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Along for the Ride – Middleton reporter sees the road from snowplow driver’s perspective


On the road when few others are

MIDDLETON – For a couple of hours this afternoon it was snowing hard. It was wet heavy snow that Blake Sarty plowed off Highway 101. It filled in behind him almost as fast as he could clear it.

That’s the nature of the beast for snowplow operators in Annapolis County where the weather changes for every kilometer you drive, for what mountain you’re on, or for how far east or west you are.

Blake does Middleton to the county line at Kingston. Then he does it again. And again.

The storm had hit mid-morning and the snow was starting to accumulate. We drove the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s new $450,000 truck out of Middleton, dubbed M398, that not only carries salt but has a slide-in tank that holds brine.

Blake drove out on the Brooklyn connector road and he and another driver first cleared the ramps and then started their routes. We headed east. The other guy headed west to Bridgetown.

Blake

Blake’s been driving plow for 11 years. He drove truck before that.

He’s from down Parkers Cove way originally but lives in Clarence now, so his job isn’t that far from home these days. And he seems like the kind of guy who doesn’t get flustered very easily.

He’s seen his share of highways and on the plow sometimes the snow is so bad the only thing he can drive by is the rumble strip in the middle of the road or the white line just off to the right of the truck as his plow blade uncovers it.

It’s not that bad today, but with the plow kicking up snow and the white stuff coming down hard, visibility was poor to say the least. The ride was rough and noisy. The radio kept Blake in touch with base and other operators were calling in to report on conditions on their routes. The snow was turning to rain down Milford way.

I looked down at the blade just a few feet from where I’m sitting and as it flings the snow it’s also showering the side of the road with sparks as it scrapes asphalt. It’s an odd mixture – fire and ice.

More Salt

At Kingston we cleared the ramps on the west side of the overpass and headed back to Middleton and the plow shed where we picked up more salt.

There’s a ramp built beside the salt dome. Blake backed in so the side of M398 was at the end of the ramp, and a loader dumped a couple big loads in after Blake flipped up the tarps that protect the salt once it’s in the truck.

With the tarps down, we get back in the truck. I’m on the passenger side so getting in involves climbing over the snowplow blade. Blake works it up through the gears to get the big truck moving and we go up Gates Mountain. It’s a winding, narrow road when you drive it in a car. In a snowplow it feels downright tiny. But Blake has no trouble. We meet traffic and everyone survives. No mailboxes are knocked down.

The snow on the south side of the North Mountain was heavy. Blake said it would be a lot less when we got to the top, and he was right. We turned down Delusion Road and cleared it right down to the stop sign just outside Margaretsville and turned around, did the other side, and went back down the mountain.

Blake’s priority is to keep the 101 clear, so his plan to plow out through Spa Springs next was going to have to wait while he went back out on the highway to plow it again. My plan was to hop off back at the plow shed.

Turned to Rain

The much-anticipated storm had dumped a half dozen centimetres by the time we got back to the shed the second time. But the wet snow was rapidly turning into rain and soon many of the local roads were completely clear of snow thanks to Mother Nature.

Inside the plow shed, the guys wanted to know what I thought. I said it was great.

I’ve been invited back to try it again at night – in a blizzard. I’ll be there.

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