Snow job: Jesse Larson is one of the city workers plowing the way each winter
WORTHINGTON -- "It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it."OK -- so that's not a direct quote, but it sums up a lot of a conversation that took place earlier this week with Jesse Larson, a city worker who is part of the crew charged with clean...
WORTHINGTON - “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.”
OK - so that’s not a direct quote, but it sums up a lot of a conversation that took place earlier this week with Jesse Larson, a city worker who is part of the crew charged with cleaning up the Worthington city streets following each winter snowfall.
On this particular day, the snow was just starting to drift down from the sky, and Larson and his co-workers were anticipating the job ahead. After a snowless period of several weeks, they had just finished dealing with round one of snow that came over the Christmas holiday and another dumping was forecasted.
Does Larson get revved up when he knows snow is on the way, or does he dread the prospect?
“It depends on how the winter’s been going,” he said, implying that so far this season his job hadn’t been too bad. “By February, it may be a different story.”
A 1995 graduate of Worthington High School, Larson is a veteran snowplow driver, having been employed by the City of Worthington for 19 years. He started as a part-time seasonal worker during the summer months and was hired on full-time when a position opened up.
He still remembers his first time in the driver’s seat of a city plow.
“It’s a big learning curve,” he admitted. “We’d only got a couple of inches, but I was down on Johnson (Avenue), turned a corner too sharp and got stuck.”
Larson endured a bit of razzing from that mishap.
“You always do,” he said with a chuckle.
As one of eight workers who man the snow-clearing equipment, Larson is always on call. That means, if it’s snowing, he can count on being awakened in the middle of night by a summons to climb aboard his truck and hit the road plowing.
“That’s the worst, at night, knowing you’re going to get the phone call in the middle of the night,” he said. “Then it’s hard to sleep.”
One of the most memorable snowstorms for Larson was the Christmas blizzard of six years ago. He had to leave his family - he and wife Jessica now have two children, ages 5 and 8 - and any thoughts of holiday celebrations behind and go to work.
“We started at 1 o’clock in the morning and were still there at 5 o’clock in the night,” Larson related. “There was no Christmas. My wife finally called and said they were going to open presents without me. I told them to go ahead, because I had no idea when I was going to be home.”
According to information provided by the Worthington Public Works Department, last year the city received 28½ inches of snow from October 2014 to April 2015. Plowing generally begins in the early morning hours to clear arterial streets, school zones, the city center, residential areas and alleyways. Plowing routes are established in an attempt to provide the same level of service to everyone. Areas to be plowed and starting points are determined by the amount of snow that has accumulated, ice conditions and wind direction and velocity.
“We gauge the snowfall, and if it’s blowing or drifting, we’ll go around the outskirts of town first to open up the areas that are blowing shut,” explained Larson.
The Public Works Department maintains seven plow trucks, two front-end loaders, one motor grader and one truck-mounted snowblower. Additional contracted trucks are utilized to haul the snow, and other motor graders and front-end loaders may be called in as needed.
“We have three crews that plow around the town,” detailed Larson. “Each one of us has a section. Mine is around the lake. Then if we get an area done, we’ll call each other and see what’s left and go help them out.”
A pre-wetted mixture of sand/salt and liquid pre-wet agent is most often utilized to deal with the ice on city streets, while pure salt with a pre-wet agent (which is derived from corn) may be applied during particularly hazardous ice conditions. The intent is not to get down to bare pavement, but to deal with the most hazardous conditions at intersections, curves and hills.
The approximate cost to remove 1 inch of snow and ice during the 2013-2014 season was $3,239 - for labor, equipment and materials.
“Wet snow is the toughest to deal with,” shared Larson. “You can’t get any traction. Or, if the snow gets packed on the road, it gets slippery underneath, then you just spin and spin.”
With a new snowfall - when the whole world is blanketed in an even coat of white - it is also difficult to see the path to plow, Larson added.
“Being able to see the curb can be tough,” he explained. “But if you do the same routes, which we usually do, you know where stuff is at. Visibility can be tough, especially on the sides. If it’s blowing, and then the snow is blowing back at you, you can’t see anything. You just hope nothing is in front of you.”
Drivers are advised to stay 70 feet - that’s four car lengths - behind a plow so the driver can see the vehicle. The plow drivers are usually intent on the job that lays in front of them, so a driver should never assume that a plow driver is aware of their presence.
“It’s easier when there’s less traffic, easier to run in the early morning or after 9 o’clock at night,” said Larson. “But it’s amazing how much traffic there sometimes is, and then people have gotta drive right behind you. I’ve even had people pass me before. I just shake my head at them as they drive by.”
While the odd-even parking rule is enforced throughout the winter months, Larson stressed that getting vehicles off the road altogether is most helpful. He also advises people to stay off the roads as much as possible until they do get cleared.
“We always get the looky-lous who have to get out there right away,” he said.
In almost 20 decades of plowing roads, Larson has gotten his share of rude gestures and complaints from residents as he passes by, dumping a fresh load of snow in a newly cleaned driveway. He tries not to take it personally.
“We see a little bit of everything, especially when the winter drags on,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can. Would I rather be home in bed? Yeah, but then the streets wouldn’t get done.
“We just get out there and do it. … And then when we’re done, I gotta go home and clean out my driveway, too.”