Nerves of ice and snow County snowplow driver to compete in national event at Lambeau Field
Each year, approximately 60 municipal and county employees from various street and highway departments across Minnesota take part in the Minnesota Fall Maintenance Expo's "Snowplow Rodeo."
Last September, Becker County Highway Department employee Gary Kertscher was among them -- in fact, he took first place.
"It was only the third time in my career that I'd done it," Kertscher said, adding, "I had a good run."
So was he nervous? Not really, said Kertscher.
"I went through it (the obstacle course) so fast," he said. "When I looked in the mirror and saw I'd made it through the last obstacle, I figured I must have done pretty good."
Kertscher's boss, County Maintenance Superintendent Rick Hoium, said drivers are scored on both their speed in getting through the course and the number of obstacles they hit in getting there.
"We encourage all of our drivers to participate in the competition," Hoium said, adding that his predecessor, John Okeson (who retired last year in order to launch a successful campaign for county commissioner), was even on the committee for planning the annual event.
The driver who makes it through the fastest, while hitting the fewest obstacles, is the winner, Hoium noted -- though the other top 10 drivers in the state are honored at the Expo banquet as well.
The victory earned Kertscher a slot on Minnesota's team in the national competition, which will be held at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., on Wednesday, Sept. 28.
"He's going to be representing the state of Minnesota," Hoium said. "That's a lot of pressure to be under."
"It's just a friendly feud between the Minnesota and Wisconsin drivers," Kertscher said, downplaying the importance of the event.
The state competition was centered on an obstacle course that tested drivers' skills in eight areas of proficiency including plowing, winging, backing and turning.
The national event, however, will also include a written test, Hoium noted.
As a "perk" of participating in the national event, Kertscher's expenses will be paid for by the Minnesota Fall Maintenance Expo's organizing committee, which provides a stipend to cover all of his lodging costs as well as $200 toward his gas and meal expenses.
Though he puts in a lot of hours behind the snowplow, Kertscher's job with the highway department includes a wide variety of other tasks, according to Hoium.
A 10-year employee of the highway department, Kertscher's job description includes "crack sealing, seal coating, patching of bituminous (paved) roads, resurfacing gravel roads, culvert repairs" and a lot more, Hoium added.
"I do anything and everything I'm asked to do," Kertscher said simply.
A lifelong resident of the lakes area, he currently makes his home north of Detroit Lakes. "I grew up on the Ottertail River," Kertscher said. "I graduated from Frazee High School."
Besides working for the highway department, Kertscher's past experience in road construction also includes stints with Hough and Sherbrooke. He also spent 14 years with the Army National Guard.