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Washington state road workers compete in ROADeo, where success is measured by inches

Michael Leeberg, a road crew worker from Mason County, successfully backed up a dump truck and snowplow without knocking over any of the tightly spaced drinking cups laid out to challenge him.

“Just stay focused,” he said of his run through an obstacle course that included the Dixie cup backup test.

“And make sure to watch your mirrors, your surroundings and where your plow is going,” he added.

Knowing how to handle the plow was easier said than done for a Mason County worker who doesn’t see much snow in his Puget Sound environment, he said.

Road crew workers from across Washington state competed Wednesday in three challenges behind the controls of the dump truck snowplow, a loader and a backhoe.

They were in Spokane as part of the fall meeting of the Washington State Chapter of the American Public Works Association.

Known as the ROADeo, the competition is both a test of the workers’ skill and a chance for education and training, said Dan Wesley, a construction inspector from the city of Covington in King County.

He said road and street crew workers think of themselves as “the other first responders.”

When snow falls or a flood rips through a roadway, they are the public employees who people count on to clean up the mess and get the road reopened, he said.

This year’s ROADeo outside Avista Stadium on North Havana Street is the sixth time the event has been held in the state. Winners will advance to a national competition.

It followed a full day of training on Wednesday.

One of the more intriguing challenges involved using a backhoe bucket to pick up small balls on top of orange roadway cones and deposit the balls inside a waste basket without moving the cones.

Again, it was a competition decided by inches.

The loader competition required the drivers to push small wooden blocks off the top of larger concrete blocks without touching the concrete blocks.

“Some of these folks make it look really easy,” Wesley said.

Hank Robinson, a driver from Clark County, said, “It’s harder than it looks. I did better than I thought I was going to do.”

Scott Hiam, also from Clark County, said he gets plenty of opportunity to remove snow since his road district is in the higher elevations of southwest Washington.

“It’s fun plowing snow,” he said. “It gets a little sketchy when it gets icy.”

In all, 52 workers qualified for the competition, including six from Spokane County. They are Ken DeGon, Matt Durheim, Carl Kent, Jeff Luiten, Richard Salinas and Levi Scrimsher.