Heavy Equipment Operators Showcase Their Skills

The Mississippi Department of Transportation hosted a regional rodeo in Gulfport Thursday. But you couldn't find any ornery bulls or competitive cowboys at this event.

This event is all about tractors, trailers and back hoes.

It's easy to scoop a golf ball from a sand box with a metal spoon. The real challenge comes when that spoon is attached to the hydraulic arm of a two ton back hoe. Scooping up the balls is the easy part. How about dropping them in plastic pipes?

"It is really tough when there's a hundred people sitting, looking at you. Makes it really tough," said Mark Austin of Batesville.

Operators face the competitive pressure of their peers, along with the eyes and video cameras of the crowd. Try driving a tractor pulling a bush hog through a winding course of orange cones. The slightest miscue can create problems.

"It's a wonderful training tool. We can tell. We've been doing it for six years. And over the time the operators have gotten so much better. And it in turn makes their work production be better," said event organizer, and MDOT maintenance engineer Mark McConnell.

Many people would have trouble parallel parking a car. So imagine trying to parallel park a 25 foot long trailer.  Just a few inches can make all the difference. Mirrors are a must with the big rigs. And experienced operators know their equipment.

"I hope I come out on top," said state grader champ, Jerry Ellett.  He brought his family to cheer him through the course. His event features tennis balls. Lower the blade just enough to knock balls off the stands.

"It really is tough. The blade has got to be just right at the top of the stand. And the stand is easy to knock over. It's really tough," he explained.

Six events will determine the best of the best, as drivers put tons of machinery through precision maneuvers.

More than 75 heavy equipment operators competed in the regional rodeo. Joining Mississippi were teams from Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.