In Chile, they may be celebrating Saint Teresa de los Andes for her short and holy life, and of course fishermen across the world are surely tossing out a lure in honor of Saint Zeno who is their patron saint, but here at Leigh Fibers in Spartanburg South Carolina, we are attending the triennial Forklift Rodeo.
The Forklift Rodeo is the brainchild of Lamar Nelson, the Shipping Manager here at Leigh. Lamar is a man of myriad interests and skills. He is part Cherokee and has built a sweat lodge in his Spartanburg backyard. His collection of arrowheads is a valued resource source for historians of South Carolina.Just for starters.
As we watch the men and women of Leigh Fibers drive their forklifts though a slalom course of traffic cones topped with tennis balls, lift bales without disrupting the bucket of water on top and perform other feats of speed and dexterity, Lamar tells me how they have identified the largest Holly Tree in South Carolina (or is Spartanburg County?) in the nature trail in the woods across from Leigh’s plant, where he has also identified at least sixty native plants (so far) including two varieties of orchid.
Lamar believes that maintaining one’s forklift skills should be entertaining, both to the driver and the spectator.
Several years ago he came up with the plan for a Forklift Rodeo at Leigh, and researched similar events on the web. He had to modify the course for the squeeze clamp forklifts used here to pick up the 600 lb bales of recycled fiber materials.
The result is a day of thrills, camaraderie, and great prizes.
It’s a deceptively hard course. Unlike the robots used to perform brain surgery, the forklift is not an overly sensitive machine. Or it is far too sensitive. Choose your excuse.
The task at Station #1 is to lift up 2 bales with a bucket of water on top, and get those bales to the dock and then back to their original spot, exactly, without losing more than an inch of water from the bucket. Each lost inch adds 30 seconds to your time.
At Station #3 you must grab and clamp a bale with a barrel on top and a soccer ball on top of the barrel, and get this wedding cake from x to y without losing the ball. We watch with baited breath as the ball careens from side to side across the top of the barrel, dangerously close to bouncing over the rim and off into the penalty zone (10 seconds).
At Station #10, the task is to clamp a bale wearing twin clown hats: two traffic cones with tennis balls perched atop each one, then take this package through a tight squeeze of bales with water filled balloons on top and on to the finish line. Without breaking a water balloon or losing a tennis ball.
There are penalties for lost water, a dropped balloon, for knocking off the soccer ball or tennis balls, and for dropping the bale outside of the drop zone.
As of this afternoon Brian Hunter broke the six-minute barrier and vaulted to first place with 5:15; Otto Johnson is in second with 5:59. Cathy Alexander (with the grey mullet, seen above.) made good time but lost a lot on penalties.
Your faithful blogger, having been granted a temporary and very provisional forklift Learner’s Permit*, did the course in 28 minutes and 1 second, with excellent coaching and no water buckets.
Lest you think it is all fun out there on the forklift course, be assured it is not. There are also tee shirts with a Western motif, designed by Parris Chernez-Hicks, and food. In particular, three homemade sheet cakes. Managing Director Heidi emerged briefly from the conference room to oversee the activities, and insisted upon digging into the chocolate cake. Being a world-renowned connoisseur of chocolate, she deemed it excellent. But Dee Dees, who actually baked the cakes, was distressed that we did not also try the strawberry cake and the Heath Bar Crunch cake, her favorites. We did. And they were good.
Tomorrow promises to be equally exciting, with several top contenders slated to perform the course, including several of last year’s top five, as well as ringers, Parris and Jennifer Lackey.
*If you are with the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, I am only kidding.