Dirty Fingernails, Manicured Grounds - Y Magazine
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Dirty Fingernails, Manicured Grounds

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Maintaining BYU’s award-winning grounds is serious business—well, sort of.

Drilling BYU’s Soil-diers

By Mattson R. Compton (BS ’12), St. Cloud, Fla.

I worked for BYU Grounds for about two years. One day we were loading flowers onto a truck at the campus greenhouse, which is located near the ROTC building. As we worked, we noticed a drill sergeant walking up and down a line of cadets, breathing fire and keeping them on their toes. I specifically remember him shouting at one cadet, “Did I tell you to move, soldier? NO!!!” At that exact moment, I picked up a pallet of flowers, and one of my supervisors got in my face and hollered, “Did I tell you to pick up those flowers? NO!!!” We all busted up laughing. To this day I’ve wondered if we were able to get some of those cadets—and maybe even that drill sergeant—to crack a smile.

Standard Operation

By Laurie Richardson McIntosh (BS ’81), Spring, Texas

The summer before my senior year found me in Provo, seeking on-campus employment for the first time. My job of choice? Grounds crew! For this daughter of two master gardeners, it was a perfect fit. I could weed while working on my tan.

Each day, our crew would meet at the truck and await assignment. One day the boys on our crew were instructed to ride in the back of the truck with a load of dirt. I was asked to drive them to an off-campus location. I must have hesitated because the supervisor asked, “You okay with that?”

My pride forced me to say, without exactly lying, “Sure!” Problem was, I’d never driven a standard. I knew what needed to happen in theory, but I’d never actually shifted gears. But I wasn’t about to tell anyone that.

Squaring my shoulders, I punched the clutch in and guided the gearshift to the first-gear spot. “Gas pedal in, clutch out—gently . . . gently . . .” The old pickup moved forward! When it sounded right, I repeated the process with gears two and three. Panic gripped me at the first stoplight. “Back to first. Clutch in. Don’t kill the engine. Good truck.”

Somehow I reached our destination without giving away my secret. The gears of that truck had been worn down by many years of student drivers and were pretty forgiving. This grounds crew worker’s T-shirt, however, was sweaty before we even started shoveling!

Up a Tree on a Mower

By JoLynn Ross Duris, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Growing up in the desert, I never had to mow a lawn, so I always got a kick out of driving the big lawn mowers at BYU. One day I was mowing a lawn at Helaman Halls that had some newly planted trees along one edge. I’d go back and forth across the field until I got to a tree, which I’d mow around before going back to my straight lines.

About halfway through, I circled a tree then turned to go back across the field, but as I straightened out, I felt the back of the mower lifting up until I lost all traction and couldn’t move. I climbed down to see what was wrong. As I’d gone around the tree, a lever on the side had hooked around the thin tree trunk and then slid up the tree, scraping up bark, bending the tree, and lifting the mower. I frantically ran to my nearest coworker and told him I needed help getting the mower out of the tree. I must have looked pretty freaked because he didn’t even pause to laugh or question my sanity.

Between the two of us, we were able to bend the tree enough to free it, and I finished my mowing—making sure to give the trees a wide berth.

When my supervisor came around, I was terrified as I told him that I’d damaged one of the new trees. He inspected it and said that the tree would be fine. Once that worry was off my shoulders, I couldn’t stop laughing. I’d gotten a riding lawn mower stuck in a tree!

Water Hazard

By Melvin D. Graff (BS ’87), Layton, Utah

Working for the Grounds Department, I learned to work hard and became expert at digging holes and fixing pipes and watering systems.

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One summer afternoon I was making repairs at the stadium and noticed a golfer trespassing on the intramural field. I radioed my supervisor, Dave Saxey, two miles away in the Grounds Department office, and suggested he use the sprinkler computer system for a game of Battleship.

I estimated the golfer’s position and radioed to Dave, “B16, please.” Dave typed in the command, and a line of sprinkler heads hissed into action. “Miss!” I made a small mental adjustment and called, “B14.” B16 sprinklers turned off, and a moment later B14 sprinklers came to life. “Hit!” The baffled, wet golfer scrambled to move away from the torrent of water. I waited calmly while he relocated and prepared to swing again. “B20.” Another hit! Frustrated and angry, the defeated golfer retreated from the field. “Hit and sunk!” The golfer couldn’t see my distant truck, where I savored the victory, nor hear the chuckles of the gardening crews who listened in on the shared radios that day.

Grounds for Marriage

By Jillian Brandley Davis (BS ’10), Provo

I started working for BYU Grounds on the Provo Temple crew in summer 2008. I was one of only a few girls and was determined to work my way up in the crew hierarchy so I could drive a riding lawn mower. That fall a recently returned missionary joined our crew. Jon was a hard worker but was still trying to shake some post-mission social awkwardness. And I didn’t want him encroaching on my turf—or coming anywhere near my lawn mower!

I expressed my concerns to my mom, who replied, “You better watch what you say, you’re probably going to marry him.” I rolled my eyes—I couldn’t imagine anything less likely! Several seasons passed full of removing snow in the early morning, mulching tree rings, and planting flowerbeds with petunias. In spite of my initial misgivings, Jon and I became friends—with both of us driving the riding lawn mowers.

And Mom was right: we eventually started dating and got married—right there in the Provo Temple. We posed for wedding pictures on the front lawn, sitting on a riding lawn mower.

There’s the Beef

By Adam W. Walters (BA ’11), Pleasant Grove, Utah

For two and a half years the first thing my crew would do when we came to work was pick up trash at the intramural fields and the parking lot west of the stadium. Each week wed accumulate a pile of forgotten items to take to the lost and found, and we soon started an unofficial competition to see who could find the best abandoned item.

On an average day the winning item would be something like a shoe with no match or a hoodie with a weird town name on it. Some items were so great they competed for more than one day as the best item. A homemade rap CD, designer sunglasses, and a full notebook from a Bio 100 class the day after finals each reigned a full week. But nothing could compete with the all-star item.

Nothing had happened on our fields the previous night, so we weren’t expecting much. But the four of us left the van with buckets in hand and gloves in our back pockets to walk the fields. When we came back to compare what we had found, there it was—one pound of fresh ground beef. No receipt, no shopping bag, nothing else from the store, just one pound of 80/20 ground beef still in its packing left in the center of the intramural fields.

We never figured out how it got there, but the pound of beef was the item to beat until the day I graduated.