Keeping up morale

A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)

They struck metal as they built the road around the toe of a ridge, a huge deposit, a whole hill of it, with next to no clay overburden covering it. It was greywhake (rotten rock) soft enough to break out of the hillside with a bulldozer yet hard enough to surface the new road construction, and at the highest point on the road too!

Stumpy, in fact all the men, were delighted. What luck, better than they could ever have hoped for. They stopped building the road then and there, got stuck into opening up the quarry, building a “Chinaman,” (a log ramp), to load trucks, and formed a turn table so the trucks could turn around, back under the “Chinaman,” and then take off with their loads along the new construction.

All went well, the loading out of metal began, no more long slow drag up the hills for the laden trucks from the metal pit in the river, the weather stayed fine. Things were going so well it was inevitable, something had to stuff the job up, and of course something did!

Trouble came in the form of a stupid, stubborn visiting city hunter. Because the quarry was new and raw as was the road to it, the turntable was cramped, giving the metal trucks barely room enough to swing around and park, to await their turn under the “Chinaman.”

One morning they all arrived to start work, and there, parked fair in the middle of the turntable was this smart red, modern car, all locked up and secure. Footprints indicated the owner had taken off down the ridge and into the bush.

All day the metal trucks manoeuvred and jinkered around that red car, tempers shortened, the job showed down. The car was still there at knock off time so when they went home the men left a note under the windscreen, a polite note, even if it was written in pencil on a dirty piece of paper. “Please shift this car down the road. It’s in the way here.” Next morning the car was still parked on the turntable. The note was gone, there was no reply.

All day the metal trucks again had to manoeuvre around the car, tempers got shorter and shorter. At the end of the day the men left a second note on the car, not so polite this time. “Shift this bloody car.”

Next morning the car was still there, but a reply was on it, this time. “I’ve got a permit to hunt this block. Get Stuffed!” The men were outraged! They showed the note to the supervisor who took it down, showed it to Stumpy, told him the story.

Stumpy sent the message to the men to cool it, tolerate the car for the rest of the day, he was pulling them all out with their machinery and gear to start a new job on the morrow, anyway. Late that afternoon he went up to the quarry to have a look at the metalling job and to redirect the workforce. There, sitting in the middle of the turntable was the offending red car.

Stumpy and the bulldozer driver had a quiet talk together, which put the driver in a very good humour indeed. Stumpy then left, back to the office. When the crew pulled out for the new job the men left in high spirits. They left the red car untouched undamaged on the turntable. But, closely surrounding it was a five foot high bulldozed circle of heavy loose metal, into the top of which was stuck a shovel.

It would take five hours shoveling for a galley slave to free the car from the prison of metal. The car disappeared that night, and was never seen in the district again.

When Stumpy went to the bar the following Saturday evening he need not have taken money, the beer was already set up for him by the grinning roading crew who were in high spirits.