Millard Moore gets hands dirty while shaping ground

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

You almost can forgive Millard Moore for having a bit of dirt under his fingernails.

More than likely, it’s streaming through his blood.

After all, he’s spent a lifetime in the dirt-moving business.

“Since I was 17,” he said recently from his shop west of Antonino, “and I’m 86 now.

“I tell everyone, I never worked a day in my life. I enjoyed it all.”

Moore talked about his career as Orville, his son and dirt-moving partner, put the finishing touches on repairs made to a scraper.

They were ready to fire the machine up and head to Ness County to work creating a 7-acre lake.

“We were supposed to have been there two weeks ago,” Moore said at the time. “It’s a small one, and he wants to enlarge it a little bit.”

Times have changed since Moore started in the dirt-moving business.

“When I started, he had a mule and a horse,” Moore said of joining forces with his father.

His career has covered a period when considerable conservation work has been done, building waterways and terraces.

He has no idea how many miles of terraces he might have built in his years in the business.

“I built 17 miles of terraces in nine days north of Ellis,” he said. “I was out there at 7 o’clock in the morning and wasn’t home until 9 at night.”

But there was another time when he had an order to build 11 miles of terraces, and “I worked all summer to get that done,” Moore said. “It was mud, mud, mud.”

There was a time, Moore said, when he had eight guys working for him, but he tired of dealing with all of the issues surrounding that.

Moore is more at home on a piece of heavy equipment than in the shop.

He’s also done a lot of land leveling and building dams.

At least some of that land leveling was a result of irrigation from water held by Cedar Bluff Reservoir and its irrigation district.

Moore spent years leading the irrigation district board, even when the district closed, selling its water rights — essentially air at the time — to the state of Kansas.

He and Orville won the contract to complete the abandonment process.

And he’s been a longtime member of the Ellis County Conservation Commission.

“I put in 24 years there,” he said. “If I stayed another year, they’d have to give me a gold watch.”

While dirt was his normal task, in 1948 it turned to snow when he took a contract in Nebraska.

There, he spent two weeks doing nothing but clearing roads of the snow.

“I spent one week digging out to a cemetery,” he said. “They had so many bodies at the mortuary, they had to get them buried.”

Business of late has been slow, Moore said.

“The farm economy is not bad,” he said, but there’s little government assistance to get some of the work done.

Yet, he’s not about to quit.

“Old enough to know better,” he said. “But kind of like an alcoholic, I can’t quit.”