I’m sure most of you recognize the truck above. Most commonly, it was (and most of the time still is) your local garbage truck. This design of Mack is as ubiquitous as early 2000’s Civics are in a high school parking lot. Well… they used to be anyway. Most are being replaced by the next generation of truck called the Granite Series.
This is a personal story for me. A story of one of the most difficult, dangerous, and character building times of my life. All throughout the two years I worked at Pioneer Concrete Pumping, these trucks stood in the background and remain a constant reminder of not only the job I had, the life I lead, and continue to stand as a symbol of my future career.
Concrete pumping has been around since the 1930’s but really took off in the 1950’s with the invention of the twin piston hydraulic system used to move concrete through a network of pipes connected to a mobile platform, most often some sort of heavy-duty truck. This type of equipment is used to move concrete to an area where a mixer truck cannot pour, and is easier and quicker than using a crane to haul bucket loads of slurry up to the top of buildings (though in some cases, that method is still used.)
Of course, I knew none of this going in. At the time of late October 2015, I had followed my uncle to the yard he worked for with the promise of a new job. As I pulled my sad, beat down lump of an Accord through the gate, he quickly waved to me and pulled his Ram around-leaving me there! I parked in between two huge pickups and looked at the towering steel building before me. The shop was a flurry of activity and all around the edge of the yard were parked these strange machines. They were trucks, yes, but I didn’t know what those giant arms folded on top of them were for, or even what my job was going to be. All my uncle had said up to that point “As long as you don’t mind getting dirty, you should be fine!” and “You’ll be washing concrete trucks.” Were these the trucks?
As I made my way inside, I was sure I wasn’t going to work here. I was WAY out of my element. These men were the size of fridges, with arms like ocean liner pistons and shoulders like bowling balls. Meanwhile, I was a 140 lb twig of an 18-year-old with absolutely zero experience with this sort of environment. I got my application filled out and was nervous to hear back, because I wasn’t sure if I could really hack it.
I got my Golden Ticket a couple of weeks later. I got the job! No more working at Whataburger! No more making nasty food for people I couldn’t stand! No more slowly losing my mind at the fry station, an activity so boring you can’t focus, yet just engaging enough that you have to pay attention! I was free! I actually sang ‘I got a golden ticket’ that whole week as I worked, so happy I wouldn’t have to set foot in that grease trap again. Little did I know, I was throwing away my frying pan to jump headlong into the fire.
I started at Pioneer the day after I left Whatahell, and began to learn the ropes of operating the truck that is the subject of this article. Almost all of our pumps were of the Mack MC series, based on a design from 1978, and boy did it show. The cabin was small and cramped because it was a cab over and you were basically sitting on top of the wheels with that huge in line six diesel engine roaring away right next to you. There was a big metal shroud (we called it the doghouse) that held all the electronics and such, and was where all the various switches and buttons that controlled the pump on the back are housed. Look at the picture below and tell me if that looks like anything you’d want to spend time driving:
I began this job just as Winter was becoming Spring. These trucks had just one AC vent, that was controlled by sliders on the doghouse, and most of the time it didn’t work worth a damn. You’d turn that weak jet of air towards your face and pray that you’d start to cool down, because those cabins were nothing but sweat boxes. The gear lever was huge and gear map was useless, because the position of the lever didn’t match what gear the map said you were in. It was my job to the pull the trucks out, park them on the wash rack, fuel, water, wash them, and park them again without backing into anything.
I’m sure that sounds easy, and at its core, it was. However, when it came time to operate the trucks to say, gain access to the deck, my coworker was no help at all. I was forced to seek help on my own from drivers, mechanics, and the shop foreman who all took time to show me how to extend outriggers, raise booms (the arm on the truck), and even pump concrete should the need arise. My days were spent taking care of these gentle giants and my nights were spent loading them with system.
System is what we call the various pipe, hose, and clamps a pump needs to carry for its current job. When Lambert would leave early (as he did most nights) it was up to me to finish loading the trucks. Each hose and pipe I moved weighed approximately 50 to 80 pounds, and sometimes I’d have to move thirty or more in a night. The forklift was helpful, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my job without it. I’d watch 50-70 hour weeks come and go as I worked six days a week for nearly two years (closer to one and a half). One moment in particular really stands out to me though:
About six months had passed. I was working an eleven hour shift and it was about ten o clock at night. The issue with having an industrial type job is, you come in a certain time and have no idea when you’ll be going home. I was alone, as per usual. The Wash Guys were almost always the last ones to leave. I had finished the last truck and was getting ready to clock out when a sinking feeling came over me. I reached into the top pocket of my blue uniform shirt and took out a crumpled piece of paper. I still had system to do! In a fit of rage, I hurled my Army surplus Boonie hat into the dirt and sat down on the bumper of one of these MC Series trucks.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to chuck this job in the bin and lit out for pastures new. In that moment… I even wanted to go back to Whataburger. At least that job wasn’t trying to kill me. At least I got enough sleep and worked with a roof over my head… Out of that dark pit, I felt something in me. A light. A force. A roaring inside my soul.
I am stronger than this.
I will NOT be beaten.
A flood of emotions washed over me and as the headlights of the trucks watched over me , like the eyes of T.J Eckleburg, I roared to the moon and anyone else that cared to hear me. As the echo of that primal howl ripped across the dark night, even the coyotes yapping in the distant woods stopped to listen. I snapped my hat up from the dust, pulled it low, and got back to work.
I was washing a pump one day in late May of 2017, utterly convinced that I was going to work at the yard the rest of my life, with a slim chance of getting into the Parts side of things, where I actually wanted to be. Lo and behold, for on that day, I was promoted to running a parts warehouse for my company. It was an odd set of circumstances that allowed such a thing to happen, and the warehouse has brought its own set of challenges, but overall my hard work finally paid off.
PS: I know I tend to meander in my articles, only relating to the vehicles in a very tangential sense, however I hope you readers enjoy them. As a person with a fairly negative outlook, and who’s creative life is plagued by the fear that my writing is never quite good enough, that I’m howling into a pointless void, and that so many writers before me have done it all so much better, I appreciate the chance to write for this site and hope I can allow myself the confidence to continue.
Inspiration for this article’s title: