With huge dumps of snow covering the area throughout the past couple of weeks, the snow plows have been out 24-7 to keep our highways and roads clear.
It’s a pretty tough job, as I learnt when I spent a seven-hour shift with YRB snow-plow driver Derald Dickau a couple of weeks ago.
Driving in the plow is constantly bumpy and noisy, as I joked with Derald, if you were a female doing the job you’d need to wear a sports bra.
As for the noise, it doesn’t bother Derald as he tells me he suffers some deafness from driving truck his whole life. With his deafness and my British accent however, conversation had a lot of “What was thats?” and “Sorrys?” and “ehs?”, but we got through it.
We drove all the way to Kenny Dam and back, plowing some driveways and side roads along the way, a journey that took almost eight hours.
The one good thing about the Kenny Dam route, Derald tells m,e is you don’t have to worry about keeping up traffic and also there’s the chance of seeing wildlife.
However, logging trucks use the road quite frequently and so we had to watch out for those, as meeting one in the wrong spot could result in one of you in the ditch. To avoid this, the plow drivers and logging truck drivers keep in constant radio contact so that when you come close to meeting, one would pull over at a wider spot until the other one passes.
Kenny Dam was one of the last areas in the Vanderhoof YRB area to be plowed since it’s not frequently used. It had only been about 24 hours since the last dump, but this was a long enough period to make things tricky for a plow. The longer an area is waiting to be plowed, the more likely it will have compact snow which is more difficult to plow.
Road priorities for YRB start with the highways before moving on to school bus routes and secondary roads.
YRB Vanderhoof employs 20 people who do the actual plowing. On an average day they would complete a 7.5 hour shift, however, when conditions get bad many of the drivers will be working 12-hour shifts, often throughout the night.
Derald tells me you have to always pay attention when plowing, looking for the edge of the road so you don’t end up in the ditch, as he did last month when turning round.
Derald sports some Elton John-style orange sunglasses for his shift, which I’m told were not a fashion statement, but help to define the snow better.
Mike Svensen, the Road Superintendent, with YRB Vanderhoof, says the hardest part of the job is dealing with the traffic on the highway.
“You get lots of impatient people, some trying to pass when it’s not safe,” said Svensen.
“We have a contract with the Ministry of Transportation to clear the roads…we understand that people are trying to get places but my men have a job to do too,” he said.
In terms of conditions Svensen said the worst to work in is freezing rain.
“All you can do is sand and salt in these conditions,” he said.
“Maybe three times in the 20 years I have worked at YRB they have had to close the highways completely in these conditions because even the plough trucks couldnt keep themselves on the roads,” he said.
Svenson says his biggest asset is his crew.
“I got a great bunch of guys,” said he said.
“On Christmas day for example, I had 11 guys out working…some of them I didn’t even call in,” he said.
We all work really well together…they’re a tight bunch and they take a lot of pride in what they do,” he added.