He swings the huge steel arm with the lever on his left. The lever on his right lets him pick up and set down debris.
Left, right, left, right – that hasn’t been all of Alfred Peard’s life for the past several days as he maneuvers a Caterpillar excavator through Nevada City’s fire-destroyed building at North Pine and Commercial streets.
He’s also been rolling over and scooping up tons of family history and loading them into trucks. The building was once home to a bar that his grandfather, William Peard, co-owned. Before that, William Peard owned The Eagle saloon across the street, now home to Country Rose Cafe.
While the investigation into the March 20 fire winds down, Peard, 68, and his Robinson Enterprises co-workers are clearing out the rubble for reconstruction.
The historical significance doesn’t phase Peard, whose one liners come with a squint.
“I didn’t know much about it then,” said Peard, who grew up in Nevada City and has worked for Robinson for 43 years. “He shut it down before I learned how to drink.”
There are others.
“It’s a shame it’s coming down,” he said Monday of the building’s destruction. “But it’s just like me. I’m not going to live forever.”
On his nickname of Grumpy: “My nature, I guess.”
On the job’s hardest part: “Waiting for the (insurance) adjusters to get out of here.”
On deftly operating the excavator in front of onlookers: “You can’t concern yourself with what other people are doing – unless it’s a pretty woman. We do a lot of concentrating then.”
Don Hoffler, Robinson Enterprises’ cleanup foreman, laughs at Peard’s crusty exterior. But he’s impressed with his skill moving the heavy machinery.
He noted that Peard recently burrowed the heavy “bucket and thumb” deep into a pile of debris, wormed it back and forth, then lifted out a single briefcase that contained a knife collection.
“It take’s a lot of skill to do what he does, and Alfred is really good at it,” Hoffler said.
Like a lot of things, Peard doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal. He’s worked a lot of heavy machinery at Robinson. When he isn’t excavating, he’s building roads or unearthing old gas tanks.
“It’s easy for me,” he said. “The only thing I can tell you is you have to have a little pride in what you do.”
He proudly noted that his grandson, Tony Peard, was on duty as a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection dispatcher on the morning of the fire.
Meanwhile, Hoffler said the insurance investigators might finish their work today. Soon, crew members will start taking down the brick wall shared by businesses on Broad Street.
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