Waterville plow driver keeps the roads clear

IT’S A WINDY, sloppy, sleeting Tuesday morning, and Dan Wilson is driving a city plow truck on Kennedy Memorial Drive. It’s 25 degrees outside, but inside the cab of the big orange truck, it is hot — really hot.

Waterville Public Works employee Dan Wilson sits next to various controls used to operate a department plow truck while clearing snow from the storm on Tuesday.Waterville Public Works employee Dan Wilson sits next to various controls used to operate a department plow truck while clearing snow from the storm on Tuesday. Staff photo by David LeamingWaterville Public Works employee Dan Wilson clears snow while driving a department plow truck during the storm in Waterville on Tuesday.Waterville Public Works employee Dan Wilson clears snow while driving a department plow truck during the storm in Waterville on Tuesday. Staff photo by David Leamingphoto-store

“I’ve got to keep the windows clear, keep the snow melted,” Wilson said. He started at 7 a.m. and will plow and scrape the roads on his route throughout the day and evening.

Some of the men started just after 4 a.m. “We’ll stay around until it ends, and a lot of times we’ll come in early the next day and make everything pretty.” Wilson and a dozen other Waterville Public Works employees are on the roads, which are fairly clear of traffic because schools and some businesses are closed.

“It can be tedious,” Wilson said. “It can be long days and nights. It’s not bad if traffic stays off the roads.” Wilson’s route includes Kennedy Memorial Drive, West River Road, Carter Memorial Bridge and Shores and Airport roads, as well as secondary roads in those areas.

We rumble along West River Road in the cab 4 feet off the ground, the front plow scraping the roads and the wing swiping accumulated sleet off into snowbanks. Following behind Wilson’s truck to salt and sand the roads is another truck driven by Richard Quirion, a 44-year veteran of the department. Wilson, 45, of Belgrade, said he enjoys his job, which he has had nine years since leaving his job as a delivery driver for Pepsi.

He started as most city plow drivers do, working on the back of the packer truck, collecting residents’ trash from the curbs. “I worked on the packer about a year. I kind of came at the right time.

There was a guy driving the packer who was retiring, and when he retired everyone kind of shuffled around, and they had a route open up. I was fortunate.” The move from delivering for Pepsi to working for the city was a good one for his family as, unless it is snowing, he generally has weekends off.

He has three daughters ages 9, 13 and 16 and spends every free minute with them going to soccer games and other events. He jokes about how they love snow and look forward to snowstorms and days off from school, while he has changed his thinking about that. “I’d rather just see it snow from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and go home every day.

I used to like snow better. All the kids are praying it snows, and here I am praying it doesn’t. If I was independently wealthy, I’d do it for a living — just follow our kids around.

They grow up quick.” Visibility is pretty good this Tuesday morning, though sleet is pelting the truck windows. Some days when the snow is coming down hard and the wind is whipping it around, it’s difficult to see, Wilson said.

Plowing at night can sometimes be easier because at least the snowbanks are visible to guide you along. The longest stretch he has worked at a time is 32 hours. He and the other drivers work when they are sick, unless of course, they are extremely ill.

“If you’re out sick, the rest of the crew has to pick up your slack, so if I’m not driving my route, when they finish theirs, they’ve got to come and do mine,” Wilson said. “Most of the guys have to be pretty sick before they stay home.” They have to be ready when a storm is imminent. Getting called out at all hours of the night is just part of the territory, according to Wilson.

“There’s days the phone will ring at one o’clock in the morning. I’m not happy when it rings, but it is what it is.” As we sleep snug in our beds, these men are out making the roads safer.

“On occasion you’ll see a fender-bender or car off the road,” Wilson said. “We usually check to make sure nobody’s hurt, call and get them some assistance.” When he and the others are not plowing, salting and sanding roads during storms, they are rebuilding sidewalks, changing culverts, repairing bad spots in roads, cutting brush and mowing roadsides, depending on the season. They trim brush, collect Christmas trees after the holidays, do ground work at sports fields and work at Quarry Road Recreation Area, among other things.

They also collect garbage and plow snow from school parking lots. If school is in session, they must break away from doing roads and prepare the school lots, according to Public Works Director Mark Turner. On this day, Turner has been up since 4 a.m.

The truck drivers cover 82 miles of the city’s 307 roads that include more than 200 lane miles, as some roads have multiple lanes, according to Turner. Karl Morse, superintendent of operations and maintenance for the department, had been up since 3 a.m. He recalled working 60 hours straight during the ice storm many years ago and has worked 40 hours during snowstorms.

Both he and Turner said Wilson is reliable and a hard worker, as are other employees. “He’s a good man,” Morse said. “He’ll work right straight through. A good family man, father.”

I thank Wilson for the ride and ask if there’s anything else he wants to say before I leave to go back to my office. He answers with a request to motorists that, if they fulfill, makes his job a lot easier during storms. “If you got a driveway, use it.

If you don’t have to be on the road, stay home.” Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 29 years. Her column appears here Mondays.

She may be reached at [email protected][1].

For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com[2].

References

  1. ^ [email protected] (www.centralmaine.com)
  2. ^ centralmaine.com (www.centralmaine.com)

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