Earth mover

Tom Ripley

The road and sidewalk in front of the Chico News & Review offices look like the scene from a war movie this week, thanks in part to Tom Ripley, a member of the Franklin Construction crew that is in the rip-out-the-old-street stage of building the roundabout at the intersection of First, Second and Flume streets as part of the city’s First Street/Second Street Couplet project. The married father of two has been doing road construction for nine years, and we caught up with him after he climbed down from the excavator that he was using to smash the street and scoop the pieces into a dump truck.

What’s the excavator do?

Any kind of digging, demo-ing, digging underground for pipeline, sewers—anything like that. Some people use them to dig out trees. Basically it’s kind of the same [as a backhoe], but it has tracks and it spins around in a circle.

What’s the job here?

We’re basically the road-construction crew. So, we’ll demo everything out—all the old concrete—and we’ll grade it. And then a concrete company will come in and they’ll pour the concrete, and then we’ll do the base rock and pave it all back. And all the little things, the parkway strips and stuff like that.

Is it difficult to maneuver the arm?

There’s some finesse, and you kind of got to get used to it. And each one’s a little different. They got a little different feel to them. You got to know what’s above you, and below you. You have markings, like you’ll see the [spray-painted] markings on the street and it’s telling you about where the things are, but you don’t know, so you got to kind of use your best judgment and then have somebody dig down by hand and find it so you don’t rip out power lines and gas lines. If [you hit] a water line, you can usually fix it. If it’s a gas line, PG&E would have to come, shut it down, pinch it off, charge you a bunch of money.

How fun is it smashing things?

It used to be fun. When I first started it was a blast. Now it’s just a job just like any other job; you’re just used to it. You always see little kids who are all excited watching [the tractors].

Ever find anything weird or cool underground?

I’ve never found anything cool. Supposedly [this intersection] is an archeological area, so we could find some kind of artifact or something. If we did that, then we’d have to call somebody in from the city to look at it. [But] I’ve never found anything exciting, maybe an old bottle once in a while. Not that old, like a Coke bottle or something.