On a cold, drizzly day in March, 25 equipment operators from Iowa, Illinois and Missouri converged on Edwards, Illinois to compete in the first Caterpillar Global Operator Challenge dealer event, organized by Altorfer Cat of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The day-long event challenged the skills of all operators with various trials using the latest Cat excavators, loaders, dozers and backhoe loaders.
“It was definitely challenging,” said Brandon Chandler of Chandler Concrete & Excavating in Foosland, Illinois. “We had a lot of good operators here.”
Beyond the challenge, Caterpillar’s second Global Operator Challenge seeks to bring awareness to opportunities available for people interested in the industry.
“We are highlighting the skilled trades industry and giving operators an avenue to showcase their skills and talents,” explained Jason Hurdis, global market professional for Caterpillar.
Referencing the competition, he added, “Caterpillar isn’t looking for the best wheel loader or backhoe loader operator. We are looking for the best overall operator, one who can get in any machine and apply their basic skills and talents to perform on any machine platform for any given task.”
The Altorfer Cat challenge, held inside Caterpillar’s Edwards facility, was designed to do just that. A total of four different timed challenges were established using six separate pieces of Cat equipment.
“We included the Cat 317 excavator and 982 XE loader, both equipped with Cat Payload as well as a Next Gen D5 dozer with Cat grade control,” said Trevor Shanahan, general sales manager south for Altorfer Cat.
Operators quickly maneuvered through various obstacles with total combined time, including penalties, being the determining factor.
After the dust settled and final times were calculated, Kent Richmond, project manager for Klocke Inc. out of Palmyra, Missouri, was crowned the Altorfer Cat dealer champion with an overall time of 2,115 seconds.
“This was a fun experience. The course was set up well and tested the abilities, skill levels, and coordination of the operator; an all-around good course,” offered Richmond.
Richmond, along with 34 other dealer champions selected from March to September, will travel to North Carolina for the North American regional semifinals in October.
Close behind Richmond, and taking second place, was Chris Dykes, superintendent for McCleary Excavating Co. Inc. of Blue Grass, Iowa, with a time of 2,294 seconds.
Chandler Concrete & Excavating’s Brandon Chandler placed third with a time of 2,470 seconds.
Altorfer Challenge stations
To make the 2022-2023 Global Operator Challenge more competitive and robust, Caterpillar set a minimum threshold for dealer competitions of at least three different challenges and three separate pieces of equipment. Altorfer Cat one-upped these standards, opting for four challenges, some including multiple pieces of equipment within a challenge.
“It’s tougher than the last challenge,” commented Dykes.
All participants took turns at each station. At Station 1, “DOZE IT FIT,” operators used a Cat D5 dozer and Cat Grade with Slope Assist to push a barrel around the course with penalties for going out of bounds and crushing the barrel. Participants also created a 20 percent slope with penalty for not making grade.
“I didn’t use the technology,” said Mark Weber, Weber Construction, Cascade, Iowa. “I should have used it. I would have scored better.”
Station 2, “FORK + LOADER,” first had operators load a Cat 735 truck with 30 tons of material using the 982 XE loader with Cat Payload technology with penalties for not hitting the mark. Bucket capacity meant the third load needed to be tipped off to hit 30 tons, and those using the loader’s Tip-off Assist technology held an advantage. Operators then moved to a Cat 299D3 compact track loader to assemble a metal tree and load tires on the limbs.
Station 3, “HARD AS HEX,” charged competitors to first pick up a metal bar with a Cat 308 CR mini hydraulic excavator and maneuver it through a series of obstacles. Afterward, competitors moved to a Cat 317 excavator to load 7 tons of material in a Cat 740 EJ truck using Cat Payload with penalties applied for spilling outside the rock box and not hitting the 7-ton target.
“Depth perception going up through the (simulated) telephone poles was challenging,” said Chandler.
Station 4, “BACKHOE,” consisted of a Cat 420 XE backhoe loader putting tires on metal tree limbs, placing large boulders on tires and maneuvering a metal bar to run through obstacles. The final task was to cross a trench without hitting a cord running through the trench.
While challenging, the course’s design didn’t include tasks that the operator wouldn’t typically encounter in the field.
“The Challenge gives us a great opportunity to showcase new Cat equipment and get our customers in one place,” said Shanahan. “We worked with the (Caterpillar) team at Edwards on the design, and they do such a fantastic job.”
The operators’ main take-away at the end of the day was a good time had by all. “It’s just fun,” said Jay Proffitt, Jay Proffitt Construction Inc. of Solon, Iowa.
“Altorfer and Caterpillar are so above board on letting you feel like you are the most important person.”
In their own words
More than two dozen machine operators competed in the Altorfer Cat local Global Operator Challenge dealer event. Here are some of the reactions from the day.
“They (our customers) were a little taken aback at the quality of the set-up. We tried to give them a heads-up, but they weren’t quite ready for how awesome this event turned out to be. They were excited,” said Trevor Shanahan of Altorfer Cat.
“I didn’t come here today thinking about being number one, so I’m excited about it. At regionals, it will be the best of the best throughout North America. It will be good, but it will be rough,” explained Kent Richmond of Klocke Inc.
“Each and every machine is a new experience, even though I have similar types and sizes of machines. It’s a challenge,” said Jay Proffitt of Jay Proffitt Construction Inc.
Andy Joos of N.E. Finch Company reflected: “The equipment is brand new and fast, really fast for sure. Definitely challenging. Everything was spot-on, and the guys setting us up were top-notch. They don’t give us any slack.”
Commenting on the most challenging part of the day, Chris Dykes of McCleary Excavating Co. Inc. mentioned: “The ‘wheel-less’ … loader. There’s no steering wheel in it. Imagine driving a car without a steering wheel. It’s different. It’s a smooth machine, but it’s not normal.”
Finally, Mark Weber of Weber Construction said: “It’s awesome. It’s great to come out and run the equipment. Good or bad, it’s just a great thing. It was a tough course. I was here three years ago, and this is tough.”