He Says It's His Hill, Not A Bureaucrat's


February 14, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

You've got to feel for Bill Schaen. His 15 minutes of fame came and went, and he didn't know about it until it was too late.

Mr. Schaen, born, raised and residing in Pasadena, is a construction worker with Corman Construction of Annapolis. From last July until just last week, he's been busy with a state job moving 700,000 cubic yards of dirt from a landfill at Hawkins Point to an ever-growing pile at the interchange of Route 100 and Interstate 97.

Mr. Schaen says he was responsible for supervising the dump trucks as they came in and out of the dirt pile -- up to 1,300 trips a day -- and used his bulldozer to pile the dirt into an ugly, mysterious mountain of reddish clay towering four stories above the passing motorists.

"I was the one that built that hill," he says.

Yet when he opened The Sun Feb. 3, there was a full color picture of his hill with nary a mention of him in the story! Instead, there was Ernie Hodshon, an assistant district engineer with the State Highway Administration, sitting atop the dirt, as pretty as you please.

Wouldn't you know? A bureaucrat got all the credit.

Was Bill upset? After watching 70,000 truckloads of dirt dumped day in and day out, you bet. That evening he showed up in the Anne Arundel bureau of The Baltimore Sun, gloriously riled, to register his indignation. A friend who accompanied him testified that an injustice was, indeed, done; Mr. Schaen was there to see "every shovelful" of dirt dumped on that pile.

"I knew more about that hill than [Mr. Hodshon] did," Mr. Schaen said. "I was mad that no one came to see me. Anyone who comes to the hill usually comes and speaks to me. I wouldn't have gone out of my way to [be in the newspaper], but if a story was going to be done I would have liked to have stood by my machine."

And here's what really irked him. The story called the dirt pile a "mountain with no name," but that's just a baldfaced lie, Mr. Schaen says. "Everyone around here that knows me calls it 'Bill's Hill.' "

Who would have thought? A pile of dirt engendering this much emotion. And Mr. Schaen isn't the only one claiming credit for it.

A secretary in Mr. Hodshon's office said she knows the pile not as Bill's Hill, but as "Zell's Mountain," a reference to Bob Zell, an SHA area engineer who works under Mr. Hodshon and who oversaw the project for the state.

Mr. Schaen confirms that, yes, Mr. Zell worked regularly at the site. "Me and Bob, we should have been the ones in the picture," he said. As for Mr. Hodshon, the star of The Sun's story, "I never saw him there."

Mr. Hodshon says he's never heard of Bill Schaen, but he's happy to hear he's so dedicated to his work. "If it's his pile of dirt, I'll charge him rent," he laughs.

Don't get the wrong idea. Don't think Mr. Schaen likes piling dirt. A tractor-trailer driver for 17 years, he's been in construction since the mid-1980s, and believe him, piling dirt is not particularly thrilling. With 120 trucks an hour dumping dirt, "You didn't even have time to eat. There wasn't any imagination to it."

The only fun part was watching befuddled motorists slow down as they drove by, trying to figure out what that big mound was. A giant anthill? Ski Glen Burnie?

"Everybody and their brother would ask me what we were building there," Mr. Schaen says. Why, curiosity actually inspired some motorists to pull off the road and walk over to inspect what was going on. It was kind of neat, knowing his dirt pile had become a community conversation piece. Sort of like being on the inside of an inside joke.

To heighten the mystique, Mr. Schaen says, he thought about sticking an American flag on the top of the pile. "I knew I should have done that," he says. That would have gotten the paper's attention, and he would had his moment in the sun when the truth came out.

The truth, by the way, is that the dirt pile is an embankment for a new interchange of Route 100 and I-97. That's right. Bill's Hill is an exit ramp.

Maybe it would have been better if we didn't know.

Some things just aren't the same once the mystery is gone.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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