“Today was a good day, I got the call around 7 a.m.,” said Shawn Beckley, plow truck driver for Wave Landscaping based in North Royalton. Beckley is on call 24/7 for the company and will sometimes receive the call at 2 or 3 in the morning.
I had been up into the early hours the night before, editing stories for the paper, half hoping the snowstorm would pass uneventful and Beckley wouldn’t be called into work (so I could catch up on my sleep). It felt like I had just closed my eyes when my phone beeped with an incoming text from Shawn, “Out plowing.” We had decided earlier in the week that I’d ride along with him, so I called him up and we decided to meet up at his next call at a large parking lot in Westlake.
The roads on the way to Westlake were slick with snow. It was early morning and the city plows had yet to fully clear the streets. With a fresh cup of coffee to keep me warm, I hopped in my Malibu and carefully navigated the roads.
I pulled into the lot 30 minutes later and stepped up into Beckley’s massive plow truck. This was the company’s largest truck, which meant he was assigned to the larger clients for the day.
Pulling myself into the passenger seat, I noticed the back of the plow was full of salt, ready to depress the freezing-point of the hazardous ice patches which northeast Ohio drivers are constantly on the look out for. The salt was clumped up from lack of use so I was curious as to why it wasn’t being laid down. Beckley explained that since the forecasters promised over an inch of snowfall, the salt would remain in the back of the truck for now.
Wave Landscaping usually gives the drivers one of two routes. With an inch or less of snow, the drivers take the salt route, which can take them just over three hours to complete. I happened to meet up with Beckley on his plow route. The plow route is saved for larger snowfalls and will take at least twice the amount of time to complete.
“During the big snow storm last week I was out plowing for 14 hours. By the time I had finished two or three clients on my route, I would have to backtrack to the first one and plow again,” said Beckley. After his 14-hour shift, he had a 5-hour break to ride home, sleep and grab a bite to eat. “I was back on the road after a few hours sleep, working for another 8 hours.”
Some of the lots Beckley and his co-workers plow need constant attention. “On one occasion, I was at a single Best Buy parking lot for 11 hours. I just had to keep going over it making sure everything was cleared,” said Beckley.
I noticed a gaping hole in the dashboard of the rig we were in, right were a radio should be. I couldn’t imagine sitting in a truck for 11 hours straight without some music, and was wondering why we were sitting in a truck, only hearing the rumble and scrape of the work being done. “I usually entertain myself by singing out loud, or working on lyrics to songs I may be writing at the time,” said Beckley. When he is not out on his plow routes, or landscaping in the warmer months, Beckley writes music and plays lead guitar for a local band.
“I’ll sometimes find myself yelling about how people are driving, or the way they park even if they know I’m plowing. That keeps my mind active,” said Beckley. “I get into the zone though for the most part, I call it “plow hold”. It’s where you get sucked into the monotony of the job and eventually look up at the clock and can’t believe how long you’ve been at it.”
During larger storms, a hand-shoveler will ride with the driver to get out and shovel walkways. The extra company proves invaluable when drivers typically sit alone for hours on end.
While some people dread waking up to wintry roads, it’s all a plow truck driver can hope for. “Big storms are like money falling from the sky,” said Beckley. He’s been driving for three years now and enjoys his work.
Sitting next to Beckley, I noticed he had some kind of control in his hand. At first I thought it was a CB microphone, but as soon as he started plowing again, I realized it controlled the blade on the front of his truck.
I sat with Beckley and we talked as he finished up the lot. He was an expert at avoiding the poles and pot-holes strewn about the lot. I thought of how easy it would be to bump into cars or poles, especially at night. “I didn’t hit anything for the first two years I was driving, but I won’t lie, I did hit a car this year. It was just a dent and I haven’t hit a person yet, so I think it’s okay,” he said.