GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Brent Houtman is in his ninth season as a plow driver for the Kent County Road Commission, but this is his first blizzard.
He’s been watching the forecasts closely, like a kid waiting on school closings.
“I told my children before this, ‘Listen guys this is not what I want to do, but it’s part of the job,'” he said. “It’s part of the job. If you hear blizzard, you know you’re going to go to work.”
His boss expects the county’s entire army of snow plow drivers will be on the road through Christmas Day, possibly longer.
On Friday, that meant 90 plows covering 2,000 miles of county roads and 1,150 lane miles of state roads.
“What we told them is plan on probably four days in a row,” Jerry Byrne, Kent County Road Commission director of operations, said. “If we can get you out early on Christmas and spend some time with your family, we will, but the forecast doesn’t look favorable for that, so it’s probably 12 (hours) on, 12 off for four or five days.”
Houtman, his wife and three kids opened a few Christmas gifts Thursday night and plan to open the rest after his 12-hour shift on Christmas Day.
“My children and my wife are very understanding on this,” he said.
The overtime doesn’t hurt.
“That charge card bill will be paid right off after the Christmas holiday, right?” Houtman said.
Friday’s battle was mostly against the wind and the frigid temperatures.
“With the wind and the cold temperatures, the tires get warmed up and it packs that snow on, and it just turns to straight ice, and that salt doesn’t help when you put it down, so, a little bit of sand here and there,” Houtman said as he headed east on Cannonsburg Road NE.
“So I’m just coming up to the intersection here and throwing a little bit of material down, just so you guys have something to stop on,” he said as he flipped a switch. “It’s just 50-50. Fifty-percent sand, 50% salt.”
Both, he said, will help only with traction.
He blasts through a drift that he knows will regenerate in the wind, and somehow misses a line of mailboxes.
He’s hit a few in his career, but “none on purpose though.”
“If we did not do this now, these roads would be so drifted, it’d be hard for us to clean it up for Saturday, Sunday and Monday when people are going to be going over to their family’s houses,” he said.
Byrne said it appears the early warnings about the blizzard are helping his crews.
“The folks are staying off the road,” he said. “We’re seeing a great reduction in traffic. I think people listened, they shopped like crazy the last couple of days, and they’re off the roads, so that certainly helps us.”