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Feeling low? Try your hand at a trackhoe
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I'm not quite ready to go and change jobs, but I had a glimpse this week of a potential career that I might have pursued.

I could have been a grader.

Not the kind who puts red marks on test papers. I'm married to one of those and I wouldn't change places with her for anything. They don't have enough money in anybody's school budget for that.

I'm talking about the kind of guy who can move a little dirt, or a whole lot of dirt, depending on your needs.

Earl Hedden owns and operates a trackhoe. A trackhoe is a machine that has tracks on it like a bulldozer. But out front, it has a big old bucket that will scoop up a big load of whatever you want.

It looks like the steam shovel in that classic children's book, "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel."

Mike's steam shovel was named Mary Anne. I don't know if Earl's has a name.

Earl is the guy who tore down our house. This week, he'll dig the hole where the new one will go.

Between finishing off the old house and starting on the new one, I asked Earl if he would mind if I gave the old trackhoe a spin. He did and I'm hooked.

When I was a kid, I had a bunch of Tonka toys. I had a dump truck and later, a bigger dump truck. I also had several bulldozers, backhoes and assorted other gizmos that would scoop up dirt.

Along with several of my friends, we dug up a good portion of Social Circle and buried it back every afternoon before dark. Some of the digging toys had little controls that would extend the arm and move the bucket in order to dig what couldn't be more than a few tablespoons of dirt.

Earl has a much, much bigger bucket.

Earl gave me the crash course in trackhoe operation. He didn't let me drive it anywhere, which probably was best. But I did scoop up what would have been a days worth of dirt if I were using a shovel. I figured it was a day's worth of dirt, because it would have taken an hour to go down to the store and buy a shovel, talk to somebody, get a cold drink, stop and get lunch and then go back and dig up some dirt.

Earl even let my friends Doug Hanson and Abit Massey try out the trackhoe. Abit is the reigning poultry czar of Georgia and looked rather comfortable behind the controls of a piece of heavy construction equipment. Doug is one of those guys who can do about anything he sets his mind to.

There is something in the male psyche that makes us like big toys. I felt an incredible sense of power when I fired up that big diesel engine. I really felt powerful when I started moving those sensitive electronic controls that, with the flick of a lever, can move just about anything in your way.

I'm not giving up my day job, but if you've got a building project and your trackhoe operator gets sick or goes on vacation, call me.

I'm no Earl, but I'll try.

Harris Blackwood is community editor of The Times. His columns appear Sundays and only in the print edition on Wednesdays.

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