Thirty-five dealer event winners from across North America gathered in Clayton, N.C., to prove their mastery of both equipment and efficiency-boosting technology. Only two emerged victorious and earned the right to advance to the final round of the Cat Global Operator Challenge (GOC) held in Las Vegas. The GOC finals will take place during CONEXPO-CON/AGG inside Caterpillar’s 70,000-sq-ft outdoor exhibit, F9127 in the Festival Lot.
Besting the field on Tuesday, October 18, John Schiedeck with Schiedeck Construction from Texas, representing dealer Holt Cat, finished the three GOC events in a quick overall time of 25:30 to be crowned North America’s Eastern Region semifinal champion. “When I was in the seat, I had to calm myself. Six minutes in the backhoe seemed like 30,” commented Schiedeck. “I’m humbled and blessed to be able to win this in front of my family.”
Later that week on Thursday, Matt Ferris with Kinkaid Civil Construction from Arizona, representing dealer Empire Cat, completed the same three Challenge events in a short overall time of 32:15, emerging as the Western Region semifinal champion for North America. “Well, I think every little boy always dreamed of digging trenches and digging holes. So, I grew up doing that,” explained Ferris. “I feel very proud and exited and happy to move on to the next competition and see how we do there.”
A Look at the Events
Held on Caterpillar grounds at the Edward J. Rapp Customer & Training Center in Clayton, GOC officials divided the 35 best operators from the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada into eastern and western regions for the semifinal competitions. All competitors completed the same three Challenge events using Cat equipment and technology. “Our Challenge team went to great lengths to ensure a level playing field for all participants, so no one had an advantage,” said Matt Smith, global marketing manager for Caterpillar. “They even tarped the large excavator challenge area so the rain we had the night before the eastern semifinals to ensure that didn’t affect any section of that Challenge event.”
Trench Run saw all operators use a Cat 315 Excavator with Cat Grade with 2D technology to dig a 20-ft trench. Depth transitioned from two-feet- to one-foot-deep midway through the trench, and there were marked areas with pipes the operators had to avoid or face stiff time penalties. “I like the excavator,” commented Ryan Totton with Gulf Operators in New Brunswick, Canada, representing Toromont Cat. “You can do almost anything with it.”
The Locked & Loaded challenge had operators maneuvering a Cat 950 Wheel Loader through an obstacle course where any slight deviation from the path resulted in the machine knocking balls off cones for costly time penalties. Participants first had to load a targeted 7.5 to 8 tons of material in the bin, requiring two trips through the course. “The final load had to be tipped off to meet target, and the 950 was equipped with Cat Advanced Payload with Tip-Off Assist technology to aid in hitting the target,” explained Jason Hurdis, Global Operator Challenge lead for Caterpillar.
The operator then exchanged the bucket attachment used for loading material for a forklift attachment to pick up a sports utility vehicle. The load was then maneuvered through different cones and loaded onto a trailer before being picked up again and returned to its original position, and the operator again switched attachments to complete the challenge.
Featuring the Cat 420 XE Backhoe Loader, the Backhoe Bonanza station tested operators’ machine mastery with multiple challenges. They first picked up an I-beam with the loader bucket, place it on a rack and then return it before maneuvering across a trench where they could not touch bungy cords without facing a penalty. Operators also maneuvered through cones with tennis balls, placed a square beam in a cylinder with the backhoe bucket and finally scooped up balls from pylons and deposited them inside an oil drum.
“When we set up the course and went through it with our own operators, we knew it was going to be tough, so we raise the time limit from 15 to 20 minutes due to the difficulty,” mentioned Dustin Adams, marketing manager for small dozers and mini hydraulic excavators for Caterpillar. “Most completed the course in under 10 minutes and some under seven. That’s a testament to the quality of the competition.”
The regional GOC semifinals are a culmination of months of competitions held worldwide at the dealer level. “We experienced amazing participation in this year’s Challenge,” said Jessica Nunley, global marketing manager for Caterpillar. “From more than 10,000 registrants, 3,500 machine operators competed in the first round at the dealer level, and only 84 of the best operators in the world made it to the regional semifinals.”
Commenting about the challenge, Tony Pennington with Carolina Cat said: “The challenge sends a message to the contractor that they are appreciated. We had a higher number of operators participate during our two-day event this time.” Two-time Carolina Cat winner, Alfonso Fajardo with Spartan Site Services in North Carolina, added, “More people are hearing about the Challenge, and there are more competitors this time, so the competition is really tough. The skills of the operators are at a higher level.”
In addition to the overall winners advancing to the finals, the following participants were recognized by Caterpillar with awards.
- Second place – Ryan Totton, Gulf Operators, representing Toromont Cat
- Third place – Robert Donnellan, CAC Industries Inc., representing HO Penn
- Trench Run winner – John Schiedeck, Schiedeck Construction, representing Holt Cat
- Locked and Loaded winner – Tom Gardocki (Dirt Ninja), New Era Excavation LLC, representing Milton Cat
- Backhoe Bonanza winner – John Schiedeck, Schiedeck Construction, representing Holt Cat
- Second place – Steve Newman, Newman Equipment Rentals, representing Quinn Company
- Third place – David Gruhot, D&G Excavating, representing Ziegler Cat
- Trench Run winner – Ben Dunbar, Windley Contracting LTD., representing Finning Canada
- Locked and Loaded winner – Daniel Ludtke, Elite Dirtwerz, representing Holt of California
- Backhoe Bonanza winner – Steve Newman, Newman Equipment Rentals, representing Quinn Company