We laugh when a big city like Toronto crumbles under two inches of snow. In Brome Lake, no matter what the conditions, we are confident that we will cope. Why is this? At 3:45 a.m., on January 24, I arrived at the municipal garage to join Alan Wilms, the longest serving plow driver on the team, to find out.
The plow drivers go on shift at 4 a.m. On that day, the roads were like a skating rink. Predicting this, chains had been put on the trucks the day before and a few inches of snow had been left on the roads to provide a rough surface. The first job that day was to take the surface off and mix in salt. Later that day, with rain and warmer temperatures, it would be possible to take the 110 km of paved roads down to the surface and put on grit. It’s different for the 174 km of unpaved roads. They can only be gritted.
Brome Lake is a small town but there are 284 km of roads to plow. The rural unpaved roads are mainly plowed by contractors. The town drivers concentrate on the core. Many of these core urban roads are residential. Alan’s truck, the smallest in the fleet, is ideal for this type of suburban street. By 6:30 a.m he had covered his route and we returned to the garage to reload with grit. A full load of grit can run out in only 15 minutes. We heard that two of a neighbouring town’s plows had gone into the ditch. Before that day, I had thought that plows were invulnerable. On my trip, Alan’s sure hands kept us out of trouble, but I learned, first hand, how treacherous steep hills, tight turns and ditches can be. The radio is a lifeline for the drivers as road conditions change by the minute. Problems are solved collectively in real time. The feeling of camaraderie is tangible.
I went home at about 10 a.m. Alan and the team were still hard at work and would be for many more hours that day. So, when we are woken at 6 a.m. by the plow, or get angry when we have to clear the front of our driveway, remember it is their efforts that get us to work, to school, to the shops, to our friends and to our trip to the sunny south. They enable us to laugh at Toronto.
A word of advice – the robot arm of the bin truck has a reach of 10 feet. Please don’t put your bins on the road, and a parked car can block the plow on your road.
Plowing Facts for Brome Lake
• The town plows 284 km of roads: 174 km of gravel roads and 110 km of paved roads. The town plows the 104 from Brome Road to Lakeside, and Lakeside from Knowlton to Victoria. The rest of the provincial roads are plowed by a subcontractor from the MTQ.
• There are nine town employees that drive plows plus one that does inspection, and between six and seven contractors for the rest.
• For a regular snowfall, the shift is five hours per run including salting or sanding at the end. If it snows for 24 hours, or more, the guys will plow for eight hours and then go and rest and then return to work. There are legal limits of driving time per day.
• The town has on snow-detail five trucks, three tractors, including the sidewalk machine, one grader and one spare truck in case of mechanical issues. There is a full-time mechanic.
• The town uses 3,500 tons of gravel/sand and 1,200 tons of salt. The contractors use only gravel/sand on unpaved roads.