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Saturday, March 7, 2009

HOM: Crewed -- Big Jim 1

I guess the best way to tell the story of my time at Glacier Concrete is by events, and it is probably easier to link the events to the participants than to a chronology. Jim Melick was in my high school class, and was quite a character. He had a glandular condition that made his girth about equal to his height, but he was all man. When we were seniors he had a big -- and loud -- Indian motorcycle and when he hit the throttle on it in front of the school it would rattle the windows. For some reason, the teachers objected to this. Jim was the driver for the plant, doing all of the deliveries and doing all his own loading. He was an artist with machinery. GC had a couple of big fork lifts that were built like farm tractors in reverse. Actually, take a big tractor, reverse the seat and controls and add forks where the 3-point tractor hitch would be and you had one of our fork lifts. Since you steered with the rear wheels the handling was a LOT different than most people are used to. sticking a heavy load on the forks so that the back wheels had less weight on them added a little more touchiness, and if you hit the brakes even more of the weight went on to the front wheels and made steering even worse. I was always slow and cautious -- read "cowardly" -- when I moved a load with one of them, but Jim could make usually make them dance to any tune he wanted. He had two speeds -- full throttle and stop. I only remember him goofing once, when he hit a patch of ice he didn't expect, and he, the forklift, and the load ended up off in the tall and uncut. For an example of his skill, I saw him flying across the yard with the forks empty when his hat blew off. He didn't even slow down. He whipped the lift around in a tight circle while he dropped the forks, nabbed the cap on the tip of a fork, straightened out, still at full speed, and headed for the truck he was loading. At the last second he slammed the brakes on and the cap slid off the fork onto the hood ornament of the truck. A second later he was headed back across the yard again. Like I said, he was an artist. TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)