Commentary: May-June-2011

Playing in the Dirt
Bill Tice
June 13, 2011
Since taking over the editor’s desk at Aggregates & Roadbuilding magazine about nine months ago, I have had a whirlwind tour of the businesses we cover. I have been to three major equipment shows where I talked to numerous manufacturers of equipment and technology, operated all kinds of equipment in the field from excavators to articulated rock trucks, and most importantly, interviewed and talked with the people who are on the front lines – the equipment operators, project planners and production supervisors.

Spending time at trade shows is a great way to get a pulse on the aggregates and roadbuilding businesses. As soon as you walk into the building and start talking to attendees and the sales- people who man the booths, you generally get a sense of the mood and the climate for sales and business growth. And, I have to say, the shows I have attended lately have been positive for all. Here in Canada, the National Heavy Equipment Show in Toronto in March of this year was a sellout that attracted over 11,000 people who came to kick tires and buy new gear. And then in early June at the Pacific Coast Equipment Show in British Columbia, many climbed into the cabs of demo units to dig and move earth and rocks at the “demo zone.”

But the big test was Las Vegas and ConExpo 2011. This was the show everyone was anticipating. A positive outcome might have been just enough to signify that the economy, and the aggregates and roadbuilding businesses, were on the mend. And those who came weren’t disappointed. When the numbers were tallied up, almost 120,000 attendees had come through the doors of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and more than 2,400 exhibitors had brought their wares to the show. Many sales and marketing people reported that ConExpo was their best show in years.

Seeing equipment at trade shows is one thing, but seeing it from the operator’s seat in a pit or work area is another. As an editor, getting put in the “hot seat” of equipment is a fun part of the job. For me, it’s also a chance to play in the dirt and is a real grounding event. It gives me an understanding of what operators face day-in and day-out, and reminds me of how difficult their jobs are. When you watch from the sidelines, running equipment looks easy. It’s not. That trench an experienced operator will dig in five minutes could take me five hours. And then, there are equipment rodeos. Last time I tried to pick up a basketball and drop it through a hoop using the bucket on a backhoe, I had to try five times. For the experienced operator – it would be five seconds.

Going to trade shows and playing with gear can be fun, but the best part of this job has to be working with the people who make this industry what it is. They are the ones who have stories to tell, techniques to share and challenges to conquer. These same people have made my job a lot easier by patiently explaining to me how they do things and why. For that, I have to say thanks. I know people in our businesses are busy, but many have taken the time to work with me in bringing our readers project profiles, feature stories, news items and more. As we go forward, I invite our readers to drop us an e-mail and let us know about story ideas. We are keen to hear what you have to say.

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