RALEIGH — There was not a single steer, but some fine steering Saturday at the Solid Waste Association of North America’s annual statewide Road-E-O, where garbage truck drivers and mechanics get a chance to do more than talk trash.
More than 100 competitors came out for the two-day event, split among two venues: the City of Raleigh’s Solid Waste Services facility in east Raleigh, and the South Wake Landfill in Apex.
Not a sport for amateurs, the Road-E-O is open only to drivers with no reportable accidents in the previous 12 months. They can work for municipal, county or private waste haulers. Winners at the state competition go on to the international games, to be held this year in Lexington, Ky.
“We take it very seriously in our industry,” said John Pfleger, senior environmental health and safety specialist for Waste Industries in Raleigh, and the head judge at the rodeo for three years running. The event is a perk for competitors, many of whom get a paid hotel stay with a banquet and Saturday-night dance on Road-E-O weekend. And, they get to demonstrate the skill required to drive a rumbling, screeching garbage truck through changing road and weather conditions, between parked cars and other obstacles while making hundreds of stops to gather refuse, all without bumping into anything.
It’s harder than it looks.
At the landfill, drivers tested their skills on a dirt track, maneuvering barrels with the arms of a trash truck and leveling ground with the scraper on a bulldozer.
Across town, competitors faced seven skill stations laid out in a course on a paved parking lot. Contenders could choose from several types of vehicles: front-end loaders, side-loaders, rear-loaders, roll-offs and tractor-trailers.
One by one, drivers climbed into their cabs to run the course, negotiating between barriers and backing down an alley. They had to parallel park and make snake through barrels — forward, then backward. Scores are based on how cleanly the course is run, with points deducted for contact with obstructions. The routes are timed, with shorter times serving as tie-breakers.
Entrants also had to take two written tests.
“It’s a challenge,” said Arthur Moore of Raleigh, who started out as a truck driver for the Army and went to work for a trash hauler when he got out 25 years ago. He’s competed in at least 10 Road-E-O’s, he said. He was disappointed in his barrel run – he hit two – and felt he could have gotten closer to the line in the parallel park.
Trina Tharp came to the event with her two sons to cheer on her husband, John, who came in third in the competition two years ago.
“He gets all stoked for it,” she said, even recruiting his older son to drill him on safety standards for the written exams.
Even if he doesn’t win, it’s a nice weekend for the family, who live in Graham and were looking forward to getting back to the pool at the host hotel when the competition ended Saturday afternoon.
In the evening, family members would get a chance to compete, too, in the hotel parking lot. Games included whipping a trash-can lid Frisbee-style into a flower bed, and hurling a 25-pound trash can.
At least it was empty.