The Plunge

Truth be told, I cannot vouch for the details of this tale. My father related it to me when I was too young or too disconnected to remember names or dates, but the truth of the story is etched into the face of Saddle Mountain above lower Crab Creek.

The trace of the bulldozer descent of the north face of Saddle Mountain above Crab Creek. The track is located around nine miles east of the Columbia River. This view is a telephoto image, showing only the upper section of the trace.

The trace of the bulldozer descent of the north face of Saddle Mountain above Crab Creek. The track is located around nine miles east of the Columbia River. This view is a telephoto image, showing only the upper section of the trace.

What a bulldozer was doing on top of Sentinel Peak, I cannot say. Perhaps in gouging a firebreak above the Milwaukee Road the driver found himself forced to make corrections that led him ever higher. Eventually he must have found the railroad hundreds of feet below him, a distant trace at the bottom of a precipitous drop. Did the railroad send someone to him, demanding that he bring the dozer down again? Did he refuse to drive down the face of the mountain? I would have. I can imagine an argument in which the messenger insists that the bulldozer can make the descent, and the driver insists that it can’t.

According to my father, the man who drove the bulldozer down the face of Sentinel Peak was drunk, and doing it on a bet.

This must have taken place in the 1930s or 1940s. My father used the man’s name, but I failed to remember it. At any rate, my father reported that the man who left his mark bet that he could bring the bulldozer off the mountain’s sheer north slope.

You can imagine the scene. A doubtful glance at the unforgiving rocks below, a last guzzle from the bottle, the engine roars. Heat from the motor rises through the metal floorboards and above the blade there is only sky. The driver at least had the technique: rather than plunge forward over the crest, he dropped the blade behind him as he backed the bulldozer down the slope. The dragging blade provided a sea anchor against the forces of gravity.

All would have gone well, except that a few hundred feet down the face of the mountain, the driver suddenly saw that he was headed for a ravine. Did he set the brake and dismount to survey for a safe passage? The gouge he left with that sea anchor blade of his indicates that he suddenly swerved to the west to avoid the danger. From there he found safe passage to the bottom, surely one of the most harrowing bulldozer passages ever told.

His name is lost to me, but not, perhaps to history. Somebody else may remember. And I’m not sure I could recommend him as a hero. It seems like another unconsidered drunken exploit, risking all for a moment of glory. But the trace remains on the mountain, and it needs an explanation, even if hardly anyone else will ever know it is there.

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3 responses to “The Plunge

  1. Did you ask Paul, Jim, other aging offspring in the community? Sure is an amazing feat! The driver must have realized his trail would remain for generations.

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