By Gretta Becay
When there’s a winter like 2018-2019 followed by the wettest summer ever, Dodge County road workers almost never stop working.
During the worst storms last year, the snowplow drivers slept at the shop on cots borrowed from the Dodge Center Fire Department. Casey’s convenience store provided free pizza for the men.
“There was no way around it,” said one driver. “We had to get up to the shop and then we worked so many hours, it didn’t make sense to leave.”
When the plow drivers drive into work, none of the roads are plowed but they still have to get there.
Most snowy days, the men are at the shop and ready to go on the road at 5 a.m.
Each driver is responsible for about 40 miles of roads. So, on a good day, they drive their plows 80 miles; 40 out and 40 back, taking about four hours to do so. But if there is drifting or blowing snow and/or more than a few inches, the routes have to be run again, and those 80 miles lengthen, and the men are out all day and into the evening hours.
During one particularly wicked storm last year, the town of Mantorville had been isolated for 24 hours. Even though it was 7:30 p.m. and the men had already plowed for 14 hours, they rallied to plow County State Aid Highway 21 between Kasson and Mantorville as the state plows were not able to keep Trunk Highway 57 open.
Plowing snow isn’t the drivers’ only tasks during storms.
Twice last year they had to pull ambulances out of drifts to get them back on their way. Once the ambulances got to Highway 14, plow crews from MnDOT (state Department of Transportation) were working tirelessly to keep that road open.
If the plow drivers only had to worry about themselves, keeping the roads clear would be a lot less difficult. But there are also drivers trying to get to work or school, mailboxes, trash cans, and snow that people have plowed onto the road to clear their driveways.
Every vehicle on the road is also a hazard as drivers coming towards the plow with their bright lights on temporarily blind the drivers.
“That is not something you want to add to a plow driver’s existing snow blindness,” explained County Engineer Guy Kohlnhofer.
Even if there are only a few inches of snow, the drivers go out. Dodge County roads are varied in elevation with flat areas, hills and valleys. Trees and buildings near roads all affect the drifting of snow so even a few inches and a 5-to-10-MPH wind can plug a road.
You can also have ‘pin’ drifts, explained the men. These are narrow isolated drifts that cause a hazard on an otherwise clear road.
“Every storm is different,” said the drivers.
When plowing, the edge of the front plow is just off the center line. If you are a driver approaching or following a plow, there is no extra room in the other lane for passing or crowding the center.Snowplows are large unforgiving vehicles and Kohlnhofer would like to remind everyone, “Remember to respect snowplows; be patient, stay back, stay alert, slow down; and we’ll all get to go home at the end of the day.”