The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Thanks to a municipal plow jockey

John's picture(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 2/21/2014)

I was sitting here doing what I do when I heard a truck backup alarm on my street. There are not many trucks with backup alarms on this street, so I got up to peek out the window – to see the Cumberland Township plow stopped, and the driver walking back to where a neighbor was helping an 80-something gent back to his house through the snow.

It turned out the gentleman being assisted had fallen as he was retrieving his trash can from the street-side snowbank, and the plow jockey had come by in time to help. I didn’t get the fellows name, but this particular plow jockey deserves a Thank You.

There was a time, where I was raised, the town plow would clear out elderly folks’ driveways, but new, younger, “tax payers” moved in and thought that an illegal use of their money. Now, occasionally, we hear of power company personnel, especially in winter, keeping an eye out for old people who might be in need of assistance.

Sometimes the only assistance required is a knock on the door, and a friendly, “Are you OK?” Even when we insist on our privacy, we like someone to acknowledge we are there.

When I was a lad, growing up in the Maine woods, the “town plows” were owned by the men who drove them, though I’m guessing the town bought the plows and gas. Probably that is still the case in many rural towns, where budgets are tight and the plow jockeys use the trucks for other purposes when the snow is not falling.

It was said that Jack and Irving would not even fire up their rigs until there was three inches of new white stuff on the ground and still coming down. Irving drove the north half of town, Jack the south. The full run took about six hours, which was a problem for some of the new folks in town when snow was falling an inch or more an hour. In the time it took the plow to get back around, another six inches was on the ground, and some folks thought that a little much, especially if they had to go to work or school.

Schools didn’t have “Snow Days” the way most do now, though there likely were some days we were a mite late arriving for class in the two-room schoolhouse from which I graduated eighth grade. Come to think of it, that policy didn’t change much when I was in high school, though the 13-mile ride to the county seat was longer.

I had opportunity to drive the plow truck on the town’s southern route, and it gave me a deep appreciation for the task. On the one hand, there is something really peaceful about driving a country road, even the truck motor muffled by the immaculately white blanket.

On the other hand, if the drift you had been following had migrated in the wind, and your right-side wheels suddenly fell into the ditch you thought was a few feet farther over … you could be, at 2 a.m., walking a half-mile or more to knock on someone’s door. That was B.C. – Before Cell – and you needed a tow truck to come to your rescue.

Meanwhile, you were conscious that soon people would be getting out of bed to discover the snow coming down when they fell asleep hadn’t stopped falling just because the plow was stuck out there somewhere.

And now and then there would be a neighbor in need of a spot of extra help. I expect that driver who stopped this week to help an elderly gent back to his house knows exactly how it feels to be there when it happens.


  1. Great story, John. Took me back to my childhood days. People here panic if their is even an inch of snow on the ground. So when snow is predicted I check my grocery stock and stay home. Don’t want to be on the road with the locals.

  2. The good news around here is most locals go into hiding when the snow falls. It’s the night before that’s scariest, when the supermarkets are crowded, and the roads leading to them.

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