“I was just a young fella — 20 years old —when I enlisted in the Army,” said Tom Allison, highway superintendent of the town of Carroll. “I started my tour in Vietnam in 1969. I was an infantry soldier and platoon leader. I spent a full tour (one year) there. I saw a lot of action and things I don't want to see again, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It taught me a lot about life and how valuable it is. When you see it sliding away every day, you have to feel fortunate. If you can't come away with something positive from it shame on you. For me, my time there played a major role in the overall makeup of my life.”
It should be noted that Tom was awarded the coveted C.I.B. (Combat Infantry Badge), two Bronze Stars and a Silver Star for valor.
Tom Allison's war experience was what led him — albeit indirectly — to head the town of Carroll highway department.
“When I was in the service, I held a leadership position pretty much from the end of basic training on,” Tom said. “That helped me be a leader in my concrete business. The concrete business, in turn, helped me be a leader in the highway department. Thanks to Non-Commissioned Officer School, I learned how to handle staff and get their respect.”
After his return from Vietnam in 1970, Tom started working in the family business, Shotcrete Construction.
“I operated it from then on because my dad was of ill health. We poured foundation walls, floors, patios. We'd set the forms and then hire a pump. I took over the business from my mother in 1987 after my father died. I operated it until 1995, at which time I sold it to another local company. I worked for them for five years before my contract ended in May 2000.
“I ran for highway superintendent in 1999. I was up against a Republican, who also was a lifelong village resident. I was victorious and I've run unopposed ever since.”
Why the career change?
“The town needed a little help. It was stagnant as far as the highways were going. They were being maintained, but the town wasn't growing or improving. I wanted to work for the town and make it a nicer place to live. I believe I have.
“I saw an opportunity to get elected. I was 50 years old at the time. I knew if I could hang on for 10 years I could squeeze out a small pension. There's no sense in sugar coating that. That was a big thing. I also was glad to be phasing out of the concrete business. It's hard work for a young man and even harder for an old one. I still do it several days a month. I'll phase out of it when I retire.”
Tom married his first wife in 1970.
“We had two children, Chad, 47, a salesman for a local concrete company and Kate, 43, assistant town clerk for the town of Ellington and secretary for the Lenea Foundation. I married my current wife, Sharon, in 1988. She owns a dog boarding and grooming business, Dog Moms Boarding and Grooming. She has three sons: Mike, 43, a sprinkler fitter; Matt, 41, did four years in the Air Force and now is a FedEx courier; and Scott, 40, works for Nestle Purina, where he manages the dog food operations in Dunkirk, N.Y. Between the five kids, we have 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“Chad has two daughters, Holly and Emily. Kate has three children, Hannah, Owen and Ally. Mike has two, Kayden and River. Scott has four kids, Mazie, Zachary, Tyler and Dakota and two granddaughters, Addison and McKenna. Matt has five, Ava, Alex, Addison, Issac and Colton. The youngest is three and the oldest is 22. They all live within 10 miles of here. We also have three dogs: Noel, a black Lab, miniature Sheltie named Callie; and a Blue Healer called Crazy.”
In his spare time, this super likes to “stay home with my family. Spending time with my wife, children and grandchildren is the best. I also manage a good size horse boarding operation on my 18 acres. I board between 20 and 25 horses. Some belong to my grandchildren. I have my own saddle horse that I ride. I also try to keep a team of two to four Belgian Draft Horses on the property. They're the biggest of the Belgian horses, bigger than the Clydesdales. I also like to show my horses and my wife and I enjoy going to horse sales. That's what I do. That's my passion.”
What does wife Sharon think about her husband's job? “Tom is devoted. His job comes first. There's never any hesitation when the phone rings.”
On the Job
“When I got elected, we had a small building in the center of town. The board, knowing my construction background, asked me to put together some numbers to build a new facility. That was in March and we started in June. We built a 240-foot by 60-foot steel building; 90 feet of it is shared with the water department. We did everything ourselves; the concrete work, carpentry, plumbing, engineering. That saved the town — and taxpayers — at least $200,000. Having built most of the shop ourselves, the crew takes great pride in their workplace. They did a beautiful job. It's our jewel.”
The shop houses:
• 2012, 2016 Mack tandems
• 2004 Sterling tandem
• 2006, 2008 International single-axle trucks
• 2007 Freightliner water truck
• All day-to-day tools
The department also boasts a 60-ft. x 120-ft. pole building where they keep the following pieces of equipment:
• 1965 Blaw-Knox paver
• 2001 International bucket truck
• 1995 Maxi Grind brush grinder
• 1996 Champion grader
• 2013 Volvo excavator, New Holland mower tractor, Dynapac roller
• 2017 Trackless sidewalk plow
“The paver, grinder, bucket truck and rubber-tread rollers are pieces in a three or four partnership with neighboring towns.”
Tom and his crew also built a 30-ft. x 72-ft. pole building in 2010. It holds all the department's plows, wings and sanders, the summer pickup trucks, a Woodchuck chipper and sidewalk tools and forms.
Finally, the department has a 60-ft. x 60-ft. salt/sand shed (600 tons). It also has a 24-ft. x 24-ft. shed (160 tons) just for pure salt.
“We use a 3 to 1 mix for our sand and about 1,500 tons of salt. We use straight salt in the village so there's no sand to clean up.
“I also have a 12-foot by 20-foot office in our main shop and the same size break room. We have two restrooms, one with a shower. That works out well when my wife's mad at me, which happens from time to time.”
The job of superintendent calls for Tom to maintain the town's 106 lane miles. That includes 98 town roads and eight county lane miles of road. Forty-eight of those miles are paved and one is gravel. That translates into six plowing routes that take roughly 2.25 hours to complete.
Tom depends on his crew of five full-time employees to serve the town's 3,500 residents. His staff includes Deputy Superintendent Mike Walker, MEOs Doug Sandberg, Tim Eklund, Jeremy Klice and Matt Powers. They also have two part-timers, Wayne Lindstrom (who's retiring this year) and Melissa Hultberg. The youngest is 26 and the oldest is 74.
“I have a good crew but I have to keep work ahead of them. I point them in the direction and then they take the bull by the horns. You have to know today what you're going to do tomorrow. They have today handled. Tomorrow's a good question.”
Under Tom's attentive eye, the town of Carroll's highway department functions on a total operating budget of $1,060,596 that includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $113,498. The department also receives $25,907 from PAVE-NY and $21,750 from Extreme Winter Recovery.
When it comes to buying new equipment, Tom's rule of thumb is to “purchase something every year or we're behind the eight ball. Once the budget's approved, I start bidding on vehicles. Then I present it to the board and see what we can get done. We don't always buy new, but usually it's in the best interest of the taxpayer if we do. We've purchased some new pieces. We also share equipment with several neighboring towns, including Ellicott, Poland and the village of Faulkner.”
Like his counterparts, Tom agrees that today's equipment has its pros and cons.
“It's changed the business quite a bit. If you have trouble with a truck, you can go through the computer code and find out what's wrong. Nine times out of 10, we can't fix the truck. That's a problem. If for instance, our excavator has trouble, I'll get a call on my cell phone right from the excavator saying the oil pressure's low or it's overheating. We get a printout once every three months telling us how many hours the machine idled, how many hours it was at working RPMs, what the oil pressure was … everything. Technology is a good thing in that respect, but it does make it harder to work on the stuff. The only way you could do it yourself would be if you had all the software. That's the trouble. By the time you own the software, you get a different truck or piece of equipment and the software needs to be updated. As it is, we do most of our own maintenance. We all work together on it. I don't feel that our department is big enough to warrant a dedicated mechanic.”
Another challenging aspect of the job for this highway superintendent is working with the town board “to maintain moving forward. When I was elected, I told the board that what I learned during the 50 years I've been alive is nothing stays the same. It goes forward or backward. Folks on the town board have the opportunity to make this town go in either direction, but it won't stay the same. For a while, they were moving forward, then it got stagnant. When it gets stagnant, it doesn't go forward. It doesn't fall off the face of the earth, but it doesn't go forward. We've lost several good businesses that employed up to at least 150 people. That's a big hit. Many of them were good paying jobs and now they're gone.”
Tom's best day on the job was when the department held an open house for their new digs in October 2011.
“Once we had the shop built, the board was excited to show it off. So, we cleaned our trucks and invited the public. Upwards of 500 people came out.”
His worst? “August 8, 2009. Eight inches of rain fell in 12 hours. We had problems everywhere. We're a hilly town and the more hills you have, the more drainage and washout problems. We had lots of low-level flooding. It took us all summer to come back from that. Twelve hours gave us a whole summer's worth of work.”
What frustrates this highway superintendent?
“Trying to keep up with the number of roads and the quality of services with less money. I have a good rapport with the board. I've been able to purchase the things we've needed up until now, but I can see that's going to get tougher. Part of it is due primarily to the rising costs. We don't have any bonds or bands, no money borrowed. We do lease one piece of equipment. We couldn't afford to buy it in one year. The last new truck that was purchased right before I came here, a 10-wheeler dump truck with a plow, was $85,000. The last one I purchased was $205,000. We try not to buy used. If someone got rid of that piece of equipment, it's because something was wrong with it. It's not in the town's best interest to buy someone else's problems.”
When asked what's disappointed him the most, Tom is quick to reply.
“The two-percent tax cap. It was implemented by the governor and every town must deal with it. They can pass a resolution to go above the tax cap or stay below. What's disappointing about it is everything we have here has increased in price by more than two percent. Last year, it was less than that. If you can only have a two-percent tax cap in your budget, most of that's eaten up by your employee benefits. That leaves trying to get the same amount of services done with a lot less money. That ain't working. It's not feasible to go below the cap. It's extremely hard to handle that with my budget. We got a new supervisor this year and the town board passed a resolution to go above the tax cap if necessary. Hopefully, I can keep my budget within reason without going above the cap, but I can't see me staying at two percent.
“You're not penalized for going over if you have the resolution allowing you to do so. I try not to go too much above the cap. I try to get the most bang for my buck. It's difficult, but that's what the taxpayers have me for. It's disheartening. I get discouraged some days when we don't get as much done as I'd like, but when I look at the big picture, knowing I'm not going to have enough money to do one-third less than what I ought to be doing. We don't lose any miles of road. We're losing money to take care of them.”
Looking ahead, Tom has several projects on the horizon.
“We're going to take out and put in a box culvert. We have an engineering firm helping us with that. We're trying to get a grant through the Bridge NY. It just became available here in April. It's for rural roads and bridges that qualify. If you meet the criteria and there's any money left, you'll get a piece of it. The estimated cost is $120,000.
“I'd also like to finish paving some roads I've started that are longer than most. This year was our most ambitious paving job. We paved 2.5 miles of the high traffic, 5-mile Oak Hill Road. All our monies went into that. I hope to pave the other end of it next year. It hasn't been touched with pavement since I've been here.
“Finally, I'd like to keep improving our local infrastructure and keep the town moving in a positive direction. You can't just maintain. You have to move forward.”
Tom also is a big proponent of shared services.
“We recommend doing that when at all possible. If any county in the state calls, I'll help them if I can and they'll help me. Typically, we work with the two or three towns that are right around us. Those are the towns we own the equipment with.
“Contrary to popular belief, the shared services program is alive and well. Sometimes, the governor doesn't think so. He thinks we should be combining townships, governments and schools. I think sometimes, when you combine services like that, you lose your identity.”
When it comes time to retire, how would Tom like to be remembered?
“As having done a good job for the town. That's all anybody can ask for.”
About the Town of Carroll
The town of Carroll, in the extreme southeastern part of the county, was erected in 1825 from the town of Ellicott, and named in honor of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, the immortal Signer, who in affixing his name to the Declaration of Independence added his residence, that there might be no doubt of his identity if misfortune overtook the cause for which he was risking his life and fortune.
The town, broken and hilly in the northeast and east parts and rolling in the south and southwest, originally included the present town of Kiantone, which was set off from Carroll in 1853. Conewango Creek forms the greater part of the boundary line between the two towns, entering Carroll from the north and continuing to the Pennsylvania line. The town contains 20,658 acres, the highest summits, being 1,400 ft. above tidewater. Frewsburg, on the Dunkirk, Allegheny Valley & Pittsburgh railroad, is a thriving village with important industrial establishments — The Carroll Furniture Company, the Frewsburg Canning Company, and the Merrell-Soule Company, dairy products. There are in Frewsburg four small factories.
Other villages of the town are Fentonville in the south, Dodge in the east, and Ivory in the north. The population of Carroll, according to the State census of that year, was 1,714, of whom seven only were aliens.
The first settlers were John Frew on lot 61, and Thomas Russell on west half of lot 53 at the mouth of Frew Run. In the spring of 1809 John Frew paid $2.25 an acre, built a log cabin, and put in crops in 1810. A few months later, George W. Fenton sold his farm on Chadakoin River and located on lot 52, south of and adjoining the lands of Frew and Russell. Frew and Russell built a saw mill in 1810, and commenced sawing the next spring. They ran the sawed boards to Pittsburgh. James Frew was connected with them in building the mill, and purchased Russell's interest in 1814. In 1817, with their father, Hugh Frew, they built an “overshot” gristmill, using the gearing and stones of their father's old mill in Pennsylvania. George W. Fenton developed a large farm, and opened the first store in Frewsburg. John Tyler was on lot 51 by June, 1808; his son Hamilton, born 1810, was the first white child born in the present town. Isaac Walton was on lot 41 and Charles Boyles on lot in the summer of 1809.
Perhaps no other township in the county has had so many saw mills at the same time as Carroll. John Frew assisted Edward Work to build his saw mill at Work's Mills in 1808, and the first lumber cut by Frew was plank for eight flatboats which he built and took to Mayville for salt which he ran to Pittsburgh. “The same John Frew brought on his back from Dunkirk a bushel-and-a-half bag of salt for the settlers, who were in perishing need of it. It was also John Frew who in 1813 killed the last deer killed at the great deer lick in the four corners of Main and Third streets of Jamestown.”
Lumber is such an important factor in Carroll's progress and development that the following article on “Carroll-Early Lumbering,” from the pen of Mrs. Effie W. Parker, in “The Centennial History of Chautauqua County,” published in 1904, is largely drawn upon.
It has been stated by historians that “no more magnificent forest existed in the United States than that which cast its mighty shadows over primitive Carroll” — a forest not only vast in extent, but the trees were larger than ever before known. Conewango pineries were the wonders of their day, and their fame had extended to other countries. Nature was provident in the streams that were to furnish power for the reduction of this forest, which in time gave place to the now productive farms.
In 1810 John Frew built a saw mill on lot 53. At a later date he with his brother James and Thomas Russell built a mill at the mouth of Frew Run on the east side of the Conewango, on lot 61. Thomas Russell sold his interests in 1815. In 1817 the Frew brothers, with their father, Hugh Frew, built a gristmill, using the same power and flume for both mills. The saw mill passed into the hands of Jefferson Frew, who in 1872 put in steam and operated it for a number of years.
Matthew Turner is supposed to have built on lot the second mill in town; it was bought by Josiah H. Wheeler in 1816. James Wheeler, his son, built a mill on the same lot farther east, using one power and flume for both mills. On lot 45 Mr. Taylor built a mill; this was later owned by G. W. Fenton: the property passed into the hands of Otis Moore and on to his son, O. H. Moore. The plant was unusual in operating ability, the streams at this point being fed by numerous springs so that sawing could be done almost any day in the year. On the same lot east, Job Toby built a mill between 1816 and 1820. On lot 36 Amasa Littlefield built a mill that was purchased and rebuilt by John Myers. Reuben and John Thayer built a mill on the same lot east, that was purchased by John Townsend in 1841 and operated by himself to the time of his death in 1860, and by his son Samuel to 1888. Cyrus Clough was another saw mill builder on lot 28. This mill was conducted later by Jacob Persell. John Bain, Sherman Jones, John Townsend, Jr., Henry Bennett and Stephen Bennett, successively. By this time John Frew built a third mill on lot 27. His son, James R. Frew, carried on the business in later years; was later a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, and in 1902 was the oldest person living who was born in the town of Carroll.
Jediah Budlong as early as 1832 built a mill on lot 19 with an overshot wheel, and had a usual annual product of 500,000 ft. of lumber. In 1848 Emrich Evans. with Budlong, rebuilt the mill, and it passed into the hands of L. L. Rawson, purchased later by John Hiller and burned in 1872. At the head of Frew Run, John Myers put in a mill that Samuel Cowen purchased later.
All these mills were on Frew Run, a stream not exceeding live miles in length, and all were operated three or four months in the year. In early times, water was held back by the density of forest, so that even in a dry time, after a thunder shower, quite a stroke of business could be accomplished. Few of these mills sawed one hundred thousand feet of lumber a year — more sawed three or four times that. With two exceptions, all these mills were running up to 1860. Steam superseded the water power on this stream, and one mill is in operation at the present time (1902), that of Lewis Brothers on lot 45.
In the southwest portion of the town were five mills on the same stream for a distance not exceeding a mile, the first of which was built in 1833. The mills were built by Daniel Wheeler, Luther Forbush, Joseph Hook, Benjamin Price. The Wheeler mill passed into the hands of H. H. Fenton and son, Hook mill sold to J. Brokaw, and at a later date, Brokaw built farther up the stream. George Wiltsie purchased the Price mill, introduced steam, and operated as late as 1885 with an annual product of 100,000 feet. In 1883 Mr. Wiltsie cut fourteen thousand pine shingles from a single tree. On lot 32, on Case Run, the three Pope brothers, Jediah, Gersham, and Chester, who were known as the old company, built and operated a mill; they afterwards sold to Asa Comstock. These brothers later built two mills on lot 14 The Covey mill was bought by G. W. Fenton, Jr., on lot 23, in 1834. James Cowen between 1838 and 1840 built a mill on the same lot. Mr. Comstock sold his mill to D. Harrington and built another on lot 24, and which was operated later by Holiday & Ames. Another mill owned by Pliny Cass was the lowest on Case Run, and passed into the hands of his son, J. Smith Cass.
In 1848 G. W. Fenton Jr. built a mill just below the one he purchased in 1834, and in 1851 still another, using the same power and flume for both. These mills had unusual capacity, the usual annual product being 500,000 feet of lumber. In 1859, the product reached 1,100,000 ft. Both these mills were operated for 20 years, when the lower mill was arranged for shingle sawing. The other mill is still (1902) in operation by the Fenton brothers, who are using the original water power with a turbine wheel. The Harrington mill is also in operation with the original water power. Amasa Burt purchased one of the Pope mills on lot 14.
In early times, shingles were rived and shaved from the best pine timber, but as first-class pine diminished, shingle machines were introduced and timber that would not admit splitting and shaving was sawed into shingles. Twenty-five thousand pine shingles cut from a single tree was not an uncommon product in those times. The product of these several mills was hauled to the nearest point on the banks of the Conewango, usually during the winter season, as wagons were unknown in the earlier days. The boards were raited and loaded with shingles ready to float out on the first spring freshet. Vast fleets of lumber were sent yearly down the Conewango to the Allegheny river to Pittsburgh and farther south. For several years the best pine was worth only $2.50 per thousand feet. This was traded for supplies, as flour, pork, tea, coffee, sugar, cotton cloth, etc., flour at times being twenty dollars and pork forty dollars a barrel. A canoe was taken on the raft, and into this were loaded the supplies, then pushed back at the end of a setting pole against a strong current to the starting point.
When the first bridge was built across the Allegheny river at Pittsburgh, the contractor came to the Conewango country. He found the timber wanted near the Pennsylvania line. Upon inquiring the price, the owner told him he could have all he wanted for nothing as the ground upon which the timber stood was worth more for agricultural purposes than the timber itself. Thousands of pine logs cut from the timber from this valley measured more than five feet at the stump and made from three to five thousand feet of lumber, while there were occasional logs that measured seven feet across. None of these majestic sentinels now remain. In 1878, A. M. Woodcock cut from lot 45 two trees measuring four and a half feet at the stump that netted him $185. While these did not compare with many of their predecessors in size, their commercial value was considerably greater.
The last tract of land of any considerable size with a growth of primeval pine upon it was the Prendergast estate in Kiantone, formerly a part of Carroll. It was purchased in 1887 by William Townsend and Daniel Griswold, who erected a mill and manufactured it into lumber. The estate consisted of more than 800 acres, of which 600 were timbered. Many of them were magnificent trees fit for the mast of a stately ship. There were several millions of lumber cut from this tract.
(History courtesy of http://history.rays-place.com/ny/chau-carroll.htm) P
This story also appears on Superintendent's Profile.
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