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Washoe heavy equipment training project revived

by Merrie Leininger

When Ranger Ellis and Jess Taylor were hired, the Washoe Tribe’s heavy equipment training program had been out of operation for a year.

But director Ellis revived the program by bringing instructor Taylor down from Alaska, and hiring assistant instructor Wildford McDonald, and getting a two-year, $560,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Vocational Training.

The year-long class gives anyone of American Indian descent a chance to get ahead in the construction and demolition business. And, the 25 students currently learning how to use the equipment are grateful.

Taylor said he has revamped the class to give the students more on-the-job time. They only spent three weeks in the classroom before they started practicing on backhoes.

During the rest of the year, they will learn how to operate escavators, loaders and graders. Taylor said they have also planned instruction on surveying, welding, installing utilities, hazardous materials and other safety issues, and are working with a trucking company to start a four-week truck driving section of the class. By the time the class is over, they will have 1,600 hours practice time on the heavy equipment, which will help them get union jobs.

“It helps them find a job on their own and improve themselves and work in a good trade that is in high demand in Nevada right now. You’ve got to have experience on all aspects of a construction job. You have to be versatile,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he has been working in construction for 24 years.

“It gives them experience. When I started, I had to practice on the equipment after work and on breaks, whenever I could get on it. I started from rock-bottom and worked my way up. This class will give these guys a boost and they won’t have to do all that.”

While the students are in the class, they will get experience laying in utilities, preparing a house construction site, building a three-mile road and doing an erosion control project on the Carson River. Taylor said they also figured the students could be used to benefit the Dresslerville colony.

“We are going to help beautify the parks on the reservation here by clearing weeds, big piles of dirt and picking up litter,” he said.

Ten of the students are from Dresslerville, but many of the others have a long commute every day. Some are from Wadsworth, Carson City, Reno and Nixon, but that doesn’t keep them away. Taylor said he already has 30 students signed up for next year’s class. They spend 40 hours a week in class and get a small stipend at the end of the week, plus free child care by the tribe.

Dino Reos is staying with a friend in Gardnerville while in the class, but is from Santa Rosa, Calif. He said he has already worked in construction, but is looking forward to getting better jobs after completing the course.

“I liked the field of work and it was something I wanted to do. I saw the opportunity, so I jumped on it,” he said.

Randy Sargent of Dresslerville said he appreciated all the hands-on practice.

“I sure have (been learning a lot). We’ve only been on the backhoes for four days and I’m already learning the controls and starting to get the hang of how to dig,” he said.

Leila Skenandore of Woodfords, who had been a firefighter with the Buearu of Indian Affairs, said she heard of the class from her sister and wanted to have a better job to support her five children.

“In order to support them financially, I needed to get into a good career,” she said. “I feel like I’ve already accomplished a lot. Before (I had more practice), I was afraid to move (the backhoe) around,” she said.