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Snow isn't only challenge for plow drivers
Snow isn't only challenge for plow drivers
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
They have been known to get the "one-finger salute" for their efforts.
That rather rude greeting is familiar to just about anyone who takes on the task of clearing snow from the state, county, city and township roadways in Geauga County.
But they've learned not to let it bother them, said Donald Mohney, who heads Chardon Township's plow crews. "I always tells the guys that it doesn't pay to get mad," he said. "You can't let people get on your nerves. You work for the public, and someday they might be your boss."
In his 30 years of working in the township, Mr. Mohney said, it's a lesson he knows all too well. A resident who was angry over plows pushing snow into driveway aprons ran for township trustee and became the crew's boss with a grudge, he said.
One irate citizen left a message at the township road garage, threatening to drive his pickup at the plow trucks, he said, because he was so angry over the snow pushed into his apron.
Steven Borawski, who oversees the plow crews for the City of Chardon, said, while plow drivers understand residents' frustrations, they have a job to do, and they try to do it to their best ability. He said residents could have the cleanest driveways, but they wouldn't be able to go anywhere without the road plows.
Last week, when nearly a foot of snow fell in the area, Chardon Township crews rose from their warm beds at 3:30 a.m. to be ready to meet the cold, cruel world at 4:30 a.m., a routine that they never quite get used to, Mr. Mohney said. He likened it to having jet lag, which takes 72 hours to recover from.
"You adjust your hours to the weather," he said. "You work when the weather tells you, and you sleep and eat when you can."
About two weeks ago, Mr. Mohney expressed feelings of being road weary after constant snowfalls forced him to work 39 1/2 hours of overtime. "I want my life back," he told Township Trustees.
"You don't get back to a regular sleep pattern until spring," he said.
In between each route, there are the 10- or 15-minute breaks when the crew regroups to use the bathroom, grab a cup of coffee and talk about the what still needs to be done.
Last week's snowfall was the worst kind, they said, an all-day snow that dropped about an inch each hour.
David Beal, who has plowed the township's roads for 18 years and has a perfect driving record, said it is the kind he dreads. "You can use up 40 gallons of fuel and work for 12 hours, and it doesn't look like you've accomplished anything when you're done," he said.
The 12-hour shift is the maximum a crew can work, according to federal labor laws, Mr. Mohney said. On that day last week, the crew stayed on the roads for the 12 hours, he said. Then the drivers were back on the job at 4:30 a.m. the next day to finish the work. And when snow fell Friday night into Saturday morning, they gave up part of their weekend to clear the way for weekend travelers.
Mr. Mohney said the early start gives crews time to clear roadways before rush hour, but some people might not notice. He said the township gets calls from residents who may rise at 7 a.m. and call to ask when the road crews plan to get out, because the snow has covered their roads. In reality, he said, plows may have already cleared the road twice.
He said residents also notice when a certain level of service they've come to expect is not upheld. If one of the township's five trucks goes down, he said, the schedule is pushed back by an hour.
It takes about two hours to clear all of the township's roads, Mr. Mohney said. When he started 30 years ago, two men cleared fewer roads by working 14- to 15-hour shifts.
Despite the increased manpower and more trucks, the plow drivers still sometimes spend more time behind the wheel than with their families. Holidays with families are often a casualty in the war on snow.
Mr. Beal said missing Christmas and New Year's with his family has become a regular part of the job. "One Christmas, I had my house filled with all of my relatives," he said. "My wife had to entertain them while I was out working."
Mr. Mohney said most people do not realize what it takes to be a plow driver. "Everybody thinks it's so easy, you're just sitting in a truck, driving around," he said.
Besides the early starts, there are rides up some of the narrowest, steepest, slippery hills in the county along Mitchell Mills and Wisner roads. The plow truck bucks, slips and lurches its way up, sometimes past oncoming traffic, with 70-foot drop-offs on the one side.
Mr. Beal, who has the job of clearing those roads, noted that the 3-ton truck, comparable to those used by the county, does not have four-wheel drive and relies on its weight for traction.
Mr. Beal maneuvers those roads all the while he is controlling three levers for the plow position and another to release salt and cinders.
Mr. Mohney said it becomes a matter of faith. "You hope your cinders grab you, and you hope your spreader doesn't run empty," he said.
One of the worst times, he said, is the very first snowfall, when it is impossible to distinguish the edge of the road. He said he always feels a little nervous when he makes those first passes of the season.
After the initial snowfalls, he said, it becomes a little easier to see the edge as the snow piles up. However, he said, plow drivers still use mailboxes as their guides.
"People think we enjoy knocking over mailboxes, but we don't," he said. "We need them to guide us."
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