Ding Jifu remembers April 2nd, 2002 well. It was his 15th birthday. It was also the day his father brought home a yellow SEM 50D loader, nicknamed “The Willing Ox.” During that first year, the Dings’ yard was the parking lot for the loader. Ding became interested in the machine, often walking around it and even driving it, which made him the envy of his friends.
Ding Jifu’s family was living through challenging times financially. His eldest sister was at college. Ding’s father, who had been a truck driver, bought the wheel loader with loans in hopes of making money for his family and covering his daughter’s tuition. He kept the loans secret from his children. But he was driven by the conviction that if he worked hard, the money would come.
The first year was tough. Ding quit school at age 16 and worked with his father and “The Willing Ox” to share the heavy family burden. He recalled that they were first hired by a road construction company to stack material and paid 120 yuan per hour. To complete the project quickly, Ding would get up at 4:30 a.m. and work with “The Willing Ox” until 6:30 p.m. They were then hired by a quarry far from their home, so they rented an apartment near the work site. Ding’s mother moved too so she could take care of them.
Ding still remembers how stressful those days could be. “Once I worked 72 hours without a break. When you are that exhausted you can’t even fall asleep.” Most work sites were remote and barren. Operators had to eat and even sleep on the machine. A few stuffed buns and some fried pancakes often were their meals for the entire day. Ding said his father was worn out and had eye hyperemia. His eyes were full of tears all the time and his vision blurred. At that time, the father and son took day and night shifts to operate the wheel loader around the clock. Ding said since he was young and strong, he volunteered to take the night shift so his father could rest as night as usual. Despite the hard work and grueling hours, they never ignored the maintenance of the equipment and took good care of it.
Located to the south of Laizhou Bay, the Yangkou town that the Dings live in is home to the largest and most efficient fishing fleet in Shandong Province. It’s known as the “Captain of Shandong.” In addition, it is also an important crude salt producing area in China. In 2004, the town invested more heavily in industrial development and became dedicated to the development of chemical products with crude salt, which brought great opportunities for the Dings. Ding and his father operated the loader once again day and night at the construction sites. “We just wanted to change our lives with our diligence,” said Ding.
By 2007, the Dings had paid off the loan on the first loader. A year later, Ding’s father bought another SEM loader. He believed the loader was of high quality, durable and powerful. And in 2010 there was a third buy. Ding felt pressured because they had just bought a house with loans and were looking at shouldering loans totaling as much as 1 million yuan.
“I was depressed at that time and seldom talked at home,” Ding recalled. “I worried when we could pay off all the loans. I even sobbed in front of my mother.”
“At that time, we couldn’t afford medical bills and knew we must work even harder. In a way, our first wheel loader shared a similar fate. Though we had operated it for 16 years, its gearbox had never been opened, only two tires replaced and the other original tires were still in use. It was a miracle,” Ding said.
“But when I started to work at the chemical plant and at other businesses, our situation improved. By 2013, all the loans had been paid off. It was a remarkable relief for my family.”
The lesson was if you treat it well, it will repay you. These “willing oxen” have done a magnificent job for the Dings and continue to thrive at work sites today. Ding has already started his management work, but he will never forget those tough days.
Ding’s father has retired, but occasionally helps Ding take care of the “willing oxen.” Ding’s mother had double-knee replacement surgery in 2017. “At that time, to save money, my mother rode a motorbike to bring us food, instead of taking the car,” Ding said. “Their love and dedication has paved an easier path for me so that I can have a happy family and a comfortable life.”
The construction machinery industry draws tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs like the Dings who are hardworking and reliant on their “willing oxen.” Those entrepreneurs and their machines form strong relationships as they contribute to the rapid economic development of China. Together, they have created an environment for happy lives across China.