Local county residents benefit from Darke County Highway Department's loyal snowplow drivers
DARKE COUNTY – Darke County Highway Department employee Bob Miller was out in the early Thursday morning hours beginning his 10-12 hour shift to help keep county roads passible.
Miller has been plowing county roads for the past 22 years and has seen many changes during his long days and nights of plowing.
“Major equipment changes – everything is so much easier now,” said Miller. “It was way more manual back then, a lot more labor intensive. Everything does a much better job, it’s a lot different today.”
“It was quite a few years before it became like muscle memory – before you could actually do it without really thinking about it or making mistakes all the time,” Miller said of the learning curve of snowplowing. “It was quite a few years.”
“One thing you learn – every single snow is different so you have to adjust everything you do every single time you go.”
While plowing snow Miller is traveling at 20 miles per hour, a speed much slower than most people care to drive on county roads.
“Most people are actually really nice and happy to see you out here plowing,” Miller noted. “Obviously there is always that one person…but the majority and for the most part people are great so it’s all good.”
Night is especially taxing and on very few occasions a snowplow will get hung up in a side ditch.
“It’s a lot harder at night,” said Miller. “You are paying attention so hard that you absolutely will get a headache just trying to pay attention to stay on – dark is the worst.”
“With the blade and the kind of weight we have it usually takes another truck or a piece of equipment called a gradeall to come out and pull us out,” stated Miller. “That can be a really long process and obviously you don’t want that to happen because you’re going to be sitting there a long time and make a long day.”
Another hazard of the job is accidently knocking down mailboxes from the weight of the snow flying off the truck’s large blade.
“You don’t even realize when the snow pushes the mailbox off,” said Miller. “A lot of the mailboxes out in the country are just not the best quality anymore because the snow has beat them to death. A lot of times you’ll look back and you didn’t even realize what happened and the snow will blow them right off. We have our own little system and we try to get out as soon as possible and fix the boxes as quick as we can.”
Miller is part of a team of county employees driving one of the county’s 25 snowplows when roads become ice and snow covered.
“An important part of what we do is relying on your partner – the guy next to you plowing,” Miller noted. “There are many times when you will meet him at the turnaround and if you get stuck he’s has to be the first one there because he’s closest. I’m checking on him, he’s checking on you and it saves a lot of time and energy when we work together.”
Communication plays a key role when a large snow and ice storm moves through the area. Each truck is equipped with a radio that communicates with Darke County Highway Superintendent Shane Coby at the department’s main office. The Darke County Sheriff’s office also monitors all snowplow radio communication. “Dispatch monitors our radio in case something happens and we can’t get to it,” Miller said.
Prior to heading out for a long day and night of plowing, there are necessary preparations to attend to.
“It’s pretty much like normal,” Miller explained. “You pack your lunch, a bunch of snacks, things to just keep yourself going through the whole time. Sometimes you have to let the roads settle and let the salt get in so you might run over to a gas station or something that is close to you but for the most part you just carry everything that you need and snack all day and try to keep going.”
Plowing snow is just a small part of a Darke County Highway Department employee’s duties.
“I mow side ditches and a lot of times we’ll help build wood floor bridges,” said Miller. “We put pipe and culverts all season under the roads. It all depends on where we are with our mowing and how bad the bridge and pipe are that we need to put everybody out there and get it done.”
Miller enjoys his job and encourages others to consider a job with the Darke County Highway Department.
“You have to be the right person, you have to be willing to sacrifice coming in in the middle of the night once in a while,” Miller said. “It’s a nice job, a nice place to work for someone that wants to settle down and have kids. I would encourage people to do it.”