What’s not to dig?

Talents of dirt movers stack high

Blog Entry February 08, 2016

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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Not many can take a drop in the bucket and make it stand upright.

 

Excavator operators, and all other earthmovers for that matter, are so highly skilled at their craft that they can make acrobatic moves out of the smallest of items. I’m not sure if anything can be done with a drop of H2O, but my admiration for these heavy horsepower operators grew a touch or two this past month.

 

There is always a lot of white noise on Facebook, but every once in a while a loud boom lands on your timeline—like a video of an excavator operator on a beach in Europe, handling a WWII mine as though it was a sculpture made out of an egg shell. The explosive relic was gently placed in a hole before it blew a bigger rip into the sandy landscape. 

 

Two days later, I learned of a digger who had the sharp sense to stop and clear the area for, of all things, a heel print. Dan Arnit was working the dirt for Innovative Excavating on a site that was being prepped for a Sunset Road-Silverball Road connection just west of I-10 in Tucson, Ariz., when he saw something out of sorts. While forcing his hydraulically driven claw into the earth he noticed the foot mark and thought it was worth a closer look. He soon found himself in the middle of several signs of what life was like over 2,500 years ago. It turns out the spot was at one time an irrigated field that dried solid and was covered with sediment. After carefully scraping around the heel indentation, Arnit uncovered an entire footprint, and further excavation revealed several sets of prints coming from adults, children and even dogs. 

 

Upon hearing the news, Pima County Department of Transportation Project Manager Jason Bahe rushed over to see what could be signs of his ancestry. Bahe is a Native American of Navajo descent, and the area along the Santa Cruz River has been known as a North American settlement for decades now. A major excavation in 2009 at the Ina Road Wastewater Treatment Plant revealed a network of hand-dug canals, pit houses and cooking pits. 

 

At the Sunset Road site, workers also found two field cells and a pair of parallel channels that supplied water to the fields, and there are signs of an earthen barrier that was used to stop or redirect flows coming from the Santa Cruz River. According to archeologists, the site was thriving during the early agricultural period, a time before people in the region developed ceramics. 

 

Remnants of early technological breakthroughs of the time are everywhere. The canals and channels are proof that over 2,500 years ago people knew how to survive in the region while there was a shift from nomadic hunting to the agricultural arts. 

 

I have spent plenty of hours inside the cab of an excavator, and my focus has always been on the brown matter in the bucket. That is the extent of my concentration. To think there are professionals out there tuned in to far more than just the task at hand; the experience and talents extend far beyond the bucket. I do not think they receive enough credit for what they do on a daily basis. Most view road crews as those who came up short in terms of education. That assessment could not be further from the truth. As for what they can offer, dirt management is just a drop in the bucket. R&B

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