A day in the life of a snowplow operator | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A day in the life of a snowplow operator

A Tahoe Island Drive resident watches incredulously as Chuck Segers plows a 4-foot wall of icy snow into her driveway. She looks at the growing berm in disbelief, then shouts, waves her arms angrily and gives Segers an obscene gesture.

Segers waves, backs-up, lowers his plow and clears the pile away as much as possible.

It’s just another day in the life of a snowplow operator and, after 13 years of plowing for the city, Segers has seen it all.

“Snow is a big inconvenience for people, so they get really frustrated,” said Segers, as he maneuvered his mammoth 20-ton CAT 163 snowplow through a narrow, slushy street. “Nine out of 10 times people get really upset at us. It used to make me mad, now I just wave at them.”

Clearing roads for the city of South Lake Tahoe involves 15 plow operators, sanders, mechanics and supervisors, each working 12-hour shifts. It requires intense concentration, responsibility and plenty of abuse from angry citizens.

“People think we’re here to keep their driveways clear,” said Scott Rogers, street superintendent for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “We’re not. Our job is to keep the streets clear for traffic and emergencies.”

Keeping snow out of driveways is no easy task. As the angled blade of a plow pushes snow to the side of the street, a special gate is lowered by the plow operator, catching the snow and moving it forward into the side of the driveway. Depending on conditions, the gate trick is not always successful.

“This storm’s been pretty bad. When it rains and then snows on top, it makes a gooey, heavy mess which is really hard for us to deal with,” Rogers said. “The problem is it balls up and then freezes because of all the puddles under the snow. Even when we use the gate in front of driveways, it’s really hard to clear.”

The city is responsible for 127 miles of street, not including major highways and state routes, which are divided into eight sections. Plow operators clear primary streets first and then branch off into sub-divisions and small neighborhood streets.

One of the most difficult, and dangerous, parts of the job is maneuvering in narrow, busy streets with 40-foot-long plows.

“Some people give you a break, but most of them don’t,” Segers said, as he patiently avoided speeding cars while backing-up and turning around in a tight, four-way intersection. “Every time you want to turn around, or back-up, someone’s behind you. Most of them don’t stop and won’t let you through.”

The challenge of operating such an overwhelmingly large machine while avoiding children, cars and picket fences is great. But with experience comes ability.

“When you get good, it’s like you are the brain of this huge machine and all the levers and buttons are your appendages,” Rogers said. “Some of the guys who have been doing it 20 years are like that and it’s amazing to watch.”

But after 13 years of listening to angry, yelling citizens, the thrill is wearing off for Segers.

“There used to be nothing I liked more than getting out there and plowing,” Segers said. “But now there’s not much I like about it anymore. It’s a hard and thankless job.”

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