White collar meets blue

Kids grow up playing with Tonka trucks, but as kids get older their trucks get bigger and the toys more expensive.

Kids grow up to run cities, and the Tonka toys of their youth become actual city equipment.

"Everybody likes heavy equipment," Carson City Street Operations Chief Chuck Knowlten said. "Big toys just do so many things."

Several city officials and city supervisors headed out to the city's corporate yard Tuesday to participate in the street department's first heavy equipment rodeo and barbecue.

Supervisor Kay Bennett grabbed gloves and a hard hat and darted from her seat to be the first person in an excavator waiting atop a dirt hill. Supervisors Robin Williamson and Pete Livermore cruised about the corporate yard experimenting with street sweepers, while Mayor Ray Masayko tried everything from snow plows to street graders.

"You really have to have a lot of training to become proficient at this stuff," Livermore said after a turn in one of the $120,000 street sweepers.

Supervisor Jon Plank was leery of the equipment, but tried at least a turn in a street sweeper.

"What I drive is considerably smaller than this stuff," Plank quipped.

City Manager John Berkich came dressed in a suit, but that didn't stop him from speeding about the corporate yard in a front-end loader.

"You can make a lot of difference with that toy," Berkich said of the $157,000 loader.

The street department used the rodeo as an opportunity to introduce the city's decision makers to workers and the equipment.

"I really wanted to show off the crew and what we do here," Street Operations Manager John Flansberg said. "I was listening to country music on the way over here and there's a song that says something like thunder gets the credit but lightning does the work. I get a lot of credit but they (pointing to workers) do the work."

Equipment Operator Robert Amundson said the open house served as an opportunity to show that running a loader is a bit harder than it looks.

"We wanted to show the supervisors what we do," Amundson said. "We're not just riding around in trucks. It takes a lot of skill to do what we do. You can't just walk off the street and do it.

"Digging is more challenging than it looks. Anybody can get in and run the controls but when you're digging around stuff and the grade has to be perfect ... it's a lot harder."

Williamson and Bennett both tried the $190,000 excavator, a backhoe-looking contraption with loader treads. Sitting atop a hill, Williamson smiled as she swung the equipment arm around and scooped up dirt. The machine is the favorite of most street department staff because of its versatility, but Williamson said if she were to work at it full time, she would prefer to run a street sweeper.

"Sweeping and vacuuming - I can relate to that," Williamson said. "This is a new experience for me and it gives me a better knowledge of what these people do."

Knowlten said he was glad city officials took time to come see that the street department was gearing up for winter and of course, to play with the toys. He said the department wants to have an open house for the taxpayers next year to let them examine the equipment and meet the people who take care of their streets.


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