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The great rock removal

[This is a true story. The names have been changed because the people involved have bragged about it too much already.]

Win Crowe was famous for his pranks, but he had high standards. He had a strong aversion to destroying anything that anybody wanted. Blowing minds, though, was fair game.

One campus guard that worked the graveyard shift had a habit of spending most of the night sleeping at a certain corner where three streets came together. Once he awoke about four in the morning to find a brand new phone pole right outside the window of his truck. He was sure there had been no pole when he went to sleep. He noticed that there was a wire going to the pole. The wire ran down to a small metal cabinet with some light showing through the cracks around the door. The door wasn't locked, so he opened it, and inside was a fresh pot of coffee. The guard figured it was another of Win's stunts, tried the coffee, and said later that it was fine coffee, good and strong. When he came back from his next round all traces of the pole and wire were gone.

Win's finest hour was inspired by a certain two-ton boulder on the quadrangle. This particular rock was right by the walk between Weir Hall and Brown Hall, a busy spot where half the town would go by on an average day. It was not a bad-looking rock when the grounds crew rolled it off the back of a six-by-six. This was supposed to be landscaping.

After Joe College and his friend Muldoon got through with it, though, it was one ugly rock. When Joe cleared out of Tech, as a farewell gesture he dumped a can of yellow paint on the rock. This particular shade of yellow is the same color they use to paint no-passing stripes on the highway; second ugliest color in the world, after olive drab. Muldoon didn't want to be outdone. He was leaving at the end of that semester too, and he had a can of olive drab paint, so he poured that over the rock.

This was when the rock got to be unpopular. The grounds crew was asked to get rid of it, but it's not easy to deal with a two-ton rock. Somehow they never quite got around to it, and it got to be a running joke. ``When are you getting your degree?'' ``Oh, about the time they get rid of that ugly rock.''

One Monday morning there was a big pile of little rocks where the big one used to be. Some of the pieces had yellow and olive drab paint on their sides, but most of the fragments had nice clean fractures, as if someone had blasted the rock. But how could this be? One of the mining professors said it would take about a half stick to do the job, and that would probably have made some noise and probably broken a few windows.

Some people are probably still wondering how it was done. Now it can be told---I hope the statute of limitations is shot by now.

The preceding Friday night I had been in my room in West Hall when I heard a bunch of people out in the hall. I heard a knock on my door, and looked out to find Win with that dangerous-looking lopsided smile on his face, and several of his friends knocking on doors looking for hands to help.

My own part in the actual removal was pretty peripheral. Win gave me a double handful of cherry bombs and told me to run a diversion somewhere around South Hall. I took the screen out of the window of the study lounge in room 318 so I could throw lit cherry bombs out the window without being out on the balcony. I figured this would draw any idle passersby away from the action on the quadrangle.

I was worried about the guards coming to check me out, but Win had taken care of them too. He was on pretty good terms with them. When he came to the guard shack and suggested that they stay inside and drink coffee for the next half and hour and ignore any strange noises they might hear, they decided that would be a pretty good idea.

Elsewhere, the hard work was underway. A large squad with two-by-fours got the rock levered up just far enough to run some chains under it. Another task force hot-wired a five-ton crane and drove it, along with a six-by-six truck, right onto the quad. It took only minutes to hoist the rock up onto the six-by.

Only one snarl developed. On the trip back, the crane ran out of gas just outside the compound gate, so another detail went into town to get a gallon of gas so they could park the crane back where it was supposed to be. I heard that they had used a Rural Credit Card to get the gas (that is, a short length of hose).

I missed the scene on the quadrangle, but I did get to ride down the canal with the truck. Win drove a few miles south of town, then drove the six-by about halfway up one of the ramps going up on the levee. He stopped and we pushed the rock off the back of the bed. It landed on the ramp with a loud plop. Win mud-packed a couple of quarter sticks onto two faces of the rock, connected them with primacord, and added a three-minute fuse. We all got a lecture about how important it is to walk away from explosives and not to run. Win had a powder license and was always very careful. The shot went off and we heard pieces of the rock landing all over. In a half hour or so under the full moon, we found a pretty good stack of the fragments to dump back by the sidewalk on the quadrangle.

Next: True stories of St. Pat's
See also: Shipman's original writings
Previous: Fred Beach and his Indestructible Land Rover
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John W. Shipman,
Last updated: 2008/11/30 03:08:40