Driven to succeed

MARSHALL – If you didn’t know what you were looking at, the setup of orange traffic cones, colored tape and tennis balls on a portion of Fairview Street would be a little confusing. Add several judges and a semi truck and trailer driven by a Reinhart Foodservice employee, and the challenges become clear: Stop exactly on the lines. Back the trailer as close to the loading dock as possible without touching it. Don’t hit the cones or knock over the tennis balls.

The tasks were all part of competition at a “transportation rodeo” Saturday at Reinhart’s warehouse facilities in Marshall. Both truck drivers and warehouse staff took part in events, including driving challenge courses.

“It’s something different,” said truck driver Kevin Schwartz as he waited his turn to compete.

“They’ve never done it at Reinhart’s before,” added driver Scott Evans.

It was the first time the business held a transportation rodeo in Marshall, said Reinhart Division President Terry Gordon.

“We try to have team-building events” like the rodeo, Gordon said. In addition to the rodeo being a fun way to host an employee recognition and family event, it was also a way to promote safe driving skills.

“Safety is of the utmost importance,” Gordon said.

Saturday’s rodeo was an official International Foodservice Distributors Association event, said Reinhart human resources manager Nick Popovich. That means in addition to winning prizes, rodeo winners are eligible to compete at a national event in Florida.

Separate rodeo events were held for Reinhart truck drivers and warehouse employees. While the trucking events were held outside, warehouse employees navigated a driving course designed for forklifts and pallet jacks. The indoor course started out winding around stacks of pallets in the warehouse’s new cooler area, and led all around the recently expanded, 105,000 square-foot facilities.

Judges said the outdoor driving course was also designed to test truck drivers’ precision, requiring them to avoid obstacles and complete certain turns and tasks within a 12-minute period. The finale was a gantlet of traffic cones that had yardsticks and tennis balls balanced on top. Lori Osbourne, one of the event judges, said the alley of cones and sticks would give a semi exactly four inches of clearance – two on either side of the vehicle. Every tennis ball knocked off a cone subtracted points from a driver’s score.

Participants in both the truck and warehouse events also had to complete timed vehicle safety inspections. In the trucking division, driver Bob Pender leaned under the hood of a semi, looking for potential safety issues. There were a total of 10 problems for competitors to find.

“I got all 10. That’s good,” Pender said. “I had one left in the last 30 seconds. Found it, though.” Pender said he wasn’t thinking about the time on the clock, however. When drivers do vehicle inspections as part of their jobs, the important thing is making sure the semis are in safe driving condition, he said.

That idea extended to the whole rodeo, participants said.

“It’s the same kind of stuff that you do already (at work). It’s just that now people are watching us,” Scott Evans said of the rodeo.

Still, there was definitely some pressure on. Drivers did have plenty of support from co-workers and family members, who cheered each time a semi inched through the alley of cones without losing points.