Alberta’s Jaus Neigum wins Cat’s Western Regional Operator Challenge

Jaus Neigum will represent Canada at the final round of Caterpillar’s Global Operator Challenge.

On October 22, Neigum competed against 13 other operators from across western North America at Caterpillar’s facility in Clayton, North Carolina. Neigum, a partner at Industrial Backhoes from Medicine Hat, Alberta, emerged the victor after posting the best cumulative time in five challenges that tested the operators’ skills with an excavator, dozer, wheel loader and mini excavator.

“I wasn’t sure if they were going to let a Canadian win,” Neigum said with a laugh. “It’s great I can represent Western Canada. It’s exciting.”

Neigum secured his victory following the dozer challenge, where he placed first, nearly one minute and 40 seconds ahead of the second-place operator. He noted the Caterpillar rule of maintaining three points of contact on the machine while entering the cab helped him keep his composure during the challenges.

“You focus on the safety factor and it takes your mind off the challenge for a minute,” Neigum said. “I just closed my eyes and visualized winning.”

Cat’s Global Operator Challenge

Caterpillar announced its first Global Operator Challenge at bauma earlier this year. Since then, operators from around the world have competed at competitions held at the dealer level, with the winners heading to the semi-finals for their region. The finals will see nine operators from three regions compete at Con-Expo in Las Vegas on March 10.

“The pride and professionalism they all bring to this organization and the industry makes me proud to serve the industry,” said Tony Fassino, vice president of Cat’s Building Construction Products division. “I’ve talk to some of these folks and you’d be amazed at some of the lengths they’re going to, to be able to attend. This is really important to them and they’re really putting their heart and soul into this.”

Leading up the Operator Challenge, Neigum said he didn’t focus on practicing for the events.

“I kind of train every day at work. But I wish I would have spent a little more time on it.  Maybe I could have cleaned up some of my events a bit better,” he said.

After securing a ticket to Vegas, Neigum said he now plans on training for the final round of the Operator Challenge.

“I think I have to up my game a little bit. If there’s something new out for Cat dozers, chances are it’s going to be there. I’m going to take the time to figure that out,” he said.

A history of competition

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.

“By the time I was eight years old I was running excavators and backhoes,” Neigum said. “As soon as my feet could touch the pedals I was able to operate it.”

Throughout the company’s history, its 30-member team has entered into operator challenges whenever the opportunity arises. In 1992, his uncle won a North American championship, while his father and cousin have both qualified for finals in the past.

“We’ve always tried to get to operator challenges. It’s kind of a passion of ours. It’s definitely in the blood,” Neigum said. “We really love going to compete. It’s pretty sweet that Cat put one on for the first time.”

Team Canada

During the semi-finals, Neigum was joined by Edmonton’s Cody Wilson, from Rulam Group and Larry Mason, from Conwest Contracting in Mission, British Columbia, to compete as an informal Team Canada.

“They basically had the Canadian entourage going. We were just rooting for each other and that helped,” Neigum said.

Wilson said he decided to enter the challenge because he’s a competitive person, and likes to show off his skill set.

“If there’s a job we can’t do, we’ll bid on it and send me to do it. I’m crazy enough to find a way,” Wilson said. “I can run everything. I’ve been around this stuff all my life.”

Although time penalties took Wilson out of contention for the finals, he said he proved he is one of the best operator in Western Canada.

“There’s a reason I am who I am and I do what I do. I love what I do,” Wilson said. “I get up in the morning and think ‘I get to go do that. Or that’s going to be a challenge and its’ going to be a fun day today’.”

Cat’s D6 XE dozer.

Mason, on the other hand, didn’t know he was competing until the day of the dealer operator challenge. The equipment manager at Conwest Contracting decided to enroll Mason, an excavator operator, in the contest.

“He said ‘you’ve got to try this out, I know you’re going to win it.’ And here I am,” Mason said.  “As soon as I won that competition, everybody was patting me on the back. The respect level shot up a bit. I had a lot of fun.”

The contest was also Mason’s first opportunity to operate Cat’s D6 XE dozer.

“I think if I had a few days to play with it, I would have done quite a bit better,” Mason said. “I’m sure some of the other competitors are in the same boat. We’re probably all on even ground that way. There’s no excuses here. You just come out and do your best.”

Although Mason won’t advance beyond the western regional semi-finals, he left the competition with his head held high.

“It feels good. It completes my career and I know I’ve made the right choice in my life,” Mason said.

Eastern regional semi-finals

On Oct. 23, Caterpillar held its Eastern Regional operator challenge semi-finals for North America at the Clayton facility.

Ben Sandy, from Sandy’s Hauling and Backhoe Service in North Carolina, won the contest and will join Neigum in representing North America at Con-Expo.

Of the 17 competitors from the east, three Canadian operators made it to the semifinal round, including Fred Norman, from Dexter Construction (5th place)

Pierre-Olivier Savoie from Quebec Iron Ore (9th place) and Abram Dyck, from Diamond Construction (11th place).

Operator Stadium

For the operator challenge finals in Las Vegas, Caterpillar is building what it calls “Operator Stadium.” However, the company is keeping exactly what the stadium entails a secret until the event. Regardless of the setup, the crew at Industrial Backhoes are eager to see Neigum compete on the world stage.

“I think the boys at work are going to be pretty excited,” Neigum said. “I think we’ll all be going down to Con-Expo.”