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A grader rodeo

Five Moffat County residents participate in heavy equipment competition

Dan Olsen

— Heavy equipment comes in all shapes and sizes, and the controls drivers face vary from a single joystick to the undisputed king of confusing cockpit controls, the motor grader.

Each year, a heavy equipment rodeo is held in Northwest Colorado to determine the master of the motor grader’s 14 hand controls, three foot-pedals and its steering wheel.

This year’s competition took place Aug. 7 in Rifle, with Moffat County sending five of the county’s 15 motor grader drivers to show their stuff in the unusual rodeo.

Representing the county were David Moore, who finished first, Ken Moncrief, who took second, Dave Brookshire, Rob Wells and Richard McFeaters.

Drivers run through an obstacle course that includes gently cracking an egg with the grader’s blade, negotiating a tight cul-de-sac and weaving in and out of cones set about the width of the vehicle.

“It’s probably one of the hardest pieces of equipment to operate,” Moncrief said. “You have to be ambidextrous.”

The 16-year county Road Department worker has a decade of experience operating a grader.

His route south of Craig includes Knez Divide (Moffat County Road 33), and Jackson Draw (Moffat County Road 35).

It takes two-and-a-half days for Moncrief to complete his route.

He said drivers eventually get comfortable with the grader’s controls, and, in time, operating the machine becomes second nature.

“The blade has six control levers,” Moncrief said. “You can roll it over, tilt and turn it, shift the table side to side, and shift the blade side to side.”

Additional levers lean the front wheels over, and bend the articulated machine in the middle.

If the driver needs more to keep occupied, there are levers for the ripper blade on the rear of the machine and controls for the front blade in the winter.

The controls are manipulated in very small movements, and one hand needs to handle the steering wheel.

Three foot pedals control the clutch, throttle and brakes.

One of the most difficult portions of the event is the “blue topping” section, in which the driver is required to remove the top brick from a stack while leaving lower bricks in place.

Shop supervisor Wayne Goodnow said the move takes skill for even the most experienced drivers.

“When you set up to scrape the top brick off, you can’t see anything because the mow board blocks your vision,” he said. “You’ve got to keep moving, but you can be crawling and it’s too fast.”

Moncrief has been in five or six equipment rodeos previously, and won at the event in Moffat County two years ago.

The equipment rodeo alternates every two years between Moffat and Garfield counties, and is an important part of training drivers for situations they encounter in the real world, Goodnow said.

“The competition is great for the guys, and it’s good for more than bragging rights,” he said. “I have to thank the commissioners and (county road director) Bill Mack for letting us go each year.”

The complicated cab in the motor grader may be in for some drastic changes in the near future.

Caterpillar, a major sponsor of the equipment rodeo, has designed a new grader with no steering wheel and two joysticks containing all the controls now found in the dozen levers.

The county has plans to obtain one of the new graders, but the chances of one showing up at next year’s equipment rodeo are increasing, Goodnow said.

Moffat is the second-largest county in Colorado, and until the next equipment rodeo, road crews will be training daily on the hundreds of miles of unpaved county roads.

Keeping county roads well groomed is a year-round job, usually at the mercy of the weather.

“If we had rain every week, our roads would be perfect,” Goodnow said.

A well-earned compliment for the drivers of the county’s most complicated piece of equipment.


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