Truck rodeo celebrates drivers’ safety

LIHU‘E — The truck rodeo which ended Friday at the Vidinha Stadium parking lot is meant to keep the drivers safe, said Glenn Takenouchi, manager of The Gas Company in Lihu‘e.

But more than that, The Gas Company drivers from Maui, Big Island and O‘ahu joined the two drivers from Kaua‘i in tackling the six-obstacle course as well as battery of interviews, written tests and inspections which started Thursday and wrapped up Friday.

Eddie Macomber of the Big Island, an 18-wheeler trainer since 1971 and a competitive course designer since 1978, headed the design of the obstacle course for the driving test where the non-competing drivers were sequestered away from the course until it was their turn on the run.

Drivers were “tested” on both a straight truck as well as a five-axle vehicle, the latter being a tractor-trailer combo with the goal of parking the vehicle to within six inches of a target area.

“This is a celebration of The Gas Company professional drivers,” said Zoe Williams, the Gas Company’s safety manager who flew in from Honolulu for the truck rodeo. “Our drivers log two million miles a year. That’s a lot of miles on the road delivering, sometimes with 5,000 gallons of propane in a tanker. Once a year, we take time out to honor the work they do and celebrate how very few incidents they get involved in.”

Macomber’s niece, who dropped in on the rodeo, said the truck drivers are the bloodline on the island, delivering a variety of goods from harbor to stores so consumers can expect to find goods when they need it.

Takenouchi said the truck rodeo program has been going on for 10 years, Kaua‘i hosting its own qualifiers for the state. The event this week was the state qualifying event with drivers coming in from the Outer Islands and hosted by The Gas Company.

“There will be two from this field which move to the state competition,” Macomber said. “And if they get past that, they have an opportunity to compete on the Mainland.”

Scores from the interview, written tests, inspections and road test are tallied with a winner emerging in straight truck and the five-axle category.

“Maui sent one driver because they have no five-axle truck,” Williams said. “The Big Island sent two drivers, one from Hilo and one from Kona, and Kaua‘i, which also has no five-axle, has two drivers, one in straight truck and one who has some experience in five-axle and wanted to try that category.”

Verna Naehu, a driver of 11 years, was the sole female driver, the Kapolei resident taking advantage of the trip to bring her entire family to the island.

Williams said The Gas Company drivers are CDL and Hazmat certified because when there are incidents of gas breaks, they become the responders in addition to hauling the 5,000-gallon propane tankers.

Macomber said during the inspections the placard where weight loads are displayed was often where the drivers overlooked the “bug” which had a number inscribed on it, but in reality, there was no load.

“We usually plant 10 bugs and the drivers get a point for each bug they find,” Macomber said. “Even the best drivers end up finding about six of the 10.”

Macomber’s niece, a Kalaheo resident after moving here from the Big Island for a construction stint at the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i Resort and Spa, said these drivers are professional who should be appreciated.

“The roads they have to drive on aren’t the widest and in some cases, aren’t the best, but they make sure the items we need are delivered,” she said. “So, the next time someone gets a truck ahead of them which is not going as fast as they want them to go, just remember, they’re professionals and they’re doing the best they can.”

She also expressed appreciation to The Gas Company which, like other companies struggling in the economy, invest in acknowledging and improving the safety of its drivers.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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