Chatfield's sand and salt pile is ready to go at the city shed just south of Winona Street, awaiting winter's snowy arrival.
Chatfield's sand and salt pile is ready to go at the city shed just south of Winona Street, awaiting winter's snowy arrival. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but these plow guys are so delightful…and since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

“We start plowing at 4 a.m. If it is just a dusting where we just need to sand hills and intersections, we start at 5 a.m.,” said Chatfield’s leading plow guy and city maintenance supervisor, Brian Burkholder.

He explained while others are inside watching the frightful weather outside, he and his crew are up before the sun and at the wheel, making their way through the snow so others can choose whether to just snuggle in or find out that “Baby, it’s cold outside.”

 The city crew’s preparations for winter began as soon as they finished the summer and fall cleanup work — gathering leaves, mowing for the final time, taking inventory of the Christmas lights.

Burkholder related, “Depending on the weather, but we start the first week in November, right after leaf pickup and street sweeping is complete. I order salt through a state bid in March, and it is typically approved in October sometime. I call in my order for sand in September and hope to have it delivered in November. I then order loads of salt as I need to mix with the sand, and then have a little extra salt unmixed, just in case, to have it on hand. I order 125 ton of road salt and anywhere from 220 to 260 yards of sand, depending on the year before…what we have left. We did get surprised last year because of all the freezing rain events, so we cut it very close.”

He shared that the city’s winter equipment is ready to go if the snow flies — it’s just as ready as any of the hardy plow drivers who heave out of bed when an unexpected snowfall arrives.

“We put wings and sanders on in the middle of November, and they stay on all winter,” Burkholder said. “We put the plows on the day before when snow is expected so we are ready. There’s not much being done to update equipment this year, but we are trying a chemical that’s sprayed on our sanding equipment to help eliminate corrosion to our trucks and prolong their life. It’s something that the Minnesota Department of Transportation has been using. Last year, we had our trucks calibrated for sand application and installed the old radios from the fire trucks into our two plow trucks for better communication.”

Burkholder listed some of the biggest challenges of keeping up with city operations throughout the winter, including being up for more than a midnight snack.

“Some of the challenges are getting up in the middle of the night and checking on the weather to see how much we are getting, if any, and then notifying employees,” he said. “And there are days you think you’re not going to receive snow and you do, and it catches you off guard.”

Burkholder added, “With my best judgment, we will plow all streets, curb to curb, with roughly two inches of snow or more. Otherwise, we will plow centers on all streets, meaning up and back, and then sand. We will usually plow all the hills to the curb and sand.”

The state of Minnesota is responsible for plowing Highways 52 and 30, and the city removes the snow off them when needed.

“We sweep sidewalks during every snow event, but the businesses are responsible for in front of their buildings to the street,” Burkholder said.

Citizens can lend a hand toward the plow guys’ mission by being careful about where they park, driving cautiously, clearing sidewalks and hydrants and minding their children.

The foreman stated, “I will try to keep up on putting a notice for larger snow events on Channel 10 (KTTC) News to remove vehicles from the street,” Burkholder said. “Please look at the forecast — if snow is expected, please move your vehicles off the road so the whole street can be plowed. We do notify the police if there is a car in the way, for our safety and keeping the streets clean.”

Burkholder added that it helps a great deal if sidewalks are cleared after each snowfall. He added that by keeping ahead on the hydrants, it saves firemen time at getting to the hydrant quickly, and that’s important if it is needed.

“Otherwise, we would need to go out and clear them after each big snow event, or the fire department would need to go out and clear them during our training night,” he said.

Additional safety notes he shared with the public include knowing when to stop and when to go, and knowing where one’s little ones are. “Be observant to the plows when driving. Take a different route if you can, because plows can’t stop quickly. Pay attention to plows when they are backing up, and don’t try to squeeze around quickly because you’re in a hurry,” Burkholder advised. “Don’t let your children build forts along the roadways – plow drivers can’t tell if kids are in them, and we don’t want them buried.”

Several winters ago, frozen water mains were a concern for Chatfield’s residents, but Burkholder doesn’t expect to have to deal with digging through the ice, snow and street to repair anything at this point in time.

“You never know when they will happen, and we deal with them when they arise,” he said. “If there is a need, we will try to notify people to run their water when the time comes. Otherwise, if you think you need to, check your water temp first. If it’s at 38 degrees, contact city hall before running it.”

Burkholder observed that handling what the sky sends down, be it flakes or blizzards, is just part of his and his crew’s everyday winter routine.

“Snow comes every year in Minnesota. We just deal with it. We try not to get in a hurry and break equipment, because the job will get done like usual,” he added.

Thanks — and cookies — are gladly accepted by plow drivers after they’ve been out all night clearing streets.

He concluded, “Plow drivers are usually never liked — people get frustrated as the winter goes on — and compliments are received once in a blue moon…but cookies are good.”