Public works departments across the country hold annual roadeo competitions where snow removal equipment operators participate in a challenging obstacle course to prepare and train them for the upcoming winter’s onslaught. Even in warm-weather states, similar competitions are held for heavy equipment drivers, complete with door prizes, food vendors, music and family activities, such as in North Port, Fla., which held its own Road-E-O last January to highlight solid waste and operations heavy equipment drivers. Winners got bragging rights for a year.
Fredericksburg, Va., celebrated a roadeo last May at the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Public Works Association annual conference. It featured various kinds of heavy equipment operators tackling obstacle courses but with a unique twist: Hugh Mercer Elementary School students attended the festivity and learned about the different types of heavy machinery used in the public works department. Great idea to start kids early in learning about usually unrecognized machines that impact their lives.
Ron Wiese, operations supervisor of West Des Moines, Iowa, described his roadeo as being a little unique because of the combined training of the event.
“We have SPOT (snowplow operator training) or you can take backhoe training or loader training for two days prior to the roadeo,” Wiese said.
A successful roadeo, however, takes preparation. He said, “If you are just having a roadeo then planning would include these things: site, vendors, food, course setup, judges for scoring events, people to calibrate scores, prizes and trophies. You also need to figure out what agencies will help on setup and be part of a committee that would handle all details.”
For other public works directors who may be considering running their own roadeos, they may be wondering if the entrants from other cities in these roadeos bring their own heavy equipment or use the ones at the event site. “In the SPOT training, they do bring their own plows and trucks, but usually a city or county that is in close proximity of the roadeo site would provide trucks and plows for the event,” said Wiese. “Two or three units with identical equipment on them would be about right.”
Different roadeos are run for a variety of days – one to three is usually the norm. “Our roadeo lasts one day, and includes a plow truck roadeo, skid loader roadeo and loader roadeo,” Wiese said. “Some can last two days depending on the number of participants.
Of course, a competition isn’t a competition without prizes. He said, “Prizes usually come from the vendors and they can range from gift cards to hats, gloves and clothing. We also offer the winners of the roadeos jackets and trophies. Our grand prize is a flat-screen TV donated by a vendor and all participants are eligible. Entry fees we try to keep low, because most training budgets have been cut: $75 for roadeo, $95 for the two-day training prior to, $350 for vendors on the day of the roadeo. We have vendors for participants to talk to because there will be downtime when not competing.” These hands-on events are usually held on large parking lots, preferably on hard surface. Other possible sites include state fairgrounds and universities. In addition to looking for a place with big lots, the hosts will need classroom space for training.
“Benefits to the participants include being able to get into a plow and get trained or run the roadeo prior to the season so operators get a little seat time before the snow flies,” Wiese said.
“They network with other communities and talk about the challenges and successes they have had with snowfighting, material usage, chemicals used, snowplow blades and other operation issues. Also, the winners can brag a bit throughout the next year until a new champion is crowned.”
Of course, there are challenges in setting up a roadeo. One is getting a committee formed of various city and county employees who have the right people to get things done. That would include some supervisor staff, though mostly field staff is used at Wiese’s events, and finding a location that has the right facilities and is situated in a centralized location.
“You also need course layouts in which we use the Western Snow Conference as guidance on what courses we use,” Wiese concluded. The courses are set up to simulate real-life situations plow drivers will encounter when out in real storm conditions, said Bret Hodne, public services director of West Des Moines, Iowa.
“Procedures such as plowing around parked cars, weaving in and out of areas where cars may be impeding access to streets, backing up when necessary in tight quarters and having a situational awareness of the challenges associated with maneuvering in tight quarters is extremely beneficial for these winter maintenance professionals,” Hodne said.
“Roadeos provide much-needed training prior to that first storm and also get the participants thinking about equipment inspections and pre-season preparation. Often, there’s not enough time in between daily field activities and the start of winter. I’ve seen staff doing pavement work one day and plowing the next,” he continued.
“Also, the process of making operators conduct walk-around inspections of their equipment prior to getting out in the field is extremely critical,” Hodne added. “Since these inspections are part of the federal commercial drivers licensing requirements, it is crucial that operators are adequately trained in this area. Not being aware of how to do these inspections properly can lead to liability issues and potential accidents.”
One of the most successful training methods is the vehicle defect identification section of the roadeo whereby students have to find defective equipment issues that mechanics have set up in advance for them, said Hodne.
“On the other hand, I have seen a couple major roadeo events where scoring errors have reversed the final placings after the awards have been handed out, and those are hard issues to deal with.”