An equipment operator from Rockingham got the chance to show off his skills at the N.C. Department of Transportation’s annual Equipment Operator Roadeo, held last week at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
Earl Graves, a transportation worker with NCDOT, walked away with a win in the “tractor low boy” event at the competition.
The Equipment Roadeo featured representatives from all 14 NCDOT highway divisions showing off their skills in operating their heavy equipment by completing specific tasks in a safe manner.
“The trucks go through an obstacle course,” Graves said. “You have to back up to a loading dock to unload freight … The closer you get to it without touching it … you can get up to 50 points. I backed up and mine was three and a half inches with a 65 foot trailer. The next thing you have to do is parallel park the tractor trailer. Then you go through a serpentine of barrels and weave around them. Then they set up some tennis balls. With the right side wheels, you have an inch of play on each side of the tires and have to go through them without touching. You pull up to a painted line in the parking lot like you were going to park. The closer you get without going over, you get up to 50 points. Next you have to do a pre-trip inspection of the truck, like you normally would.
“There are six stations for 50 points each. Three hundred is the best score you can make. My score was over 200. It probably could have been better, but it could have also been worse,” Graves said with a laugh.
Graves entered the Roadeo representing Division 8, which he said consists of eight counties.
Kevin Hendrick, District Engineer for NCDOT, said the Equipment Roadeo is held every year.
“We’re real proud of him,” Hendrick said. “Earl drives a dump truck daily. He hasn’t driven a low boy for several years, since he left forestry service … For him to compete against other operators, where their primary duty is operation, and for him to win, that makes it ever more special.”
Three of the six individual champions work for NCDOT Division 3, headquartered in suburban Wilmington. Donnie Thigpen of the Duplin County office took the title for tractor/mower, while Jongie Futral, also from Duplin County, was the top backhoe operator, and Timothy Smith of Onslow County won the single-axle dump truck competition.
Other winners include Robert Chapman of Alexander County in motor grader and Darrin Willett of Chatham County for tandem dump truck.
The overall team title went to Division 14, which took the championship trophy back to the western mountains and its headquarters in Sylva, Jackson County.
Runners-up in the individual events were Nakoma Emanuel of Forsyth County (backhoe), Charles Hensley of Burke County (low boy), Brian Gentry of McDowell County (single-axle dump truck), Chad Bailey of Stokes County (tandem dump truck), Justin Beam of Cleveland County (tractor/mower) and Gerald Ellixson of Granville County (motor grader).
Both the winners and runners-up move on to the 10th annual Southeast Regional Equipment Operator Roadeo in Beckley, W.V., on Sept. 17-19 against their counterparts from seven other states.
NCDOT won one individual title in last year’s southeast championships and finished fourth overall behind two-time defending champion Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.
Graves has been employed with NCDOT for six years, and lives with his wife, Tina, in Rockingham.
“I’m very proud of him,” Tina said of her husband. “He’s worked all of his life very hard. He grew up farming and driving farm equipment. We still do some work to move hay and things like that … but nothing like driving the big equipment that he does at DOT. He’s a very hard worker and I’m very proud of him.”
— Staff Writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.