Aye, me hardies, the Birdwell has participated in a wide variety of endeavors to bring in sorely needed cash. Time was, when snow fell, I jumped on a plow truck and struck out in the dark of night to tame the white whale.
The crew was comprised of Cap’n Jay; Gary, the first mate; Jimmy, the shipwright; and me, the farking Birdwell. The laborers hoisting the shovels were the swabbies.
I manned the training vehicle – or the Puke Truck, as we call it. So named because a laborer puked in it one night. Indeed, I have caused puking to one of my passengers. Too many short, back-and-forth pushes are ‘no bueno’.
Long, straight pushes keeps the stomach firm and your passengers healthy.
Sometimes, on a long straight push, with the plow blade angled just right (or left, as the case may be) a rip-curl of white crests and rolls off to the side, pretty as you please. As long as conditions are just right – otherwise white-out conditions result and the snow/ice can come in through the open window, coating your left arm and chest, your left leg, left ear and the door controls.
The windows are open to dissipate heat. The heat is on full blast so that the engine stays cool. The plow blocks enough air to cause overheating of the engine. Who would’ve thought?
Like any job, you learn the personality quirks of your equipment – what works, what doesn’t, and what incantations/spells and/or foul language will make it work. There is no sense hitting or kicking anything, you will only injure yourself (although that lesson is as individualistic as a fingerprint). You learn how long you can go before you need to replenish the hydraulic fluid in the rig and if the gas gauge is accurate or if you need to watch the odometer.
I learned a few things about hydraulics. If you have to inspect the rig, put the blade DOWN – so it doesn’t decide to do so on your foot. Hydraulic fluid is a consumable commodity and as equally important as gasoline. It makes the plow go up and down. If you can’t put the plow down, you can’t push snow. If you can’t lift the plow up, you can’t go home.
Here’s the drill: Apply brakes/shift into Drive/drop the plow/hit the gas and push snow/hit the brakes/shift to Reverse/bring the plow up/hit the gas/hit the brakes/shift to Drive/drop the plow/hit the gas and push snow – repeat about 5,000 times. 10,000 if it is a bad storm.
I have driven more miles in reverse than you have changes of underwear. Or socks. Combined.
Long days and nights are the norm. I have put in 37 hours straight. 14 hours are common. If I have to pee, I jump out of the truck and pee – in the middle of the parking lot. No one is going to see you in the dark of night. Then I plow over the spot – like it never even happened.
It gets lonely at night, but the radio is comforting. The DJ becomes a personal friend. Depending on my mood and how much caffeine is coursing through my veins, I might be inclined to sing. I also talk to myself – a lot. But that really isn’t anything new. The more coffee I have, the more I run my mouth. And it’s nothing I want to hear twice – mostly post consumer blabber. The ranting and ravings of a caffeinated lunatic (who is plowing snow).
At night I turn into a vampire, because at that point I am indeed a creature of the night. Sometimes I pop in my plastic vampire teeth and talk in a strangely haunting tone (Don’t be frightened. I only want a little blood…er, coffee). There are other nocturnal creatures – the gas station attendant, the guy at the convenience store, other plow folk.
I don’t brush my hair – it adds to the mystique. Besides, who do I have to impress?
When the sun comes up I immediately flip on my shades and spit out my vampire teeth. The sun bouncing off of the snow is blinding. It also reveals all of the spots you missed.
The sun rise is a welcome sight, but dusk heralds the night – and a whole lot of weird shit goes on at night – more so when the area is in the grips of snowstorm.
Like the fox that harassed me that time. At the beginning of a big storm, I got to my location and began clearing the front lot in an ever increasing oval. As I made way around one of the curves, I thought I saw something run out from the shrubs. A cat, perhaps. Coming around the other side of the parked trucks, to my amazement was a red fox sitting in the middle of the plow track. WTF, I exclaimed, emphatically. It seemed wrong to me on so many levels. What with the storm blowing, the parking lot, the noise and activity of the truck. Very non-typical fox behavior. Not being comfortable with non-typical behavior that evening, I stomped on the gas pedal and took aim. Actually, I still had some of the plow blade in fresh snow, because I didn’t want Cap’n Jay to think I was engaging in un-Pirate-like behavior when I should have been working.
But the fox, it wasn’t running away. It would run over the berm, then, after the truck passed, pop back out onto the parking lot. Obviously it was taunting me and I gave chase – every time I came around that side of the oval. Eventually I grew weary of the game and jumped out and threw a snowball at it. That seemed to settle things down.
Then there was the guy walking down the road very early in the still snowing morning. My vehicle was disabled and I was lounging across the seat, out of sight, awaiting assistance. Something must have caught his fancy in the back of my truck, because he migrated across the street towards me. I armed myself with a spray can of wd-40 and an ice scraper – mace and club. He was quite surprised when I popped up in the window. He migrated back to the other side of the street without incident.
Just because you have a plow hanging off the snout of a truck doesn’t mean you can go anywhere and just plow your way out of trouble. It’s not like you can just push through a parking lot covered in 2 ft. of snow with abandon. It mounds up in front of and around the truck. Smart driving and 4wd practices will save your ass. That and good plowing technique. It comes down the angle of the plow blade.
Approaching a snow covered 5 acre parking lot is a lot like looking at a huge, blank Etch-a-Sketch. Your job is to make everything black. The snow hides everything – equipment carelessly left out, curbs, sewers, power cords, pallets. The plow uncovers all of that and oft times not very gracefully.
And who are the high thinking architects who plan an island – or eight or nine – in the middle of a 5 acre parking lot? Hitting one of those things not good for the rig. If you were really thinking at a high level, you would put a basin or storm water catch in the middle of the parking lot. Then there would be a place to put all of that snow.
It all has to go somewhere. That can mean mounds of snow 20 feet high.
Once everything is nice and black, you lay down the salt.
Salt is what makes a good job great. It is also a corrosive material that will (eventually) eat its way through all of your equipment, including your boots and gloves. Think about that, the next time you put a little extra on your fries.
You push snow. You blow salt (out of the hopper).
At some point you turn around (hopefully in the daytime) and the 5 acre Etch-a-sketch is black, clean, clear and has a saline content that rivals the Dead Sea.
You raise the plow one last time and strike out for home, and bed.