Kathy Roork is a rarity in her field: A woman who operates and services heavy construction equipment. She works as a loader operator at Athens Services’ American Organics composting facility in Victorville. Kathy drives a Caterpillar 966 wheel loader. The 26-ton vehicle is similar to a bulldozer, with a bucket on the front for scooping and loading compost. How did she get interested in this type of work? “It’s in my blood. My dad and my grandpa were both truck drivers. I kind of fell into it.”
Kathy has been working at American Organics for 17 years. As a loader operator, she moves material onsite and performs quality control checks of compost produced at the site.
Ensuring Quality Control Throughout the Process
Producing compost at American Organics is a multi-step, 60-day process. Green waste and organic waste comes into the facility, unusable material is sorted out, and the remainder is placed into static piles to create compost under controlled conditions. Kathy’s job comes near the end of the production line. When the compost is ready, she uses the loader to scoop up the material and place it into a hopper. From there, the material runs through two processing screens to create the final product. She also performs quality control checks before the compost is shipped to consumers. “I’m the last one to see it before it goes into the truck.”
In addition to driving the loader and quality control, Kathy is also responsible for accurate reporting of how much material is processed and shipped. She weighs and reports weekly on the number of loads she has transported. She also does weekly waste characterizations to track any contamination or unrecyclable material. “I take great pride in my job, and I want to ensure high-quality material for our customers. “
Meeting Increased Demand with a Focus on Safety
Business at American Organics has picked up considerably since it was expanded and equipped with covered aerated static pile (CASP) processing in 2020. And a new law this year has resulted in more green material coming to American Organics that formerly went to landfills to provide daily soil cover.
The facility operates two shifts to keep up with the demand. Kathy works the early shift from 1 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Safety is a top priority. “We have light towers so can see well. We are always in communication on the radio, constantly checking in with each other.”
“We Are a Family Here”
Kathy said one benefit of working outdoors near the Mojave River is seeing whooping cranes and other wildlife. “Just the other day, I saw two geese and their goslings walking on the road here in the middle of all the chaos, with not a care in the world.”
Kathy looks forward to working each day and likes keeping busy. But what keeps her coming back are the people she works with. “We are a family here. We care about each other and help each other out.”
When she’s not working, Kathy enjoys time with her daughter and two grandsons in Apple Valley. She keeps in touch with her other daughter and three granddaughters, who live in Tennessee.
Her advice to women considering similar work is to go for it. “Women are just as capable at this as men. It’s second nature to me now. I find it very satisfying.”