Lauterborn Blog Search

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Life of a Plowman

The Life of a Plowman:
Patch rides along with a 28-year DPW veteran
(Posted to 1/26)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT -- It takes a certain personality type to drive the big truck… an innate feel for the road, physical toughness to withstand the long hours and on-board conditions, and a willingness to put the job before family.

On this snowy Wednesday morning, during which the area was being blanketed with several inches of snow from a storm that was moving northeast out of the Appalachian Mountains, Patch did a ride-along in a town plow to get the driver’s perspective on road conditions and insight into his daily challenges.

Scott Bartlett, Fairfield’s Superintendent of Public Works, was Patch’s first point of contact, collecting this reporter from his home to deliver him to the plowman mid-route. He said the storm’s early arrival was a surprise.

“What we thought was going to hit us mid-afternoon arrived between 8 and 9 a.m. and we had to re-orchestrate our plans,” he said, speaking around 10 a.m. as he steered a town-maintained Chevy pickup on roads that were already slippery and coated with snow.

“We had payloaders that were going to go to parking lots to push up existing snow banks to create more room for snow to be hauled in. Those plans quickly came to an end as those operators were deployed to the heavy plows. Now the intensity of the storm has called for us to engage the salt trucks and even the smaller plows. Right now, approximately 30 salt trucks with plows are out and approximately 15 smaller trucks with plows are doing side roads and parking lots so that regular business can function,” he said.

About this particular storm, Bartlett said, “This is a fairly steady accumulating snow. The latest forecast indicated we would get a first band, then a lull, then a second band. That in itself presents a challenge. We’re putting out a chemical, then plowing, then another band is coming. It begs the question ‘Do you plow another inch later or wait until there’s a heavier accumulation?’ Right now, everyone’s being deployed for a full town-wide plow.”

The timing of the storm creates other challenges particularly with commuter, retail and town service lots and thoroughfares said Bartlett. “You’re cleaning the drive lanes now but we’ll need to go back in later after all the cars have left and do full lot plowing very late evening. And we’ll need fresh resources at that time.”

The challenges don’t stop there. “The end time of the storm is an issue, whether the snow stops at 4 a.m. or 8 a.m., which gives you two different sets of circumstances, because of commuting traffic,” Bartlett said. “It’s a logistical puzzle, a constant triaging of storm reaction and resources allocation. It’s like a short race versus a marathon. We need to make sure we’ve got what we need for the marathon.”

Six Tons of Vibrating Fun
Bartlett pulled up to the rear of the plow, waiting at the side of the road in the Fairfield Woods area. The truck was a beast to be sure: a 1990 International dump truck, standing almost 10 feet high, with a 6-yard capacity and stationary right plow.

“Welcome to my cell, cell #181,” joked 53-year-old Joe Cubbellotti, a 28-year veteran of the Dept. of Public Works, ushering this Patch reporter into his cab. “I often feel like I’m in prison as I spend so much time here,” he said with regard to the cell reference.

“I started working at 7 a.m. and we were able to get a jump on the storm,” he said about his day thus far. “I have six miles worth of road to plow, from Fairfield Woods Road over to GE and Morehouse Highway to Stratfield Road.”

His morning prep included making sure he had chains on the tires, getting fuel in the truck and looking over the vehicle for any obvious problems. “We have a team of mechanics that are like a NASCAR pit crew and they get on any problem quickly,” he said.

As to Cubbellotti’s goals for the day, they were simple. “We want to keep traffic moving, make sure schools have through-access and emergency vehicles can respond to calls as needed.”

He said plowing during the day is challenging. “The traffic is often slow-moving and doesn’t yield to us. Employers are starting to let people go and schools are going to be closing early, so roads will be less trafficked later and easier to plow.”

The plowman said this winter has been unique. “I’ve been on automatic pilot seeing more snow this year than any other year. In the past, we’ve had a couple big drops, but not the consecutive snowfalls like we’ve been having. I’ve never seen the snow banks as high as they are along the sides of the road.”

Cubbellotti says the job comes with sacrifices. “It’s tough when it comes to family. I have my ‘snow widow’ at home. She kissed me goodbye this morning and said, ‘I’ll see you whenever.’ I would have loved to have played with my kids on snow days but have always worked. I have twins and their birthday was Nov. 20, and we still haven’t had a chance to celebrate it. We’ve had to reschedule three times.”

The driver is proud of his team and grateful for the support of his supervisors.
“I think we’ve got the best plowing team in the state. We jump right on it. We’re all committed to each other. Scott is always fighting for what we need and our foreman George has a great ‘let’s fight this storm’ motivating attitude. It was also good to get a recent pat on the back from the First Selectman. That meant a lot.”

Looking at the latter half of the day, the plowman said, “Scott and George will make some decisions mid-evening and decide whether to send us out again. In between runs, I’ll grab a meal and some shut-eye to regain some energy and get ready for the next leg. We often work the day, see night fall and then the next sunrise. I’ll plow 200 miles before I’m through. Pretty much I’m working on caffeine and Tylenol with all the bouncing around.”

Cubbellotti carries a virtual medicine chest with him in fact. “In my cooler, I have Aleve for pain, Excedrin for a pinched nerve and migraines, cholesterol medicine and an antacid to combat the good diner meals we get,” he said. “We go from plowing to eating to sleeping and all over again. I’m about 20 pounds over what I should be. It’s not the healthiest lifestyle but I’m committed,” he said, speaking over the grind of gears, vibration of the driver’s compartment, smell of diesel, scrape of the plow blade on asphalt and tinny music from a portable CD player.

“I’m trying to get to Florida in the next month. We’ll see how that pans out,” Cubbellotti mused.