Mastering the machine

Skid loader event makes debut at county fair

August 07, 2008|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Special to the Sun

The newest contest at the Howard County Fair required more than 50 entrants to toss basketballs, hoist tires, carry pails of water and avoid obstacles with the help - or hindrance - of four wheels, two hydraulic arms and a 74-inch bucket.

In front of several hundred spectators Monday night, the fair's inaugural skid loader competition drew an all-male field consisting mostly of workers from local landscaping and excavating companies with a few farmers and other machinery fans in the mix.

"We figured it would just be fun," said Jeremy Heath, owner of Heath Contractors in Cooksville, who entered along with some of his employees. "I think it's pretty neat that it's something different."

The contest added a novelty to the weeklong fair, which continues at the fairgrounds in West Friendship through Saturday, said H. Mitchell Day, president of the fair board.

"We have a lot of landscape businesses in the area," he said. "We thought it would be a good opportunity for them to do something."

Justin Brendel, owner of Level Land Inc. in Lisbon, and Kenny Livesay, a real estate agent from Cooksville, organized the contest for the fair. They said many local companies were generous in lending machines, staff members and other support.

"The contest gets a lot of attention in other counties where it is done," Brendel said. "It is more of a spectator thing. People love to see machines in action. Kids love them."

Contestants entered on site and were allowed to choose the brand of machine they wanted to use. The obstacle course was timed, with seconds added for failing to get the basketball in the bucket in two tries and for every inch of water spilled from the pail, among other infractions.

"It is about precision operation," Brendel said. Scott Hale of Upperco proved to have the winning technique in a field of 55 contestants. His advice: "Try to move the controls easily, take your time and don't get excited and in a hurry."

Hale received $300 and a gift certificate to Sarafina Restaurant in Ellicott City.

"It was a lot of fun," said the 33-year-old construction division superintendent with Rhine Landscaping in West Friendship. "It's a way to raise some money and get everyone together." Contestants disagreed on the most difficult part of navigating an obstacle course in a machine much like a minibulldozer. Some said it was impossible to see where the basketball was in the wide bucket. Others said it was tough to keep the ride smooth while driving with the water over bumps and logs. And others found it challenging to put the bucket down gently on a very narrow stump before speeding to the finish.

All agreed that it was fun to try.

"It was cool," said Mike Immel, 28, of Woodbine, who sells skid loaders and other equipment for Metro Bobcat in Gaithersburg.

He said he walked to the gate from his booth at the fair to watch the contest and "when I wasn't looking, my co-worker signed me up,"

He added: "I think it is a great idea, especially for me. It's great publicity."

David Libonate, 45, of Linthicum didn't know about the contest until he saw the crowd, but he said he often uses a skid loader in his job in concrete construction and he decided to pay the $5 entry fee and give it a try.

He said his son and daughter get to play games every year at the fair, and "now I get to do something for a change."

His prediction that it would be easy proved premature: He came in third in his three-person heat, but his daughter Alicia, 9, remained a dedicated fan.

"He wasn't the best, but he did pretty good," she said. "I know he'll do better at his job."

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