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Snow Plow Ride: Fasten Your Seat Belt, It's Going to Be Bumpy

Patch tries to walk (or in this case plow) a mile in a DPS worker's shoes.

The sights and sounds of a snow plow ride. Credit: Judy Davids
The sights and sounds of a snow plow ride. Credit: Judy Davids
On Monday, Royal Oak Patch hopped into the passenger seat of one of Royal Oak's trucks and went for a plow ride with driver Lee Collick through this snowglobe we call home. We made the following observations.

Between the engine, hydraulics and all the vibration, it's loud inside the cab of city trucks. Many drivers wear ear plugs. It's also bumpy. Drivers have a special cushion they sit on, passengers aren't so lucky. And it's warm. To keep a clear view, defrosters are cranked up to high, which can make it uncomfortably hot. This explains why you see plow drivers wearing T-shirts while they work.

That's enough whining from Patch. Collick takes it all in stride as he fights with his left arm to steer the large truck on a steady course and uses his right arm to drop and lift the underbody plow. When asked if his arms are sore at the end of a shift he simply says, "They can be." He's not complaining, but Patch will take that as a definite "yes."

By the time Collick does a second pass on West Street south of 11 Mile Road, he determines the underbody scraper isn't getting the job done so it's back to the service center at 1600 N. Campbell Rd. for a front plow.

It's just the first hiccup of what can be 12 hours of problems. The city's trucks are old and parts fail, blades wear out, vehicles need to be refueled, drivers get called back to work on higher priorities. Monday there were three water main breaks that took drivers off the road. A lot can happen when plows are out for 12 hours straight, Collick said.

After a brief DPS pit stop, we head back to the 11 Mile and Lafayette area and a second driver joins us equipped with a front plow. The two vehicles work in tandem. (The second driver's truck was being worked on, which delayed his initial start.)

"It takes more time when we're down a truck in a section, but we do the best we can," Collick said. If a truck is flying solo they have to make four passes to clear a street. When they work in tandem they do two passes.

Collick has brought a tow strap but said as long as he can maneuver around cars he doesn't use it.

"We've been doing a really good job this year of communicating with the police," he said. "We let them know where we'll be and they go in ahead of us and issue tickets." 

When Collick sees two women struggling to move a vehicle off the street, he stops.

"We can't get my car moved. We are trying but the wheels are spinning," one of the women shouts. "Can you come back in five minutes?"

Collick drives around them and comes back later when it would have been much easier to simply plow more snow onto their problem. The women look relieved and smile. 

In fact, many people smile, wave or give a thumbs up to Collick, which is nice because it's only 1:30 p.m. and his 12-hour shift will take him to midnight. He's just getting started.

As for Patch, a two-hour bumpy ride was enough to give us a sense of what a challenge it is to keep Royal Oak streets safe and clear of snow.

So remember to be patient on snow days, and as Mayor Jim Ellison likes to say, if you wave at the plows, make sure it's with all five fingers.

Click here for  answers to frequently asked snowplowing questions.
The Duke of Royal Oak January 07, 2014 at 09:20 AM
Great insight into the job of the plow drivers. The video highlighted the problem and danger of vehicles remaining on the street during a snow emergency.
Rat Haven January 07, 2014 at 01:43 PM
Huge homes on small lots, several young adults renting a home, homes turned into apartments, will all entail 3 or 4 cars per home. Too bad the people who need to see this video, won't. If only they cared. The plow drivers do a good job going around these cars. As usual the plow went around the renters jeep parked next to the fire hydrant and the neighbor next door can't get into their drive now because of it. Some one said he got a ticket last week. Can't beat sense into some people. If I am this frustrated by it, I can imagine how the plow guys feel. Kudos them!

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