By Sarah Pridgeon
Mac Erickson is a man who enjoys a challenge. Already a bareback riding champion of national renown, he now takes the reins of the Sundance Public Works Department as its newly appointed director.
Fortunately, Erickson has a long list of trades to his name, each of which will support him as he learns the intricacies of the water system. Among other things, he has worked for a mine, a fencing company, on ranches and as a construction carpenter.
“Before I took the job, I worked for Jay Pixley at Four Aces Contracting, doing construction work on buildings. This is very similar to what I’ve been doing: running equipment, dealing with water lines and plumbing,” he nods.
“For anybody who grows up working in all the different trades that I’ve worked, all that stuff kind of ties in and you learn something every day.”
Two weeks into the job, Erickson’s time has thus far been concentrated on one unsurprising activity.
“The first day I started, we had to plow snow – and we’ve been plowing and sanding and moving snow ever since,” he grins.
“We’ve been busy doing that, but I’ve read water meters and every day I go check water. The lift station pump is going in so I’ll be getting right into sewer work – it’s been mostly learning everything about how the system works.”
Taking charge of a complicated system requires experience with its individual elements – something that Erickson is looking forward to concentrating on in the immediate future.
“I’ll be getting all my certifications, I’m just getting started on that now. But the main thing will be learning the water and sewer system: how everything works, why this tank fills first, why that tank fills after it, if there’s a problem where to go first to solve it,” he explains.
“The biggest challenge for me I think will be dealing with any issues that come up, because I’m the one that’s going to have to take a lot of that heat and it’s going to take some getting used to, but I’m more than confident I can handle it. It’s just going to be a matter of transitioning and figuring out how to deal with it.”
It’s been smooth sailing so far, he says, thanks largely to the support of the team at City Hall.
“There’s a super crew here. These three guys and then the gals up front – you couldn’t ask for a better group to work with and help you jump right in,” he smiles.
“I was warned not to expect much for the first year, but Larry [Schommer] was here for two and a half years and he dang sure had a grasp on things. He knew what was going on and why, so I want to say that in two years I’ll know it well.”
Though public works is a new area for Erickson, it’s one that interests him greatly. Among the projects he will be tackling this year are the sewer and water line improvements on 21st Street, relocating the Cole Tank and completing the transfer station.
“It’s interesting to understand and know all of what goes into getting these things done. The more experienced I get, the more I’ll be able to make more calls and handle things myself without having to go ask questions,” he says.
“When people come ask me questions rather than me have to go ask them – that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Erickson has lived in Sundance for just over five years. He moved from Idaho to be with his then-girlfriend, Marsha, who is the x-ray manager at Sundance Hospital.
“I come from Idaho, my dad has a rock mine where we mine courtside flagstone. It shuts down in the winter because of the snow and rodeo was also slowing down in the fall of 2008, so I didn’t have much to do,” he explains.
“Marsha and I were dating, so I said, find me a job over here and I’ll come over this winter – I’ve been here ever since.”
The couple married in 2011 at the Cadillac Ranch in Belle Fourche and their first son will be a year old in April. Raising him in Sundance won’t be too much different to Erickson’s own Idaho upbringing, he says.
“It’s a bigger town than I grew up in, but I love small towns where everybody knows everybody. You’re not going to get away with anything and you’re not going to have the world’s biggest problems,” he says.
“The people here are similar to back home, it’s a good place to be. My favorite thing about Sundance is probably the atmosphere: it’s a small, quiet town and a good living here, with lots of stuff coming in that keeps us up to date with the future but still the old way of living.”
Making sure the city’s water is flowing will be Erickson’s main priority from now on, but he will still be keeping hold of his side job.
“It’ll be a little different. I used to rodeo full time and be gone all the time, but now we have a little boy so things are slowing down for me,” he smiles.
“Last year I probably had the best year I’ve ever had rodeoing, but I was just gone on the weekends and home more than I was gone. It makes a lot more sense with travelling costs and the cost of everything these days – the more you can be home, the better off you are.”
Rodeo aficionados needn’t worry: Erickson will continue to pursue his rodeo dreams and participate in events throughout the year. In 2013, he won the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo and Range Days Rodeo in Rapid City, the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in Mitchell and the Richland County Fair in Montana – a track record he hopes to improve on even further.
“All this week I have rodeos in Rapid City, then there’s San Antonio and then Houston and I made the national circuit finals in Oklahoma City, which are at the end of April,” he says.
“If things get going on a roll then I’ll change my plans a little bit and rodeo a little harder. My goal is to make the National Finals Rodeo and, if I’ve got a chance to do that, I’m not going to screw it up.”
Erickson’s first big project as Public Works Director will be the 21st Street improvements, a project that goes out to bid shortly. He will also be meeting with Trihydro when they travel to Sundance to install a SCADA system on the city’s water tanks and getting to know the community.
“If anybody has any questions or concerns or if anybody wants to meet and get to know me, feel free to stop by any time,” he says.