Culture Refs

Sometimes I make references to stories I grew up with, assuming you grew up with them, too. Sadly, I find many of you led a childhood apparently deprived of some really fun stories.

Here are some of of may favorites that seem to keep popping up. They explain me.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

This story by Virginia Lee Burton, 1939, tells of Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Ann. They can dig holes better and faster than anyone, especially if people are watching. Mary Ann is old technology. Newer steam shovels eventually threaten to replace her. Mike and Mary Ann take a job in the country to dig a schoolhouse basement. To prove themselves, a wager is made that they will complete the job in one day, or the job is free. Mike and Mary Ann work hard, but the day goes by quickly. Because they work better when people are watching, a little boy gets more people to come, and they dig faster and complete the job on time. They dig a perfectly square and deep basement, but forget to leave a way out! The solution is that the school is built around Mary Ann the steam shovel. She becomes the furnace of the new school, and Mike becomes the custodian. Happy ending.

I always loved the story because of the magical work effect where the more people watch, the better one works. Of course, this is not always true. However, sometimes people will ask me if I mind whether they watch while I work. The answer is, Of course not, I always work better with company.


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