A lone woman took on a pack of men at the annual forklift rodeo held in the Gaston College parking lot in Lincolnton on Thursday. Area manufacturing companies sent their most experienced forklift operators to compete in the annual Lincoln County Industrial Managers Association Forklift Rodeo.  The drivers had to go through a timed, challenging obstacle course.

“It’s based on speed but it’s also on safety,” John Dancoff, LEDA’s existing business manager said. “As they run around the course, they get penalty points, seconds added to their times, if they knock off a tennis ball or basketball or if they don’t get the bucket in the circle. They may run around the course in two seconds, but they’ll get seconds added on to their time as penalty points.”

An employee of Blum Inc., Alexa McClenon, has been driving a forklift since she got out of high school and started working in manufacturing. She was trained on a forklift at Active Concepts where she worked for four or five years before coming to Blum. While at Active Concepts, she was the first and only female driver they trained.

“You need to pay attention on the course,” she said. “A lot of people when they come to this, think they need to beat the other driver, but that’s not what it’s about. They shouldn’t pay attention to the other driver or on anything else other than what they’re doing.”

The course is not really an example of what a forklift driver would do on a daily basis, McClenon said. They surely don’t carry basketballs on top of trash cans or weave around traffic cones with tennis balls on top, but a forklift driver has to be very skilled.

“If you’re not cautious or paying attention, someone could get hurt” she said. 

Safety is an extremely important aspect of a forklift driver’s job. The forklift is a large, heavy piece of machinery and can do a lot of damage to property not to mention a person.

McClenon made it through the first round with a time of 3:44:21 and then was eliminated in the second round with a time of 3:07:71.

The first obstacle of the course was a stack of pallets with a metal trash can on top of the pallets with a basketball on top of the trash can. The driver had to lift the top pallet off the pile, carry it to a location surrounded by plastic traffic cones with tennis balls on top of each cone and drop it off. This had to be done without dropping off either the trash can or the basketball or knocking tennis balls off the traffic cones. From there, the driver drove to a metal rack and had to move one stack of goods from the second shelf to the bottom and another from the bottom to the second shelf.

A bucket of water was set in the parking lot on a circle. The driver had to lift the bucket with the tines of the forklift and carry it through a narrow, L-shaped alley made by plastic traffic cones with tennis balls on top and then return the bucket to the same circle. From there, the driver picked up the pallet with the trash can and basketball and had to weave through plastic traffic cones with tennis balls on top to another location to leave the pallet.

Adding to the difficulty is that the forklifts that are used in the rodeo may not be the same type of forklift that the drivers are used to driving. The drivers get 15 seconds added to their time for every tennis ball they knock off, 30 seconds for the basketball and one minute for dropping the water bucket.

Lincoln County manufacturing companies who participated included Cargo Integrated Logistics, KELTEC, American Woodmark, Tenowo, Timken, Blum, Cataler, Bosch, Husky Rack and Wire, Steele Rubber Products, Hydac, Active Concepts.

The first-place winner was Shawn Mairet who works at Hydac with a time of 2:38.31, second was Orlando Sarmiento of Active Concepts with a time of 2:41:28 and third place went to Ramsey Magness from Tenowo with a time of 3:03:50.

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