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The Wheel Thing: A rodeo for commuter train wranglers

A Gold Line train car at Metro's Monrovia rail yard.
A Gold Line train car at Metro's Monrovia rail yard.
L.A. Metro

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There weren't any bucking broncos, and no one was wearing chaps. The only cows to be found were ground up, and served on a bun at the In N' Out truck. And the competition? Well,  it was low-key and oddly urban.

Welcome to the LA Metro Rail Roadeo. It's a face-off between Metro's top train operators, who compete in events that test their knowledge, skill and ability to stop a 76 ton train as smoothly as possible.

The contestants are also judged on how crisply they've put their uniforms together, and how courteous that can be with cranky passengers. The winner gets $1000, and the chance to compete in the International Roadeo, to be held this summer in Las Vegas. And they get some serious bragging rights, too.

"Train operators take their jobs very seriously," says John Johnson, service operations superintendent at Metro's new Monrovia rail yard, the site of this year's Roadeo. He says operators transport thousands of people each day, and the competition is a chance to show off their mastery of the big machines. "Being able to give a save, smooth ride for passengers is a big priority for the operators," Johnson says.

And don't call them drivers. 

"Anyone can be a driver," says 30 year veteran Michael J. Moore. "Being an operator, that's special."

Sure, no had to dust off their hat after taking a bad bounce from a buckin' steer, but the rail roadeo is also a chance for Metro employees and their families to enjoy a day together. And a way to help passengers appreciate the operator the next time their train pulls into a station to a feathery, smooth stop.