Best New Resident: The Dirt on Bertha

The world’s biggest deep-bore tunneling machine, and newly minted Seattle celebrity, digs in.

Since arriving in April after a long, lonely voyage across the sea, my life in Seattle has been—well, the pits. But honey, I’m here to tell you I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love to get down and dirty.

I’ve worked up quite an appetite after almost a month on that Japanese freighter. I mean, goodness gracious, a big gal like me—you probably heard that I weigh 7,000 lovable tons—can only take so much ramen. I say sayonara to all that! I’m starving for some good, nutritious Northwest dirt, and I’ve heard from some of my tunnel-machine buddies that the glacial till beneath your city is to die for.

Seriously, folks, it is so good to be here and get to sink my massive steel cutters into your dirt. Yes sirree, I’m chomping at the bit to eat my way through 850,000 cubic yards of soil and build all you wonderful folks a 1.7-mile tunnel that I know you’re all going to be so proud of when it’s done. I think you’re really going to dig me. My only regret is that it took you so long to decide to do it. Geez Louise, you people really do take your time making up your minds.

Well, I guess I do have one other regret, and that’s that I’m not going to get to see much of your lovely city, being underground for the next 14 months. I’d hoped, though, before I had to get down to business, that I’d at least have gotten a chance to see those fish-throwers down at the big market of yours. Some of the crew on the boat told me they were really cute.

I think it’s so precious that you named me Bertha, after your first and only woman mayor, Bertha Knight Landes. I am deeply honored, I really am. I did manage to read up on her a little bit on the way over. Yeah, it was a book some of the guys on the ship gave me called Eccentric Seattle by a feller named J. Kingston Pierce, who wrote that that Landes lady may have paved the way for women in politics, but she was not what you’d call a classic feminist.

Why Bertha, my namesake, thought that a woman’s place was in her home with her children. Not me, though, no, no, no. I believe a woman’s place is in the hole, if you know what I mean. The deeper and darker, the better.

I was in heaven that last lusty day of May when they lowered little old me, the world’s largest tunneling machine, into that 80-foot-deep launch pit. It was so cozy and warm. I do love the smell of fresh dirt in the morning. During my first couple of days in the pit, I remember that a few workers were ogling my gigantic green cutterhead—and who can blame them? It is a beautiful thing to behold, all 838 tons of it. Honestly, it’s my most flattering feature.

One guy, though, did get a little fresh with my red and yellow grinders, and I had to tell him to eat my dirt. He thought that was pretty funny. Sometimes I crack myself up. I really got him going when I said with a straight face, “Guess what? I have tunnel vision.” See, nothing boring about me. Get it?

It’s going to be so much fun getting to know all the engineers and mechanics who’ll be with me, you know, keeping me company during my 20-hour workdays—which is really a long time to be dishing the dirt—and making sure I don’t zig when I should be zagging.

Let me tell you a story before I get back to work here. The night before I landed in Seattle, I had this beautiful dream. It was almost magical. I saw this light at the end of the tunnel, a blue and silver light, and it was so twinkly and bright that I had to squint my grinders to see.

And there at the tunnel’s end in the middle of all that light stood that funny mayor of yours, Mike McGinn. Actually, he wasn’t standing. He was sitting on his bicycle. And so he looks at me and he says, real serious-like, “Bertha, I want to welcome you to Seattle. I was skeptical of this project, as you’ve probably heard, but you’ve done a helluva job for us, and we all hope you’ll stay and make this your home.”

His words made me cry. “Oh, I will,” I told him. “Just keep the dirt coming and I’m yours forever.”

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