Josh Mertens could be considered a “cave man” by trade. He builds underground wine caves, as a foreman for Steve Moore General Engineering, in Napa, Calif. It's no surprise that he emerged as the winner of the Operators' Precision Challenge, completing all seven challenges in just three minutes. Mertens spends his days maneuvering skidsteers in and out of tight spaces.

In his current job, though, Mertens is simply perfecting a skill he has used his entire life. “A skidsteer was one of the first vehicles I ever drove,” he says. As a child growing up on a dairy farm in Sonoma, he began plowing fields and using compact equipment in the barn when he was nine years old.

“I learned everything I know from these guys,” says Mertens of his colleagues at Steve Moore General Engineering. Left to right: Huck Tomason, Kenny Larue, Josh Mertens, Beau Moore, and Steve Moore.
Jenni Spinner “I learned everything I know from these guys,” says Mertens of his colleagues at Steve Moore General Engineering. Left to right: Huck Tomason, Kenny Larue, Josh Mertens, Beau Moore, and Steve Moore.

His years of experience and familiarity with the equipment may be responsible for Mertens' other winning attribute: speed. “It's something I've caught hell for my whole life,” he says. “People are always telling me to take it easy. But when I got ready to start the competition, Steve [Moore] said, ‘remember that stuff I always say about slowing down? Forget it!' ”

In terms of equipment attachments, Mertens typically uses a bucket, but he also is proficient with pallet forks, a posthole digger, and a mower attachment. He says the Operators' Precision Challenge opened his eyes to new attachments, such as the grabbing tool, which he used to pick up a pole, a stump, and a rock during the event. (See the course diagram)

His favorite part of the contest (aside from winning the $1500 prize) was picking up and placing bowling pins with a skidsteer: “I think that's where I picked up the most time, but it was also the most challenging. I did great putting them on the bull's-eye, but when I put them into the basketball hoop, I flipped one back out when I pulled away.” The mishap didn't delay him too much, though. On the day he competed, Mertens beat the best time by a minute and a half.

Although it was his first time attending the World of Concrete, it was not his first competition. He won fourth place in a similar competition in California several years ago. This may or may not make him a “ringer,” but he definitely has set the bar for future competitors in the Operators' Precision Challenge.

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