Bill Packard: Here’s why I like plowing snow

Tue, 03/18/2014 - 11:00am

Life is funny. We plan everything out as to how it’s going to be and then life decides how things will really happen. I figured that I could create a business showing small businesses how they could really get things together by focusing on their customers, and my experience and education would make things all come together. Yeah, right.

It’s been great when I’ve been able to work with people, but it’s not paying the bills. I’m fortunate that I have experience in many different areas that can put money in my banking account. One of those areas is plowing snow. It’s winter. We live in Maine. Odds are it will snow. I just need a chance.

Turns out, a municipality near where I live had an opening when a medical issue sidelined one of the drivers. I applied and got hired. In the interview, they asked me why I liked plowing snow and I said I really didn’t know and I wasn’t sure that anyone that did it knew why they liked it. They hired me, anyway.

I know why I like it now and I’ll tell you if you stay to the end. The position is “per diem’. That means that if it doesn’t snow, I don’t work. It also means that I need to be available to work whenever they call me. There are two really good parts to working per diem; I don’t have to work all day and then plow snow all night and once the storm is over and things are cleaned up, I go home instead of working the rest of the day. Snow is not the only thing that goes on in Maine towns in the winter so those guys have plenty of other stuff that the public is asking for to keep them busy.

Where I work now, people show up with food. One lady walked from her house in the snow after baking a killer cinnamon cake thing that was to die for. Another time, a huge whoopie pie showed up, the size of a dinner plate. 

This is actually a pretty cool deal. I have my route. The people who live on and travel over the roads I’m responsible depend on me to keep their travel as safe as can be expected. They don’t know who I am and I don’t know them. I take that responsibility very seriously and I understand that very few people are happy with the job I do. The best I can hope for is that I’m happy with the job I do.

One citizen will call and say that the plow hasn’t been by their house all day. A neighbor two houses over calls and says the plows have been by six times and there’s no snow.

Plowing snow is very similar to firefighting in that if you do what you’re trained for and do it well, very few people notice. If factors out of your control get the upper hand, everyone notices, and has something to say. The motoring public sometimes is happy if the road has been plowed in front of them, but when they catch up to the plow and it slows them up, they’re upset again. I was called out the other morning and got to work at 4:30 a.m. It was snowing pretty good and there was probably two or three inches of snow on the road.

By 7 a.m., there was pavement showing, the temps had come up, school buses and people going to work had good traveling and the powers that be complained that we shouldn’t have bothered to plow because there was no snow. From hero to zero in a heartbeat.

Everybody hates the snowplow guy or girl. But somebody has got to do it. Somebody has got to care that you get to work or school or wherever you’re going safely. My route takes a little over two hours to plow. If you’re at the beginning of the route, I might be a hero once in a while. If you’re at the end, I ‘m probably a zero most of the time. No, I can’t change it around to make it fair for you. The route is based on what is most efficient for the combination of the roads and the equipment.

I can’t write a piece about snowplowing without talking about mailboxes. Yes, they get hit.

If you ever look at a municipal plow truck the end of the wing is behind the cab of the truck, so we can’t see your mailbox until after we’ve gone by. Nobody intentionally hits a mailbox because it feels good.

For the most part, we don’t even know who lives at the mailbox so how could it be personal?

We understand that you think we singled you out and for lack of anything better to do, decide to hit your mailbox. There are all sorts of reasons that your box got hit. Maybe a car coming the other way crowded us and we couldn’t get stopped in time. Maybe the snow was blowing and we couldn’t tell where we were on the road. Maybe we were just tired and misjudged a little bit. Believe me it wasn’t personal and if you knew how many mailboxes we had to plow around on our routes and how many times during a storm that we passed by those mailboxes, I think you would agree that our batting average is pretty good.

So, why do I like it? It’s a satisfaction that can’t be explained when you’ve been out in the storm and your roads are showing black. While most were sleeping or working at their jobs, you kept going face to face with Mother Nature, and while she is certainly a force to be reckoned with, you beat her. The people that depend on you even if they hate you, travelled safely to wherever they needed to go. That’s a feeling that can’t be explained to someone who hasn’t done it.

Where I work now, people show up with food. One lady walked from her house in the snow after baking a killer cinnamon cake thing that was to die for. Another time, a huge whoopie pie showed up, the size of a dinner plate. The apple pie and ice cream was very special because of where it came from. And donuts. Don’t forget the donuts. We do it for you, no matter what you think, but donuts are good.


Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of  He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant.