Snowplow drivers put in long hours
After removing snow 12 hours a day for up to 32 days straight, most people would hit the streets looking for a new line of work.
We’re not talking about 12 hours with an hour-long lunch and a 15-minute break every so often, but 12 hours in the cab of a snow removal vehicle, often with no break, making the streets as snow-free as possible.
“Snow removers eat lunch in the cabs of their graders,” Jan Busatto, associate management analyst for the city, said.
Not according to Bruce Scholes, a four-year veteran of city snow removal.
“I had a full lunch box today, and I didn’t stop to eat anything,” Scholes said after finishing his shift Tuesday evening. “It’s kind of like you challenge yourself or you don’t stick around, I guess.”
With the stormy weather pattern that has overtaken California in the past months, storms have come virtually every other day. This means that as soon as snow removers have cleared the roads, the heavens open up with a fresh batch of powder and it’s time to start over.
Ron Ticknor, who moonlights as a senior building inspector and facilities maintenance worker when he’s not spending half his life removing snow, said, “this is nothing,” when asked if this month’s snowfall has been extraordinary.
“I mean, it’s been a good month,” Ticknor, who boasts 15 winters of snow removal, said.
West of the city, the El Dorado County Department of Transportation has received praise this year for keeping the roads north to Tahoma, south to Christmas Valley, east to the city of South Lake Tahoe limits, and west to Strawberry, clear.
Highway Superintendent Tom Halvorson said the county isn’t experiencing the same problems as last year because the snow has fallen over several weeks.
“The difficulty was at Christmas time (last year). We had five feet of snow fall within a couple days,” Halvorson said. “This year we’ve got a lot of snow strung out over a long period of time.”
Also contributing to the operation’s smoothness is the season’s full staff, which was in place before winter along with a $200,000 buffer in this year’s budget for snow removal.
Still the city and county plowers work around the clock, with two drivers manning the plows for half a day each, stopping only long enough to fuel up and switch weary operators.
“The fellas seem to be doing quite well,” Halvorson said. “They seem to be maintaining a sense of humor.”
When snow removal equipment is constantly out on the streets plowing, there is bound to be equipment failure.
Busatto said the city employs eight plow mechanics who also work grueling 12-hour shifts each day to keep the city’s snow removal force operational.
Gary Martin is the lead mechanic of the motor pool division.
Martin has worked as much as the snow removers, 23 nights by Scholes’ tally, over the last month.
“Sometimes they even work more hours,” Street Supervisor Scott Rogers said of the mechanics.
“The unsung heroes are the mechanics,” Scholes said.
Ironically, the only time Martin was unable to make it to work in his 17 years of service was last year’s mid-December snow storm when all the roads from his Carson City home were closed due to snow.
Busatto said the city’s goal in snow removal is to keep the streets as wide as possible.
Outside the city limits, Halvorson said the county’s plows run into problems in this quest when they come across mailboxes or garbage cans in the plows’ path.
These obstructions often force the drivers out of their plows to manually move them, taking time away from other streets which also need plowing.
“It’s frustrating and time consuming to the drivers,” Halvorson said.
In order to help the plowers, Halvorson asked residents to place garbage cans and mailboxes behind the snow blower cut, which, he said, is clearly visible these days.
One other pet peeve of the snow removers is people with white cars. Plowers say it is difficult at best to see a white car in the abundance of snow which surrounds a snow removal machine.
But one aspect that makes life bearable during enduring stormy weather, they say, is the camaraderie that exists.
“I’m glad to work with a bunch of pros,” Scholes said. “It makes my job much easier.”
“There’s a great degree of loyalty,” Martin said. “We all want to work together.”
“I’d equate it to a football game or a war,” Rogers said. “You’re in the heat of battle and you’ve got to depend on your partner.
“It breeds a certain camaraderie between guys. It’s a team effort.”
With the National Weather Service predicting a change in the storm pattern which will see the Pacific fronts steering north of the region, plowers may actually get a cut in hours with a day off somewhere in the mix.
“We’re shooting for the weekend,” Rogers said of time off for his crew. “They’ve earned it and they need it.
Until then, the plowers will have to rely on the praise of their bosses and the community as their reward.
“We give them pats on the back all the time,” Busatto said. “They’re a quality group of people.”
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