Saturday , August 09, 2014 - 2:18 AM
OGDEN — A wholly different kind of rodeo was on display Thursday evening at the Weber County Fair.
In front of supporters numbering in the low hundreds at the fair’s 2nd annual Backhoe Rodeo, 28 competitors nimbly manipulated various tractors to gently ease three eggs into a small bowl, three bowling pins into narrow canisters and one each of a basketball, soccer and tennis ball into a garbage can. The machines may not be as fickle as a discontented bull — but mastering them takes years, said Dean Maw, manager of Maw Equipment and the sponsor co-hosting the event with Weber County.
"It requires experience and patience and a great deal of skill and a little tenacity," Maw told the Standard-Examiner. "Not everyone was successful all the time even though they're great operators. I think it requires many years of experience ... and patience with one's skill set."
Several of Thursday's participants have been working with tractors for most of their life.
"It takes a lot of getting used to a lot of seat time," said Nathan Skeen, from North Ogden, who has been riding the machinery for 15 years. "Everybody can kind of run one everybody can get on and kind of play with it, but it takes a know-how to know where to move the dirt or kind of what to do with it to get the job done."
Thursday was a fun change of pace, Skeen said. The stakes of being precise are usually a lot higher, he explained, because it's a part of his livelihood.
"I do this for a living so it's kind of fun to come and test myself and see what I can really do," Skeen said. "There's not a lot out there that surprises me or the I can't do nowadays but I like to test (myself) and test my skills."
For the second consecutive year, Lori Rebeck was the only woman competing. Rebeck grew up on a farm near West Haven, where she learned to "run track, run the track hoe, backhoe (and) do practically everything," she said.
"I am a woman so I am patient and I am cautious of what I do," Rebeck added before the rodeo, sounding hopeful of her chances. "And that's what wins. Patience and caution, not always speed."
Time penalties were also assessed for participants who failed to drop the items in the right place. The top contestants were prepared this year much more than at the inaugural event, when three seconds separated first and second place, according to Maw.
Justin Anderson, from rural Weber County west of Ogden, won this year's event and took home an embroidered jacket and a $300 first prize. Second and third place finishers were awarded $200 and $100, respectively.
"Operating the equipment requires the ability to tailor ... the hydraulics," Maw said. "I found it was ... pretty challenging for most all of the operators and not everyone succeeded. ... But they all had a lot of fun and we didn't have anyone complaining. Nobody thought it was unfair, so it was a great event."
Several contestants were unable to place the bowling pins or eggs, but a majority were able to complete the ball exercise. Many shook their head or laughed in exasperation as the eggs tipped off their spatula.
But Maw was surprised to hear that picking up the eggs was thought by Thursday's competitors to be easier than placing the bowling pins.
"For me it would be very difficult," he quipped. "I've operated equipment a little bit but I'm not near as good as them. I tell people I'm a much better salesman than an operator."
Maw is a 4th generation tractor dealer whose family founded the equipment business in 1928. Maw himself started in the business in 1975, when he was just 15.
"I've continued since that time almost without interruption," he said. "It's a great way to make a livelihood."
Enormous strides have been made in tractor technology, according to Maw, and most machines are more sophisticated than others realize. The major expenses involved, he added, are a major part of why people take such pride in how well they can handle their equipment.
The tractor loader back hoes being used Thursday weighed more than 16,000 pounds and can travel up to about 25 miles per hour, Maw said. Those machines can cost upward of $90,000. The compact excavator used in the rodeo weighs and costs roughly half of that.
This year’s backhoe rodeo took about four months to plan with Weber County and included 11 more participants than last year, Maw added.
Contact reporter Ben Lockhart at 801-625-4221 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Lockhart. Like his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/blockhartSE.
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