Bear Swamp: HappyJacK

by kfrego

Jack Benoit was a Caterpillar bulldozer operator at Bear Swamp. He was an extraordinary operator. Jack’s well deserved nickname was “Happy”. My crew worked close with Happy Jack during the excavations on the project. He was an old school operator who knew exactly what he could and couldn’t do with his D-8 bulldozer. He had the finesse of a surgeon when required and could exhibit the mentality of a fence post when it fit his needs. Maybe that’s why all of my crew appreciated him so much. Whatever it took, the job got done.

One of the first things Happy Jack taught me was how to adjust the control sleeve on a Caterpillar engine governor. The addition or deletion of spacer washers greatly increased or decreased the top end revolutions of the engines. Happy Jack always had his D-8 tuned for maximum efficiency. He would adjust the governor early in the morning when nobody was around and return the governor to the factory position at the end of the day. If an operator got caught turning the engine faster than the factory specs it was their last shift on the job. Rebuilds on the large engines were very expensive. (Through my years working construction I won many bets and earned a lot of bonus’ because of those little shims in the governors.)

During a winter warm spell my crew pioneered a road to the top of a rock cut above the spillway. We used Happy Jack’s D-8 dozer to pull the compressors, gang boxes, and tools up the long bare slope. The airtrack drills followed the compressors as they were towed by the dozer. When we needed supplies, fuel, or dynamite it was loaded on the dozer and hauled to the top. We made good progress until a rain storm turned to sleet, turned cold, and froze everything under a sheet of ice. It was nearly impossible to negotiate the slope on foot. We needed fuel for the compressors so we could drill. Most of the crews on the job never came to work. Happy Jack loaded the fuel barrels on the ripper frame of his dozer, set the engine speed just above an idle, and headed up the slope. He crawled along slowly, picking his way up the several hundred foot slope. We never thought he’d make it. Two thirds of the way to the top Happy Jack lost it. The 80,000 pound D-8 turned several 360 degree turns as it came to the bottom. Happy Jack was just along for the ride. As soon as the dozer came to a complete stop he set the high idle and headed back up the mountain. Thirty minutes later we were drilling.

Happy Jack was one of the best…….even when he was completely out of control.