Wrestling with Old Man Winter | PostIndependent.com

Wrestling with Old Man Winter

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” A thick fog wedged itself between valley walls the morning of Monday, Oct. 20, like a thick layer of plaster ceiling boxing in the town of Glenwood Springs below.

The chill of winter was thick in the air as Philip Vanvalkenburg prepared his plow truck for the coming winter.

“This is the best part of the year for me,” he said. “I love plowing snow.”

It’s good to know that there are guys ” like Vanvalkenburg ” who enjoy their work with the Colorado Department of Transportation as snow plow drivers who keep the roads in Garfield County clear during the winter.

Vanvalkenburg has been with CDOT in the Glenwood area for 12 years and has plowed the frozen gauntlet of Interstate 70 through the Glenwood Canyon for the past six.

“It’s a different kind of animal,” he said. “You come around a blind corner and there is a car sitting sideways and it gets pretty intense.”

It’s just part of the job.

Vanvalkenburg doesn’t get too nervous these days while plowing. He’s seen the heat Mother Nature can throw.

“You get nervous sometimes,” he said. “But it’s just part of the job.”

Last year, one of the younger plowmen saw first hand the dangers of plowing on McClure pass that made the junior foreman for Aspen and Carbondale, Les Stanton kind of nervous. A heavy snowstorm on McClure Pass caused driver to go off the road into a snow bank, Stanton said.

“It’s pretty scary up there,” Stanton said.

The communications up there are “real bad” Stanton said, and when the truck went off the road the driver didn’t know that he was being heard because the truck was laying on its side.

“Everybody heard him, but he didn’t know that everybody heard him,” Stanton said. “He wasn’t sure if he was stuck up there for the night or what.”

But crews were able to get to the truck, pull it back onto the road, and resume work.

Just another day at the office.

“It’s just the threat of them getting hurt ” more than anything ” that bothers me,” Stanton said. “There is always the chance for damage on the trucks, but with the amount of snow up there at the time, the vehicle was fine.”

And just because it’s snowing doesn’t mean these guys can stay home. Besides, plow drivers like Vanvalkenburg would rather be pushing snow anyway.

“It’s good to get back into winter and get back to plowing,” Vanvalkenburg said.

The yard at the CDOT main office in Glenwood Springs for Section 2 was like a construction zone Monday morning. Big orange CDOT trucks were everywhere.

Every now and then you’d hear the high-volume “beep, beep, beep” as one of the large beasts backed-up under a “Mag-combo” unit. Like fitting a saddle on a mammoth.

It was the first day of winter preparations and the 41-person crew was busy rigging up their trucks so that when the snow starts to fly they will be ready.

“We do a real thorough job when it’s not snowing,” said senior foreman for section 2, D’Wayne Gaymon. “We give them a week, but it usually takes two or three days for them to get their trucks ready.”

The dump trucks used in the summer for hauling asphalt and whatever else might be needed, are transformed into plow trucks. Each truck is equipped with a blade, the apparatus that actually plows the snow, and either a sander unit, or a “Mag-combo unit”. The sander units are the apparatus that sprays sand on the road from the rear of the truck, while the combo units, toss sand and have liquid spraying units that apply liquid de-icer, or magnesium chloride (MgC12).

Each driver is responsible for their own truck, making sure that everything is in good working order. A well-oiled machine.

They check the little things, grease all the zerks, make sure the lights work, install the plow blades, and hook it all up to make sure everything works properly.

“It gives them a good chance to really check over their trucks after all their summer jobs, to make sure they repair anything that’s gone wrong,” Gaymon said.

But, this is only preparing the trucks for winter maintenance. According to Gaymon the winter maintenance begins as soon as the spring thaw hits.

“All through the summer we are thinking about winter maintenance,” he said.

Crews spend the summer months repairing pot holes, cracks, guard rails, and replacing signs that may have been damaged in the winter or otherwise, and there is a lot of area of native grass to mow along the 703 lane miles they are responsible for.

“Everything we do in the summer is preparation for the winter,” Gaymon said. “There is no down time for these guys.”

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114


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