The shouts of construction workers echo and rebound against the mortar and marble of the surrounding high-rises. Car horns blare as the subtle sounds of swift bike tires flitter through crowded intersections and around tight street corners where business casual men and women speak into cell phones, the heels of their designer shoes click, click, clicking over sidewalks and street crossings.
The Denver Philharmonic Orchestra is still months away from beginning its 2016 season, but the streets of the city’s Theater District offer their own symphony on any given morning.
Tammy Duran’s instrument is a 78,000-pound 2015 Kenworth.
As the music of the day progresses, the mixer truck idles in the staging area with its drum slowly turning and offers a constant and raspy growl. When she shifts into reverse, a back-up alarm screams above all other sounds. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Duran’s solo has begun.
To her left, the ground is uneven as men and women in hard hats scuttle between pieces of equipment both large and small. On her right is another Martin Marietta mixer truck with its driver well into the process of pouring his load.
There are hazards wherever she turns, but as she eyes her mirrors to find just the right angle, Duran is in complete control.
“Downtown can be crazy, but the more I’m challenged, the better I am,” she says after pulling the 9-foot-4-inch wide truck into a 9-foot-8-inch wide space. “I enjoy testing my abilities. It feels good to know I can do safely all that has to be done.”
In this case, the job site is at the corner of 15th and California, where a team of construction workers is erecting a high-rise. Not a single one of them can say how tall the building will be or whether it will be residential or commercial (there are architects and project managers paid to have such information), but what they do know is shaping concrete, steel and iron and they move through the area with precision.
In her Martin Marietta PPE (personal protective equipment), Duran fits right in. Her job is to deliver the concrete and she does so efficiently and safely.
She cuts her engine and in a moment’s time is at the truck’s rear, moving a set of extension chutes into place for her pour. There’s little opportunity to talk because the work is not easy, though she makes it appear so.
Each job site presents unique challenges, but there is another place where Duran must also remain sharp: the road.
“Every time you get behind this wheel is an exercise in defensive driving,” she says after completing her pour and pulling back into the bustle of Denver’s morning commute. “People think these trucks can stop on a dime, but they can’t. If you’re driving 55 mph, it takes the length of a football field to stop this truck. If you’re driving 65 mph, it takes almost two football fields.”
This is why Duran is quick to stress the importance of maintaining a safe distance on the road to every driver she trains. The safety lesson is vital and one of many she’s included in the unwritten truck driver’s handbook she’s developed over her 16 years in the business. That book also includes lessons in quality, a topic she understands quite well.
Like every good ready mix driver in the Rocky Mountain and Southwest divisions, Duran knows when, how and how often to mix her load to maintain its high quality. That knowledge allows her to deliver a superior product despite the challenge of moving it significant distances under extremely tight deadlines; concrete is heavy and sets relatively quickly, so transporting it any distance can sometimes be difficult.
At Quivas Yard, a centrally-located site that seems to be about 10 minutes from every booming section of Denver, there’s one word that Duran repeats while talking about the skills she tries to teach her trainees.
“I do a thorough job of cleaning my cab and a thorough job of washing down my truck and my chutes,” she says. “I’m also thorough when I train. It’s important that our drivers understand the safest and best ways to work.”
If an auditory masterpiece was composed at her earlier job site, Duran’s time in the yard is spent creating a visual magnum opus.
Waves and droplets of water splash in all directions as she washes down the spinning white, blue and granite drum of her truck. When she sprays the chutes, the entire light spectrum comes to life in the mist under the crystal clear Colorado sky. Watching this all happen from a distance are the Rocky Mountains.
In the shadows of her immense truck, Duran appears more petite than usual. She’s 5-feet-5-inches and slender, but speaks in the same loud, firm voice whether she’s on the job or cracking jokes in the break room. Such an attitude, she says, is necessary for a woman in a predominantly male profession.
“I personally feel that if you have to cry about every little thing, this isn’t the business for you,” she says. “I’ve got a tough skin and I don’t back down and that’s how I’ve earned respect. You just have to remember the golden rule: Treat others how you would like to be treated.”
When her truck is clean, the cycle begins again. She picks up the details of her next delivery and pulls into the ready mix load out. When her drum is full, she’s back to the streets to deal with Denver’s 650,000 pedestrians, bicyclists and distracted drivers.
She admits that her time behind the wheel can be a bit stressful, but says she finds joy in the structures she’s helped build.
“Sometimes, when I drive by a particular sidewalk or building, I think to myself, ‘Man, it was a hot day when we poured that,’ or ‘Ah, that was a great early-morning pour,’” she says. “It makes me proud. These contractors really do incredible work and to know that I delivered an impeccable product that allowed them to make such beautiful things is a great feeling.”