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Early Start, Late Finish: Road Crews in Overdrive

  • Mike Burse of Hanover Public Works Highway Division waves to the driver of a Lyme town truck on his way to spread sand on Goose Pond Road in Hanover Monday, January 6, 2013. "You're out here and people rely on you to keep them safe," said Burse who was laying down about 8,000 pounds of sand per mile on the slick dirt road. "If I feel that my wife and my kids can be safe, then I'm comfortable the public can be safe," he said of his work.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Mike Burse of Hanover Public Works Highway Division waves to the driver of a Lyme town truck on his way to spread sand on Goose Pond Road in Hanover Monday, January 6, 2013. "You're out here and people rely on you to keep them safe," said Burse who was laying down about 8,000 pounds of sand per mile on the slick dirt road. "If I feel that my wife and my kids can be safe, then I'm comfortable the public can be safe," he said of his work.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chris Berry of Hanover Public Works Highway Division refuels his truck at the close of his shift in Hanover Monday, January 6, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Chris Berry of Hanover Public Works Highway Division refuels his truck at the close of his shift in Hanover Monday, January 6, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mike Burse of Hanover Public Works Highway Division waves to the driver of a Lyme town truck on his way to spread sand on Goose Pond Road in Hanover Monday, January 6, 2013. "You're out here and people rely on you to keep them safe," said Burse who was laying down about 8,000 pounds of sand per mile on the slick dirt road. "If I feel that my wife and my kids can be safe, then I'm comfortable the public can be safe," he said of his work.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Chris Berry of Hanover Public Works Highway Division refuels his truck at the close of his shift in Hanover Monday, January 6, 2013. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Hanover — On the way to the southeastern-most outskirts of town Monday afternoon, Chris Berry steered his public-works truck with one hand and with the other counted the number of runs he’d driven since 9:30 Sunday night.

Berry’s job is to spread sand on dirt roads that are closer to downtown Enfield than downtown Hanover.

“This is … let’s see: 1, 2 ...” Berry began. “I think this is my sixth load. With a normal snowstorm, it would have been maybe three loads.”

After Berry finished spreading between 10 and 12 tons of sand, operations manager Mike Chase of Hanover Public Works estimated that since freezing drizzle started glazing the Upper Valley Sunday night, his department’s fleet of nine trucks had deposited at least 50 such loads from downtown’s densely-packed streets to the network of winding dirt roads farther out.

“Add to that something like 100, 120 tons of salt,” Chase said, “and ...”

“It’s been a long night,” highway supervisor Randy MacDonald continued.

A long night for mechanics and maintenance workers whom Chase had called in, as well as the road crew of 13 — in waves of three or four at a time — and supervisors.

And it was a long weekend for those, including Berry, who already had worked overnight Friday into Saturday in anticipation of the big bounce in temperatures from subzero to the 40s that accompanied Monday’s rain.

“We were pretty lucky compared with some of the towns,” Chase said. “We planned ahead. We came in Friday and did a full snow-removal process with the parking spaces in town, and the storm drains, so we didn’t have as much flooding as we could have. We’ve had maybe three or four calls (from residents) today.”

Berry said that except for shoveling a pond of slush near a bridge on Hanover’s end of Goose Pond Road on Monday morning, he encountered less flooding than icing on his route.

And his one life-flashing-before-the-eyes moment of the weekend didn’t even happen in the uplands north of Enfield or the bumpy stretch between Lyme Road and Goose Pond.

“On my way back from Goose Pond Road late this morning, on Route 10 coming down the hill by River Road, there were cars sliding around in all directions,” recalled Berry, who drove trucks for his hometown of Plainfield for eight years before joining Hanover Public Works in 2003. “Everybody in front of me was as scared as I was.”

He’ll also take the hills and the steep drop-offs — as well as the occasional moose or bobcat or coyote — over plowing downtown, the way he often did during his first three years.

“Sometimes,” Berry said, “pedestrian traffic is more nerve-wracking than regular car traffic.”

On the truck radio, a driver on another stretch of dirt road called asking who on the crew might be carrying tire chains. Not Berry, this day.

“I think I’ve run my chains out here once in the last six years,” he said. “I’ve got spinners in front of my rear wheels that put the sand down and pretty much do the job for me.”

With or without chains, sanding and plowing trips along the lines of the last several days take time — and focus.

“When you’re driving on the ice, it takes 100 percent of your concentration,” said Berry, a 1995 graduate of Lebanon High School. “And it’s slow. It’s really, really slow.”

Driving slowly down the last hill through the southwestern-most corner of Canaan and into Enfield, his now-empty truck bumping higher at each frost heave, Berry crossed his fingers that his upcoming stretch of rest would proceed as leisurely.

“I’m back tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock,” he said. “Normal work hours. Unless there’s more weather.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304

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Monday, January 13, 2014

To the Editor: Thank you for your article highlighting the Hanover Public Works Department and Chris Berry in particular (“Early Start, Late Finish,” Jan. 7). Chris’ fine work makes it possible for us and for our neighbors to make the scenic commute into town less of a nail-biter and more enjoyable during the very unpredictable winter weather months. While it …