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Annie Tooley

Donny Thomas

Equipment operator

Donny grew up on a farm in Ohio and loved Big Iron from the beginning.

“When I was a little kid, I spent my time playing in my sandbox with little bulldozers and backhoes, and that’s what I wanted to do with my life. It all started in the sandbox with my dad. I have a picture of him and me where I’m giving him a big old hug, and there’s a little backhoe in the sandbox behind us," he recalled.

(Not) following his father's footsteps

By the time Donny was seven, his father had attached blocks to the pedals of his tractor so Donny could operate it himself. However, despite his love for heavy equipment, Donny’s parents wanted him to work in factories as his father did.

Donny tried to do what they wanted. He said, “I took machine trades in vocational school to be a machinist and work in a factory like my dad. He was a welder. That was the prescribed course of action for us farm kids, to do what our parents did. I was on my way to being a machinist, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

Starting on a snowcat

Before long, Donny headed out on his own. He ended up in Colorado, where he started working as a snowcat operator.

“I built Keystone, Colorado’s first terrain park and halfpipe back in 1997. I opted for the snowcat because I liked snowboarding and I got a free ski pass. I could groom the slope and go ride on it, which was way awesome. It gave me a whole new skill set, dealing with snow on a large scale. If they paid more, I would still be doing it. Snowcats are one of the most awesome pieces of machinery ever!” he exclaimed.

Becoming a heavy equipment operator

After 12 years as a snowcat operator, Donny decided he wanted a job that he could do year-round, so he got a job as a heavy equipment operator. It turned out to be a pretty good gig. 

Donny’s career as a heavy equipment operator took him all over the wolrd, from West Virginia to Guam, and lots of places in between. As Donny put it, “I was single and free—no alimony, no child support, no mortgage, no big debt. If shit wasn't going the way I wanted, I went somewhere else.”

Encouraging people to join the trades

Donny said, “I know we lack people in this trade and lack interest in this trade. I don’t know why, because who doesn’t want to run Tonka toys for a living? Especially when you get good at it, then it’s really fun. I love that sense of accomplishment when I get home.”

If you want a job that gives you that same sense of pride from running Tonka toys, find out what it takes to become a heavy equipment operator like Donny.

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Equipment Operator

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