The work is tough, the weather flaky and the complications massive but for Noelle Hollis, she loves every minute of her time working on the Wilson Brothers construction crew as they plow through the Red Lodge Water Rehab Project. “It’s been 8 weeks and I love it,” Hollis said. “It’s a lot of fun, hard work, but they are a great group of people to work for.” The company has taught Hollis a lot, “education wise as far as what we are doing, and the way it is done and the training on the equipment.” “It takes a lot of time to understand it, and once they are confident (with me) they let me use it,” she said. In this short space of time, she can now operate the fearsomely overactive jumping jack that is used for flattening the road base earth to allow pavement to go on top of it.
Then there is the bobcat, the compactor, and the big roller, all of which Hollis can handle with ease. Hollis can also operate the square yellow colored robot called the ‘walk behind’ or to give it it’s true identity, the drum roller trench compactor tamper. Controlled by remote, Hollis admits this one took a while to get used to it because it is like playing a video game and “I don’t play those,” she said. “It has been a steep learning curve in that time but they take time to train me. And it motivates me. It takes a lot of skills and patience, and how willing you are to learn it,” she said. Jake Coble, pipe layer foreman for 3 years with the Wilson Brothers, talked of Hollis in glowing terms, saying she had learned a lot and is doing well. “Anytime you can get someone to do numerous jobs, really helps. It’s also nice to have a woman around; they’re better at public relations. We try to treat her the same as the guys.
Try not to baby her. It’s a lot of hard labor but she can do it,” said Coble. Likewise Eric Twomey laborer, operator of the back fill, said Noelle “is a hard worker.” “She is like one of the guys, she sits down and jokes with you and when it comes to work, she works hard. Noelle is the only woman I know that goes into the ditches with the guys,” he said. “The Wilson Brothers are good to work for and I respect them. They put safety first.
There is always a meeting every Monday about this. Everybody looks out for everybody. And they don’t treat me like a female, I’m like one of the guys,” Hollis said. As a mother with two little girls, Hollis thinks it is “awesome to see what their mom can do and being a female I can do this, and they have that attitude in their life.” The experience of working on the crews has been also very educational, opening her eyes to what sort of issues such crews face such as pulling up old rusty pipes to dealing with leaks.
“They are doing a really important job here. There is so much more to it than throwing a pipe into the ground. There is moisture content and our dirt measurements, and all the different types of soils and pipes used,” said Hollis. “I feel very fulfilled.”