It was a win more than 20 years in the making, as West Virginia hosted 11 states in the Southeast Regional Roadeo, on Tuesday, September 26 through Thursday, September 28, 2023.
The equipment operators “Roadeo” is a training and safety conference in which leading equipment operators from each state compete on a course designed to test their skills. Workers from around the region, competing with West Virginia’s fleet of bright yellow equipment, moved golf balls as carefully as they would work around utility lines in the field.
States take turns hosting the conference, with judges from each state participating in scoring each year. This year West Virginia Department of Highways (WVDOH) transportation workers took home the Team trophy as judged by their peers from other states. It was the first time in 20 years they won Best Overall.
“It’s really valuable because it demonstrates the skill level of our operators,” said Jimmy Wriston, P.E., Secretary of West Virginia Department of Transportation. “And they are the best in the country.”
“This year, West Virginia won the trophy, and I couldn’t be more proud,” said Wriston. “I have never seen a group want something so badly, work so hard, and work together so well. This is the epitome of what the Governor talks about, ‘Know the difference between effort and achievement’ because they put the effort out, and they achieved. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Competition takes place in six events: single axle truck, tandem axle truck, lowboy trailer, motor grader, backhoe, and tractor mower. Truck events involve running an obstacle course, parallel parking, and seeing how close drivers can back up to a bay.
In the backhoe event, operators must use a tiny spoon attached to the backhoe to pick up a golf ball and drop it into a cup. The grader event involves knocking tennis balls off a tube with the grader blade without knocking over the tube. The mower event involves driving a tractor towing a mower through an obstacle course – both forward and backward.
One of the most talked about events in WVDOH’s recent history shared among many at the Roadeo, was the day in 2019 when Governor Jim Justice called WVDOH County Administrators to a meeting at the State Capitol Complex and asked them what they needed to get the job done. County Administrators asked for equipment to get the job done, and Governor Justice made it his priority to make sure the equipment was provided. That very same equipment can be seen on the states roadways in all 55 counties. It's the reason West Virginia's guests from around the region could not find a pothole.
That bright yellow equipment was recognized and appreciated by transportation workers from all 11 participating states. Operators for each of those states spend their time in varied situations on the roadways, all year round, getting the work done throughout the region.
“You guys have a very nice little fleet of International single axle dump trucks,” said Ernay Robinson, State Maintenance Engineer for Georgia Department of Transportation in her interview on the 163rd episode of WV on the DOT podcast. “I think the next most impressive thing we noticed was the tractor mowers with cabs inside, we just have the open air cabs.”
“It was a fantastic couple of days,” said Wriston. “The skill level was off the charts. It literally takes your breath away to watch how precise these guys can maneuver these things, and perform these operations with this equipment. And the talk of the conference, all that brand new, wonderful equipment the Governor was able to get for us.”
“All of the activities in this competition are designed to mirror what they actually do on the roads and it demonstrates the highly skilled level of operators we have in all the Departments of Transportation,” said Wriston, declaring all the Southeast states the best operators in the country alongside West Virginia.
On the morning following the win, West Virginia Department of Transportation learned of the passing of Tom Badgett, a WVDOH employee with decades of service who returned after retirement to serve as a resource to Districts across the state as they implemented quality standards for consistent results.
Transportation workers join Secretary Wriston in proudly dedicating the win to the memory of Tom, long a proponent of equipment and training for workers to be able to do their jobs efficiently, whose work was very much a part of the day as he is one of the many who have worked to make Governor Justice's vision a reality.
West Virginia won first place overall among the 11 states in the region. Tennessee won second place. South Carolina came in third. The competition was fierce, but the comradery was also. Each state shared knowledge, skills and strategies for keeping their workers safe in on the ground situations. It was a family event, with transportation workers from around the region bringing their families to enjoy the beauty of West Virginia. As Secretary Wriston says, the southeast region operators are the best in the country.
Best Overall: West Virginia (1st), Tennessee (2nd), South Carolina (3rd)
Tractor Mower: Steven Ford, South Carolina (1st), Larry Carman, Tennessee (2nd), Jeff Allgood, Virginia (3rd)
Tandem Axle Dump Truck: Michael Pannell, Mississippi (1st), Chris Schaar, Tennessee (2nd), T.J. Pulley, Arkansas (3rd)
Single Axle Dump Truck: Joe Strickland, West Virginia (1st), Nick Southern, West Virginia (2nd), William Blackwell, South Carolina (3rd)
Tractor Truck With Lowboy: Mike Simpson, West Virginia (1st), Chad Loudin, West Virginia (2nd), Michael Carr, Tennessee (3rd)
Motor Grader: Scott Burgess, South Carolina (1st), Joshua Williams, South Carolina (2nd), Daniel Evans, North Carolina (3rd)
Backhoe: Hunter Butler, Tennessee (1st), Jeremiah Law, Virginia (2nd), John Garrett, West Virginia (3rd)