Who’s number one? Who’s the best at what they do? That’s a question people have been asking
themselves since the Greeks organized the first Olympic games – and while it wasn’t televised
like the Olympics in Rio, the International Utility Locate Rodeo has been answering that question
for 16 years.
It started in Georgia, with Georgia 811. President and CEO Claudette Campbell had the
idea in 2000 to acknowledge locate technicians and their role in damage prevention. Her staff
teamed up with other industry stakeholders to create an event that would use both time and
physical measurement. Additional assistance came from Mike Parilac, owner of Planet Underground.
The creation of the wheel for competition was put in place then and is still in use today.
The official logo along with the wheel was trademarked and copyrighted, the url locaterodeo.
com was secured – and the International Utility Locate Rodeo was born!
Only 58 competitors and two divisions were present that first year, and each division was
multi-utility. Still, that first rodeo offered $2000 to first place, $1000 to second, and $500 to
third – along with impressive trophies. They proved too large to carry on airplanes, and were
adjusted to more user friendly-sized trophies at future events. In 2016, and again this year, the
event in Texas awarded belt buckles instead of trophies.
Earning those first big trophies was tough! A van shuttled entrants from hotel to event, and
it was 93 degrees in Macon, Georgia that August – and no one had considered drinking water.
Local convenience stores in the area were quickly bought out of their supplies!
The evening activities ended with a banquet, keynote speaker Bob Kipp, who at the time
was president of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), awards presentations and a band – with
a promise to do it all again next August!
August was chosen because, based on the Farmer’s Almanac, that was the time of year
with the least chance of rain. However, as with any event held outdoors, Mother Nature must
always be reckoned with. As Fiona Bowen with Georgia811 recalls, “We were always lucky
because if it rained it often happened at the end of the day after lots of heat and it might rain
around 5 or 8pm, but I think we only ever had rain one of the 15 years we ran it in Georgia.
We did have an almost tornadic event the night before one of rodeos on Emory University’s campus.
Word came from our event site committee and volunteers went down to the campus to find
everything that had been set up had flown across campus, tents were broken and debris was
everywhere. Thankfully the volunteers stayed up all night fixing the campus and most competitors
didn’t have a clue what had happened the night before when they showed up on campus that Saturday
morning on competition day.”
The rodeo grew from six event sites at the first competition to thirteen – three event sites per utility
and a bonus wheel open to all competitors called the Locate from Hell. Adding more to the competition
made it more challenging for competitors.
Like so many large events, planning the next year’s event got underway the day after the current
By 2007, the event was drawing 109 competitors from across the US, Canada and Australia. Organizers
maxed out at 120 competitors in order to ensure everyone got their 15 minutes of competition
time at each event and be finished by 5:00 pm.
In the beginning there were many years they barely finished running the course by five in the
afternoon. As organizers learned the ropes of putting on the event, their organizational skills
grew, and they moved contestants faster and more efficiently. In later years they would often finish
the course by two in the afternoon.
Bowen says that the biggest accomplishments was automating the scoring software and adding some
of the questions to the scoring program. It was an expensive program to create, but well worth the time
and easy to share with the feeder events.
The Locate Rodeo finals moved to Texas under the stewardship of Texas811 in 2016.
The 81 competitors in 2016 were themselves winners of regional contests. They came from 17 different
states and represented over 38 participating companies and stakeholder groups.
The event was held at the University of Texas at Arlington campus and used the assistance of over 120
volunteers – from judges down to the people who drove the golf carts to ferry contestants around the
large campus. As did the competitors, these volunteers came from at least 12 states and represented
over 30 companies and stakeholder groups.
In 2017 the Rodeo finals moved to the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth – where rains up to 4 inches
fell into the morning of the event. The 3.84” total at DFW Airport was a record for the date. Damaged
judging/scoring/staging tents were replaced in a three hour rain delay before the Rodeo began at 11:30.
Four events were dropped to make up lost time and the Rodeo ended around 7:00 pm.
What does 2018 hold for this storied event? Check locaterodeo.com for more information – and until then,
hats off to the volunteers and visionaries behind the scenes who bring us this yearly showcase of the best of
Thanks to Fiona Bowen and Meghan Wade with Georgia811 for their assistance in providing materials and
support for this article. Scott Finley is Manager, Media & Public Relations for Texas811. He can be reached at ScottFinley@Texas811.org.