These women ‘dig’ heavy equipment
June 6, 2007
A track hoe rumbles on its tank-like base, digging up the earth like a voracious monster. The huge machine is masterfully manipulated by its driver as it excavates with precision.
At the end of the day, the growl of its engine dies, the cab’s door opens revealing long, blond braids that fall out of a straw cowboy hat. Traci Miles climbs down from the cab, smiling with satisfaction of another hard day of work completed.
"I like being outside, I can’t imagine being inside an office," Miles said.
After nine years of operating the track hoe for Byer Excavating, Miles has gained respect from her mostly male co-workers. But it wasn’t always that way.
In the beginning of her career, "they had a hesitance about me being put on their job and were unsure I knew what I was doing," Miles said, about their reactions to a woman operating heavy equipment.
"They shouldn’t have doubts," Miles said. "If they have doubts about a woman operator, they should have doubts about a man operator."
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David Cummings, the owner of DC Transport and Excavating, said he’s starting to see more women operating equipment and has hired several.
"We are seeing quite a few women in equipment," Cummings said. "There’s more than there used to be."
Cummings said because of the pay scale for operators, women, as well as anyone else, strive to drive the big machines. For Cummings, gender doesn’t matter as long as they can do the work.
"We hire people that can do the skill," Cummings said. "You get a few comments made (about them being women), but then after you see them work, they say, ‘Hey they’re pretty good.’ As long as they can do their duties, we don’t have a problem, as long as they have the skills."
Tracy Vincent is a long-time operator for DC Transport and Excavating.
"I can run any piece of equipment out there front-end loaders, graders, scrapers," Vincent said.
Now she works as a foreman over the finish crew.
"It’s huge," Vincent said about becoming a foreman. "I’m probably the only (woman foreman) that I know of, I’m not aware of any others."
Vincent started her career when she was 18 and got lots of flack from other male workers.
"My first boss told me, ‘I don’t think a woman should be allowed on a scraper, let alone one with two engines.’"
While more people are accepting of women now, she admits there are still some that discriminate.
"You definitely have to prove yourself as a woman," Vincent said. "I don’t think that they want you to succeed, because it’s their world. I think, the old school thought is that some women should be home cooking for the kids. I don’t think they know any better. They don’t think we have enough common sense because some of these pieces of equipment are tricky to handle."
Vincent said there are some women in the industry that give them all a bad name, which frustrates women like Vincent who have worked hard to build a reputation.
"There’s some that are awesome, but some make all of us look bad," she said.
"It depends, there’s always the good with the bad, there’s some here just looking for a husband, but there are others that are good, if not better than the men."
Taryn Fickas has operated various machines for Byer Excavating and currently drives a dump truck. She said people are shocked when they see her at the controls.
"They say, ‘that’s a girl!’ They do a double take for sure," Fickas said. "But, you got to work in a man’s field to make the money."
Fickas has also heard plenty of sexist comments during her career.
"This one man, while I was working on Highway 40, told me I should be home barefoot and pregnant," Fickas said. "I said, ‘not if I can do this job.’ There’s a lot of male chauvinists but most of the co-workers like the girls. You get the dirty looks. I get them every day just because I’m a woman."
Fickas said many of the women are more reliable than the men.
"I show up every day, I’m never late, we like our jobs. Personally I don’t care what people think of me. We are all here for the same reason," Fickas said.
For Miles, Fickas and Vincent, the doubters help motivate them.
"It made me work harder at being better at it than anyone else," Miles said. "It was basically: show them and prove them wrong."
The women hope others won’t be intimidated by the male-dominated industry. Most companies will hire women as long as they are qualified.
"It can be pretty intimidating, especially when you first start. Lots of people don’t know, you," Miles said. "Most the time, it’s a pretty good response. Sometimes you run into these people that are male chauvinistic, but for the most part it’s fine. It takes a lot of hard work and liking what you do. If you like what you do, you can pretty much do anything."
"Don’t let them discourage you," Vincent added, "We can do a job just as good as they can. If you want it bad enough, get it."
Many of the women in the industry, discovered a passion for operating heavy equipment and being involved in the construction process. For them operatinf heavy equipment is an art.
"That is my passion," Miles said. "I’m fascinated with the whole idea. Especially out of doing rock walls and driving by and see what you have been doing, and seeing what it looks like. Never give up and follow your heart and do what makes you happy. I’ll be doing this the rest of my life."