February 13, 2003
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Village employees Joel Crandall, left, Victor Baxter, Harold ‘Dunie’ Hamilton Jr. and Kent Harding taking a break as more snow fell on Yellow Springs this week.

Snowy winter keeps road crew busy

Snow began falling early in the evening on Christmas Eve, just as villagers were sitting down to their oyster stew or singing “Joy to the World” in church. And the snow kept coming. It was a magical snow, silently blanketing trees and homes as big-eyed children peered out windows.

But as children snuggled beneath covers and moms and dads sipped eggnog before the fire, the falling snow led four Village employees to leave their families and warm homes behind and come into the cold. Beginning at 8 p.m., the members of the Village streets and sewer crew, Harold “Dunie” Hamilton Jr., Joel Crandall, Kent Harding and Victor Baxtor, moved their snow plows quietly up one Yellow Springs street and down another. It was a heavy snow and a long night’s work — 13 straight hours of plowing.

When local residents woke on Christmas morning, the streets were clear. And as families gathered beneath Christmas trees to open their gifts, the road crew went home to sleep.

Because of heavy and consistent snowfall, it’s been that kind of winter for the Village streets crew — long, irregular hours, hard work and little thanks. But the men take pride in their work and are even willing to forgive those who take their clear streets for granted.

“We go out at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. and no one knows we’re here,” Baxter said. “Then people get caught up in their day.”

What the road guys like best is knowing how important their work is, how they’re taking care of their town and the people they’ve known all their lives. Hamilton, Crandall and Baxter grew up in Yellow Springs, and Harding moved here in high school.

The hardest part, they agreed in an interview last week, is the hours.

“You’re on call 24 hours a day,” Crandall said. “You never know when you have to go back.”

It goes something like this — after a full day’s work, Hamilton, the crew leader, and the others, go to bed. But in the middle of the night the snow begins falling, and police call Hamilton at home. He’ll call his crew, starting out with two plows but if the snow keeps coming, he’ll call out all four.

So the road guys get up, get dressed, then head out to the Village Public Works facility on State Route 343. It’s a short drive for all but Baxter, who lives in Kettering. They pick up their plows, then drive to the Miami Township garage on Fairfield Pike to load up with salt, unless they knew the snow was coming and had a chance to plan ahead. If they’re only clearing snow, they use the rubber plow blades, but if it’s ice, they have to use steel.

First the trucks — two large ones and two small — clear the main roads, such as Xenia Avenue, Dayton Street, Corry, Limestone and Fairfield Pike. Next they clear the streets that cross the main streets, and finally, they do the plats. If it’s a school day coming up, they’ll head first to the schools and downtown area.

When the weather gets really bad and the snow piles up, the road guys are sometimes backed up by other members of the Public Works crew.

It’s a challenge to be first out in a snowstorm.

“At night is the scariest part,” Harding said. “When those big flakes are coming down, it’s hard to see.”

The trucks’ vibrations make for a bouncy ride, and the road guys need to take breaks every few hours to stand up and stretch. They drink lots of coffee and sometimes roll down the window for a jolt of cold air. Sometimes they listen to music — R&B is a favorite — and Baxter likes to sing.

Whatever their trick for staying focused, the road guys give their work full attention.

“You have to be very alert,” Baxter said. “There’s a lot of eye-hand coordination. You have to be aware of the mirrors, pulling the lever for the plow, doing the salt, maneuvering around cars. You have to be aware of everything around you.”

Obstacles to their work lurk everywhere — parked and moving cars, tree limbs, mail boxes. They have countless opportunities for accidents, but haven’t had any for at least the last 15 years, Hamilton said.

But they do have frustrations, especially when villagers pull out right in front of a snow plow or drive too closely behind, not realizing the trucks often need to back up. “Give us distance,” Crandall said.

The crew also feels frustrated when villagers get upset because the trucks push snow in their driveways. If snow has been piled up on the left of the drive the trucks can’t help pushing the snow into it, said Hamilton. To avoid that situation, local residents can wait to shovel drives until the streets are cleared, or they can dump their snow to the right of the drive, where it won’t get pushed back into the driveway.

But the road crew’s satisfactions outweigh their frustrations, which may account for the group’s longevity — Hamilton has been clearing streets for the Village almost 32 years, Crandall 23, Harding 19 and Baxter, the frequently teased rookie, has worked five.

Working so closely together gives the men a sense of camaraderie, they said, and they enjoy each other’s company.

“We have fun moments, we have serious moments,” Hamilton said. “We’ll work things through. It’s a team atmosphere.”

Mostly, though, the Village road crew continues to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to clean off our streets because they have an important job to do and they want to do it well.

“We care about people’s safety,” Baxter said. “That’s why we’re out here.”

—Diane Chiddister

Crew of two clears Miami Twp. roads

While the Village streets and sewer crew keeps village streets clear, two Miami Township employees have also been working long and odd hours to clear snow on roads outside of Yellow Springs.

“It’s been hectic,” said Miami Township Road Superintendent John Finn, who, along with employee Don Gochenhour, cleans off 13.5 miles of township roads. “There’s been a lot of overtime.”

The two men use snowplows to clear off Snypp, Husted and East Hyde roads, along with U.S. 68, to the village limits. They also clear Bryan Park Road and Golden Willow Court, Finn said. Their responsibilities also include maintaining the Clifton Cemetery along with digging graves for that cemetery.

While the two men try to limit themselves to 12-hour shifts, this year’s wintry weather has sometimes led to 24-hour workdays, said Finn, who added that in the past two weeks he worked 130 hours.

—Diane Chiddister