These are the guys who plow your streets

By on January 23, 2014

It’s 7 a.m. Tuesday morning at the borough garage and the seven man plow crew of the Lititz Public Works Department is sitting around the break room table.

Shawn Carpenter has his O.J., Mike Schreiner is checking out the local newspaper, Chris Barnhart would rather not have his picture taken, and crew rookie Tyler Toburen is about to man a borough plow for the first time (unbeknownst to him). There’s small talk and standard joking among friends. It’s the calm before the storm.

Moments later, before the camera is back in the bag, they’re on the road.

“Seven guys, seven runs,” said Gary Rynier, 24-year veteran of Lititz snow plowing and the current public works superintendent. “We have a great crew. They all know what to do, and they do it.”

Schreiner has the most years in, at 26, followed by Rynier and then Andy Garner with 22. Doug Minney has been on board for 19 years, Barnhart for 14, Carpenter 13, and Toburen’s first day on the job was Jan. 2 of this new year.

On Tuesday, the crew was prepared for a worst-case-scenario of 8 to 12 inches. They were fully stocked with salt and anti-skid, which is half-inch stone. Existing salt on the roads gave them a head start, but they anticipated spreading 60-80 tons of combined material throughout the day.

Each crew member has a designated snow route, and after the first run they return to home base to reassess.

“And if it’s needed, then we start all over again,” said Rynier. “We put in quite a few overtime hours. I don’t like to push that ‘15 hours straight’ limit, but ultimately we’re here until this is over.”

Mike Weaver, recently retired from public works after nearly 38 years of service, spent Tuesday “watching it snow” and loving his vantage point. His plowing days are over for good.

“I don’t miss it at all,” he said. “That’s one of those jobs, you can’t do anything right. As I got older, I liked it less and less. People would rather have their driveways clear than the roads plowed.”

Rynier confirmed that plowing is often thankless work. He’s been hit in the face with snowballs, spit on, had shovels thrown at his truck, and a few years ago a group of Spruce Street residents laid in the middle of the road to keep plows from pushing snow toward their parked cars.

“We needed some help from the police for that one,” he said. “I think most people are appreciative, but people do expect a lot.”

One local woman bakes cookies for the crew, and one local business buys them Christmas presents, he pointed out. So there are a few supporters out there.

Parked cars are always a sore thumb for the crew, and snow drifts, especially with a storm like the one that rolled through town Tuesday, call for multiple runs. The borough’s trouble spots for drifts, according to Rynier, are West Lincoln Avenue, North Locust Street and Woodcrest Avenue.

Some folks get angry about conditions on Route 501, but Rynier is quick to point out that state roads are PennDOT jurisdiction. In addition to Route 501, that includes East Main Street, West Orange Street, Water Street, Woodcrest Avenue and West Second Avenue.

Standing next to a 1949 sewer map and a framed photo of borough trucks that no longer exist, Rynier recalls the winters of 1993 and ‘96 as his worst years for snowstorms.

“One of those, I can’t remember which, we worked three days straight almost,” he said.

And it’s usually during unusual days like Tuesday, or those storms from 20 years ago, that people forget this public works department still has other work to do.

“We always have work outside of snow removal,” Rynier said.

On Tuesday they were scheduled to be digging test holes at the North Locust Street bridge, which is scheduled for replacement in 2016. That will have to wait.

“When you work for the borough, it’s 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Rynier said. “You’re always on call. It’s part of the job.”

Unless you’re retired.

And as far as retirement goes, especially this winter, Weaver says, “So far, so good.”

Plow Crew Fun Facts

•They usually don’t plow unless there’s three inches of snow. For those lighter storms, they focus on keeping the roads salted.

•Prior to Tuesday’s storm, the borough had 100 tons of salt in stock. They budget 200 tons for a typical winter.

•The public works break room is furnished with office seconds, but they do have a Keurig.

•The borough’s winter storm arsenal includes three salt trucks and seven plow trucks.

•The borough budgets around $15,000 for materials needed for snow removal.

•It takes two and a half hours to salt the entire town, and four to five hours for seven trucks to plow.

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