I wasn’t long out of school, probably had just turned 18. One of my first jobs was driving a haul truck for Nelson Lewis, a cousin in the utility business. He had just landed a project in downtown Austin, laying a wastewater line up West Ave. It started down at 7th St and would continue up to about the 24th block on Rio Grande St. Right up in the middle of the University of Texas Campus.
The first piece of equipment I hauled to the job was an old White-Oliver Rubber Tired Backhoe. It was a beast, 4 wheel drive and all. It didn’t travel real fast, so the fact that it did have a sign of a brake usually wasn’t that big of a deal. If you couldn’t coast to a stop, you could drop the front bucket and get it to stop fairly suddenly in a pinch.
This machine operated differently from any other machine I’d ever seen before or since. To go forward, you’d push a pedal on the floor, the harder you pushed the faster it would travel. The transmission and the throttle were hooked together to get it to do that. When it was time to reverse, an adjoining pedal worked the same way. So you learned to slide your feet back and forth.
I unloaded it in the street where the ground was level. We had rented an open lot at the corner of 9th and West Ave to stage from. The ground there was sloping. As I backed up to park it, it started to roll towards the street.
Unfortunately, a VW Bus was parked along the curb, in a no parking zone. Since I wasn’t completely familiar with the workings of that machine, I didn’t have the feel of the pedals down just yet. So pushing on what I thought was the brake, was actually the forward pedal. I plowed into the side of the van, flipping it over in the middle of the street. Just as it got over on its side, my foot found the reverse pedal. Just as fast as it had flipped over, it was setting back on all four wheels.
Only problem, the whole entire side was caved in. Adjacent to the vacant lot was a 3 story office building with people lined up at the windows watching the whole show. A cop showed up soon. He said it was parked in a no parking zone, but he didn’t write them a ticket. He said he figured they already had enough to go through.
No one came out of the building to claim it. So we left a note on the windshield with our contact and insurance info on it. When I came back the next day to drop another machine, the VW Bus was gone and we never received a call from anyone. We figured there something untoward going on. Perhaps the fellow was too stoned to notice the right side of his van had scooted over about 2′ toward the center.
I practiced driving that ole backhoe on level ground to get used to it and never had another mishap with it, at least that I remember.
They didn’t make those machines for very long. I haven’t seen one in years.
The picture below shows a similar looking one.