Wright shares experiences with county road crew

Jerry Wright, who has worked with the Mecosta County Road Commission for more than 20 years, scrapes snow along his route. (Pioneer photos/Meghan Gunther-Haas)

MECOSTA COUNTY — After spending the morning and afternoon hours behind the wheel, Jerry Wright goes home knowing he may not get a full night’s sleep before being called back into work the next day.

Wright has worked with the Mecosta County Road Commission for approximately 23 years and during the winter months, he spends from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. driving a plow truck.

Wright said after everyone goes home, a night worker watches the weather from approximately 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. If the worker believes the roads are getting slick or covered, he goes through a list of road crew members and calls as many in as believed necessary to clear the streets.

Wright said drivers need to be able to watch the road and traffic while operating the various controls in the cab when plowing.

“You can be sleeping and get called in,” Wright said. “People are trying to get from Point A to Point B and it’s our job to see what we can do to get them there.”

Each driver has a set route, and while they may cover for other crew members from time to time, they get to know the roads they maintain throughout the winter. In making the same trip almost daily, Wright said crew members get to know the hazards on their routes, such as ditches or mailboxes close to the road.

“I know most of the people on my route and they know me,” Wright said, noting residents occasionally call him to let him know about areas of concern. “We work for the public. It’s a good job. We aren’t trying to offend anyone. That’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to eliminate hazards and make sure things are safe for people to get where they are going. We don’t make the rules. We’re just trying to do what we can to help.”

New members of the road crew are trained to work with the large trucks, and must be able to watch the road and traffic while working the various controls in the cab before getting their own route. One of the last places a new driver will put their skills to the test is on the expressway, Wright said.

“When I was younger, the expressway didn’t bother me as much. It bothers me more now,” he said, retelling instances when vehicles have gotten too close for comfort on the slick roads. “Whiteouts are the worst. That’s scary, especially when people are trying to get where they are going and you can’t see them. You see some terrible accidents. You hate to see people get hurt.”

Wright noted he makes sure to slow down and move over whenever he meets another plow on the road.

“You don’t know what could happen,” he said. “You could slide.”

Snow can make Wright a little nervous to drive, but it can also be one of the highlights of his route.

After checking his truck in the morning, Wright climbs inside the cab to begin his day on the road. On days when Wright’s truck remains in the garage for maintenance, he may take a plow not assigned to another driver for the day.

“Sometimes when we’re out here in the morning, it’s amazing,” he said. “First thing in the morning, when everything is sparkling and everything is new. I thank God for what I see everyday.”

Because winter doesn’t take a break, Wright said some years he may plow the roads and the next day, the route looks like it hadn’t been scraped clean the day before. He noted snow doesn’t care about holidays. He spent from 8:30 a.m. until approximately 3 p.m. in his truck on Christmas Day. The early mornings are when he sees all of nature’s beauty, including a recent rainbow.

When not plowing, Wright and his fellow crew members spend their time cutting down trees that are in the road right-of-way, are too close to the road or are dead and may fall in the street.

“If your car is sliding in the winter, the last thing you want to do is hit a tree,” he said.

However, the snow doesn’t stay all year long in this area, and Wright and the crew spend the summer months maintaining roads, changing culverts, digging ditches and cutting trees. While Wright enjoys both summer and winter work, he said he prefers the summer shift a little more because temperatures are warmer.

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Posted by Meghan Gunther-Haas

Meghan is the education reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review. She can be reached at (231) 592-8382 or by email at mhaas@pioneergroup.com.

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