Varnado making big rig history

Published 10:09 pm Friday, May 4, 2007

Capability can be found in places some people would not think or want to look, but the City of Picayune has found an operator who breaks common stereotypes.

While she has only been working with the city for seven months, Nikki Varnado has excelled in the city’s cross training program by learning how to operate heavy machinery. This is part of a city wide effort to have more city employees trained in areas they previously had no experience in. With those extra trained employees the city will be more prepared for emergency situations.

Varnado began her heavy machinery operations cross training about four months ago. During that time she has learned how to operate almost all of the large equipment the city owns, except for the backhoe.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“You need to let them get on the machine in order for them to learn,” said superintendent of streets and drainage maintenance Tommy Hart.

Currently she has experience with the skid steer, mini trackhoe and the 210 trackhoe, Hart said. Varnado also drives the various large trucks and trailers the city owns, he said. The one she did train on yet, the backhoe, is next on her list, she said.

Previous experience in operating heavy equipment from the 2000 Georgia ice storm clean up got her interested in operating the machinery on a regular basis, she said.

While none of the equipment she currently operates requires her to have a CDL license she said she has considered getting it so she can drive larger trucks.

The cross training program began when Public Works Director Chad Frierson, City Manager Ed Pinero and Hart joined city employment, Hart said.

“She is one of the first who stepped right in and picked up on operating the machinery,” Hart said. “So far it been going real well. She’s a quick learner and she’s not afraid of the equipment.”

At the same time Hart said Varnado still has respect for the power of the machines.

Hart said Varnado is the first female city employee in Picayune to learn how to operate heavy machinery. To her, operating the machinery is fun and now that she can do it on a regular basis only adds to her enjoyment.

“I’m thankful the city gave me the opportunity. Most people would not give a female a chance,” Varnado said.

The small framed young woman said joking comments made by her co-workers only spurred her on in her training.

“When they say, ‘I don’t think you can’, then I really want to,” Varnado said.

Thursday as she operated the mini trackhoe to help install an updated drainage system to Telly Road she operated the mini trackhoe as though it was second nature to her. The new drainage system will still drain water from the road but will operate underground, providing a shoulder on the highly traveled narrow road to keep vehicles from running off in the ditch, Hart said.

Cross training has been going on in more than one department in case there is an emergency situation to ensure various city departments can share personnel. Part of that cross training has people in the beautification department learning how to operate trash trucks.

“We’re just trying to bring everything together and make them work as a whole for the betterment of the city,” Hart said.