By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — For any kid who pushes a toy crane or bulldozer around a sandbox, it would be a dream come true.
Three local men who operate heavy equipment for a living were driving front-end loaders and other pieces of heavy equipment around an obstacle course and through walls. They navigated a probe through a maze and launched keg barrels into the air.
Haverhill residents Shawn Noyes, 41, Bill Hendricks, 39, and Frank Lamparelli, 39, put their skills to the test on a TV reality show, competing to see who are the kings of construction. But in this competition, their skills operating machines to dig holes for projects such as cellars, water mains and sewers were put to use in some outrageous ways.
“We drove equipment in ways we’d never do on the job,” Noyes said.
Last month, the Discovery Channel aired its first episodes of “Machines of Glory,’’ a show where American’s best heavy equipment operators compete in challenges that test their skill and speed operating machinery. The vehicles include front-end loaders, backhoes, bulldozers, excavators and telehandlers — a kind of fork lift combined with a crane.
Noyes, Hendrix and Lamparelli, longtime friends who have operated heavy equipment for most of their lives, were pitted against two other teams in a series of challenges like you’ve never seen before. Along with bragging rights, the top team walked away with $12,000.
But, the winners weren’t revealed until the show aired last month. The contestants had to keep quiet about who won until that time.
“People kept asking us who won and we weren’t allowed to say a thing,” Hendricks said. “All I could say was we had fun.”
Haverhill’s team was featured in Season 1, Episode 2 of the series. The episode was called “Dig & Destroy.’’ It aired Dec. 30.
Hendricks and Lamparelli took a week off from their jobs with the local Davco Excavators. Noyes, who works for F&S Construction in Kingston, took time off as well. They flew to California to film the show.
“I’ve been driving heavy equipment since I was 12 and could reach the pedals. My father operated heavy equipment,” Noyes said. “Billy and Frankie have been running equipment for a long time and they’re just as good. We’re the best, and that’s what we told them out in California.
“Driving heavy equipment is what we do,” Noyes said. “It’s all underground work. We do it all.”
Calling themselves the “Boston Boys,’’ Noyes and his “blue” team went up against a team of two young men from North Carolina and their teammate from Londonderry. That “red’’ team was called the “Young’uns.’’ The third group, the “green’’ team, was an older group of men from California called the “Old Timers.’’
In one contest, the competitors drove a back hoe through a wooden wall, navigated an obstacle course and drove around barrels making tight turns using their foot brakes. Lamparelli did the first part of challenge, then turned over the backhoe to Hendricks, who later turned it over to Noyes.
“You don’t usually smash through a wall or pick up bowling balls on a construction site,” Hendricks said. “It required fast and smooth footwork on the brakes and fast shifting into different gears.”
Lamparelli drove the backhoe through a wall and then retrieved two bowling balls that were buried in a pit. He drove back down the course and dropped the balls into another pit, turned the machine around and retrieved the balls with the front bucket, then drove back and dropped them into a pit at the end of the course. Then Hendricks jumped in and retrieved one bowling ball, which he had to navigate through a maze before Noyes took over.
At the same time, the other two teams were doing the same thing, Noyes said.
“When I was on the machine, Billy and Frankie were cheering me on,” Noyes said. “You’re totally focused on what you’re doing, even though there are cameras all over the place. They had them on the ground, on cables, inside the machines, everywhere.”
There was some friendly taunting and jeering by the other teams, Noyes said, but it all melted away as each day’s filming ended and the teams gathered for dinner at their hotel.
“We talked about everything, like what they do for work and what we do,” Noyes said. “They asked us about the earth here, where it’s all rocks and boulders and ledge, while in California and down south it’s all sand. We joked with them that they’re digging in beach sand while we pull out rocks the size of cars.”
Then came the “Launch Pad,” a challenge the Boston Boys could not have imagined.
“Frank and I drove skid steers while Shawn was in the telehandler,” Hendricks said.
Like a slingshot, the skid steers put tension on bungee cables, while Noyes held a keg barrel steady in his telehandler. They had three chances at scoring points by launching the barrel into targets of walls and stacked barrels.
“Launching a keg barrel at 100 miles per hour was something I’d never experienced before,” Hendricks said.
The invitation for the three Haverhill men to compete on the show came more than a year ago, when their friend Steve Allen of Haverhill, who is also a heavy equipment operator for Davco, contacted the show and recommended his friends.
“Steve wanted to be on the show too, but he’d been on a show called ‘American Hard Hat,’ so he could not be on another show for a couple of years,” Noyes said. “He wanted us to go to California and he made it happen for us.”
The three were flown to California last January for four days of filming. They were brought to a mock construction site, where the contests took place. When Noyes, Hendricks and Lamparelli arrived, they could hardly believe what was waiting for them.
“It was all sponsored by Cat and every piece of equipment was brand spanking new,” Noyes said of a company that makes heavy machinery. “It was a huge piece of property with piles of dirt and rocks, stumps, dust and mud, just like we’re used to working in. It was 12 to 14 hours a day of filming for a one-hour show.”
Noyes said he and his friends were treated well.
“They flew us out there, paid for our tickets, picked us up at the airport and took us to a hotel, where we all had our own rooms,” he said. “On the site, it was all catered. Anything we wanted was there. They took very good care of us.”
The Boston Boys didn’t win the competition, but they said they had a great time and made new friends. For the record, the Young’uns won — but the Haverhill team had a good time.
“When the show was on, the guys from California called me to ask if I’d watched it,” Noyes said. “They’re all really good guys, the Young’uns and the Old Timers. We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun.”