Keeping streets clear not an easy task

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— Friday night, Gerald Brenner went to sleep at 8:30 p.m. He slept until 2 a.m., at which time he got a call from a dispatcher at the city's public works shop, pulled on his boots and got into his car to go to work. For six and a half hours, he rode around the silent streets in a truck with a plow and swept the snow from the roads on the east side of the mountain. At about 9 a.m., he got back into his car and drove home.

"The whole world looks different after you plow all night and then get in your car to drive home," Brenner said.

When the working folk of Steamboat Springs awaken, although the roads may still be slick, the drive is a whole lot easier than it was before Brenner and four other drivers finished their work.

"As long as you can get out of your own driveway, we try to keep the streets open," said Street Fleet Superintendent Doug Marsh.

Steamboat may look like a small town, but don't tell that to a snowplow operator. Come winter, there are actually 62 miles of streets to be plowed in the city, Marsh said. The 19 operators currently working for the city often have to wake up at 2 a.m. to start up their snowplows and begin clearing the deserted streets while the rest of us listen to flakes drift in our dreams.

"It could snow for 10 days in a row, so you just have to be prepared at all times," Marsh said.

With all the snow being dumped on the city streets this November, prompting the Steamboat Ski Area to open four days early, the snowplow operators have been pretty busy. But the amount of snow didn't come as a surprise to Marsh.

"The last three winters were actually pretty easy," Marsh said. "This is more normal."

Marsh said that snowplow operations are currently under budget for the 2000 fiscal year but could go into the red if he has to pay a lot of overtime through the rest of the year. Snowplowing in Steamboat is paid for out of the city's general fund.

"We do have appropriate funds to continue our plowing operations," Director of Public Works Jim Weber said.

The city employs 12 full-time workers at the public works shop who do jobs such as laying asphalt in the summer and plowing snow in the winter. They added seven seasonal workers this winter and have three mechanics working on the plows.

The plowing team includes five grader trucks, three sand trucks and two front-end loader plows. The front-end loaders, which are smaller than graders and therefore more easily able to maneuver in tight spaces, are used to clear alleyways and parking lots. There are a total of five grader routes in the city limits, including Brenner's east mountain route.

Brenner has worked for the city for 14 years, before which he plowed for the state up on Rabbit Ears Pass. Starting salary at the public works shop is $15 an hour, but, as Brenner warned, the hours can be rough. He often gets home in the early morning and tries to stay awake in order not to disrupt his sleep pattern too much. But how does he keep himself up after working all night?

"Usually when I go home, I have to plow my yard at home," he said.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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