A night in the life of a snow plow driver

Careful maneuvering, perseverance required on tight city streets
COVINGTON, Ky. – With scant inches of space between his mirrors and the parked cars on either side, Jason Roberts slowly maneuvered his Ford 250 down 28th Street, his plow scraping the road free of freshly fallen snow.
It was nearly midnight, Roberts was almost six hours into what promised to be a 16-hour shift, and he was essentially rushing from side street to access road to dead-end, tackling all the roadways too narrow for the bigger trucks that make up the City of Covington’s snow response fleet – the Ford 350s and 550s and Kenworth dump trucks.
“Every truck we’ve got is out right now,” Roberts said. “I’m basically the utility fielder, going from spot to spot.”
Earlier Saturday evening, a group text had summoned half of Covington’s “Snow and Ice Team” – about a dozen and a half members on the first or “A” team – to the Public Works garage on Boron Drive to start a shift that likely would go through the night.
Their mission: Keep Covington’s streets safe for drivers during and after the approaching snow storm.
For a while, that wasn’t an easy task, as the thick flakes blowing across the sky cut down visibility and stole away traction on anything resembling a hill. Just outside the City, roads like Kyles Lane, Taylor Mill Hill, and Hands Pike were briefly closed.
“It was a real mess,” said Roberts, whose “day job” is supervisor of the Public Works’ Forestry/Devou Park Division.
Throughout it all, the Snow and Ice Team drove along their assigned routes, plowing and dumping salt, many of them tackling streets they’ve treated for years and years. Back at the Public Works complex, backhoe operator Lonnie Johnson waited by the salt dome to fill up any truck that came back in.
By 10 p.m., the heaviest of the snow had stopped. What fell periodically from the sky over the next few hours was part rain, part snow, as if the clouds couldn’t make up their collective mind.
With high-priority thoroughfares finished, Covington’s drivers turned their attention to less-traveled side streets.
Roberts continued to zigzag across town, hitting spots being radioed to him and weaving between parked cars to knock slush toward the curb.
“It’s 34 degrees now, it’s kind of melting on its way down, and the salt we spread earlier is doing its thing,” he said. “Everything I’m running over looks pretty good. I’m just trying to push the slush out of the main area so the water runs down the gutters instead of into the middle part of the street and refreezing.”
Along the way, he did what snow plow truck drivers are accustomed to doing: Pausing for impatient drivers, enduring a snowball or two, inching up and down hills and around corners, and trying not to flinch when a ferocious BOOM! signaled a sewer lid.
“I hate those things,” he said.
Because he is also acting as “snow commander” this week on the Department’s rotating schedule, Roberts also monitored the weather apps on his phone (“I’ve got five of them”) to try to figure out what the weather was going to do.
“We’re supposed to get another half inch later tonight,” he said. “But we’ll see.”
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