By Rick Miller
On Randy Parker has been driving a snow plow for the Cattaraugus County Public Works Department for the past 12 years. For the past nine years, he’s worked the Chapel Hill route in Allegany and Humphrey.
He works the 1 to 9:30 p.m. shift along with five other plow drivers. Another shift works from 4 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They get the roads ready for people to go to work and school buses to school in the morning, and they make sure the roads are clear again in the afternoon when schools let out and people are headed home from their jobs.
Parker gets his assignment from shift supervisor Sam Grey: Spot plow and sand County Road 51 (Chapel Hill Road) and County Road 18 (Humphrey Road) in Humphrey and Great Valley. Sand the hills and the curves.
Before backing out of the Allegany Highway Barn on Seventh Street, Parker does a safety check of the tandem-axle dump truck that weighs between 18 and 20 tons. Because the
doors are narrow, it’s best to have someone help guide you out of the barn, Parker said.
He pulls the truck out onto Buffalo Road and heads for Chapel Hill.
“When it’s bad out, you’ve got to be careful,” Parker said. “It’s best to get ahead of the storm so traffic can get up the hill. You’ve got to take your time and be careful.”
On the hills, it’s the motorists with bad tires that are the problem, Parker said. “If you’ve got good winter tires, nine times out of 10 you are going to be alright. You just have to slow down.”
Most people give plows the respect they deserve, Parker said.
“We’re getting the public where they need to go safely.”
The slight inconvenience of following a slow-moving plow — 20 to 25 mph — outweigh the slippery road surface one might find after passing a plow. That sand with a 10 percent salt mix gives tires the grit needed to grip the road.
To get the real effect of snow plowing, Parker said you have to go out at night — in a snowstorm. “Some nights are bad so the second shift will stay to midnight and the morning shift will come in early.”
Parker said a night last winter “was one of the worst nights I’ve seen with heavy snow bringing down trees everywhere. There were places (drivers) had to turn around because trees were down.”
Parker controls the plow and wing with a joystick in the center console. The rate of application of sand is dialed in on another display. Both give indications to the driver if the plow or wing is being moved up or down and if the sand is running or paused.
Every year several tractor-trailers end up getting stuck on Chapel Hill when a GPS sends them over the hill in a storm instead of over routes 417 and 219.
“They get halfway up and can’t go any further,” Parker said. “The same thing happens on Barnum Road in Olean.”
Parker wishes drivers would keep back the required 200 feet from his plow. Some still drive so close to the back of the plow that he can’t see them in his rearview mirrors.
“I like working outside,” Parker said. “I’m not working in one area eight hours a day. I’m all over the place. This is a public service.”
Safety is still the number one concern. “You have to pay attention to traffic, but pay more attention to what you are doing. The worst thing is freezing rain. Everybody hates it. You try to get some material down on the road before it hits.”
Conditions can vary widely on Parker’s route. Even the two sides of Chapel Hill are distinctly different. The Allegany side generally has less snow than the Humphrey side, Parker pointed out.
The spot plowing and sanding means picking up and raising the plow and wing as the snow warrants. “I’d rather have a constant snow on the road than all this up and down with the plow and wing,” Parker said.
Driving a 20-ton vehicle, Parker doesn’t have time to sightsee even though the plow goes through some nice-looking landscapes.
Sometimes he sees someone wave as they shovel their driveway when he passes. “Sometimes they get mad when you plow their driveway in, but what are you going to do?”
Like other county plow drivers, Parker does his best — every day and night.
“If my family is traveling this road, I want them safe like everyone else,” he said.