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An Earthmoving Moment: N.C. Contractor Pops the Question With His Bulldozer

Tue November 20, 2007 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

This job didn’t quite fall within the specs of Michael Autry’s bulldozer.

But the John Deere 750, with the guidance of a Sokkia GPS, helped him etch a life-altering message in a Fayetteville, N.C., job site.

In 40-ft. letters on the side of a hill, Autry wrote, “Marry me.”

After a year and a half relationship with girlfriend Melissa Chadwell of Fayetteville, N.C., Autry of Gray’s Creek, N.C., decided it was time to take the plunge into marital bliss.

He wanted to make sure the moment was a memorable one.

Moving dirt has always been a big part of Autry’s life. His father had owned a contracting company, with which Autry had worked.

And when the elder Autry decided to get out of the business, the younger decided to start a company of this own with two other co-owners. They founded MSD Inc. five years ago — the name stands for Moving Some Dirt.

So, with the blessing of Hoke County Sand, the general contractor on the 150-acre housing subdivision off the U.S. 401 bypass, Autry merged two of his life’s passions — his job and his girlfriend.

Well versed in GPS technology — Autry actually built the GPS model for this job site — he programmed the letters and got busy after the real work had ended one day. The first attempt didn’t work out well, as the letters were too small and the bulldozer couldn’t make the tight turns.

Autry said he, “erased that one like a chalkboard,” after about three hours of work.

The final attempt took nearly two hours, but the message was clear — especially after scratching around the letters with a farm tractor to give it a cleaner look.

Now all he had to do was get Chadwell to the job site.

Autry told her they were going to dinner with friends the night of Oct. 5. But before they could go to the restaurant, he said he had to stop by the job site. He told her that he had left a GPS unit inside the cab of one his machines and was afraid that it would be stolen.

“That gave me a reason to act nervous,” Autry said.

He pulled up to the base of the hill and grabbed the ring case from the side of the driver’s seat before going to open Chadwell’s door.

“Will you,” he asked, then motioned to the hillside.

“At first I was a bit spaced out and didn’t realized what was going on,” Chadwell admitted.

But when the realization hit her, the tears of excitement started flowing and she was able to say “yes.”

They never really had dinner plans with friends that night. That evening was spent with both of their families, all of who were “in the know” about Autry’s surprise.

The message remained at the job site that weekend, but was covered up the next week by sedimentation control.

Even love can’t stop progress.

The happy couple is busy making plans for the Jan. 19 event; Chadwell said she didn’t see the need for a long engagement.

The bulldozer that helped start the planning process for the wedding won’t be making an appearance. CEG

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