- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

RICHMOND — Harold Hodges figured he had a career in heavy equipment when he started driving a tractor as a child. Six decades later the “old country boy” pilots a massive wrecking crane, deftly slinging a 6,500-pound steel ball that reduces buildings to rubble.

Mr. Hodges, 67, has knocked down so many buildings in a 30-year demolition career that he has lost count.

“It’s kind of exciting at times,” said Mr. Hodges, taking a break from pounding a nine-story office building and parking deck into dusty debris in downtown Richmond. “Sometimes it can get kind of aggravating. Sometimes I wish I had been a plumber.”

You can’t miss Mr. Hodges at the demolition site. Sporting a red construction hat and an earring, his blond hair pulled into a pony tail, Mr. Hodges not only demolishes the building, he operates the excavator that removes the debris and loads it into a truck.

“He’s a one-man show out there,” said Mike Barr, chief financial officer for the demolition company that employs Mr. Hodges.

Mr. Hodges seems unfazed by the dangers inherent in his work, speaking matter-of-factly about the sometimes unpredictable behavior of the wrecking ball.

“It kind of surprises you sometimes,” he said.

For example, the “ball can throw a piece of steel, a hunk of concrete. Anything can come through that windshield and hit you,” he said. “I’ve had many pieces of steel come flying. I didn’t think they were going to stop before they got to me.”

Fortunately, they did. Mr. Hodges says he has never been seriously injured.

On the fourth day of his latest job, he dropped the ball on the fifth level of the parking deck. Instead of crumbling downward, the debris blasted out horizontally before plunging to the ground safely within the fenced-off site.

“When that wall shot out, I didn’t anticipate it,” he said. “It’s no big deal. It didn’t hurt anybody. It didn’t hurt anything.”

Mr. Hodges said demolition is not just mindless pounding.

“You’ve got to be particular where you hit it,” he said. “You just don’t beat it anywhere.” He starts on the top floor. “You start beating it down,” he said, then “start knocking the wall in and going on into it, beating and see what it’s going to do.”

Mr. Hodges, who looks about 15 years younger than he is, said he has thought about retiring. But he has six children, and, “You gotta work to pay the bills.”

Mr. Hodges grew up in Powhatan County, Virginia, where he started driving a tractor at age 5.

“I’m an old country boy and I came off the farm,” he said.

His farm experience led him to the big rigs of demolition. “It’s something I got into and never got out of.”

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