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Q&A: Rodney Koeppen on plowing

A seasoned North Buffalo plow guy (of Brothers-in-Lawn landscape and plowing) on what Buffalo winters are like for those keeping our roads clear.

What are plowing hours like?

Crazy. My family knows when I leave, I may be back in five or six hours, or I may not see them for a couple of days. I’m not even joking. I don’t think people realize that we’d like to start plowing at 1 or 2 in the morning and be done by 6 a.m., but our boss is Mother Nature. That’s who runs our show.

I don’t care if it snows 6 feet—if it’s done by 10 p.m., you’ll get to work on time. But if it starts at 2 a.m., and we have 5 inches by 6 a.m., there’s nothing we can do. There have been times we’ve gotten 3 to 6 inches per hour and we’ve been to our sites two or three times and I’ll get the call saying, ‘You haven’t been there yet.’ So we got GPS tracking on all the trucks to prove where they’ve been and when, and everybody who has a contract gets a login and can see for themselves. We’re prepared to fight the snow as long as it’s out there.

What does it take to get snow ready?

We have 16 trucks and we begin getting ready for winter in late August, early September. I start off by getting all our contracts in order, setting up the routes and bidding on commercial work. Even before it snows, snow plowing costs me $50,000 or $60,000 just to prepare, between manpower and getting the trucks ready.

How many miles before you need more salt?

It depends. If we pre-salted the night before because we knew trace amounts of snow and ice were coming, we’ll lay down maybe a ton per acre. Whereas, if it’s after a snow and we know more snow or ice is coming, we’ll lay four to five times more than that. It’s all controlled by the machine. And it’s always different depending on every scenario.

Can you break rules of the road to get the job done?

Absolutely, 100 percent no. If anything, we have more rules on us. We always have to have our emergency lights on, and we have to have permits, so we’re under more scrutiny than typical drivers.

Biggest pet peeve?

Other drivers don’t seem to really care that you’re trying to make the road safer or do your job. If anything, people look at us as pests—which is very ironic.

Craziest plowing experience?

I once found a person passed out in their car at a red light, but the car was in drive and their foot was on the brake. I was super worried to beep the horn or wake them up, so I had to call the police. I’ve seen animals like deer walking down the middle of city streets. I’ve seen everything.

Ever gotten a plow truck stuck?

Absolutely. It’s embarrassing, but there are times it happens.

Advice for the rest of us when it snows?

Be aware. If you see those flashing lights, just know that the truck might have to get to where you are to clear the road in front of you. If you’re in a parking lot that’s being plowed, park where it’s already plowed. And I always tell customers, if it took you 45 minutes longer to get to work and if you’re waiting in traffic, we’re sitting in traffic, too. Everybody’s in it together even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

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