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Big machines, and now the simple life

Folks at Fair Oaks Lodge were thankful there were things to do inside this week in hot weather. What with several of our staff losing their homes to the storm, it was still the main topic.

This week we are going to hear Leo Minnette's interesting story. Leo was born in 1921 in Fargo. His father's name was George and his mother was Drew. They moved to the Verndale area in 1930 and it is where Leo graduated from high school.

Leo was always drawn to big equipment, engines with many horses, big wheels, built for heavy lifting and strong work. Naturally, he was drawn to contractor Don Dahlman in Clarissa.

Don hired Leo as an apprentice where by working with an experienced operator he learned the trade. Dahlman built roads, dug basements, did most of the heavy work in that part of the country.

Leo's next job was with huge machines at Mountain Iron. He saw names on motors like Westinghouse, Letourneau, then later hydraulic Caterpillar machines built to haul huge loads of dirt and push scrapers.

This way of earning a living is what Leo dreamed of doing. He liked the organized bustle found where there was mining, where there were holes so deep that a huge dump truck near the bottom looked like a fly on the wall. With that heavy equipment, what looked to be a mere touch meant a loss of life or limbs to whatever it touched.

As well as liking the kind of meaningful work he was doing with big equipment, in the part of the country that contributed vital material to the rest of the world, Leo liked the kind of man attracted to the job.

Those men could and expected to put in long hours and days of hard work behind hot, dirty machines. They knew what they were supposed to accomplish in a day and how to do it. Look at the high piles of earth near those deep mines and try to imagine the machine and the man running it that put it there without rolling, if you can.

While the pay was suitable, accidents always were a real threat. Leo doesn't recall that there were many of them. With big machinery there is no such thing as a "little" accident.

Having heard from workers, and having read the stats on jobs like bridge construction, high rise city buildings or the shipping industry, where deadlines are made for a job to be done or delivered, safety is too often put on a back burner, not the first priority.

Leo said staying safe came first for the contractors he worked for, always stressing being careful, never taking a risk. He said they had good equipment to work with.

Leo said: "If everyone without some kind of a degree, running all that heavy machinery, was asked to leave there would have been a stack of unmanned 'dozers, dirt movers, scrapers, trucks and a dozen other rigs because with the exception of a very few, the craft was learned by being paired with another well-seasoned older employee. What's more, the apprentice system worked."

Now that Leo is retired, he hunts, fishes, reads, watches a ball game or two, does what he wants to do. He and his brother live in Verndale.

They work in the yard, pretty much do what they want to do when they want to do it. Not a bad agenda, right?