It was gray and raining and looked like it was going to be that way all day. I arrived at the shop that served as the headquarters for the tow boat company. The smell coffee filled the air in the office area. I could hear Bruce Stapp yelling over the radio as if his voice would cut through the constant static. The boats checked in every morning around the same time to read over their logs and report positions if they were under way. In those days, the RF radios was the only way to stay in contact. I grabbed a cup of coffee and walked out to the warehouse to see what needed to be done for the day. I knew it was going to be a long day, most rainy days working in the shipyards usually are. Terry Skinner walks in from the rain looking like he just got out of bed. He says, “How is Bruce today, good mood or bad” I said, “I did not see him so not too sure, but if they way he is yelling over the radios I would guess not too good.” I added, “You know if we stay here he is going to be looking over our shoulders all day, what do you say about going out to the Howard and do some work?” The Howard was one of the tug boats that the company owned and had just got back from a job the day before. Usually when a boat is in the yard after a job there is a lot of maintenance that needed to be done. Terry said, “Let me grab a cup of coffee let’s head out there.”
The shop truck was a blue four door Chevy dually that had a steel flatbed that was painted orange. This truck had the shipyard touch in that the front bumper was replaced with channel iron and reinforced with tubular steel. The flatbed was also built with steel no skid plates to withstand the abuse of heavy diesel engine parts and other tugboat equipment. The shipyard was about 7 miles from the shop. On the stretch of road to the shipyard there were cow pastures. Many times as I was driving that truck I would see cows next to the fence and I would turn the ignition key off for a few seconds then turn it back on causing the truck to backfire. I loved to see the cows jump and run away. To me, it is the small things like that that are the most fun. Problem was, eventually I had to replace the burned valves in the truck engine. On our drive out to the shipyard that rainy day, I don’t recall if I caused the truck to back fire for the cows or not, but probably did.
Terry was a fun guy to work with, we seemed to find stuff to do that usually got us into trouble. When we arrived to where the Howard was tied up we saw that it was not at the docks where they usually tied up but further out away from the bulkheads. It was sitting half in the water and half out on the bayou bank with a line that went to a pole so that it would not float away when the tide came in. To get to the boat from the road we would have to drive across the muddy field which we knew we would get stuck. Terry said, “Looks like we will have to go back to the shop”. I responded that “if we did that, Bruce would keep us working all day on stuff that really did not matter just to keep us busy.” “What should we do then?” Terry asked. I said, “What would you rather do, deal with Bruce all day or work most of the day getting this truck out of the mud?” We both voted to get the truck out of the mud. I drove the truck about a quarter mile down the road so we could get a running start to get the truck really stuck. As I turned the truck back towards the field, Terry popped in the Pat Benetar cassette tape in the player and cranked up ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’. I floored the gas pedal and off we went as fast as the truck would go heading towards the field of mud. I think we were going about 50 miles per hour (Fast for a heavy work truck) when we left to road into the muddy field. We kept going until we were about half way across the field before we sank in the mud. The rain was really falling now and here we were out in the middle of the mud field. I am not sure about Terry, but I began to have second thoughts about our decision.
The truck was really stuck it would not move forward or backward. I saw a Cat D4 bulldozer about 100 yards away. I said “I will go get that dozer and pull the truck out” Terry said that he would look for a chain in the truck. I walk across the mud in the driving rain hoping the dozer will not get stuck either. I have never seen one here that had gotten stuck before so I thought our chances were good. I arrived at the dozer and found there was no key in it so I hot-wired it. I was glad to hear it fire up. On the drive out to the truck I took time to get use to the controls on the dozer, I had not driven this one before.
When I arrived at the truck I saw where Terry had attached a chain to the front bumper and he was sitting inside. I backed the dozer to the front of the truck, hopped down to connect the chain to the hitch. I told Terry to try to drive the truck as I pulled it out of the mud. I got on the dozer, took it out of neutral and let off the brake to go forward. It moved forward with ease, I did not even feel it tug on the truck. I looked back to see how it was going and saw that I was pulling the bumper across the mud, the truck had not moved at all. I could see Terry laughing through the windshield. I circled back to the truck still pulling the bumper. When I got even with the back of the truck I stopped so I could put the bumper on the truck bed, take the chain off and throw it on the back of the truck. The rain was still coming down really good this whole time.
I jumped into the truck on the passenger side to talk over our options with Terry. He was still laughing when I got in. I think Pat Benatar was still playing on the tape player but a different song. Terry looked like a wet rat and I know I did too. I said, “Still think this is a good idea?” He laughed as he said, “Still better than spending the day with Bruce looking over our shoulder”. I said, “What if I get the dozer to push the truck and you steer the truck to the road?” He agreed that might work.
I got back out into the rain and made my way back to the idling dozer. I climbed up into the driver’s seat and put it into gear. I circled back to the rear of the truck and adjusted the blade to push on the steel plate that is welded on the back of the flat bed. Once I made contact with the truck, I started to push. I could see Terry was steering the truck back towards the road. Once we were lined up to head towards the road, it took a few minutes to push the truck through the mud.
Once we got the truck back on the hard road surface, I turned around to take the dozer back to where I found it. I parked it as exactly as I remembered it and put the wires back on the ignition. Hopefully the dozer’s owner will not find out that I hot-wired it. I don’t think they did, at least I never heard if they did.
Terry and I got back to the shop. We pulled the truck to the rear door of the shop near the welders…. which is also the farthest from Bruce’s office. We started to weld the bumper back onto the truck. Just about the time we were finishing the bumper, Bruce shows up to see what we were doing. We told him that we were welding the bumper so it will be stronger. He said, “Ok, when you finish, why don’t you guys take the rest of the day off, can’t do too much with all this rain.”
Had we talked with Bruce when we first got in that morning, we probably could have taken the day off, but then we would not have these memories of the stunts we pulled while working there.
As I look back on the days of working at Stapp Towing, the tough days, and there were a lot of those, seem to fade away to time, but the good days seem to get better with time. Funny how our memory works.