There’s no business like snow business for plow operator

Biggest challenge of working on holiday is getting coffee or finding a washroom, says area snow plow driver

If you were looking for the archetypal snow plow driver, Gavin Gilchrist would be it.

A mountain of a man — easily 6 foot 4 and more than 260 pounds — Gilchrist looks like he was selected for the role by the folks at Central Casting. 

As he settles himself in behind the wheel of the huge two-way plow/spreader he operates for Essa Township, his hands — about the size of a catcher’s mitt -— engulf the steering wheel, causing it to disappear from sight.

His massiveness is comforting. 

His presence inspires confidence.

Somehow, blowing snow doesn’t seem like much of a challenge anymore.

“I’ve been plowing snow for five years now, the last two with Essa Township,” Gilchrist said. “I’ve been out when the snow is falling so hard you can’t see in front of you.”

Gilchrist, 40, is pretty pragmatic when it comes to work, especially at this time of year. Like everyone else, he would prefer to be home on Christmas morning, cuddling with children as they open their gifts, but he knows that’s not always possible. 

“I work when it snows,” he said matter-of-factly. “We can’t control when that happens.”

Gilchrist has plowed Essa’s streets on Christmas eve and Christmas day more often than he hasn’t. He said it’s normally not an exciting shift —  “there’s a lot less traffic to contend with” — but it does present a couple of unique challenges.

“I don’t have any specific memories of those days other than the fact that you can’t find a spot to stop and get a coffee or use the bathroom,” he said.

Lucky for him, he’s not the only one working when the snow comes down heavy on Christmas.  

“We have a limited amount of staff, so when it snows everyone comes in,” he said. “This way we can get done quicker and everyone can get home to watch their kids open presents sooner. My kids understand that when it snows I have to go to work and that means we might have to wait to open presents.”

To ensure the township’s 260 kilometres of roads and 29 kilometres of sidewalks are passable throughout the winter season, Essa uses eight road plows and four sidewalk plows. 

They also have two graders for use on gravel roads when they get icy. 

Gilchrist said it takes about four hours to plow all of the roads once and about eight hours to do the sidewalks. 

“We often plow roads more than once during a snowstorm,” he said. “There is also an afternoon crew that comes in after we leave to maintain the roads until the day crew comes back in the next day.” 

Gilchrist’s Angus route is about 70 kilometres long and takes him, on average, about four hours to complete, depending on weather conditions. He typically works an eight-hour shift but longer days, up to 12 hours, are not uncommon.

He finds the work rewarding and thinks the average driver appreciates what he and his fellow plow operators do, with a few minor exceptions.

“For the most part, I think people know how hard we work to keep things moving safely,” he said. “There’s always a small percentage of people who get impatient following a plow or get upset when we move snow into their driveway.

“For the most part, though, people are thankful we’re out there doing our job.”

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