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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Tunnel Competition of 1966

The Tunnel Competition


Finding a summer job during my college years was not easy.  I was fortunate that my best friend Charlie (Chuck, Ditmus) Widmer had a contact.  His cousin owned a fertilizer/pest-control company, “Andrew Wilson.” Their motto was “Why Bugs Leave Home.”   They sold their product mainly to large estates and golf courses.  His cousin was expanding into the underground sprinkler business and Chuck got me a job as an installer.

Charlie’s cousin, Drew (we referred to him as Mr. Big) knew almost nothing about the business, but lack of knowledge never stopped Mr. Big.  He was the kind of a guy who would tell people he could do something and then learn how while doing it.

One of the other “installers,” Paul, was the son of a friend of Mr. Big.  Paul was as dumb as a stump, and just as lazy.  Mr. Big thought he was great.  Paul was a good looking kid.  He once got a modeling job for a shaving cream company.  His big claim to fame is he made the back cover of Time Magazine in an ad.  Somehow Mr. Big thought this made him smart.

Paul was so stupid; he once went to the Doctor complaining of constant pain in his balls.  The doctor determined that Paul, who had been engaged for over a year, was often demonstrating his affection for his fiancé but never to completion due to his religious beliefs.  The doctor told Paul that he needed to “Find some release, or he would continue to be in pain.”  Paul told us he didn’t know what the doctor meant.

Charlie explained it gently to Paul, “You need to do what you are.”


“Jerk off... jerkoff!”

In the summer of 1966, business was slow.  Mr. Big did not have enough sprinkler jobs to support his full crew.  One of us would have to be laid off.  It was not going to be Charlie.  Charlie knew the situation, Paul and I did not. 

The toughest job in the installation process was getting pipe under a driveway or walk.  On the day of the "competition," Mr. Big assigned Paul and me to tunnel under a ten foot wide driveway, a bitch of a job.  Charlie and Mr. Big left together for another job site.  Before they left, Chuck whispered ominously in my ear, “Dig mother-fucker!”

Now Paul was not that bright, and he was lazy, but I might not have been the most productive worker myself.  Hell, we were paid $1.35 an hour for a back-breaking job so we did not always work full bore.  This day, I put the pedal to the metal.  I didn’t know the full score, but Charlie’s comment was clearly a warning.  Putting two and two together I suspected this tunnel dig represented a competition.

Paul and I started digging, both on opposite sides of the driveway.  It was a ninety degree day and there was no shade.

“Hey Hagy, you up for a water break, no one to see.”

“Ah, you go ahead, I’ll catch a break later.”

“Hey Hagy, slow down, this driveway ain’t goin nowhere.”

“Yeah, well I need the exercise, you take a break, I won’t say nothing.”

This went on for three hours, Paul taking water breaks, stopping to wipe his brow and just resting and talking.  I continued to plod away taking only an occasional short break.

At noon, Mr. Big and Charlie drove up and checked on our progress.  I had dug six feet on my side of the driveway; Paul had dug three and a half feet.  Charlie got out of the truck and Mr. Big told Paul to come with him.

“Nice fucking job Hinkus (I don’t know where that name came from), you won.”

“Yeah!…what was that?”

“Mr. Big has to let someone go.  He decided whichever of you two dug the furthest would keep his job.  Paul lost!”

We never saw dumb Paul again.


Back in college, anytime I had to cram overnight for an exam, the phrase “Dig mother-fucker” was the mantra that got me through.


  1. Paul's type usually does quite well at some level as a government bureaucrat. Today he's probably a sprinkler system inspector. ;)


  2. I worked with a guy like Paul. He was the nicest man I ever met. He looked like he came from old money, and had a name that said so, too. He was a local model in department store ads on the back pages of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. But he was not exactly MENSA material. There he was, probably with a trust fund held until he turned 50, handsome in a graying temples kind of way, making the same $1,500 a month as I was.

    It WAS a government job. With the state unemployment office.

  3. That may not be a very "delicate" mantra, but it sure tells it like it is. Unfortunately, there are two schools of thought in the workplace. Yours believes in putting in the sweat equity to get the job done. The other side believes in skating, and kissing the boss's derriere.