Corner Brook has the topography to make for some of the most challenging snowclearing operations around.
Who better to turn to when in a bind?
The Department of Transportation and Works did just that last week, when the roadways through the southwest coast were blocked. A pair of veteran city snowplow operators stepped up to the controls and punched four long, hard days to get traffic moving from both Cape Ray and Rose Blanche to Port aux Basques.
Bill Tuff, who has nearly 30 years’ experience, said he had never encountered an operation like this one.
“The snow was over the cab of the machine in places,” he said. “They only had one lane through, and it was pretty tight. The school bus wouldn’t run until we got it widened out.”
The heavy drifting along barren countryside is not what the city snowplow operators are accustomed to. The two loaders were equipped with snow blasters, which can shoot snow hundreds of feet through the air. That situation in Corner Brook would certainly pose its own unique challenge.
“It was just open the blast shoot and let ‘er go,” Tuff said. “No cars. No windows. No houses. Telephone wires was about it.
“We would never have been able to push it in Corner Brook.”
The operators said the weather was good during their days on the job, which helped. The provincial operators had made the cut through the heavy drifts, which allowed them to focus on widening the routes.
Craig Kennedy, superintendent of works for the city, said they quickly received approval from Steve May, director of operational services, and council after receiving the request last Tuesday. They could allocate the equipment and manpower, largely because there had been somewhat of a reprieve from snow in Corner Brook, and that was expected to continue.
They were on the road for the southwest coast by Wednesday morning.
Staff were approached, with senior operators getting the option to take the job.
Carl Griffin, who also made the trip as mechanical support, was only too glad to help.
“I never gave it a thought,” he said. “I just went.”
The guys punched 202 hours on the machines over four days. One of the blowers clocked 59 kilometres, and the other 40 kilometres.
“It was extremely hard,” said Joe Specker, the other operator who also has nearly 30 years of experience.
“We worked 14 to 15 hour days.”
All three were happy to be able to help out, and recognized the appreciation they received from other operators and the greatful messages to council from provincial and municipal representatives.
“I felt good after I left,” Specker said. “Felt like we accomplished something good.”
Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath said the high wind and heavy snowfall led to 20-foot walls that actually barricaded access to the Burgeo Highway.
The minister expressed his gratitude to both the help from Corner Brook and his own provincial operators. He said the experienced assistance was key to the operation, which required a great deal of co-operation.
“Without the extra help from the City of Corner Brook, we could have been dealing with a very different situation,” McGrath said Tuesday.
“I am certainly in deep gratitude to the mayor and his employees that came out to assist us. Without question, they were more than happy and eager in helping to get that situation cleared up.”