Saturday, December 18, 2010

What a Blessing?

Post by Rodney, edited by Daphne with thanks to Jesse Lee for some of the photos.

It was a rough week. On Wednesday of this week it started. A contractor for the Matanuska Electric Association, Northern Powerline Contractors, asked for a favor. They still have 2 power poles to replace in a bog area at the end of Shallow Lake. He asked me if we could cut a road to the poles. I said we might if we had time and asked Ryan Cote about it. That afternoon Ryan started cutting the road while I was working at thawing some pipes that had frozen. Ryan called on the radio and asked if I could help him out.

I arrived to find that the dozer had broken through the ice and could not climb out on its own.
We called Doug Theissen and asked him to come down and offer advice. After he arrived I went up to Dan Lee's house looking for him to give us advice. Dan was not home at the time so Doug, Ryan and I agreed to use the excavator to try and pull the dozer out. We stopped when the excavator started breaking through the ice as we did not want 2 pieces of equipment stuck.

Doug had to leave for the school Christmas concert and about this time Jeff Kovak and Al Minatra showed up. They both live on Victory Road and came to pick up Ryan and I for private pilot ground school down at Kingdom Air. It had been canceled that night but they did not know that because the phones were out from high winds in the valley (75 mph winds with gusts to 100 mph). Al said he thought that even if the excavator went through, it should be able to extract itself. Al is an experienced equipment operator and was willing to try to get the dozer out so I agreed and he tried. The dozer moved quite a ways before the excavator broke through.

We started having some other people show up after this including Dan and Jesse Lee and Chuck Gerwig and his 2 sons, Ben and Joe. Dan ended up starting up his Cat D-6 and bringing it up and we started up the old Case backhoe. Dan's dozer had not been started this year. Chuck took charge of the scene and went to work with nothing less than heroic efforts. The back hoe ended up dropping through in a couple of places but Chuck and Al were able to free it under its own power. We were cutting down trees and had a bonfire going trying to keep warm in the subzero temperatures with Chuck and Al getting the coldest because they were the most exposed to the wind. When the concert was over, most of the camp people came back to try to help. Jacob Klapak brought out hot coffee and hot water for hot chocolate. Joel Ruisch was out for moral support and many wives and others came by to see the "project" we were involved in. In the midst of the work of trying to free the excavator, Dan brought his dozer over and out onto the airstrip. Once there we hooked it to the John Deere 650 dozer with a lot of cable and without too much fanfare it was removed from the quagmire. It went into the auto shop to thaw overnight.

Al was in and out of the cab of the excavator as it was wallowing further into the mud. It finally quit when all the controls were under water because all the electrics were underwater at that time. Al was soaking wet and it was close to midnight. Al was feeling very dejected. I was feeling a strong sense of failure and guilt. Others in the group were also disappointed, wanting to get the excavator out before it froze in place. We all gathered around the fire and prayed, once again giving the excavator and the situation to God, knowing that He would use the situation to His glory. Joel Ruisch and I thanked everyone who was there for their help. Even so, I still left feeling like I had let camp down, certain that no one else has let a big piece of equipment disappear on their watch. I arrived at the house at about 1 am and spent a couple of hours trying to get warm and spent the night awake with my mind in overdrive. I later found out that many others (Ryan, Chuck, Dan and Al) had done the same thing.

Thursday Chuck talked with Arnie Hrncir and Arnie spoke with his son Dustin and they formulated a plan. Chuck stopped by and told Ryan and I what the plan was and a little later Arnie, Dustin and Brian Lee showed up to assess the situation and see if the plan would need to change after looking over the scene. They explained what they wanted to do to Ryan and myself and then to Joel, asking that we get a light plant for the next day as they wanted to get it out as soon as possible. We still had no phones but word got around that we would try again on Friday. Ryan and I started to prepare things right away, with me neglecting other duties. Thursday night Arliss Riddles was in the Hrncir's shop welding grousers on the tracks of their excavator getting it ready.

After a night of better sleep, the day dawned early and the preparations began in earnest. At our morning prayer, where we were joined by Al Minatra and Dan Lee, we gave the days' activities to the Lord and set ourselves to work. While Joel and Bret Kolb went to town to get the light plant, we started by building an "Ice Road" under the direction of Dan Lee. I acted as a general go'for all day. Basically, Dan would dump snow down, then they would pour water over the snow to form ice. It was very slow at first just using water off our fire truck but it quickened up once we got 2 and 3 inch pumps hooked up and pulling water from under the ice. We worked through lunch eating burgers that had cooled off by the time they got to us. They would not stay warm in the sub zero temperature. (Thank you Heather Klapak for lunch and dinner and braving the cold with us.) I was running the hose off the 3 inch pump long enough that my Carharrts had stiffened legs and I could not bend my fingers. Then we set that 3 inch pump and a second 3 inch trash pump to draining around the excavator, and I started running a 2 inch line to pump water on the ice road.

While we were working on the road, there were men working on removing the pins to separate the boom and bucket and leave it for retrieval once the excavator was out. The bucket was extended and the suction that it created was part of the reason we could not get it out on Wednesday. It was pulling the rest of the machine lower whenever we attempted to extract the boom. The plan was to build a press by welding directly to the boom and using a hydraulic jack or air jack to push the pins free. This was unnecessary as the pins drove right out. Then the hydraulic lines were separated. Ready to go.

The ice road was built to a platform around the excavator and completed about mid afternoon. At the time of completion it was holding over 100,000 pounds of bulldozers on it. While Dan Lee and Dustin Hrncir were running the dozers, Al Minatra was operating a dump truck and Mike Roub was operating an excavator. Mike is a virtuoso on the machine, putting it on like a suit of clothes. There were many others involved; Arnie overseeing the entire operation, Chuck Gerwig and Sons doing a lot of the bull work, Ryan and Matt and Joel all with different tasks, Aaron Meeuwsen taking photos and watching the pumps, and many wives and members of the community stopping by to see our progress and praying for success. Many hands joined in this "project" and it was clear that God was bringing these people together.

With a solid "platform" Mike went to work digging the ice from around the excavator. After the ice was removed he started looking for the tracks and removing material around them so that chains could be attached to the tracks to pull with. Mike was removing a lot of water and it exposed a lot of the machine. He then built a ramp to drag the machine from its sodden resting place. When the tracks were exposed Al went in the icy murk and worked chains around the tracks. It was so cold though that even submerged in the water the chains would freeze to Al's gloves and he could not release them. Eventually, with much manipulating by Mike on the excavator and Al in the water, it was all hooked up. Slowly, cables straining and even breaking and a couple of chains breaking so reattachment was necessary more then once, it eased from its position to the roar of 3 diesel engines. The water pouring from it like a breaching leviathan, the excavator emerged, glass intact and looking filthy from the ice that was still attached.

This was sometime before 6:00 PM and then the clean up started. Heather Klapak had a meal prepared for us so once most of the clean up occurred, we ate dinner at Miracle Lodge. Then we moved the excavator into the back bay of Miracle Lodge to thaw out. I just followed it up because even though it was close to 8:00pm, there were more frozen pipes on camp that I needed to deal with. I know I left out some details but this is close to what happened. I will need to deal with other aspects of the project and will try to get photos of the same.


  1. Amazing how much Good He can bring out of things that can seem so awful at the time. Romans 8:28, huh? Thanks for writing this, Rodney. lori lee

  2. WOW that is a story that will be talked about for years.
    Praise the Lord for everyones hard work and that no one got
    hurt through all that!!
    Thanks for sharing this with us!

  3. Glacierview community !!
    Your on solid ground with this bunch !!
    I wish I was there to help...
    John Nyholt


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