Fun being the sidewalk super

Since the first week of July, I’ve been a sidewalk superintendent.
I began learning to be a sidewalk superintendent watching homes being built on Third Street when I was four. There were no sidewalks on that street back then.
My wife likes to kid me that I have outgrown “Tonka” toys but that my enjoyment of big machines remains fast.
I watched as Makkinga Contracting ripped up Second Street East from Central Avenue to Mowat, and then Mowat from Second to Third Street East.
John Makkinga began the company in 1989 and today he and his five children operate it. The job in Fort Frances had them replacing a deep sewer line on Second Street.
It was that year that John bought the big orange 3500 Insley excavator that dug deep to the sewers. And back in 1989, it was the largest excavator in Northwestern Ontario.
It is a loud machine but John operated the digging with a surgeon’s skill and could scrape a half-inch of soil along the sewer bed to lay a section of pipe. He kept three trucks revolving in the long 12-hour days.
Fresh soil was dug from the section that was going to receive the new piece of sewer pipe and was trucked around to the hole where the last piece of pipe had gone in.
There his son, David, operating another backhoe, took the dirt and back-filled the hole.
The Makkinga crews were replacing the Second Street water line simultaneously. There was never a slack moment in the day as the crew worked tirelessly, often in extreme heat.
They ran into problems. The first was discovering a thick layer of concrete that was the old road bed on Second Street. The second was the Bell cement conduit that ran along the side of the road and crossed over at Mowat Avenue.
Both were unexpected setbacks.
John told me that Makkinga Contracting has 40 excavators, and four were in Fort Frances for the project. Dave Makkinga, who is heading up the project, also brought in John’s lovingly-restored 1975 Dodge “Big Horn” dump truck.
With good weather, the crews jumped ahead of schedule and were available when the sewer collapsed on the 400 block of Second Street East. The Town of Fort Frances asked them to come in and do the repairs.
It was a messy job. With the collapse of the pipe, the sewage had no place to move.
Beginning at the manhole at the centre of the Victoria and Second intersection, the crew from Tuesday afternoon through late Wednesday night were able to replace almost a half-block of sewer, connecting homes on both sides of the street with new sewer pipe and those homes on the south side with new water connections.
As one of the crew said, “We like to dig,” and they are really good at sewer and water replacement. Shortly after 9:30 on Thursday night, the 400 block of Second Street was reopened to traffic.
Makkinga had used three backhoes, a vibrating compacting roller, a bulldozer, and grader to quickly bring the street back to function. Their work on the 400 block of Second street filled my noon and evening time.
I watched in fascination as the 100 block of Second Street was torn up—the crews scrambling to set the sewer pipes at proper grades and the replacement of water lines. The work went quickly.
Once the sewer and water were replaced, everything slowed as grades were set for curb work and paving. A specialized concrete crew came in and in a short week, the curb and sidewalks were replaced.
This week they are getting the final road bed grades in place.
Paving is not far behind and I will get to watch a different crew put the black top down.
I was asked on Monday, “When we finish here, what are you going to do?”
I had no answer.

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