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Plowing Snow Keeps Many of New England’s Contractors in Business

Fri December 16, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Jay Adams


Rockland Center, Mass., in 1953. David Casey’s father, Arthur, also the grandfather of Al Hashem, is running the track loader.
Rockland Center, Mass., in 1953. David Casey’s father, Arthur, also the grandfather of Al Hashem, is running the track loader.
Rockland Center, Mass., in 1953. David Casey’s father, Arthur, also the grandfather of Al Hashem, is running the track loader. Photo courtesy of Al Hashem, ADH Contracting, Middleboro Mass.
Plowing snow may keep these guys employed year ’round, but it’s no easy paycheck, particularly when it’s so bad that in order to start plowing, you must first find your truc

In frigid New England, they call snow plowing “heart attack work.”

Don’t tell that to David R. Casey. Casey, 79, the owner of David R. Casey Contracting of Hanover, Mass., has already had a heart transplant, but keeps driving his trucks.

“I complained that they gave me a ’lazy’ one, the new heart,” laughed Casey. “It finally kicked in. Casey — despite replaced heart and engine valves — keeps plowing snow, something he has done for 65 years, since he was 14 years old.

“I love it!” he said. “I started plowing when they were still using horses to do everything. My father owned horses in Rockland [Mass.]. I plowed sidewalks and just kept going.”

Hard-working contractors like David Casey love snow because it isn’t white to them; it is various shades of green. Snow plowing all winter has saved many a construction business from being plowed under when the ground has gotten too frozen to do any real digging or building.

“These days, with a good snowstorm, I can go three to four days straight,” said Casey of his new heart.

“If it weren’t for plowing snow, I wouldn’t generate enough revenue to get through the winter,” said Al Hashem, owner/operator of ADH Contracting, Middleboro, Mass. “I would be out of business.”

Hashem has plowed with an ever-growing array of trucks for a quarter century. He started in his first year with a backhoe, a six-wheel dump truck and a four-wheel pick-up truck with sander. Now, he will send a half- dozen trucks, a small fleet, on the road.

His bread and butter are repeat contracts with area stores and their adjacent parking lots, which must be cleaned up for shopping before, during and after every winter storm.

“In my first year of business, July 1987, I was working [with] machine rental and things started slowing down,” said Hashem. “I was looking for a snow plowing contract. A local department store in Lakeville, Mass., was looking to sign someone up for a contract. I was the only guy who showed up. It was too late in the season for other contractors. They had already signed up for their [set] jobs in August and September.”

He went out and bought an “Old Ford one-ton flatbed truck with sander. It was a pretty rough truck,” he remembered. “I had to fix the cab up, just so I could take it on the road. I didn’t have a garage to work in. I lay on the ground in the snow, in terrible weather, to fix it. I needed that income.”

Hashem said that as time went on, the store’s “parking lot got bigger and bigger. I added another truck to move the snow and I have been there for 25 years.” Like virtually all companies, he uses his trucks year-round — for service, excavation and delivery in summer, snow plowing in winter.

Snow Saves Them

Hashem’s story is typical of hundreds of contractors throughout New England who save their livelihoods by moving, hauling and piling up the white stuff.

Last winter throughout New England, as many as 22 different “snow events” brought at least a dusting to more than a foot of snow in the six states of the region. Blizzards mean longer hours. Men might plow for two or three days straight, even after the storm.

“They call it ’blood work’ sometimes; ’blood money’,” said Tim Konowitz, owner of Miles of Excavating, Wrentham, Mass. “We’ll run 60 hours at a time straight.”

One of Konowitz’s contracts is the popular Wrentham Outlet Mall, a collective “outdoor” mall with dozens of stores patterned in a jigsaw, walk-around array, and one of the largest parking lots in all of Eastern Massachusetts.

“At the Mall, in a storm, we work some serious hours,” said Konowitz. “One large [plowing] contract like the Mall can sustain you. [We] send eight pieces of equipment out, just for the small town of Wrentham. You ever see that Dunkin’ Donuts [hot coffee] commercial, where the guys are in their trucks, revving their engines, and waiting for that first snowflake to fall? That’s me.”

John DeAngelis is the owner of a small family site work business, DeAngelis Excavating of Barrington, R.I. His saving winter contract is to plow the little town’s (population 19,000) one substantial parking lot at the Barrington Shopping Center. Located centrally, the plaza houses about 15 businesses, including Shaw’s Supermarket, Staples, CVS Pharmacy, Talbot’s, Starbucks Coffee, Citizen’s Bank, D’Angelo’s Sandwiches and more.

“Snow is what we really look forward to, to help pay our bills and survive winter financially,” said DeAngelis. “Sometimes, the storms keep coming down and we’ll be there working for three days. In 2004, we had 21 inches of snow dumped in one storm and I remember being in the Barrington Shopping Plaza for 18 hours straight.

“I remember the Indianapolis Colts were playing the New England Patriots at Foxboro Stadium. It was a playoff game,” added DeAngelis. “After plowing for 18 hours straight, I took a break and saw [kicker] Adam Vinatieri kick the winning field goal. Then, it was back to work.”

DeAngelis’ yeoman efforts were heroic to the manager of the local supermarket chain. Hard work by plowers can mean the difference between a store failing or its success.

“The storm shopping started Saturday night. It was a major storm,” he said. “The store manager’s shelves were wiped out totally. He had nothing left. On Monday night, we had kept the lot clear and kept the store open for service deliveries and the manager was thrilled.”

Snow Jobs

Snow-moving men are comrades in arms. There is a bond among them because of the trucks they share, the dark cold nights they work — black evenings filled with white dots, frozen air, hot coffee, sleepless days, physical risk, until the storm has ended and its deluge is piled high.

Beyond plowing, snow is welcome for other vital excavation reasons.

“I hope for snow. If it doesn’t snow, the ground freezes,” said Steve Smith, owner/operator of T.F. Smith Construction Corporation of Hanson, Mass. “If snow comes down, the ground doesn’t freeze and I can install and repair septic systems. I can keep going.”

The white stuff washes away red ink. Smith’s company is part of the lucrative contract to plow the many lots of the very large Hanover Mall. “In many cases, plowing saves you from not getting into hot water financially,” added Smith. “We are so lucky it snows where we work. In a good storm, you can literally go straight with the plow for 24 hours or more.

Of course, it’s not just plowing that must be completed. The snow must be moved and piled in designated areas, allowing for cars to park and foot traffic by hauling, removing and, just as often, piling it up into small mountains; New England’s version of the Alps.

“After a good winter, in some sections of the mall, there will be snow in those piles until the end of July,” said Smith. “You have to keep moving the piles into certain sections of the lot, pushing the snow to designated areas, deep overflow. Keep it out of the way and cover the piles up with sand. They will last for months, slowly melting.”

“After storms, we are normally working elsewhere. We keep switching gears on our equipment, hauling snow on site,” added Hashem. “I use a pick-up truck, backhoes and loaders. You have to clean it all up, load it into dump trucks and pile it up.

“At Patriot Place in Foxboro, they have a fleet of trucks haul the snow across the street, like an army,” added Hashem. “They have to have all that room for tailgaters to park and those thousands of people to see the game and shop. It’s unreal how they work.”

80 Hours Straight

David R. Casey, Hashem’s uncle, can beat any other storm plowing stories. Casey plowed the infamous Blizzard of ’78 — a confluence of three major snowstorms which buried New England in up to 40 in. of snow, a legendary storm that lasted three days without let up.

“That was just beautiful,” laughed Casey. “I plowed in 80-hour stretches. I plowed the whole week. I never slept. I would take these little cat naps. I remember plowing 80 hours, then driving to Maine to pick up my girlfriend, then came back to plow another 80 hours. It snowed three days straight and I plowed snow for the whole month.

In the winter of 2010-2011, state and private plows removed more than 50 in. of snow (on average) across just Rhode Island during 22 separate stormy “events.”

One official at a prominent Massachusetts city said, on condition of anonymity, that, “If it weren’t for private contractors, our city would really be up against it. We depend on them an awful lot. Times are tough for municipalities and they help hold the snow budget line.”

As early as Oct. 6 of this year, RIDOT posted solicitation for private contractors and “suppliers” to help with snow and ice control and removal for the state.

According to Paul Annarummo, superintendent of these services, RIDOT is offering incentives for contractors who update their equipment and accessories.

“The Department is seeking to make more efficient use of salt and sand to reduce our overall winter operations costs and is willing to compensate plow operators who are willing to enhance the capabilities of their equipment,” said Annarummo in an open letter to potential plowers this winter. “Hired contractors will see an 18 percent ’fuel adjustment’ applied to the state’s base rate to help our vendors cover their increased fuel and maintenance costs,” said Annarummo.

The state also offered vendors a chance to increase their hourly rates by signing up early as a bonus. Those who registered their equipment by Nov. 14 got a five percent incentive.

It was needed, as snow fell throughout the country with a surprisingly early Oct. 29 storm that dropped as many as 10 in. in the areas north of Boston and some eight in. in Boston.

Safety First

With so many trucks on the road, safety also is of paramount importance. “You really have to know what you are doing,” said DeAngelis. “Safety first. Go slowly. You have to slow down and be careful. I have seen guys go through the windshield. It happens every year.”

“When you are plowing snow, you have the usual mishaps,” added Hashem. “People rip out curbings, hit parked cars, and hit other things. Things break, things go wrong. You are out after midnight in the coldest time of year, the diesel fuel freezes up, you are dead tired.

“You’ve worked for 36 straight hours, but the storm won’t stop,” he added. “You push, and push and push. A lot of people have heart attacks. That’s how the work gets its nickname.”

Still, what is so white, yet blood red, remains pretty green. “When you are a small guy, a small operation, you can’t survive without Mother Nature,” added DeAngelis. “She brings opportunities to you that are such a big thing; the biggest thing.” CEG