Little Tykes Teach Me About the Big Rigs

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How did I learn to tell a tractor from a bulldozer? Answer: My children had toy trucks, even my daughters. No dolls. Just trucks, like their big brother had. The big Tonka ones. Heavy yellow dump trucks. Backhoes. Steam shovels. Cranes with working pulley systems. Cement mixers. For 10 years my dirt driveway was under construction by two ponytailed girls and their older brother. That's how I learned about trucks.

"Vroom, vroom, vroom!" they'd call out from under the kitchen window. I'd take a peek. There they'd be, bent over. Both hands on the front- end loaders. Moving down the driveway to the next excavation. Shirts riding up their backs. Dust up to their ankles.

"Lara, would you smooth out this pile of gravel for me with your bulldozer? My steamroller is busy," Matt would ask his sister.

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"No problem, Matt. Be right there!" she'd reply, as she raced down the driveway, ponytail flying.

I felt liberated just watching them. I had never played with trucks when I was growing up. Trucks were only for boys in the 1950s. So I never paid much attention to whether those machines down the street moved gravel with a blade or a bucket. Weren't they all tractors? Well, no, as I learned.

'I'LL take that green tractor," I said to the saleswoman. "The what?" she asked.

"That green truck-thing," I stammered. Here I was a writer and I was (horrors!) putting "thing" on the end of a word. But I was desperate to get that ... thing.

"Oh, the backhoe!" she said with authority.

"Yes, that's it! That's what my daughter wants," I replied gratefully.

It didn't take that backhoe long to join the rest of the heavy road-building equipment. A new vehicle was always put right to work. And oddly, it was not a salesperson or one of those handsome encyclopedic volumes or a giant picture book like "How a Building Goes Up" that taught me how to distinguish between trucks. No, my education came from watching my son and daughters at work in our driveway. In fact, it was by overhearing their job-site conversations that I became truck-wise:

"Can my backhoe come see your backhoe?" Heidi would ask Lara.

"Sure. And bring your dump truck, too," she'd reply. "Matt's steam shovel has some sand we could use."

"Vroom. Vroom!" they'd growl again.

And then minutes later: "I'll get a pail of water, and we'll make a moat around my castle," Lara proposed. "I'll just have to talk to my front-end loader."

And the digging would continue, until our cars would go bump in the night, falling into these man-made ditches and holes.

THE next morning (at their father's request), the crew of three would be out there with their bulldozers and sand trucks filling in what the steam shovels and backhoes had taken out. It was quite an operation. They were thrilled they had a "real" task, something worthwhile!

"Wait'll Daddy comes home," Matt would glow. "Won't he be proud of my bulldozer!"

Daddy was happy the holes were filled in. He congratulated the bulldozer, too.

As for me, I earned my truck-education degree the day my husband and I were rumbling down an old camp road. Funny, it was not as bumpy as usual. "Hmm," I remarked. "A grader's been in here."

My husband looked up. "A what?" he said. (Now here was a man who had heard me call trucks "tractors" for years.)

"A grader. Only a grader can smooth out a road like this," I replied - with authority.

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