For snowplow drivers, it's all in a day's work

BEEKMANTOWN Its 3:30 a.m. at the height of a snow storm. Most sensible people are still snug in their beds, with hours more sleep time before they have to deal with the mounds of snow. But for Beekmantown snowplow driver Tom Kelley, 3:30 a.m. during a snow storm is go time time to climb the 10 feet to the cab of his snowplow and set to work clearing roads before the rest of us wake up wanting to go somewhere. Weve got to get the roads ready for the school buses, stated Mr. Kelley Also, think about ambulances and fire trucks. Weve got to get the roads clear. For this 14-year veteran there are many challenges to getting the job done. And number one on that list? Traffic. It seems like people get stupid when the weather gets bad, said Mr. Kelley, whose advice to drivers is to slow down. Were 14-feet wide and very heavy so maneuverability is limited. During the height of a storm, visibility can be a major challenge, as well. Plow drivers must contend with heavy snowfall, hidden obstacles, such as snow-covered guard rails and ditches, along with that long-standing bone of contention, the mailbox. Theyre a thorn in our side, conceded Beekmantown Highway Superintendent Roger Perry. Although not legally obligated to do so, Beekmantown does replace or repair plow damaged mailboxes. We dont mind replacing them, said Mr. Perry, who continued on to explain homeowners need to do their part, too, by correctly locating and maintaining their mailboxes. Another potential problem is homeowners who push snow back onto the roadway when clearing their own properties, an act which is, in fact, illegal. Homeowners can actually be fined, but worst of all, they can be found liable if someone is injured as a result. Mr. Kelley can understand homeowner complaints about snow being plowed into driveways. Although the problem is somewhat unavoidable, he does suggest homeowners think about where they pile their snow when clearing their own driveways. If they remove it to the far side of the driveway, away from the direction the snowplow approaches, there will be less snow available for the plow to push back into the driveway. The Beekmantown Highway Department runs seven snowplows, operated by nine full-time employees. Seven work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the remaining two concentrating on clearing the main roads during the night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Each driver has a regular route, which allows him to become familiar with the landscape and landmarks very important after a snowfall, when the blanket of white can disguise drop-offs and other hazards. During major snowstorms, all nine drivers can expect to work around the clock, with shifts sometimes lasting as long as 15 hours. And cleanup can take days. Drivers first concentrate on clearing roads, down to the blacktop if at all possible. Once the roads are clear, drivers begin pushing back the snow banks lining the sides of the roads. This involves a virtual slalom, weaving in and around mailboxes and parked cars to get the snow banks moved as far from the roadway as possible. Mr. Kelley explained, We have to keep the banks pushed back, because we dont know how much snow were going to get and it has to have someplace to go. Luckily, the ride from the plows cab is surprisingly comfortable. With heated mirrors, power windows, power steering, heat, and a radio, it has many of the comforts youd expect in your automobile. But with more than seven shifters, controlling everything from the slusher in front, to the side wing, to the sand, plus an array of buttons, knobs, gauges and readouts, theres no mistaking this behemoth for a minivan. I dont think people realize how busy we are up here, said Mr. Kelley as he lowered the side wing, raising a great spray of snow. Weve got to adjust everything by hand, plus steer and keep a lookout for traffic. Considering the forecast for rain over the weekend, Mr. Kelley frowned. Rain with this snow would be bad. Itll make the snow heavy and we wont be able to push back the banks. Itll be too heavy. The last couple three years we really havent got that much snow, he continued. To get this much this soon makes you wonder what the rest of the year will be like. Asked whether he likes plowing snow, Mr. Kelley responded, Its just part of the job. Im actually pretty impressed by how we can peel off the snow. I take pride in keeping these roads clean.

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