Safety guy learns humility

It’s Raining Oil Mr. Safety!

      I have been asked numerous times by many people through the years, “How is it that even when you get upset it’s not for long?” The short answer to this question is humor and a lot of mistakes. Now I’m going to try and explain the long version. Even though I believe that I possess a certain ability to see humor in almost everything I see or do, there’s more to it. First off it is true that you need to have the ability to laugh at yourself. Believe me when I say, I give myself a lot of material to work with. If something crazy is going to happen, I’m probably the one it’s happening to. The following true story will help you get the idea of what I’m talking about.

     I was working for an open pit copper mine in Arizona and at the time I was the union safety representative for my crew. I was driving a 320 ton haul truck, The truck I was driving broke down so a supervisor picked me up in his pickup  and took me to another truck to finish my shift. Upon pulling up to this other truck, I noticed there was a 55 gallon steel barrel of used oil about ten feet away from the left front tire. This was left by the mechanics who were working on this haul truck.When you are in one of these trucks the number one hazard is blind spots. It takes about twenty-five feet away from the driver’s seat to see the ground. You think that’s a lot? Well, it takes about a hundred and fifty feet away from the truck to see the ground out of the passenger side window while sitting in the driver’s seat. This is due to the cab being positioned on the left side of the truck. It’s approximately twenty feet to the far right of the truck. When you are in the cab it’s like sitting on the roof of a one story house with a peaked roof. ( I wanted to put that out there to give you a sense of size ).

     When we pull up to this truck and I see this barrel of oil, my safety instincts kicked in and I knew I would have to tell the supervisor about it. Before I continue, did I mention I am the acting safety representative at this time? Yes, I know I did already. Being the good safety guy I am, I pointed this out to the supervisor and said that because this truck is parked in a parking area that we use all the time, this barrel needs to be moved as soon as possible. I went on to say that if someone were to run over it it would be a big deal due to a hazmat spill. I knew he knew this but I felt important informing him anyway. ( I got what I like to refer to as the big head, also known as self importance ). He agreed and told me he would have the mechanics come get it after I left.

     I was sooo proud of myself! I put my big lunchbox on the steps of the truck and walked around and did my safety inspection of the truck. After I felt that the truck was okay, I grabbed my big lunchbox and went up the ladder to the deck where the cab is. I did my inspection of the top, put my big lunchbox in the passenger side of the cab, went around to the driver’s side and started the truck up. Once again, did I mention I’m the safety guy? I got my assignment from dispatch and did one more walk across the deck to make sure everything and everyone was clear of the truck before I left. Remember how close the barrel was and how far away from the truck it takes to see the ground? I sat myself down, buckled my seat belt and away I went.

I moved about 15 feet away from my parking spot and slammed on the brakes because all of the sudden there’s this black rain pouring down the windshield and my drivers side door. My first thought was, did the engine just blow up? That didn’t seem right, I mean I didn’t hear a loud bang or anything. What’s going on? By now there is oil all over the cab and across most of the 20 feet of deck. Strangely enough though, with engine compartment located on my right side and yet the passenger window is clean? If the engine blew it’s top, shouldn’t that window be covered in oil instead of the driver’s door? Out of the blue, it hit me like a ton of bricks, OH No!!! This great safety guy that just got done telling the supervisor how that barrel of oil had to be moved before the next truck parked there has, ( in all his stick up the butt greatness ), just ran over that same barrel of oil!!

After shaking my head and feeling completely stupid, I had to take a minute to laugh at myself. After this short laughing episode and calling myself a few choice words, it was time to get serious again. I have to call that same supervisor back on the radio and prepare for the butt chewing I was about to receive. “Hello? Umm yes sir, I need you to come back here please”, I said. Why? came the reply. “Umm, well sir I would rather talk to you when you get here”, I answered back. I was surprised what his next question was. “Oh Billy, you didn’t?”, he exclaimed. “Umm, can you just come here please sir?”. My reply was weak because of the embarrassment I felt. The same supervisor that dropped me off was back within ten minutes. I got an unexpected surprise, when he drove up, I’m standing out on the deck (oil dripping all around me) and he didn’t get out of his pickup shaking his head and yelling at me. Instead, he got out of his pickup shaking his head and laughing so hard he could barely stand up! I didn’t think it was that funny. Well, it didn’t feel like it then but thinking about how I must have looked with the oil dripping all aroundme, it probably was that funny.

After he regained control,  he told me that because the truck was loaded, I would have to take it to the dump and empty it out. After I did that, he would have dispatch send me to the washbay by the truck shop so they could wash the truck off. I didn’t want too do this because I didn’t want anyone seeing me driving a truck covered in oil and asking what happened. He gave me a huge roll of paper towels so I could clean the widows enough to see and then I was heading to the dump.

Black and white picture of two 400 ton mine haulage trucks taken from deck of a mine haulage truck

After dumping the truck, I got another surprise. Dispatch told me the washbay already had a truck in it and I had to go get reloaded and run one more load before getting this nasty thing cleaned up. If that wasn’t bad enough, they were sending me to get loaded all the way on the other side of the mine! Well, I did it and they made sure everybody seen me. Finally, I get to the washbay and the guys there told me they haven’t had a truck there all day. This fine supervisor wanted to make sure I learned my lesson and let everybody know about it too. Chalk one up for him! He also taught me some humility. I learned this lesson like most lessons I have learned, the hard way. I wasn’t near the cocky safety representative that I had been before this incident.

I still tell this story when I can. Even though it was humiliating at the time, it was also one more thing showing me that you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I gained respect from the people I worked with. This was because when they asked what happened, I was honest and told them the truth. This is just one instance through my life that has humbled me and taught me to learn to laugh at myself when I mess up. Holding anger or embarrassment does nothing but cause pain to your body. Laughter will lift your spirits and help you get through any dumb thing you may do. If you have any stories that have taught you humility, I would love to hear them. Don’t be afraid to share your story because the ones you are talking to, have stories of their own. Take care. God bless and Remember, we are all in this together.

short stories

Cameras at the mine

  My debut on screen

     I would have to say this was maybe the hardest, craziest and possibly the most embarrassing thing I have ever done. I was actually in a television show for one episode. The show is Heavy Metal Task Force. I guess you could say I had a starring role, even though I didn’t feel that it was.

Clapperboard used for takes while making films

     A few years back, this television show decided to do an episode at the copper mine I was working in at the time. I happened to be the safety representative for my crew that they were filming. It was the luck of the draw I guess that they used my crew. Actually, it was because we happened to be on day shift at the time. Quite a few of my coworkers and friends were in the film as well.

     My job as the safety guy was to follow this film crew around and make sure they were safe because they were filming in a working mine. I didn’t think this would be a very difficult job. Boy was I in for a surprise! First off, I would like to say that film crew camera men and women are a unique crowd. I think you’re nuts, but you do get the hard shots of film that make it look so real! The camera man that was on this crew really kept me on my toes. I thought, at any given moment, I was going to have to call for mine rescue to pull a body out of a 150-foot drop. This guy was relentless, positioning himself in places that would make a bird nervous, and here I was responsible for his safety. “What is this guy, part mountain goat?” I can honestly say, I walked around with my underwear sucked up my dark side because of all the times I had to catch my breath.

Open pit copper mine

     In comes the producer, who was very good about getting my attention, so the cameraman could do his job. I have always been a talkative person, but this guy was the equivalent of three teenage girls. Questions, stories, suggestions, whatever it took to keep my attention. I have to say, he was very good at it! The only one that I would consider halfway sane was the sound guy. Yet he did a great job of keeping my attention as well. These guys worked very well as a team for sure.

     All three of these gentlemen were very kind to me, but they wore me out trying to keep up with them. We would get out of the Ford Expedition on one of the higher levels of the mine, and they would all take off in different directions at once. Of course, they were doing their individual jobs, but how am I supposed to keep an eye out in three different directions? And talk about fast, these guys were like gazelles. They would have any two-year-old gasping for breath inside ten minutes. This film crew would get done with their individual jobs in one place, pile back in the Expedition, and off we would go to our next destination. Even though I was driving and still answering a billion questions, this was the time I would have a chance to slow my heart rate down again before the next stop.

     I was asked by the producer to find certain types of people that I thought would do well on film. I would take them to these people for a ride along in heavy equipment and for interviews from others about their jobs. (To all the miners that were in this film, let me apologize now, most of you were handpicked by me). I can confess this now because I’m retired and am fairly safe from any retribution.

      One situation that came up was wet weather driving. We had a lot of footage, but the problem was it wasn’t raining, and the producer said they needed rain for the story. When I asked why, he said that he heard from a couple of the haul truck drivers that that’s when it gets crazy out here. I told him he was correct because I was a haul truck driver myself. We had good cloud coverage but no rain. Then I had an idea that almost got me into a lot of trouble. I suggested that I could have a water truck driver over wet a section of road, and they could get shots of the mud and back sprayers of the water truck for rain. Along with this suggestion, we could go up to one of the dumps that were being leached with all the sprayers going. All this sounded good to him, and we did this. Then the request came from him to see a haul truck sliding. I don’t know what I was thinking upon this request, but I had another brilliant idea. Me and my alligator mouth, now overloading my Mickey Mouse ass, is about to cause a painfully close call.

Black and white picture of a 400 ton mine haulage truck
Actual truck I used to drive

     I got hold of a good haul truck driver I knew and asked him to do a small fishtail slide on the section of road we just had soaked down. This driver wanted to do a good job for me, and boy did he! It wasn’t a small slide, it was a Huge slide, and he almost lost it! I could see management’s eyes now while I try to explain that it was my idea and the wreak of a three million dollar truck was my fault. On top of that, other drivers seen that we were filming the slide and decided to help out by sliding their trucks too! After three trucks had done this, it had messed up the road to the point no trucks could come down that hill without sliding, wanting to or not. Three, six, nine million dollars, how many millions am I going to be responsible for?!! Everybody made it safely, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

     The next request was from the cameraman, who wanted to get a close-up of a haul truck driving by. So I had a haul truck drive slowly past us as I’m begging the cameraman not to get too close. So far, so good. Other than the hundred heart attacks I have had so far, nobody had gotten hurt or wreaked any equipment. All this stuff had happened in a few days time. Of course, with everything these three men were putting me through, it would be the longest three days of my life.

    There was this one point where we were driving up onto one of the dumps. I was as helpful as I could be, giving them ideas along the way and kidding around with them about anything and everything. As we were driving across one of the dumps, I was goofing off and made a comment about seeing money and not dirt ahead. This being said, I had no idea that I was being filmed from the passenger side of the back seat. Ultimately, this ended up in our little movie.

Tv cameraman with ball cap on backwards looking through camera

     The producer told me he needed a supervisor to be on film for the story. The supervisor they wanted couldn’t come out because he was in meetings all day. That supervisor and all others wouldn’t be available in time to do what we needed to get accomplished. So the producer asked me to play a supervisor just so when a supervisor was available they could piece them in. Sounded reasonable the way he explained it. What did I know about movie making, I mean I’m just a miner? Besides, I might have a little fun acting crazy at the supervisor’s expense. There aren’t too many chances you get to make fun of your bosses and not get into trouble.

     Here I was doing all kinds of crazy things on film, thinking it was just to set up for the supervisor to be placed into my spot. I had a lot of fun with it. It was like acting without worrying if someone actually seen it other than the one’s around me at the time. Along the way, I got a couple of mechanics that I knew to do a little skit for the film. Wow, did they do a great job! Also had the film crew go on board a shovel and film my friend and favorite shovel operator loading trucks and interviewing him. I’m not sure that he has forgiven me for that yet. We went to dispatch, and they interviewed and filmed my friend doing his job keeping up with everything going on in the pit.

One man standing by tire, another man standing by bucket of huge mine loader
Actual loader used in film

     The final day came, and I was exhausted, but we had to film the loader one more time, as we had filmed the loader and operator earlier in this process. That’s when I got the shock I did not expect. While the cameraman and sound guy were filming the loader and operator,  the producer asked me to talk to him in the Expedition. The operator of the loader was also the main safety guy over me, so I said ok as long as I can still see the other two members of the film crew. “Billy, you have done a great job so far, and I only need one more thing from you.” the producer said. “What’s that?” I asked. “I need you to sign these papers, so we can use the film we have of you and make you the hero in our production.” He said. This was not easy for me to do because, I was just messing around and not being serious at all. The sound guy and cameraman got back in the vehicle and asked the producer if he had asked me yet. I couldn’t believe it, they had all already talk about this, probably in the motel they stayed in the night before. The cameraman told me I was good on film and wanted to use the footage. They finally talked me into it and I kinda had a dull pain in my gut because I had just signed to let others see me as the opposite of who I really am.

There was only one part I couldn’t get right on the final day. The producer told me he wanted to take some still film of me for the end. I asked him what he meant, and he said it’s what they call a “hero shot” in the film industry. I tried my best to pose for this hero shot, but it just wasn’t what they wanted. Furthermore, I think the reason I couldn’t get it right was because they called it a hero shot. Besides, I wasn’t any kind of hero, I just played a part in our little film. Maybe if he would’ve called it the still shot or dull shot, I would’ve gotten it right?

     Finally, everything was done, and we had no idea when our little film would show, what show it would be on or anything for a few months. Finally, we got word that our show would be on “Heavy Metal Task Force” season two, episode two. The show finally aired and when I seen how they chopped things up and how they had filmed me without even knowing it on the dump, I was more embarrassed than ever. The one thing I can say was how proud I was of the people I worked with every day. To see my friends doing their jobs on film was a thing of beauty.

       Heavy Metal Task Force always has three different places they are showing on the same episode, and we got top billing! If you watch it, you will see how the show starts and finishes with us at the Ray mine just outside of Kearny, AZ. You will get to see the names of people in the film, but I left their names off here because I didn’t get their approval. I hope you enjoy the film and make as much fun of me as you want. It is pretty funny, after all. All the people at the mine have already had a lot of fun at my expense. I still have one guy that calls me “Hollywood” every time I see him. I really don’t mind anymore, or I wouldn’t be writing about it. Take care and remember, we are all in this together.

Watch Heavy Metal Task Force Season 2 episode 2 on Prime Video

Funny True Stories short stories

Monsoon driving in a Haulage Truck

Teaching monsoon driving in a open pit copper mine

I have been a teacher, not in the traditional sense, but I have taught in many of my occupations. This is about one of those teaching experiences that maybe went not quite as expected.

First off, let me explain something about haulage trucks and rain. These are two entities that are polar opposites. When the rains come to the mines, one thing is true, all haul truck drivers are in for an adventure. While the rain keeps pouring from the sky, haul trucks drive just fine, but when the rain stops and the dirt on the road becomes more like clay, it is like driving on ice. There is no feeling like sliding down the road in a machine the size of your house with no true control. Just as one tops the hill and is ready to head down the other side, the driver tenses up, especially in the buttocks’ region. There were many times I thought I might actually have to call out mine rescue to remove the seat from my butt. After about six months or so, it becomes more of a game than a total fear of life ending drama.

Monsoon clouds

There are still times, no matter how many years you drive one of these big machines, that you will have that scare put back into you. Here in Arizona, where I drove in the mines, we have a monsoon season every year. Sometimes the monsoons aren’t too bad, other times they are downright fierce. This instance is during one of the bad ones.

I trained a lot of haul truck drivers during my time working in the copper mines. Almost all drivers taught, but I taught more than the average amount. I’m not sure if it was because of my ability to talk to almost anyone and find out what works best for them, or maybe I just had a death wish. Some trainees would get behind the wheel and scare the trainers. I only had this happen to me one time in twenty years teaching to drive these trucks. I may and probably will write about that time in the future. This post however will be about the teacher scaring the student.

Whenever we got some new drivers in the mine, one thing we always told them, was if they made it through the monsoon season, they would be alright as long as they wanted to do this job. Once every couple of years. It seemed like we would get a new batch of students during the monsoons. This was the times the students truly got thrown directly into the fire. Learning to drive a haulage truck in the worst possible circumstance is very difficult, not only for the students, but for the trainers as well.

One day at work I was told that I would be training John, (truth be known, I can’t remember his name. This was many years ago). The rains had been bad for a week or so and the mine roads were a complete mess. John was excited to get started. He told me that he had driven many types of equipment, but never in a mine setting or anything as large as a haul truck. I explained how the rains affected the trucks and how bad the roads were right now. It didn’t seem to phase him. Maybe this guy will do alright, I thought. I have, and still do believe, the only way to learn to drive one of these monsters is to get behind the wheel and do it. I never allowed a trainee to just ride around all shift watching me drive. The first day it’s ok to ride and watch for half a shift, but after that, it’s time for the student to drive. This day was the exception.

I believe there were thirteen students that showed up that day. All the driver’s that would have trainees with them, including myself, decided, the students would just ride today. This was going to be a suck your seat up the butt kind of day. If the students didn’t quit today just by riding, then maybe they would make it through training. When the experienced drivers were worried, then I could just imagine what the students were going through. These poor trainees were going to have the ride of their lives and didn’t even have to buy a ticket!

Open pit copper mine

The first half of the shift was a circus. Drive up the hill, slide down the hill, and hope you didn’t hit anything. The bosses all parked their pickups at the top of the mine to watch what was happening below. There was no way in the world they were going to be on the road with us, doing everything we could to keep from playing bumper cars! I was doing fairly well keeping my truck out of the ditch, which was quite the challenge. I told John once that it was his turn to drive, and his eyes got huge until I said that I was just kidding. With a sigh of relief, he said under his breath, “Oh, thank God!” I laughed and told him that even I wasn’t that big of a jerk.

Maybe six hours into our shift, one of the shovels went down, and they had to start another one up. This wasn’t that big of a deal except, the road to the shovel hadn’t been worked on all day and I knew it was going to be extremely slick. The rains were turning on and off all day, keeping the roads in terrible condition. This road hadn’t been worked on today by road crew because they had their hands busy with all the other roads. Dispatch told me to let them know the condition of the road, so they knew whether they needed to pull someone to work on it. I knew It was going to be bad, but I didn’t know it was going to be that bad.

I stopped at the top of the hill, looking down the other side, and told John, this is going to be the best ride in the park today. John let out a small groan, which is what I would’ve done if he weren’t here with me. I have to keep up good appearances for the student, I thought to myself. Slowly we started down the hill. I knew it was going to be slick. I knew we were going to slide. Furthermore, I knew that my butt would try to eat my seat. Furthermore, I also knew that I had a trainee in the seat next to me, and I had to play it cool, so I didn’t scare him into quitting on his first day. What I didn’t know was how awful it was going to be and how hard it would be to keep my cool for John’s sake.

We started down with a small slide toward the driver’s side. This soon turned into a very large slide. One thing kept popping in my mind, stay cool for John’s sake. So I started explaining what I was doing to keep us on the road and out of the ditch. I explained every turn of the steering wheel, how much brake pressure I was using and how to watch what the road was telling me with the dips and potholes we were navigating over and around. I explained these things all the way down the hill towards the shovel we were heading for. Furthermore, I even told John that was the shovel as we passed the shovel, still sliding for another three hundred yards on the flat and heading towards the berm! The truck came to rest about fifty feet from the berm. I locked the parking break and took a deep breath. John looked as pale as a ghost, and I wasn’t sure that I didn’t as well.

Mine shovel with bucket on the ground and man standing out front

Over the radio came a familiar voice of my ole buddy Pat, who was running the shovel. With a small laugh, Pat said, “Hey Billy, the shovel is over here, come on over and get loaded.” I answered back, “John and I are going to step out for a small break and clean our shorts out first!” I smiled at John to let him know everything was okay. Truth be told, even though I had to play it cool for John, my heart was running about ten times faster than I was letting on. I asked, “Are you okay, John?” He said, “I didn’t mind the sliding and all, but I guess what bothered me was how you explained what you were doing as we were coming down the hill.” I answered, “What do you mean? I just wanted you to get the idea of what I was doing to keep us out of the ditch.” He said, “Ya, but you were looking at me the whole time!” John, I said, “Actually, I was looking at the road, it just happened to be out of your window!” This did not sit well with John, as his pale white took on a light shade of green. Maybe that was not what he wanted to hear, but it was the truth.

We got through the rest of the shift without incident, and I assured John that today was not normal and tomorrow would be better. He shook my hand and thanked me for everything. The next day came and as my shift was beginning soon, I asked my boss where John was. The supervisor told me he was one of the five students that quit today. Well I hated to see John go, but it let me know that he probably wasn’t right for this job anyway.  Yes, it was extreme conditions, but that is part of the job.

We all have our limitations. As for John, I hope he found a great career outside the mines. I’m not sure if he just didn’t have the stomach for the job, or if maybe he was just smarter than the rest of us that continued with this line of work. Sometimes you just have to find the right place in life for you. Oh, just to set the record straight, I only lost one other student during training in the mines, and he was the one that scared me, whom I talked about earlier.

Take care, enjoy what you do and remember, we are all in this together.