Copyright 1997 John Dappert
<b> We Move The Earth b><p>
"The less a man thinks or knows about his virtues, the better we like him." - Ralph Waldo
Long before December 7, 1941 as one motored into Newton Illinois from the south on Route 130, a large tool shed stood on a long sweeping curve next to the sawmill. On the side of the shed was painted a large picture of the globe, with the words “We move the earth” underneath. In large letters following this logo was the name Benefiel Excavating Company. Those buildings are long gone, along with the individuals who built them. The legend started from that location lives on.
Orville Collins started “skinning cats” at that location, the beginning of what was to be a long career of contracting and earthmoving which was to make him a local legend in his own time. Skinning Cats was a term for operating Caterpillar tractors and heavy equipment which is no longer heard, perhaps because many other brand names of track tractors are now being built, or more likely due to the phrase no longer considered “politically correct”. The demise of that occupational nickname might be considered parallel to the closing moments of the O. L. Collins legend, as Mr. Collins spent a lifetime unaware of politically correct thinking.
A roadhouse near Willow Hill called “Zooks Nook” was a frequent hangout for the hard working oilfield workers and equipment operators as they relaxed after long days at backbreaking labor. These weren’t eight-hour days, and the concept of a weekend off was unheard of at the time. When there was work to be done, and the weather permitted it, these workers continued as long as conditions existed for their machines to operate. The human element of the harshness of the weather was not a consideration, these men worked in rain, snow, and freezing weather until the work was completed or the conditions for their machines to operate were no longer adequate. It was after one of those long days in the early 1940’s that “Joke” Benefiel (as Orville calls him) and his employee, O. L. Collins, sat to warm up and refresh their thirst. The temperature was far below zero, and a red-hot pot-bellied stove gave patchy warmth to the room filled with other’s who were grabbing some social interaction before going home to catch sleep for another session of fighting the harsh environment the next day. “Joke” turned to Orville and said, “Orville, back that winch truck up to the door and drop a cable around that stove, it’s cold out there, and we’re goin’ to need it to keep warm.” Every one in the large room laughed at the remark, as the idea of that red-hot pot-bellied stove being dragged across the room seemed hilarious at the time. Being an employee who followed the orders of the man who wrote his paycheck, Orville backed the winch truck up to the door, and came “swampin’ the cable” into the room. He wrapped the cable and hook around the large stove to a chorus of increasingly louder laughter at such an impossible sight, but the laughter turned to quiet amazement as the twenty-ton winch slowly dragged the pot-bellied stove out of the room, spilling hot coals on the wood floor on the way out. The contractors and their winch truck drove off to Newton with the stove hanging on the end of their truck, and the roadhouse patrons stomped out the small fires on the floor and went home. No one ever gave O.L. Collins instructions again if they did not want them carried out.