It's April, and Lucas Mowers should finally be catching up on some sleep, playing with his son
and working regular hours as manager of the sign shop technicians for the Kane County transportation division.
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This past winter will, however, stick with him. Mowers is one of about three dozen county snowplow drivers.
A couple weeks ago, I rode along with him one morning, as he strove to keep his route clear. For about two hours we went over and over stretches of Empire, Burlington, Dittman, Plato, Muirhead, Russell and Plank roads in west-central Kane County.
Mowers drives a 13-year-old six-wheel truck with two plows: the front one, and a wing on the passenger side. His truck is one of the few in the county's 28-truck fleet that doesn't have computerized controls for the salt spreader, meaning it is up to Mowers to decide when to spread a little salt. He prefers it.
He missed the truck when it was out of commission for three weeks in January, after it blew an engine.
"We were in the thick of the snow, and my truck was down," Mowers said.
Mowers has worked full-time for the county for more than six years, and part time for three years before that. He is 32, and lives in Hampshire.
Back and forth he goes. "This doesn't look as good as I would like it to," he said, as we approached McDonald Road. It had only snowed a couple of inches that morning, but it kept drifting back onto the road.
He doesn't hesitate to spread salt if a spot merits it, he could use one load per run, but as a load was costing about $1,000, he tries to be judicious, he said.
Mowers chided himself for plowing up some sod on the driveway to St. Peter Lutheran Church, where he uses the driveway apron to make U-turns. The ground had been frozen all winter before this.
I asked if he gets bored driving the same route. On the contrary.
"It's different every time," he said.
"This is my route. I'm personally responsible," Mowers said.
Drivers tease each other, because snowfall has varied over the 33-mile length of the county.
"It's about time you put your plow down," one told another on the dispatch radio.
A little later comes another, exasperated message, about a car in a ditch: "Burlington, west of the new bridge. Passed me and spun out."
That's one of the frustrations. Mowers said car drivers go entirely too fast in the snow, and he doesn't understand why they pass snow plows, when presumably the road ahead of a snowplow is in worse shape than the stretch behind them they've just cleared. They'll even try it on Randall Road when plows are working three abreast.
"You would be amazed how people try to squeeze through a 10-foot crack between snow plows, while they are just trying to make the road better," he said.
December and January were rough months.
"I have worked 18 hours (at a time) and barely got out to use the bathroom," Mowers said. He doesn't like to take breaks if his roads aren't clear.
He acknowledged that, of course, he is paid for the work, including overtime. And he knew what he was getting in to, because his father also drives a plow for the county,
"The worst part is missing out on time with my son."
He picks his 6-year-old son up after school every day, and stays with him until his son's mother arrives home from work. This winter, he's had to enlist relatives to help.
"Christmas is on a day that doesn't snow," Mowers said. "I know what I signed up for. They know I'm taking care of my business."