Johnston County

Local DOT workers win statewide skills competition

Having picked up a golf ball with a backhoe, a worker attempts to drop it into a pipe at the Division 4 qualifiers in June.
Having picked up a golf ball with a backhoe, a worker attempts to drop it into a pipe at the Division 4 qualifiers in June. Courtesy N.C. Department of Transportation

The crew from N.C. Department of Transportation Division 4, which includes Johnston County, recently placed first in the 2015 Equipment Operators’ Roadeo.

The annual event takes workers from the DOT’s 14 regions who drive heavy machinery – such as backhoes, dump trucks and tractors – and pits them against each other in competitions of skill, safety and precision. Workers took part in divisional tournaments in June, and those who qualified went on to the statewide contest in July.

In September, the top-two finishers in each category will travel to Myrtle Beach to represent North Carolina against about a dozen other states in the Southeastern Regional competition.

Qualifying from Division 4 were Troy Evans of Princeton and Lance Bass of Spring Hope, who placed second in the backhoe and tractor-pulled mower competitions, respectively. DOT Division 4 encompasses Johnston, Edgecombe, Halifax, Nash, Wayne and Wilson counties.

The Roadeo is a lot of fun, Bass said, but it’s really all about safety. In the tractor and mower competition, Bass said he had to navigate an obstacle course without hitting any cones, pull as close to a wall without touching it, and then run the entire course in reverse. Undertaking such as challenge forces a heightened level of concentration, Bass said, and it can cause a worker to notice his own unsafe habits.

“It makes you think about things that ordinarily every day, you might just do and not think about,” he said. “You might find something in the contest that you’ve been doing wrong in your everyday work that ain’t safe.”

In the backhoe competition, Evans said he used the heavy machine to pick up golf balls and carefully drop them into narrow pipes. It’s good to practice precision equipment operation with safety cones and golf balls, Evans said, because their real-world obstacles are far less forgiving.

“We’re weaving around gas lines, water lines, power lines and stuff like that every day,” he said. “And we’re facing more and more utilities on the side of the road every day.”

To celebrate the state victory, Four Oaks Mayor Linwood Parker had the Division 4 boys out for lunch last week at his Smithfield restaurant, White Swan Bar-B-Q & Fried Chicken. The idea, Parker said, came from former DOT Board member Durwood Stephenson of Smithfield who paid to have plaques made for each of the seven competitors.

“We’re proud of them,” Parker said. “And as mayor, I’m always glad to do anything for DOT because what they do makes sure we keep our roads going and things going well.”

Gus Tulloss of Rocky Mount, who represents Division 4 on the state transportation board, said he admired the crew’s talents, dedication and enthusiasm for their jobs.

“All of these folks have been with the DOT for years, and most of them, their daddies worked for the DOT, and they just love it,” he said. “They’re just wonderful, wonderful team members.”