Long before the air was thick with snow at the height of the blizzard on Friday, Feb. 8, Monroe Highway Department crews had punched in at the Purdy Hill Road garage and their plow trucks were ready to go. On Wednesday morning, Highway Superintendent Jim Robinson pored over his handwritten notes, while recounting how his crew made Monroe's roads passable well before their counterparts in surrounding towns.
The town's crew members arrived at the garage at 6:30 a.m. that Friday and did not finish the initial job until 6 p.m. on Saturday, when several of them could not go back home due to snow-covered roads in their own towns. Some drivers slept on couches and in chairs during their shift, while others slept in their trucks.
"It's just plain old hard work is what it was," Robinson said, looking up from his notebook.
The momentous task of clearing the town's roadways required 17 of Monroe's old trucks, two private contractors for the dirt roads and one for the industrial park on Pepper Street. Three Parks & Recreation drivers cleared snow from parking lots and sidewalks at Monroe Town Hall, Edith Wheeler Memorial Library and Monroe Food Pantry.
Robinson said a private contractor plowed at Jockey Hollow Firehouse, primarily so the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service's ambulances could respond to calls.
The Department of Public Works averages at least one breakdown, in which a truck has to be towed, per storm, Robinson said, adding the trend continued during the blizzard.
"Other than one truck, we were able to keep others on the road with bubble gum and bailing wire," he said. "We were right on top of the storm and able to move snow until 10 at night."
Blinded by the White
Plow truck drivers had to get off the roads at 10 p.m. that Friday for their own safety, because the snowfall was so dense, they could barely see passed their windshields, Robinson said.
The trucks parked at strategic locations, including the EMS, Monroe Fire Station No. 1, Stevenson Fire Station 2 and the Monroe Police Department. On the Stepney side of town, Robinson said the trucks were in the yard.
Eighteen DPW staffers and three from Parks & Rec. had to find places to sleep for the night. "Nobody went home, and they couldn't get home anyway," Robinson recalled.
"There's not a place to take a nap," David "Rocky" Davin, a Highway Department crew leader, said. "You sleep in your truck."
The crew members were stirred early, when they were called to rescue someone who got stuck on Church Street at 4 a.m.
After that, a lot more work lay ahead.
"The worst of the snow appeared to be over," Robinson said. "We had a serious problem, we went back to old school methodology and one-by-one brought the trucks in and put skid chains on them. Then we started working our way from the Highway Garage to the center of town."
Trucks worked in tandem, with one truck plowing behind another.
At daybreak, Robinson rented large payloaders to open up the town's roads.
"By roughly 6 o'clock at night we had 98.5% of the town roads opened up, which is an amazing feat," Robinson said.
But there was no rest for the weary.
Throughout the week, crews came in for post storm clean up, widening the roads, sanding and using a wing plow — which picks up snow and places it on top of snow closer to the side of the road like a shelf. And they weathered a day of freezing rain in the process.
The weather forecast for this weekend? Snow.