Curtis Daniels transfers a pin from the top of one highway construction cone to another during the Pruden Center For Industry and Technology’s annual Heavy Equipment Rodeo on Wednesday.
Curtis Daniels transfers a pin from the top of one highway construction cone to another during the Pruden Center For Industry and Technology’s annual Heavy Equipment Rodeo on Wednesday.

Archived Story

Backhoe cowboys

Published 10:10pm Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Curtis Daniels’ face showed grim determination as he manipulated the controls of the John Deere backhoe Wednesday in the parking lot of the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology.

A nearby judge held a stopwatch, waiting for Daniels to move the backhoe’s bucket in just such a way that a chain hanging from it with a hook on the end would snag a little pin sitting in a hole at the top of a highway cone.

Daniels would then turn the long boom with the bucket/chain/hook contraption about 10 feet to the right and drop the pin into the top of another orange cone.

A student maneuvers construction equipment during Wednesday's Heavy Equipment Rodeo at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology.
A student maneuvers construction equipment during Wednesday’s Heavy Equipment Rodeo at the Pruden Center for Industry and Technology.

As the seconds ticked by, Daniels’ family and the rest of a crowd watched intently from the nearby grass. The hook dangled and swung, just missing the little eyehole at the top of the pin and swinging more wildly with each noisy, hydraulic adjustment of the bucket.

Walking past on his way to another event during the Heavy Equipment Rodeo, Pruden instructor Shane Vaughan paused for a moment, looked inside the glass cab and quietly counseled his young pupil: “Settle down, Curtis. Settle down.”

Within a few seconds of hearing that advice, Daniels had hooked the pin from one cone, swung the bucket to the other cone and deftly dropped the pin into it.

“This is the time for our kids to shine,” Vaughan told a visitor. “This program is for parents and the public to see what we do here at the Pruden Center. It keeps everybody interested in what we’re doing. We’re very excited about it.”

The rodeo is an annual event at the Pruden Center, and it attracts quite a crowd. As always, family and friends turned out to watch the competition among 15 or so high-school-aged participants in Pruden’s Utility/Heavy Construction program.

There were even construction-industry representatives on hand to get a look at the crop of talent the program is producing.

Students who complete the program, Vaughan said, earn certifications and accreditations that can put them several steps ahead of the competition when it comes time to look for jobs in the industry.

“If we’d had something like this when (we) were in high school, we’d have been better off,” Vaughan said.

After seven months in the heavy construction program at Pruden, Carey Newsome, 19, agrees.

“I like it, because I wanted to get my (commercial driver’s license) so I can drive a truck across country,” Newsome said as he watched one of his classmates transfer a bucketful of gravel into the back of a dump truck.

“I’m pretty sure I can own my own trucking company one day.”

And if that doesn’t work out, he knows how to work a backhoe.

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