The summer heat is on...still. I finished my little project on the SturgeUrge and my trusty Swiss Army Watch needed a new battery today. The watch came from COSTCO in Reno a decade or more ago and it turns out it's really accurate...it never loses even a second, until the little battery dies. The battery goes a couple of years, anyway, and I remember when the first battery died.
I thought "What a jyp! This watch is only a couple of years old!" That morning I got home after my night on the Mountain and dug up the docs on the watch...d'oh! It's not "Self Winding" like I thought, it needs a new battery!
It's funny what you remember. When I noticed the watch had died, I had a passenger in my cat...last evening I read an article in the Industry's Magazine that quoted that passenger. The article was about Female Groomers Working on the Mountains. Julie, the passenger that night, was on her first "Ride Along" when the watch battery quit...I remember because Julie asked me what time it was when she started to feel like nodding off. The time was 3AM, the watch said 12:30...again.
The Ride Along
I've trained a whole bunch of operators over the years. In the long run, training groomers is probably the most important part of my job. We try to hire total rookies, with skill sets we think will enhance their value to the Mountain once they learn how to run a groomer like TruckeeDave runs a groomer. My mission is to train up a bunch of TruckeeDaves, keep them in nearly-new, well maintained equipment, hopefully 'till they reach retirement age. That's my plan...Sometimes I get lucky...most years I'm training three or four rookies for a crew of twenty.
It turns out Julie is my best work so far, by a long shot...She's been my Swing Shift Star for a couple of years now. I'm looking forward to working with her this season too. Though she's left the Mountain for Greener Pastures, she loves grooming enough to come back up the hill and groom for the Christmas Holidays. Julie and her husband left the mountain so Julie could study at a school in a neighboring state...she's going into medicine, not Medical School, but a she'll be a professional medical practitioner none the less.
I knew at the time I was training her that she wouldn't be on my crew forever, Julie had too much on the ball to settle on Grooming For Life. I was more than happy to have her for as long as she stayed happy, but soon she would want more than the Mountain could offer. She's had a great run, and great times. Julie met her husband on the Mountain, she left my employ during the Real Estate Boom and worked in the Mortgage Industry, and returned to Grooming just ahead of the Real Estate Bust...Smart
The Ride Along is when I get the first good look at my new prospects. Rookies ride with me for a few nights to start. Sometimes they decide they're not into it, and that's that. Other times a rookie finds out there's so much more to it than they figured...maybe it won't be boring after all...it could be fun! These are the guys who get my undivided attention, though I'm pretty much an advocate for the job. I love it...I guess you might call me a Disciple.
Most people I know are either Early Risers or Night Owls. Groomers are only slightly different, they come in two flavors as well: Swing and Grave. Some people are born with the Graveyard Gene. Some don't have it...and no matter how hard they try to do the Graveyard thing, their DNA has the last word, and they become Swing Shift People or find another job on the Mountain. Julie lacked the Graveyard Gene...she suffered big time to learn her craft, before I let her go to Swing Shift.
After riding along enough to impress me so I'll trust them at the sticks of a 350HP snowcat, I tell the rookie to come prepared to run this cat tomorrow night.."Let's see how you do" They get this spiel after a couple of nights of asking the questions I want to hear. I like to set rookies up so they feel like they've discovered the point...that way they remember it forever, and it's more fun for me to watch...besides pounding it into their thick skulls is hard on me...not to mention what it says about my ability to "choose good horseflesh"
Fear is my friend, I wield it with wicked intent, it makes me strong, it makes my cats last through the shift. Grooming cats are interesting creatures, they are designed to work like a bulldozer, but they must be light enough on their feet, that they're able to climb steep slopes covered with deep new powder. Imagine a cross between a bulldozer and a biplane.
The first time a rookie sits in the operator's throne, his eyes get wider, his heart rate rises, and adrenaline pours into his bloodstream. This is fear...it's my friend because I use it to reign in the rookie's enthusiasm, thereby protecting my equipment. All those physical manifestations of fear work against the rookie...right from the outset, and inevitably lead to wider eyes, higher heart rates, a little more adrenaline...and my hidden smile.
Here's how it always goes down...TD: seat belt fastened? Rookie: yes. TD: (as I reach over to his side of the console) this is the Track Speed Control, I'm turning your track speed down, so you'll have an easier time taking off smoothly. Rookie: thanks. TD: OK, take off the parking break. Rookie: OK, now? TD: Slowly ease your sticks forward. The the rookie "eases" the sticks ahead and the cat jumps forward, feeling like it's trying to jump off the snow! The rookie pulls the sticks back...fast...and lunges towards the windshield, eyes widening again...until he finally finds "smooth"
I always do this drill in the middle of a wide, flat run devoid of hard targets...no lift towers, no snowmaking, no trees, no other cats...just me, the kid with the wide eyes, and my perfect pass to follow. Most of the rookies catch their breath after a couple of hundred yards, and think to ask "How am I doing" TD: OK...for a rookie...I smile inside again..."thanks fear"
Now I start kibitzing them...how to follow my pass, "look farther ahead, keep a loose grip on the sticks, more to your left...a little more left...You can use the hinge in your blade as a gauge, just hover it above the edge of the pass you're following...that's it...counter-clockwise around the Top Terminal"
It usually take an hour or so before I'm confident the rookie is good to go alone...that is, good to follow me around like a puppy for the rest of their week. Now he gets to negotiate the skinny, tree-lined road back to the shop where my cat is waiting.