Spinning the steering wheel in fluid arcs, Chris Sell navigated an International Truck through an eight-part obstacle course, glancing from side to side and using his mirrors in an attempt to avoid concrete islands, traffic cones and tennis balls.
Along with 29 other drivers, Sell, 31, of Westminster, was contending for a cash prize, a trophy and pride. Those are the rewards for winning the 10th annual Paul A. Croasmun Memorial Truck Road-eo, a competition that determines the best snowplow operators from four Maryland counties.
Using trucks outfitted with flared snowplows, the drivers advanced, backed up and maneuvered around a parking lot at Carroll Community College in Westminster on Thursday, working through a course designed to resemble the typical difficulties of operating a snowplow in winter.
"Everything they have set up, a lot of it is obstacles you'll run into when you're out on the road plowing snow," said Gerry Shue, 29, of Hanover, Pa., an equipment operator for the Carroll County Bureau of Roads Operations.
One part of the course, for example, simulated plowing between parked vehicles, requiring drivers to knock over specified cones without touching adjacent ones.
But many competitors said the toughest segment was the first, "the Serpentine," in which the operators attempted to drive around traffic cones and concrete islands.
"There's barely enough room to get everything through," said Rodney Kuhns, 38, of Glen Rock, Pa., who works in fleet maintenance for Carroll County. "The plow's so wide. It's just so tight."
The competition was scored out of a maximum of 595 points, with drivers receiving deductions for mistakes on the obstacle course and for needing more than five minutes to finish.
Twenty-three Carroll government employees competed in the morning's local competition, in which the top three received trophies and cash prizes and advanced to the afternoon's regional, joining seven drivers from Baltimore, Frederick and Howard counties. The three best in the regional would also win trophies and cash.
With 495 points, Shue, who finished second in the regional last year, was the top qualifier. In second with 490 points was Tim Petry, 40, of Glen Rock, Pa., a shop foreman who won the regional in 2003 and 2004. Rounding out the Carroll County representatives with 440 points was Wayne Stonesifer, 38, of Taneytown, a maintenance technician.
"It's good for morale," Kuhns said. "It's good camaraderie between the guys, something to look forward to every year."
In the regional competition, Shue took third place with 495 points, winning a tiebreaker by finishing three seconds faster than Brian Clark of Frederick County.
Second place went to Carl Fugate Jr., 37, of Marriottsville, who does sign maintenance for Howard County. With his 505 points, Fugate also won a $50 bet with co-worker William Bennett, 37, of Glen Burnie, who had 35 fewer points.
The top spot belonged to John Duvall, 41, of Woodbine, a motor equipment operator who, with his 535 points, brought Howard County its first title, giving six-time winner Carroll County its first loss since 2002.
"I'd never won one," Duvall said. "I'd been second a couple times. Always been teased. Never won the big one. Now I got it."
There was also a backhoe competition, a vehicle that simulated drunken driving and a police dog demonstration by Deputy 1st Class Steven Anderson of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.
Joined by K-9 Ben, Anderson talked about how police dogs are trained, showed Ben's aptitude at sniffing out drugs and had event organizer Chuck Paulsen wear a bite sleeve for the dog to clamp down on.
"It was a good tournament," said Paulsen, safety and training coordinator for the county Office of Risk Management. "I was very happy with it."