquiry about work. It also means that we don’t always get to do the work that we usually do. On top of that, work isn’t plentiful and we value anything that gives us the inside track. We also stay low key about it.
We got the chance to do a couple of subdivisions that each required excavating lakes. I estimated them even though that’s not my kind of work. We didn’t want to publicize this bidding opportunity so we bid the work with our crews.
We hoped that we’d be able to sub the dirt work to another contractor and maybe make a little money off them since we don’t do mass quantities of dirt work as efficiently as someone who does the work on a daily basis.
Things didn’t work out like we thought they would; the other contractor wanted to act as the principal and sub to us. Yes. They are bigger and older than we are and probably would have been the logical choice to do the whole job. And that wouldn’t have helped us even a little.
“What do you want to do?” I asked my boss. “I don’t think we can give them this work. But can we do it?” (“We can do it, Marga. We’ll just use the excavator and rent some of those big off-road trucks and do the work. It’s just like digging for pipe. It’s just bigger and we don’t bury anything.”)
And that’s what we are doing. The guys finished the smaller lake, moving 14,000 yards in a little over a week. We’re in the middle of the larger lake which has 22,000 yards of dirt to move. If we had scrapers, the work might have been easier. I don’t think we could have done it faster. The crew has exceeded the production I estimated. We hit a home run on Lake #1 and should do the same with Lake #2.
It isn’t work that we do, but we are doing it and it’s working out. I stayed stressed for the first lake and have calmed down as we work on the second one. I’ve learned that the Caterpillar 725 off-road trucks, going full-out for 10 hours, require 40 gallons of diesel a day. Multiply that times 2 and add in 30 gallons for the excavator and you have 110 gallons of diesel needed each day. At a cost of $4 per gallon, we’re spending a couple of grand a week to keep the lake construction moving along.
It’s funny to see men, who are usually 18′ down in a ditch stabbing together water and sewer pipe, running full throttle across the job site. Full throttle is about 35 m.p.h. and it looks really fast on those monster trucks. At the rate they are moving dirt, they’ll be back to laying waterline in a couple of weeks.
And I’ll be back on the hunt for more work to keep them busy.