A day in the life of a snow plow driver
December 31, 2004
Some people smile and wave when they see Brandon Mathiesen.
But the man standing in his driveway holding the shovel is not one of them.
The man’s pained and flushed face reads: “backache.” He has obviously spent the morning digging out his driveway and now, some semblance of ire rushes into his expression as he stands behind his shovel and clutches it with both hands as if to challenge the might of Mathiesen’s oncoming snowplow with nothing more than his sheer exhaustion and an old aluminum shovel.
With a deft move of the hydraulic lever, Mathiesen humanely turns the big orange plow to the side so as not to leave a huge berm of snow at the end of the driveway for the man to shovel out.
From the rearview mirror, the man looks dumbfounded, maybe grateful, but getting smaller and smaller until he disappears.
Mathiesen has been plowing snow for Carson City for seven years. While he normally works in the water department, he drives one of the city trucks whenever winter storms hit.
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With a mix of manning the CB radio, the hydraulic lever and steering, driving a plow seems more like playing an instrument than just the “lower the blade and let it barrel” job that many motorists suspect.
It’s warm and quiet in the cab of the plow as Mathiesen explains the routes.
“Everybody has a certain area to take care of. After we clean our assigned area, we’ll gang up on some of the tougher spots,” he says.
The plow moves through the foot of snow and slush like a boat, floating almost dreamily while snow whirls around the blade and blasts off the road and onto the shoulder.
The rumble of the diesel power plant propels the plow up into the west side hills. A washed-out, yellow winter sun shines over the ghostly moonscape of the nearby mountains. The trees look equally alien, as though they have been covered by a white moss.
Mathiesen works an uphill cul-de-sac. It’s tedious work. He makes several passes back and forth watching the top of the orange guide poles to line up the blade just right.
Eventually, the task seems no different than shoveling the snow by hand, just in a bigger theater and with a bigger machine. The effort level is still there.
Mathiesen says he likes his job but admits, “It gets old after 12 hours of staring over the hood pushing snow.” He’s been at it for countless hours since the snow first began falling late Wednesday night. Even when going to refuel the plow, “we always have blades on the ground,” he says. “It’s part of the public’s expectations.”
Plowing a side street, Mathiesen breaks a shoe, the part of the blade that runs along the bottom and makes contact with the road. He gets out of the cab to inspect it and then gives it a little kick of frustration. He has to go in to the shop to get a repair.
So what is he doing to celebrate New Year’s?
A dumb question, really.
“Plowing,” he says, as he drives off to get the blade fixed so he can get back on the road.
Contact reporter Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.
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