Shooting the Gyps

Ralph Weller is the founder of Weller Tractor Salvage. Telling his story is our way of honoring him and preserving our history. It's the story of thousands of men whose uncommon lives made our lives and businesses possible. His story takes us all over the beautiful state of Kansas - this installment finds Ralph in the breath-taking Gyp Hills of south central Kansas near Medicine Lodge. He's recovering from a gun shot wound (that hair-raising story will be featured in the next Weller Times - don't miss it!) and he needs to do something besides farm. Here he embarks on a job that will shape his working future - operating the "big Cats."

Ready for something more challenging than farming, Ralph joined a consruction crew building a highway and bridge just north of Paradise, KS, in the spring of 1937. His first day of work consisted of unloading sacks of cement from a box car in 100 degree weather. He "like to died of sweating" but by 3:00 p.m. he and Froggy Mellard were done and they headed back to the job site at the bridge. Someone had gossiped with the foreman about Ralph's "shooting accident" and the foreman assigned Ralph to a job watching the pile driver. After 3 or 4 days of "watching" Ralph decided the foreman was throwing away money and quit.


Looking for a job and more excitement (after all, in the past year he'd ridden the rails to California and he'd been shot in the stomach), Ralph and his younger brother Bob joined a construction crew buidling Kansas State Highway 160 through south central Kansas' Gyp Hills. He operated a D4 with a pull-type grader during the day. but he had his eye on the Cat D8s pulling two Letourneau scrapers with a 4-drum winch. He'd go out to the job site at night to talk to the Cat skinners until he finally talked them into letting him ride along and then drive one. When the supervisor, Abe Anderson, visited the site one night, he exploded when he saw Ralph driving a D8, but when the crew got short-handed he offered Ralph a promotion to Cat skinner and gave him a raise.

Ralph loved driving those D8s with the tandem scrapers hooked on behind. And except for turning the whole rig over once when he tried to empty a broken scraper, he was good at it. "We built ten miles of highway that summer. I was proud of the work I did." it was a noisy work site that operated 24-hours a day (that was back when building our infrastructure was a priority) with big machines, big men and the sound of explosions as they used dynamite to "shoot the gyps."

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