Drivers test their skills in McKee Foods big rig 'rodeo'
KINGMAN - No bucking broncos, sweaty cowboy hats or grinning clowns filled the rodeo ring Friday in the dusty outer parking lot at Mother Road Harley-Davidson.
Instead, one shiny 65-foot-long McKee Foods Corp. semitrailer dominated the arena, its sides brightly painted with the smiling face of snack-cake queen Little Debbie with her chocolate and powdered mini-donuts. Situated around the lot were several wooden barriers, a thin lane edged by yellow tennis balls, and orange cones sporting a small Incredible Hulk action figure.
One by one, nine truck drivers climbed into the big rig to take turns leading the wheeled beast through the course. From the starting line, they made a turn around a barrel, then pulled the trailer through a narrow set of wooden barriers. Next, they backed up through another set of barriers and aimed for an alley dock.
"They have to be good drivers to do this, because it's very challenging," said Ron Eddleman, transportation superintendent at McKee. "It's difficult, because the course is pretty tight. But I'm confident they'll all get through it, although some are better than others."
From there, the drivers headed the rig to the other end of the lot, where a row of cones awaited them. The goal was to get as close as possible without the front wheel hitting the vulnerable Hulk figure. After a tight turn, the drivers positioned the truck's driver-side wheels between two rows of balls and tried to keep from knocking them over.
Throughout each nerve-wracking drive, a group of 10 judges in green shirts scurried around the truck, watching for mistakes and scoring the drivers' success at every station. The drivers, who also were timed to break ties in scoring, could earn up to 300 points for completing the course without making any mistakes.
The truck rodeo was the first in years for drivers at Kingman's McKee facility, which distributes Little Debbie snacks throughout the western part of the nation. The top three winners received trophies, driver's jackets and $50 gift cards. The other drivers also were given $50 gift cards for participating in the event on their day off.
"We want our drivers to have fun," said Deborah Skomski, human resources business partner at McKee, noting the truck rodeo will become an annual event. "They're out on the road a lot and this type of activity gives them some friendly competition and helps with our team building. And those who win will get bragging rights."
When the dust had settled and the rig's engine idled, the drivers' points were added up and the winners announced. Mike Elder snagged first place, Roger Peterson won second place and Kenny Robison took home third place.
Brian Robbins, a Kingman resident who has been driving a truck for McKee for about 16 years, said he learned a lot from the event. Robbins said this was the first time he has participated in a truck rodeo since he has been with the company and he hopes there will be more.
"It was fun, but it was more challenging than I thought it would be," said Robbins. "As I was driving, I tried to keep my eye on everything, but I couldn't see it all and I had to trust my instincts. This truck rodeo was a good thing for the company to have, because it gets the drivers out talking, boosts morale and reminds us that we aren't perfect."
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