The Colfax County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 to buy a new Caterpillar motor grader for the highway department despite a contention by one member that the expensive machine is more sophisticated than local drivers are trained to operate.

“This (motor grader) is more machine than any operator in Colfax County is capable of operating,” said Commissioner Jeff Bauman, who has run his own earth-moving business for 25 years.

Bauman said the three-member board was prepared to make the purchase, but not with his vote.

“We don’t need this type of equipment if we’re not going to do anything with it,” Bauman told fellow board members Jerry Heard and Gil Wigington. “If we’re going to spend the money, let’s utilize all the functions.”

Heard voted to accept the $223,750 bid from Nashville, Tennessee-based Caterpillar Financial Services Corporation, but agreed with Bauman that local operators could do more with the quality of machines the county has.

“Sometimes we need to shape up our operators ... work on them to do a little more,” said Heard, who spent more than a decade operating heavy machinery for the highway department with some of that time spent behind the wheel of a road grader.

“When I went out and graded roads, I tried to do a good job,” Heard said.

Wigington, who said he has no experience operating a motor grader, suggested the county sponsor some additional grader training classes focusing on expectations for operators, followed by regular evaluations of their job performances.

Colfax County Highway Superintendent Mark Arps agreed.

“We can evaluate performance, and if operators don’t do what we tell them to do, we can send them down the road,” Arps said.

Colfax County has nine road graders and nine operators on staff, with a 10th machine owned as a backup.

The county has approximately 700 miles of gravel roads, with each operator assigned a regular route to maintain by building a road crown and graded slopes that allow water to run off into ditches. Over time, the crown can get beaten down and the slopes level and widen, leaving standing water that can undermine the road.

The highway department has a target of rebuilding 80 to 100 miles of those roads on an annual basis.

Bauman said being a “finish blade operator” is a skill built on patience.

“It’s finesse if you’re really going to do it right,” he said.



Jim Osborn is a news reporter at The Columbus Telegram.

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