Equipment Riders Show Off Skills at Arkansas ’Road’eo

Mon June 28, 2004 - West Edition

LITTLE ROCK, AR (AP) Even the toughest of construction workers can be a ball of nerves when it’s time for his event at the statewide Equipment Operators Roadeo.

Randall Edgmon of Jasper said he’s been the state Motor Patrol champion for more years than he can remember, but when the start of his event draws near, he gets anxious.

“The hardest part about it is the nerves,” said Edgmon, who won the championship again on June 10 at this year’s competition. “It takes a lot of skill to be accurate, but you really have to calm yourself.”

Edgmon’s event requires him to drive a motorgrader through a parking lot and knock tennis balls off of poles that are set at different heights. The event is timed, but drivers have to be careful not to knock over or run over any poles in their hastiness.

The competition is in its 14th year and is run as a training day for employees of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

“They’re doing things on equipment they use in their everyday jobs, they just don’t normally use it in that application,” said Glenn Bolick, a spokesman for the highway department. “It’s a neat opportunity for them to showcase their skills.”

Ralph Fulton, Edgmon’s supervisor and an engineer, said the competitors are always impressive.

“It’s amazing what these people can do and the skills they possess,” Fulton said.

The department divides the state into 10 districts, and highway employees compete within their districts for the right to go to the statewide Roadeo in Little Rock. Last year, Arkansas and Mississippi teamed up for a regional championship –– which Arkansas won –– to follow their statewide tournaments.

“[The competition] means a little more this time because if you win you get to go up against Mississippi in regionals,” Bolick said.

Aside from the district competition, contestants said they didn’t spend much time practicing.

“Yesterday we had a day of practice, but the main thing is just on the job experience,” contestant Larry Otwell said.

Otwell is from Prescott and was state backhoe champion for the last two years. This year, he placed second behind Edgmon’s teammate, Kenny Riley, who won state championships from 1993 to 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2001.

For the competition, Otwell uses a backhoe to move five golf balls into five separate buckets. He said those maneuvering skills are vital to his job.

“A lot of times on a job I’ve got men around me ... or I have a job in a tight place that’s tough to get to,” he said. “It’s a really versatile piece of equipment.”

For Melissa Lea of Pine Bluff, the only woman in the Roadeo, the goal was to show how well she could do her job. June 10 was Lea’s first time at the state competition.

Lea drives a single-axle dump truck at work, but for the competition, she drove the much larger tandem-axle dump truck.

“I may not have placed, but I did well for my first year,” Lea said. “It’s really just the enjoyment of showing people that you’re real good at what you do. Everybody I beat to get here, except for one or two people, were men.”

The contestants said they were proud to be able to show their peers how well they could do their jobs.

“My favorite thing is being able to run a machine and just showing that I can do it,” said Edgmon, who has worked for the state for 18 years.

AP Photo/Mike Wintroath

Using a backhoe, Dan Mowery attempts to drop a golf ball into a container, during the annual Equipment Operators Roadeo competition, Thursday, June 10, at the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department in Little Rock, AR.