HELENA — Snow plows and the other vehicles operated by city, county and state organizations are powerful machines. However, it takes a precise hand to ensure those machines can do the job effectively and keep the community safe.
For more than three decades, the Montana Local Technical Assistance Program has hosted Snow Rodeo events across the state to help train operators in using heavy machinery, while also being safe. This week the Snow Rodeo was held in Helena at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
“There are a lot of first-timers who haven’t been to a training before. And they jump in the equipment with a mentor and go through the course for the very first time and a lot times their bosses can pick up what their true skills and strengths are and then focus on helping develop those,” said Montana LTAP Director Matt Ulberg.
The two-day event aims to train operators on various equipment, safety, maintenance and best practices. The first day is in the classroom and the second is in the field. While in the field, operators run various courses on equipment and are graded on precision as well as time. There is also a maintenance component where certain parts are removed and operators need to identify the issue.
“We’ve got to keep these roads open and drivable, so when [the machines] go down it’s imperative we get them back up and going,” said Lewis and Clark County Head Mechanic Justin Davis, who was grading operators on identifying issues.
LTAP says a big part of the event is the camaraderie that is formed between operators.
“That is the best training you can get,” explained LTAP Field Training Professional Shawna Page. “They help each other with the training, and encourage and discourage each other and help each other out.”
Steve Kurk spent decades behind plows and other large machinery in the Bozeman area. Now retired, he says he loves coming to the event and working with the next generation of operators.
“I love it. The camaraderie here is just unreal you get a lot of new friends and a lot of new things to do. This just kind of gives you a blowout for the summer. You learn a lot, even at my age I still learn,” noted Kurk.
One of the newer operators is Raven Spears who works for the City of Bozeman. Spears got into the industry after deciding a welding career wasn’t for her. Instructors say she’s a natural who excelled a last year’s event. Even though the trade is predominantly male, Spears and others say there’s no real reason why more women couldn’t find a career as an operator.
“The females that I have met in my trade have done amazing jobs,” explained Spears. “I think its the light touch to it, and the guys don’t.”
Spears also noted being an operator has been more rewarding than she had thought. Her family and friends use the roads she cares for and she’s proud to be able to help her community.
“You know, to tell the truth, I love this trade. I love what I do and I love to make the public happy.”
Operators, no matter what organization they work for, are a special breed who are dedicated to their community. While Thursday’s weather in Helena was beautiful, that's not always the case. When the weather turns to dangerous or even disastrous conditions, such as snow storms, they’re often the first first-responders who are out there to make sure the roads are safe for everyone.