NUCA’s 2016 Associate of the Year, Scott Knoblauch, is an earth mover. He grew up riding tractors around his family’s Illinois farm and moving dirt with several local private contractors. And even after 22 years at Caterpillar, he says “wheel tractor scrapers and track Type tractors” are still his favorite (though it was hard to choose).
“I grew up on these two machines and am still growing up with them today,” he says. “A real close follow-up to these machines would have to be the ag tractors and towed scrapers since my job on our family farm is to help maintain all land improvements.”
So, yes, Knoblauch is an earth mover, through and through. And about four years ago when his predecessor, Ric Neal, who represented Caterpillar with NUCA, took a position at Cat’s Panama Demonstration and Learning Center, leaving the NUCA opportunity for Knoblauch, he welcomed it with open arms.
“I had discussed Ric’s involvement with NUCA numerous times, and I knew this would be a huge opportunity for me to gain valuable knowledge and learn from the best of the best of the nation’s utility contractors, and that is exactly what has happened and continues to happen each and every time I attend a NUCA event.”
So, joining NUCA would be a perfect fit, right?
“The utility sector has always captured my interest, and I have always been associated with the heavy and bulk earth moving portion of this industry where production and performance are very key items for success. But after joining NUCA, I quickly learned that underground utilities are not as much about production and performance as they are about precision and perfection,” he says. “Really, to me, these are two totally different worlds.”
A Life of Learning
OK, so there was a learning curve, but that just made the opportunity even more intriguing as Knoblauch isn’t one to turn down an educational experience.
“I always look forward to attending all the various NUCA functions throughout the year just knowing that I will learn something extremely valuable from each and every one. I always take this information with me on my various travels throughout the Americas,” Knoblauch says. “Understanding more about underground utilities helps me help others with planning projects not only with existing sites, but future earthmoving sites as well. Being nominated and serving on the NUCA Board of Directors has been near and dear to my heart, and helping serve this fantastic and most professional organization is an overwhelming experience.”
While attending Illinois Central College in Peoria Ill., he won a National Ag Mechanics Contest in Spring 1981. Knoblauch then moved on to Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., and earned his bachelor’s degree in agribusiness and ag mechanics with sub minors in soils, economics and law. He studied abroad in a post-graduate programs at the College Le Reflessoir in Bléré, France, and Auburn University in Toulouse, France, studying agriculture. Knoblauch then continued his education back in the United States with several classes at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., studying agronomy, plant science and soils.
In his professional career, Knoblauch started at Caterpillar as a test engineer, quickly moving to become a troubleshooting engineer covering a variety of prototype machines. Next came roles as a service training instructor for the Lexion Combines and Challenger Tractors, ag sales and marketing consultant and hauling unit systems. He entered into his current role in 2002 as the load and haul systems market professional and has since added the role of earth moving and compaction consultant to this title, covering North, South and Central America.
“In this position, I have had the luxury of visiting and working with many earth moving contractors to help bid, set up, implement and consult on jobsites throughout the Americas and worldwide. Today, I have the luxury of working with all industries including heavy construction, site prep, quarry and aggregates, road builders, power generation and underground utilities.”
Outside of work, he remains passionate about agriculture. Knoblauch, his wife and children own and manage a beef cow/calf operation, and he remains an integral part in the central Illinois farm, partnering with his two older brothers in a LLC corporation raising corn and soybeans.
As a Caterpillar representative on the NUCA Board of Directors, Knoblauch’s voice carries a little extra weight beyond the organization’s walls, which he has embraced as part of NUCA’s lobbying efforts in Washington.
“I support this organization with all my heart because I believe the direction of NUCA’s support for this great industry,” he says. “We have accomplished a great deal of advocacy and lobbying in these past few years with our government addressing the many concerns this industry faces every day. These are huge wins for the utility sector. Laws are being changed because of the efforts from NUCA, and I am so proud to have been a part of this.”
Knoblauch’s other passion projects within NUCA are the Safety Committee and Government Relations Committee. Here again, Knoblauch thinks big strides have been made recently — such as NUCA’s National Trench Safety Stand Down Initiative, as well as the critical issues with OSHA concerning its new crystalline silica dust proposed regulation. And he applauds NUCA’s Damage Prevention and Claims Avoidance Program, which has saved members millions of dollars.
“Anytime I can help a customer prevent a bad situation or improve their efficiency — that’s what drives me the most, and the NUCA organization has helped me arm myself with the knowledge, facts and figures needed to do so,” he says.
But, as always, there is more to learn and more work to be done.
“Today, there is so much burden and risk on the utility contractor alone in the area of protection of utility locations,” Knoblauch says. “Going forward, I do hope there is relief for utility construction contractors especially in this particular area as it really keeps them up at night.
“As far as my own career, I just hope that I can continue to learn and share what I learn with others every day. This in itself is a never-ending task and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t try to accomplish this goal. Helping others meet their production goals, whatever they may be, and do this safely is what it’s all about for me.”
Final Words of Wisdom
“My advice to anyone is to learn from your past experiences and, most importantly, share what you have learned with others,” he says. “Don’t ever give up on trying to solve problems or find the answers and prepare yourself every day to learn something new.”