Weldon H. Dodge and the island’s first bulldozer

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 12:15pm

Edith Blane in a recent interview for the podcast “Two Guys on Block Island,” recalled the sense of wonder and excitement on Block Island when the first bulldozer arrived. This event took place in the wake of World War II. It was owned by Weldon Dodge, who along with his brother Jack, operated a garage on Chapel Street. Youngsters would not only gather at the garage to hear about the local island gossip and learn about engines but, in the winter months stop by to have their blades sharpened on their ice skates and sail-powered ice boats. When Edith was asked about what life on the island was like before the arrival of Dodge’s bulldozer she succinctly stated, “At that time if you wanted something dug, you dug it by hand.”
In 2018, Laura Dodge donated the Beatrice Ball Dodge Collection, which is named after Beatrice, the wife of Weldon H. Dodge. This diverse collection included these great images of Weldon and his bulldozer. Thanks to the funding from the grant from the Annenberg Foundation to the Historical Society we have just digitized the Beatrice Ball Dodge Collection and entered this data into our new CatalogIt software. The built environment from much of the postwar period we see today on the island, in both a metaphorical and literal sense, rests on a foundation carved out by the island’s first bulldozer. Weldon Dodge also served as a member of the Town Council and is the namesake of the town road, Weldon’s Way.
The bulldozer is an American invention. For thousands of years, ever since humans started constructing small permanent villages, such as Jericho, during the Neolithic era in the Fertile Crescent, humans battled with the movement of earth. From the construction of the Great Wall of China to the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., countless hours of human toil have been devoted to excavation. Any major construction project completed before the Industrial Revolution rests on a bedrock of human exertion. At the conclusion of World War II, the famed U.S. Navy Admiral William F. Halsey was asked for his opinion on which technologies allowed for American success in defeating the Japanese Empire in the Pacific theater. Halsey replied with a list of four, which consisted of: radar, submarine, aircraft, and bulldozers. In the Pacific these steel diesel-powered tractors constructed airfields on once isolated islands. After the war, bulldozers would do nothing short of remake the American landscape. From the U.S. Interstate System, postwar theme parks such as Disneyland, and NFL football stadiums, these
machines left an impact nearly everywhere, including our small corner of New England.