State heavy equipment ‘roadeo’ champ has new role at county | CraigDailyPress.com

State heavy equipment ‘roadeo’ champ has new role at county

Jennifer L. Grubbs

Snow has started to show itself again in Moffat County, and that means motor road graders will soon be out in full force plowing snow.

But, this year, Ken Moncrief will not spend his days in one’s cab.

Moncrief recently was promoted to supervisor of motor road grader staff at the Moffat County Road Department, which means the 16-year county employee usually will be warm in his office behind a desk instead of clearing the roads of snow and ice in a big, noisy grader.

Yet, when it comes to knowing what it will take to keep Moffat County’s roads in shape this winter, there’s no one better in the state – at least if you go by the results of a statewide competition among motor road grader operators.

Top in the state

Known as a “roadeo,” every year the Colorado Department of Transportation holds regional and state competitions for heavy equipment operators. They drive the machines through obstacle courses designed to simulate challenges of working with dirt, mud, sand, gravel, snow and ice.

The course uses balls, buckets and posts to measure how well an operator does. Competitors receive scores based on accuracy and how well they completed the tasks with the big machines.

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The regional equipment roadeo was held in Craig at the same time as the Moffat County Fair last summer.

Moncrief competed in that one, along with fellow county workers and those from Garfield, Grand and Summit counties. He wound up finishing first, which made it possible for him to compete in the Colorado State Equipment Roadeo last September in Colorado Springs.

There were about 20 competitors at the state roadeo. At the start, the operators, each from a different county, drew a number to determine the order of competition. Moncrief picked No. 8.

“Going 8, there are quite a few to go behind you,” he said. “There’re some good operators around the state.”

Moncrief’s score of 116 points put him at the top of the first eight competitors.

He then had to wait as each operator completed the course. Still, he kept his lead.

“I was hoping but didn’t expect to win,” Moncrief said of the wait. “It got down to the last three to four, and I was still in first place. That’s when my nerves started messing with me.”

Moncrief realized he could actually win.

“I started getting greedy after that, because I didn’t want to do anything but win,” he said. “It wasn’t just for fun anymore.”

But it was fun for Moncrief – competing at something he enjoys.

“Lo and behold, I won,” he said, a wide smile breaking across his face.

Moncrief received a plaque and $1,000 for the win.

“I was pretty excited over it,” he said.

New department role

Now days, Moncrief doesn’t spend much time out on the road behind the controls of a motor road grader.

In his new job as a supervisor, he will use his experience on the road and in the roadeos to lead the county’s grader operators on 15 routes in making the roads clear and safe.

“It’s definitely different,” Moncrief said. “I still work with the same guys, but instead of plowing or blading, instead of being concerned with my route, now I have everyone and every route to be concerned about.”

“He’s doing really well,” said Linda DeRose, Road Department manager and Moncrief’s boss. “We’re very glad to have him.”

DeRose said Moncrief’s experience on the road and in the competitions gives him “a better understanding of the equipment – always a good thing.”

She said that she is sure Moncrief will miss the day-to-day work, but she’s sure the promotion will be worth the sacrifice for Moncrief, who she said always is working to grow and learn.

Although Moncrief had no formal training when he began driving a grader more than a decade ago, he remembers how the “old-timers” helped him learn.

Now, it’s his turn to be the teacher.

Still, he said he has plenty to learn in this new job, too.

“I’m far from seasoned,” Moncrief said. “I’m constantly going to my previous supervisor (who stepped down and is now an operator) to ask questions.”

No regrets

Moncrief said he hasn’t missed being out on the road yet, but the big snowstorms haven’t come.

“I’m sure I will (miss it) as we get into the winter,” he said. “I really do enjoy plowing snow, being out there, doing your thing.”

But he knows that there will be times when an operator gets sick, or someone leaves the department when he’ll need to fill in or doing training.

“I’ll have the chance to go back,” he said.

“They try not to have supervisors doing that work, but :” he trailed off, laughing, “I guess I have the skills.”

Jennifer L. Grubbs can be reached at 875-1790 or jgrubbs@craigdailypress.com