Loading Out: A Christmas Reflection

It’s that time of the year. Whether you follow a formal liturgical calendar or don’t, if the holiday comes and you’re celebrating it, you’re getting ready for it. In the construction industry, we live from job to job, and we not only have to prepare for the job to start, but for it to finish too.

I’ve written and edited many books over the years, some related to my profession and some not. One of my favourites is Pile Driving by Pile Buck. It was written to fill a void in the driven pile industry, and provide a comprehensive, practical reference to help owners, engineers and contractors successfully and economically get driven piles into the ground. For someone who’s been involved in this industry for most of his life, it was a real pleasure to put it together.

I pulled together many sources to make it a reality, but the single largest source was the Raymond Superintendent’s Manual. The Raymond Concrete Pile Company (later Raymond International) was in its day the greatest pile driving organisation in the world, pioneering things like the wave equation, concrete cylinder piles such as were used for the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and the Step-Taper piles.

Raymond was vertically integrated: they owned virtually all of their equipment, they used their own personnel. To do a pile driving project, they would gather the equipment and personnel, they would organise everything, they would set up on the jobsite, they would do the job, and then came the final step: loading out. They would either send the equipment (or what was left of it, Raymond superintendents were notoriously hard on their equipment) back to the yard for repair, they could send it directly to another job, or they would arrange for temporary storage before the next job. In any case loading out meant that the job (or at least the stage of the job they were contracted to perform) was done and that the equipment needed, sooner or later, to vacate and move on.

Another view of loading out a hammer package, this time being lifted off of the quay to be set on the deck of the ship.

Today very few contractors are that vertically integrated, and most of those are very small. For larger projects, a joint venture (JV) is more common. The parties come together, put together the organisation, frequently rent the equipment, and then the job starts. At the end the equipment is sent back either to one of the JV partners or to the company from which it was rented, the JV is dissolved, the people and equipment are scattered, and everything is done.

In some ways life is more like the current way it’s done than the way Raymond did it, but in either case it’s the same: things and people are put together, the job starts, proceeds and ends, the equipment is loaded out, the people leave, and that’s it. The success of the job depends upon the perspective. For the owner, the chief desire is for the project to be completed on time, on budget, and the work to have been done properly. For the contractor, the job needs to be profitable and free of cost overruns and disputes.

Although some jobs seems like they go on forever, they’re really short, like life: “The voice of one saying, Cry; and I said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass…The grass withers, and the flower fades: but the word of our God abides for ever.” (Isa 40:6,8) And at the end: “And, as it is ordained for men to die but once (death being followed by judgement)…” (Heb 9:27, TCNT) For us, as for the contractor, there is judgement: “And I saw the dead, high and low, standing before the throne; and books were opened. Then another book was opened, the Book of Life; and the dead were judged, according to their actions, by what was written in the books.” (Rev 20:12, TCNT)

There is one big difference though: at the time of our passing, there is no material “loading out!” We won’t have to find a home for all we have accumulated to get us through this life; in fact, we won’t need any of it to stand before God. As noted above, who we have become and what we have done as a consequence of that is what we carry into eternity, not all the stuff we have, use or need to store.

Ultimately what we really “load out” is what we have (or have not) obtained from God in this life: “Therefore, having been pronounced righteous as a result of faith, let us enjoy peace with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is through him that, by reason of our faith, we have obtained admission to that place in God’s favour in which we now stand.” (Rom 5:1-2a, TCNT) As we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world, with “,,,peace among men in whom he finds pleasure,” (Luke 2:14 TCNT) we need to ask ourselves: have we found that peace? What will we really “load out” of this life? The nature of our eternity depends on how we answer these questions.

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