'We'll get it handled,' says 20-year Mitchell snow plow driver providing glimpse into brutal winter
“The big thing is when you get this much snow, you have to keep going. If you stop, you’re done. Like that last storm -- every time I had to stop, I was stuck," said veteran snow plowman Jason Tuttle
MITCHELL — Fresh off a 16-hour shift of clearing snow from the streets of Mitchell during another blizzard, Jason Tuttle was back at it Thursday morning after a short night’s rest.
As he made his way down a snow-filled Third Avenue in a plow truck, Tuttle quickly and carefully plowed the remaining paths of snow sitting along the street. After spending 20 years as a city snow plow operator, Tuttle has the art of snow removal down to a science. But like every job, there are challenges to make it difficult.
Every few blocks on Thursday morning, he would jolt the steering wheel to avoid hitting illegally parked vehicles that stood in the way of clearing 13 inches of snow curb to curb like he strives to do. New snow piles also began piling up on the portions of streets he already cleaned due to residents blowing snow back onto a freshly cleared street.
“Right here … I just went through this before I picked you up, and there was a guy with a snowblower. Where did he throw his snow? Right in the middle of the road right there,” Tuttle said. “You have to be focused and know there will be cars parked where they shouldn’t be every time. It never fails.”
Despite the challenges Tuttle faces in each winter storm, he remains a dedicated leader of the snow removal crew and puts in 16-hour shifts when Mother Nature calls. This winter, Mother Nature has called him a lot, dousing 53.7 inches of snow on the streets he’s responsible for keeping clear.
“I started at 5:30 a.m. There are people out who came in at 12:30 a.m. and putting in a 16-hour shift,” Tuttle said, as he communicated his next route with another driver over his radio. “We’re doing all east to west. We will do one side, and then they’ll come back and do the other side of the street. We run Fourth Avenue all the way over to Foster Street, then we jump down and do Third Avenue.”
As Tuttle made his way through a portion of East Third Avenue, he was met with waves and thumbs up from some Mitchell residents who were digging themselves out of the snow storm. The friendly waves are not always the case though.
In some cases, a middle finger is more like it, he said. When he has to finish plowing a section of the road that results in more snow piling up on the resident's driveway, Tuttle said it sparks a lot of anger in some residents. And he has a message for them.
“One thing people need to know is that we don’t enjoy moving snow that backs up a driveway. We have to clean our driveways out when we get home, too. One suggestion is to wait until we clear your street,” he said.
Facing his ‘biggest snowfall’ in January
In his two decades of moving snow in Mitchell, Tuttle has seen plenty of big blizzards. But none have matched the Jan. 2-3 blizzard that pummeled Mitchell with 23 inches of snow.
While the latest Wednesday-Thursday blizzard brought 13.2 inches to the city – a good 10 inches less than the historic January storm – Tuttle said the strong wind gusts that persisted through the latest weather event made for “huge snow drifts on some streets.”
“The big thing is when you get this much snow, you have to keep going. If you stop, you’re done. Like that last storm, every time I had to stop, I was stuck. That’s the biggest snowfall I’ve had to deal with,” he said of the early January winter storm.
With roughly 270 miles of streets to plow, the city snow removal crews have to work together to complete the mission after every winter storm. The crew is made of a mixture of experienced and new drivers.
In the back of each snow plow truck sits a big pile of sand and salt mixture, which is intentionally placed before crews hit the streets with the fleet of trucks to provide them with more power.
“We all have salt sand for weight. You need the weight so you can push the snow. If the truck is empty, the snow pushes you,” Tuttle said.
The sand and salt mixture isn’t only for weight. Tuttle said each truck is equipped with a spinning device on the bottom that spits out the mixture on the street where crews deem it necessary.
“As you go along stop signs, hills and railroad tracks and so on, we throw the sand out. It gives traction to those areas, and the makeup of it helps melt the snow as well,” Tuttle said.
The routes the snow removal team tackles require different methods. For example, District A — the downtown Mitchell area — entails more equipment and less areas to put the snow on. With no boulevards to pile the snow on along Main Street, crews use a large snow blower to dump the snow piled in the center of the street into a big truck bed. The snow is then hauled to what’s become a massive snow pile on the corner of Havens Avenue and Foster Street.
With each storm this winter, the city’s designated snow dump site at Havens and Foster has grown. The size of the snow pile reflects the roughly 53.7 inches of snow that Mitchell has received this winter. Tuttle said the pile is “one of the biggest” he’s ever seen.
Although spring is inching closer, Tuttle and the city’s snow removal team stand ready for whatever Mother Nature brings their way.
“We’ve seen a lot this winter, but we’ll get it handled,” he said.