Campus plow drivers share their experience

Photo+courtesy+of+Andy+Smith%0APLOWING+WITH+PURPOSE%E2%80%94+Plow+truck+drivers+wake+up+well+before+sunrise+to+ensure+students+can+still+make+it+to+school.

Photo courtesy of Andy Smith PLOWING WITH PURPOSE— Plow truck drivers wake up well before sunrise to ensure students can still make it to school.

Ashley Beronja

As many students know, Marquette is notorious for it’s winter weather. When showing up to campus in August, students have a couple months to enjoy the ending of summer and brief autumn season before the chilling effects of winter hit.

While winter in Marquette can be exciting with winter activities such as hockey and dogsledding, getting to said activities can be difficult when the roads are bad. Fortunately for those who have a registered vehicle on campus, NMU has a diverse and well-rounded experience team of snow plow truck drivers who help keep the lots clear for students to get around.

With experience ranging from three to 12 years, NMU has six heavy equipment operators as well as two mechanics. In addition to those involved with snow operations, NMU has eight full time plow truck drivers, three to four student shovelers and a few other NMU employees who have gone through training to plow through most storms.

Part of NMU’s diverse staff is Andy Smith. Smith is a part of the plant operations ground staff as supervisor and has been working for NMU for three years. Smith grew up in Marquette and left for three decades to attend college in Wisconsin. After college, Smith continued to live and work in Wisconsin in the landscape industry until about three and a half years ago to return to Marquette to relocate their retail gift store business.

“I planned on continuing to run my landscape design and consulting business and help at the store. Then the opportunity to run the grounds department came up at an NMU,” Smith said. “It looked like a unique challenge and a good opportunity, so I applied.”

When snow plowing, a typical day can range from 10 to 12 hours depending on the conditions to keep the campus open and safe. Smith said that these long hours are fairly common for snow plowing.

“We start at 4 a.m. (3 a.m. if it is a major snow), check our equipment for fuel, lubrication and have a brief meeting about any changes to the normal routes or plowing priorities. We are out of the shop by 4:15-4:30 and plow the streets, loading docks, parking lots and sidewalks. We need to have campus “open” by about 7:45 a.m.,” Smith said. 

In order to be open, the roads must be passable. Once drivers get the important buildings open, their next focus is the on campus apartments so those residents can get out and to work and class. Drivers end with student housing lots as well as secondary lots such as parking around Rec Services. Snow plow drivers will go until the end of their scheduled shift or stay late if they need to complete cleanup.

Plowing the entirety of campus can vary depending on the weather conditions. While an inch or two of fluffy light snow can clear easily in about eight to 12 hours, a heavy wet snow storm with 8-12 inches can take much longer – ranging from 24-36 hours.

In addition to the long hours, many challenges can arise while plowing the lots. Those challenges can vary from extreme weather conditions that are uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous to work in if the temperature is below freezing for distracted drivers or pedestrians who are not completely aware of the plow truck drivers.

“With unpredictable weather conditions we try to plan our snow removal operations to best serve the campus and be efficient, but the local “micro-climate” of Marquette is difficult to plan around,” Smith said. “Oftentimes people will “invent” parking spots which block our access to drive-lanes and areas we plow snow to. We have seen cars parked on top of snow piles, in no parking zones or abandoned in the drive-lane of parking lots.”

Exhaustion in another common challenge that drivers face. Smith said that operating a large front end loader for hours on end is a physically and mentally exhausting task.

“Most people get a little tired driving for six or seven hours in a car. Bouncing around in a loader, while staying on high alert for potential hazards is exceptionally tiring,” Smith said.

For those who have a car registered on campus, keep an eye out for emails, signs in the dorms as well as signs posted in parking lots that say which ones will be closed for plowing. To help make the lot plowing easier for drivers, do not park in no parking zones such as on top of curbs and halfway into the drive-lane.

“Be prepared for winter driving – have an ice scraper in your car, a shovel in your trunk and tires with good tread, so you do not get stuck. If you get stuck or are slipping on ice below the snow, keeping a bag of cat litter in your trunk to put under the slipping tires can provide enough traction to get yourself out,” Smith said. “Be patient and understand that we are working as fast as possible to clear the walks and lots for you.”

Snow plow drivers do a lot for NMU. Not only are they spending the majority of their day working hard to keep the lots cleared for students and staff and campus open, but they are doing this in sometimes extreme winter weather conditions. Remember to be aware of drivers while lots are being cleared, as well as keeping eyes on emails and signs posted around campus about when which lots are being cleared. 

“Every member of our team takes pride in providing a safe and accessible campus for our students, faculty and staff,” Smith said. “Knowing that the work we do allows other people to get to class, work or home is satisfying.”