Cat crowns Canadian as world’s best operator

heavy equipment operator
By Bill Tremblay

The best in the west is now the best in the world. Jaus Neigum from Medicine Hat, Alberta has won Caterpillar’s Global Operator Challenge.

The final leg of the competition was held at Caterpillar’s Operator Stadium on Tuesday, March 10 during ConExpo in Las Vegas.

Neigum beat eight other operators from around the world to earn the title of champion.

Thomas Murphy from Ireland placed second, while Sebastian Behr from Germany placed third.

“This went beyond my expectations. It’s been a privilege to be here and compete against the best in the world,” Neigum told Equipment Journal after winning the title.

During the finals, the nine operators’ skills were tested via three final machine challenges: operating a medium hydraulic excavator using GRADE 2D, a medium wheel loader with Production Management and a Next Generation Mini-Excavator.

Not only did Neigum win, he was the first operator to compete in the final leg of the competition. Neigum kicked off the event in the cab of a 962M wheel loader for the Load and Carry challenge. The challenge tested operators’ ability to load 12 tons of material into a truck via an obstacle course.

“There was some pressure there to start the bar high, but I went in there and made a perfectly clean run — no penalties — and hit the tonnage bang on,” Neigum said. “I was happy it started with the loader challenge. I was sure I could execute that well, but I was sure I had a horseshoe.”

When Neigum grabbed the last bucket for the challenge, he forgot to weigh it before heading to the truck.

“I totally forgot to measure, but when I got to the truck, and it showed my weight, I was bang on 12 tons,” he said. “If I would have been out by point one, I would have had a 60 second penalty.”

Neigum is a partner at Industrial Backhoes in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Industrial Backhoes was created more than 45 years ago by Neigum’s uncle. His father is also part of the company, and Neigum, 34, said he’s been in the cab at the family business since he was a child.

Caterpillar launched the Global Operator Challenge at bauma to celebrate the operators who build our world, advocate and drive awareness for the trades, and elevate solutions that address jobsite challenges. Seventy Cat dealers from 30 countries, representing 22 different languages, kicked off the program by holding local operator challenges from March through September 2019.

More than 10,000 operators participated in these local events.

Participants’ operating skills were put to the test through a range of machines and tasks.  Operators were scored on speed, accuracy and operating best practice with penalties imposed for errors.

The operator with the lowest overall time for all tasks was acknowledged as the local champion and moved onto the regional championships.

Neigum advanced to the finals after winning the western North American leg of the competition.

In preparation for the final event, Finning Cat provided Neigum with the opportunity to familiarize himself with the Caterpillar equipment and technology that would be used during the event. The Western Canadian dealership also sent a rep to support their competitor.

“We laughed and joked, and it really set the mood that we are here to have fun,” Neigum said.

Now, with the championship trophy in hand, Neigum also wins a first-class trip to a Caterpillar factory of his choice. He said he plans to select Japan as his destination.

“That’s probably a place I wouldn’t go myself, but with Cat, that would be the way to experience it,” he said.

As for Industrial Backhoes, Neigum said it’s business as usual in Medicine Hat.

“It’s pretty cool we can claim we have the best operator in the world out there,” he said. “Maybe it’s something I can put on my email signature.”