The final fifteen

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We’re throwing some curveballs at them this year. For instance, those techs competing in Eaton category found themselves facing an air leak problem from a manual transmission; not the electronic model they expected. For the heavy-duty finalists, we gave them a vague vibration and fuel economy issue to solve. It’s much trickier this time around.” –Ken Carter, service manager at Rush Truck Center’s Oklahoma City facility.

So the finalists for Rush Enterprises’ 2009 Technician Skills Rodeo are now vying, as we speak, for the championship of the respective categories they are competing within – to be named “Best All-Around" technician in either the heavy- or medium-duty classification.

The company decided to break up its competing technicians into heavy- and medium-duty groups because not only because the trucks and components within those classes very different, but also because those technicians needs to be recognized for the special skill sets they bring to the table.

[Mike Besson, VP-service operations for Rush Truck Centers and one of the main organizers of this yearly event, explains that reasoning a little further in the clip below.]

The first phase of this competition began back in November, when 350 of Rush’s technicians took 650 written examinations to compete within one of three heavy-duty divisions (Cummins engines, Caterpillar engines, and Eaton transmissions) and one medium-duty division. The top 15 technicians with the highest exam score from each division then got to come to San Antonio, TX (home base for Rush Enterprises, which got its start here in 1965) and compete in the two-day Rodeo event.

Another difference is that while the heavy-duty technicians faced just one 45 minute problem-solving test, the medium-duty techs faced TWO of them, each 45 minutes long; one on a GMC TopKick 5500 series truck, the other on a Hino 258 ALP model. And none of these tests – heavy- or medium –duty – proved a cinch to pass.

[Several of the “judges” gave me a little insight into how these tests work, as you can see below.]

At the end of the first day, 15 out of 60 technicians moved on to the final round – nine from all the heavy-duty categories and six from the medium-duty division. The problems were perplexing enough that neither of the Rodeo’s previous champions – Jason Swann and Dustin Ebert – made it to the finals this year.

Yet even the veterans of this competitions – such as Randy Hughes from Rush’s Texarkana location, with 38 years of experience under his belt and a “money finisher” the last three years – found the problem posed in the final round to be daunting, to say the least; largely because it was so vague in nature.

[You can see below what the heavy-duty techs were facing during this morning’s initial round; a complaint about an uncomfortable vibration that disappears when the truck reaches higher speeds, along with a loss of fuel economy. Not a lot to go on, to say the least.]

Regardless of the difficulties, we know someone’s going to end up a winner, one each for the heavy- and medium-duty groups. We’ll have to wait for tomorrow, though, to discover how it all turns out.

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