Dig it! Heavy equipment challenge sponsored by Thompson, Caterpillar

A competitor works a trench in Thursday’s Operator Challenge in Dodge City. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

Updated 7-21-19 1 p.m.

DODGE CITY, Ala. – More than 70 participants competed Thursday in Thompson Tractor’s Operator Challenge in Dodge City, just off Exit 299 in front of My Way Trucking. The Hanceville Challenge (named by the organizers) was the first of two qualifying events, with the Montgomery Challenge scheduled for July 25-26. Top qualifiers from each regional event will then compete in the finals Sept. 12 in Montgomery. The state winner will qualify for The Caterpillar regional contest and possibly the Caterpillar National Challenge. 

This is the first year for the Thompson Tractor Operator Challenge, said Marketing Director Brian Doud, who shared, “Caterpillar makes some of the world’s finest heavy equipment, and Thompson Tractor is Alabama’s exclusive dealer for the Caterpillar heavy equipment for any size job site. The Operator Challenge gives our customers the opportunity, in a fun and competitive way, to try out the industry’s best and most technologically-capable equipment to learn how Caterpillar and Thompson Tractor provide what it takes to make their business more profitable and more efficient.”

The Hanceville competition featured six different challenges to test the operators’ skills. The most popular event was the Trenching challenge, which showcased each operator’s excavator abilities. One competitor, Jeff Adams, came from Saginaw, Alabama and has been operating Caterpillar equipment for at least 30 years.

He explained the objective of the challenge, saying, “They are digging a hole and it’s got to be 3 feet deep and it’s got to go all the way back. They judge you by your time and how consistent you are.” 

Adams said the top operators were completing the challenge in two minutes, but he would be happy if he was able to finish in three. 

Another popular challenge was the Agility Course, where operators used a Cat skid steer loader to navigate a course and maintain balance and material control” Participants also competed in challenges with wheel loaders, motor graders, dozers and mini or small excavators. 

Sarah Price from Lynchburg, Virginia was the only female competitor to register for the competition. She is in Alabama for the summer on an internship with Carmeuse Lime and Stone. She is a student at Virginia Tech studying mining engineering.

She said, “Since I am down here, they asked me if I wanted to come down here and learn how to operate some of the equipment, and I thought it would be a good thing to learn.”

Continued Price, “The only thing I ran before today was a skid steer. Basically, right before the challenges, they ran me through how to operate everything and I was off. It was fun. They’ve also ran me through a larger version of this loader right here, so I had a little bit of experience with that. So, after learning the 990K loader, everything else was a piece of cake.” 

Price headed back toward the Trench Challenge to support her co-workers, including Adams. As the next-to-last competitor of the day, Adams’ number was finally called. He did much better that his three-minute goal and finished the day among the leaders. 

Thompson Tractor gave all participants a shirt, hat and belt buckle. They also had Freddie Day Catering on-hand with some great food. The top overall winner won a Cat 2000W Generator. Second place took home a Cat 27-quart cooker and third earned a Cat speaker and tumbler. The top five winners will be eligible to compete in the state finals where the grand prize will be $500 and a paid trip to the U.S. Regionals in North Carolina.

The top winners from the Central and North Alabama Operator Challenge

  • 1st place- Jonathan Hagood
  • 2nd place- Jonathan Poole
  • 3rd place- Kelly Childers
  • 4th place- Dustin Phillips
  • 5th place- Anthony Brooks

The event winners are

  • Trenching- Jonathan Hagood 2:08
  • Fully Loaded- Kelly Childers 1:48
  • Agility- Kelly Childers 2:14
  • One for the Road- Jonathan Hagood 1:33
  • Easy Doze It- D. Collier 1:23
  • Control to a Tee- Jonathan Poole 2:047

Doud was very pleased at the number of people who came out to compete in the challenge, as well as the families who came with their kids to watch. For those interested in the Montgomery Challenge set, registration forms are available at all Thompson Tractor branches. For more information, call 205-849-4527 or visit https://thompsontractor.com/operator-challenge.

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Christy Perry