By Amber Dahl
Keith and Marcia Mitchell of Pine Street Inc. are well-known figures in the Montana excavation community. They have more than 50 years of combined experience, after all. You might have seen them at Montana811 excavation safety training sessions, which they’ve attended every year. One Call Concepts, Inc., reached out to the couple on behalf of Montana811 to talk about their respective careers, the importance of damage prevention, and changes to the industry. They spoke with me via phone out of their business office in Glendive. Keith wears a hearing aid due to years of working with machinery, and so Marcia acted as a facilitator and repeated his answers to me.
Well, we’re semi-retired. Keith technically retired 17 years ago, but people didn’t know that, so they still called him whenever something went wrong. We still have all our toys [equipment], so we go to work with whomever. Keith likes to dig, and he’s good at it. There are a lot of people that don’t want anyone else digging for them on their property. But we don’t do nearly as much as we used to do.
Getting Started in the Excavation Industry
Keith says he got started because he was “too dumb to know anything else.” He basically began his career when he came home from service in the Army. He started looking for a job and wound up in construction. That was back in 1962. In 1968, he and his brothers, George and Terry, bought their own company. They built it from the ground-up. I came onboard 1975. Then, 44 years later, here we are.
Rules and Regulations
Keith has seen the industry change quite a bit. When he first started, there were no rules. You could pretty much just do what you wanted to. There were no safety regulations. For instance, digging up the petroleum tanks. These days, we have to inert them with dry ice before we dig them up. There were absolutely no systems in place for damage prevention back then. Keith says, “The industry built the regulations by digging them.”
Nobody ever called unless they had a broken line! But we’re fortunate to have never experienced any digging disasters with our own crew. One time, a tornado came through and tore the shop down, but that was the only experience we ever had with a major disaster. We did learn one thing from that: God loves Harley Davidson motorcycles. We had seven cars in the shop, and one motorcycle at the end. The cars all got hit, but that bike didn’t get one scratch on it. It didn’t even tip over.
I joined the company 44 years ago. When I met Keith, the way it started out was that the wives were a second crew. You’d call the unemployment office, and nobody would show up, so the wives and sisters learned how to do a whole lot of things to fill those roles. I learned how to dig too, and learned how to drive a truck. Otherwise, I was more or less on the grass seeding crew. We used to work on abandoned mine reclamation, so I did a lot of work on seeding crew. Or the gofer – I was the official gofer on a lot of stuff. Whenever something broke, I’d take it to wherever it had to go to get fixed and bring it back. Things like that. I guess you could say my favorite machine was the John Deere 690 excavator, and the guys would tease me about “going out to play with Marcia.” So, I went out there and stenciled my name onto the counterweight, and I told them they could call that machine whatever they liked, just know that I have achieved grace and beauty at 46,000 pounds. And yes, I can run Marcia.
I worried about Keith’s safety every day, especially when we were working on the mines, and if they were on fire. That was very stressful. In addition to working with Keith, I worked as a cashier for Albertson’s for 39 years. On days when I wasn’t working [at the store], I’d come down to the mines and do whatever I could to help. You’re always really glad to see them come home at night. When I was at the store, it was terrible, because that was back when we didn’t have cell phones. So, it was nice to see them all come home and know that everything was okay. We never had any major injuries of any kind. We were lucky, and God took care of us. Keith says it was a lot of common sense and the fact that we didn’t rush anything.
How 811 Improved Safety
Keith says 811 improved safety by a hundred percent, and it’s getting better all the time, in spite of what people might say. It’s a very good thing. We won’t stick a shovel or a tooth in the ground without it.
Never Missing an Excavation Training Session
We’ve gone to every training class since they started doing them in Montana, and I don’t really remember when that started, but we’ve always gone. It’s important to us because it refreshes your mind on the safety factors, new regulations in the system, and sometimes they can show you some pretty graphic reminders of why you do call. Keith says, “If you’re not learning how to improve yourself, you’re going backward.” But you know, they show those explosion films and things like that, which jog your memory and reaffirm why you do what you do. Our crew was always family, and so that was very important to us, too. We wanted to make sure everybody got home safe.
Keep up the good work! And Keith says that if anyone doesn’t call 811, take their license. There’s just too much at stake if you don’t.
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