Untold stories from the perspective of an outsider: a morning with Pelham’s plows

It’s 3 a.m.

The soft cries of “Daddy” from my soon-to-be-three year old usually serve as my alarm – a good three hours later – but not today. Today my alarm, despite its soothing tones, sounds like nails on a chalkboard.

In a sleepy haze I reach over to mute the pesky tings and vibrations, knocking over a remote, a bottle of water, and a 700-plus page hardcover book on Ted Williams, baseball’s best pure hitter.

For good measure I knock my phone – serving double duty as my alarm – on the floor too. My wife stirs slightly.

My senses snap to attention, knowing that should I wake her, or the newborn in the bassinet a few feet over, my soon-to-be long day will be even longer.

Successfully, I dress in the dark. A pie-shaped sliver of moonlight sneaks between the curtains, providing just enough illumination to ensure matching socks. The rest of my attire was a roll of the dice.

I step on a toy, kick the dog, and misjudge the width of the doorframe on my way out of the bedroom.  

It’s 3:10 a.m. and I’ve made it downstairs. Everyone else is still sleeping. Victory.

I draw the living room curtains and observe the forecast was indeed correct, big white flakes still descending from the darkened sky above.

As beautiful a landscape laid out before me, my mind is fixated on the clock, and the 5-10 cm that has accumulated on the previous day’s exposed lawn looks more like 5-10 feet – 3:18 a.m. has a tendency to magnify things.

I dash out the front door to start the car, brush off the base layer of snow and decide the windows could defrost on their own; the thought of scraping the windshield held no appeal to my gloveless hands.

Only a few minutes later I’m behind the wheel, gripping a freezing cold steering wheel and rethinking my previous day’s commitment to join the public works crew as they plow Pelham’s roads. They hit the road at 4 a.m. I’m on it at 3:25 a.m.

Driving the lonely, morning highway, I can’t help but wonder how the roads crew and their families endure these mornings every winter.

Though current road conditions required a slower-than-usual approach, I made good time pulling into the operations centre on Tice Road a few ticks before 4 a.m. I park just outside the main gate, trod through the snow, and receive greetings from a handful of the guys who beat me there.

I found out later that my guide for the day, Bob Goodfield (supervisor of roads), arrived at the yard at 2:45 a.m., making sure the equipment was ready, up, and running for his crew. Goodfield takes care of his guys.

With a chill in my bones growing deeper by the minute, I am eager to jump in the plow, the warmth of the cab providing refuge from the biting cold. The public works guys, if they noticed the temperature, they don’t show it. Business as usual.

As I lumber into the truck, its low hum of gears and belts and all things engine send a wave of vibrations throughout my seat.  For a moment it was somewhat blissful. I would later realize this was the only comfort my back, shoulders, and derriere would receive all day.

As we pull out of the year, Goodfield tells me that we’ve got the main roads route, the likes of Canboro, Effingham, Welland, etc. The flakes continue to dance around as if we were the centerpiece of a vigorously shaken snow globe.

I watch the wing on the passenger side of the plow lower and begin its workday, diverting snow in an almost artistic manner. Goodfield scans the equipment inside and out, ensuring it’s all working harmoniously. It is.

A quick look behind us to ensure the salt is flowing freely and we’re well underway.

“You’ve got to have 100 eyes doing this job,” says Goodfield, head on a swivel.

I’m thankful Goodfield is behind the wheel and not me. Don’t underestimate the concentration it takes to operate a snow plow.

“The roads are slick underneath,” he says, fighting the wheel. “You can feel it moving the truck and back forth.”

Goodfield’s feel for the road is impressive; such is the result of 18 years on the job and having plowed every road in the Town at least once.

“Hang on, there’s a bump coming,” he says to me. I strain my eyes, determined to match the apparent x-ray vision of my driver, but I see nothing. I let my body relax as he slows the vehicle in preparation of his vision.

Wathump. There it is.

I look over at Goodfield, his eyes focused straight ahead, corners of his mouth rising subtly; the veteran schools the rookie.

Navigating the darkened streets we go north and then south, or maybe it was east and west. It didn’t take long to lose my bearings as we made our way in through the lightless morning.

“I don’t like what’s left there,” said Goodfield of a clump of snow in the intersection of Canboro and Haist. “I’ve got to turn around so I can clean that up.”

And we do.

I quickly realize that Goodfield is a perfectionist who takes pride in his work and the community he serves. We travel on, leaving no mess in its place.

As we drive along Port Robinson Road, I am oblivious to the fact that the salt had stopped flowing. I’m a pendulum of yawn fighting and raising the weights that have attached themselves to my eyelids. Goodfield, however, is on top of it. He throws on the four-ways, jumps out of the truck, grabs a shovel and breaks the clumpy culprit blocking the spout.

As he gets things moving again a car flies by us; from my vantage point much too close. It proceeds to run the stop sign about 15 yards in front of us, and fishtails away. I’m more put off than Goodfield.

“Happens a lot,” says Goodfield, unfazed as he settles back into his captain’s chair.

Goodfield tells me he’s been with public works in Pelham for 18 years this July, one of those mid-year months he’s come to favour.

“I like the summer months better now,” he says. “You don’t have to get out of bed and  look out your window at 2 a.m. to check the snowfall and figure out how many guys you’ve got to call in that day.”

The sky above has begun its transformation from a dark navy blue to a lighter one. More cars are on the road, more lights on in windows. The world, it seems is waking up en masse.

It’s now almost 7 a.m. and we’ve been on the road for the past three hours.

I’ve been peppering Goodfield with questions all morning, mostly about operations and the challenges he faces, but my small talk abilities are lacking, partly lost in an increasing tiredness and partly in the captivating beauty of Pelham’s quiet streets; some I was seeing for the first time.

As the first half of my morning shift neared its conclusion, sighting exposed asphalt was akin to seeing a fin while whale watching. Maybe not quite as exhilarating, but seeing progress from the morning’s work was equally satisfying.

As we circled the Town, clearing the main roads and cleaning up areas that didn’t meet Goodfield’s expectations, we passed several other Town staff working their respective routes and destinations.

The Pelham roads crew is a small team, but they’re efficient and dedicated. With the challenging road conditions, it took some time to travel the roads of Pelham.

At 8 a.m. we pulled back into the operations yard at Tice Road, Goodfield needing a refill of salt and a stretch of the legs.

As for me, I’m ready to reacquaint myself with my cozy little nook of an office, the allure of heat pumping through the vents and a lumbar-support chair is intoxicating.

I hop out of the truck, feel a few joints shift back into place, shake Goodfield’s hand, and thank him for the experience. I am on my way to the office, Goodfield on his back to the roads (where he would stay until the early afternoon).

Later that day, as I’m sitting at home lamenting the exhaustion I feel after just half a day on the road, my phone chirps. Translation: work email. Though I do my best to turn off – literally and figuratively – when the day is done, my curiosity gets the best of me.

Accessing the lock screen I read: Bob Goodfield – Plow ride. I opened the email and find this: “Hope you had a fun ride. Have a good sleep. I know you will.”

Like a snow-covered bump in the road, Goodfield was once again spot on, like Babe Ruth calling his shot.

He hit a homerun. I slept like a baby that night.

SOURCE: Town of Pelham News Release