Winter’s here: Who ya gonna call?
Snow happens. And when it does, somebody’s got to take care of it.
So when the flakes fall, who ya gonna call?
The guys with the plows, of course.
In Perham, those guys are the winter staffers at the Public Works department.
On weeks like this, when the white stuff comes down in sheets for days in a row, this small, understated group of guys becomes one of the most important groups in town.
We all rely on them so that we can get to work in the morning, get the kids to school, and get our groceries, living our lives as best we can even as the weather does its worst.
To accommodate us, the guys wake up early – really early – to start plowing at 2 a.m. They work around-the-clock to keep the city’s streets sanded, salted, and as clear of snow as possible.
There are six of them: Tom Glander, who’s now a part-timer after a 20-year career; Jeremie Schossow and Scott Wallace, who’ve both been with Public Works for several years; and relative ‘newbies’ Allen Holtberg and Steve Schumansky, who have been there for three and two years, respectively.
Sometimes during multi-day blizzards, one or more of them will catch a few winks at the bus garage in-between plowing shifts, rather than trying to drive back and forth between home and work.
It can make for some long days and nights for the crew members, but they don’t mind it. In fact, in an interview with Wallace and Schossow last week, they both said quite the opposite.
“I enjoy it,” said Schossow of plowing, especially those early morning shifts. “I think it’s peaceful.”
“It’s pretty nice,” added Wallace. “It’s just you and the road. There’s nobody around.”
Schossow explained that, “It’s easier to plow at night than during the day,” as it’s safer and more effective to clear the streets when there’s no one else on them; no kids playing in the snow banks and no traffic to maneuver around.
In all, the guys keep about 30 miles’ worth of city streets cleared, as well as many business and city parking lots, and the municipal airport. When it’s really coming down, they focus their efforts on the main thoroughfares through town and the most crucial parking areas.
Each driver has his own route, which he familiarizes himself with before the snow hits by making practice runs in the fall. The guys also check all their trucks and other equipment before winter, so it’s all ready to go when needed.
Though the job is pretty quiet for the most part, Wallace and Schossow said they see a surprising number of people shoveling and snowblowing out their driveways in the wee hours, trying to keep the snow from piling up overnight and ensuring they can make it out of their own garages in the morning.
Occasionally one of the drivers will get a dirty look for plowing in somebody’s mailbox or leaving that inevitable line of snow across the end of a driveway, but for the most part, Schossow said, people understand that the plows have a job to do, and there are few complaints.
“It’s Minnesota,” chuckled Wallace. “When there’s bad weather, we didn’t sign up for it, either. We have to go home and plow, too. I think most people get that.”
“Most people realize they’ll get to their street when they get to it,” said Merle Meece.
As Public Works Director, Meece will fill in for drivers on rare occasions, but his role is primarily that of weather-watcher and staff facilitator. If it looks like a storm may be rolling in, he stays tuned to the forecast and, when he looks out the window of his Perham home and sees snow falling, he starts calling his crew so they can get ready to plow.
“I have a very good crew,” he said. “They do a great job for me.”
Meece sends his drivers out whenever two or more inches fall, or when there are dangerously icy conditions.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, we know when a storm is coming,” said Schossow. “So we get ready the day before and then go out early.”
When not out plowing, the crew still has work to do. While winter’s not the busiest time of year for the Public Works department, Schossow said there’s plenty of maintenance, mapping, record-keeping and meter-checking to be done.
And while they say plowing is the most enjoyable part of their season, even that has its fun limit. Like many Minnesotans, the crew hopes for a mild, and short, winter.
“When it starts getting into March and it’s still snowing,” Schossow said, “it starts to get a little old.”