WC admits it; he skipped most of a day of elementary school to watch a D-9 get hopelessly mired in the muddy bank of the Kuskokwim River at Bethel, Alaska.
It was an early autumn day. Second grade. In WC’s memory, it was a gorgeous, sunny autumn morning. WC was walking from Mission Row, home of the Moravian church and the house WC’s folks were renting, to the only grade school in town, the Catholic School. WC’s path led along the bank of the Kuskokwim River, more or less across the village as it existed in the late 1950s. Overnight, on the high tide, the fall barge had come in. Cargo included a D-9 Caterpillar Bulldozer, at that time a state of the art chunk of Big Iron.
The Corp of Engineers had it brought in to help build the sheet piling river wall to provide a place to unload freight. That was a first step to building a Distant Early Warning radar and White Alice site outside of Bethel. It was hopelessly oversize for the task, but that was classic Corps of Engineers’ behavior at the time: order something two sizes bigger than you need.
So the Corps was just starting to unload this huge dozer as WC ambled by on his way to school. WC stopped to watch. WC submits there isn’t a second grade boy on the planet who wouldn’t have stopped to watch. In about five minutes, the dozer was mired to the top of its six foot tall tracks in the gooey mud of the Kuskokwim River.1 How in the world could anyone expect a second grade boy to walk away from that? WC watched as the Corps tried to pull it out with two smaller dozers, cables and shouting. That didn’t work. They brought in a backhoe and tried to dig the treads out, but by that point the D-9 had sunk down below the water line, and the backhoe mostly dug out slurry.
As an added benefit, WC was learning a whole lot of new words as increasingly frantic engineers scrambled to save an expensive piece of equipment.
But WC didn’t get to see how it ended. He got whapped alongside the head by one of the nuns from the school. She had driven the school’s ancient Travel-All over to find WC (and a few other truants as well), snuck up behind WC and gotten his attention with a roundhouse swing.
WC got three swats with the dreaded wooden paddle. And chewed out by both parents. Neither was as bad as not getting to find out how they got the bulldozer out of the mud, because it was gone when WC walked back home that afternoon after school. But Reverend Schattschneider, the Moravian preacher, had mercy and told WC what they had done: inflated lots and lots of inner tubes under the dozer and then used the two smaller dozers and backhoe to pull the D-9 out. WC would have loved to have seen it.
WC blames his ongoing, disreputable and politically incorrect fascination with Big Iron in Trouble on the D-9 Incident.
- WC says “mud,” but everyone in Bethel knew that the mud included the product of 70 years of honeybuckets, any trash that couldn’t be burned, and probably other stuff, even worse. ↩