Superintendent of Highways William B. Hayes and the Town of Schaghticoke

Mary Yamin-Garone

You could say William “Willie” Hayes is a creature of habit. And that’s okay with Willie. In fact, he takes pride in it.

He has lived in the town of Schaghticoke for 64 years; been married to wife, Patricia, for 44 years; and has served as the town’s highway superintendent for 28 years.

It doesn’t end there. The affinity for Schaghticoke is a family affair. Willie’s children — Scott, 35; Steve, 34; and Paul, 33; his grandchildren — Stephanie, 14; Steven, 11; Nicholas, 14; and Olivia, 10; and his brother, Joe, all live nearby.

“I grew up locally,” Willie said. “We’ve been in Schaghticoke all of our lives. The family farm — 300 acres of dairy and poultry — was here. In fact, we still have it. My brother and I divided it up 50/50. It continues to be a working agricultural farm, mostly crops now, alfalfa and corn.”

After completing the 10th grade Willie left the farm in 1965 to go to work for a knitting mill in Stillwater.

“I was a mechanic,” he recalled. “Then I thought I wanted to drive a truck, so I went to a local oil company in Valley Falls and started delivering oil.”

What followed was a series of driving jobs. Willie attended Chauffer Training School where he obtained a Class 1 license allowing him to drive a tractor-trailer.

“After that, I went back to work for the oil company, then moved to Bonded Freightways in Glenmont. I was there for two and a half years. I covered 10 eastern states and averaged 2,000 mi. per week. Then I returned to the oil company one last time before landing back here.”

Here is sitting at the helm of the Town of Schaghticoke’s Highway Department.

Willie was elected to his first four-year term in 1977, after being approached on several occasions by local politicians.

“I finally conceded because of my age. I was 37 and needed to start thinking about retirement and future interests,” he joked.

When his current term expires at the end of 2007, it will mark the end of a 30-year career as highway superintendent. What will be next?

“I’ve kidded around saying I’m coming back as a consultant, but I believe in letting the next superintendent make his own decisions. Instead, I’ll probably be around to help with the paperwork. I’ll be a part-timer.”

How would he like to be remembered? As leaving Schaghticoke’s highways a little better than he found them, he said.

“I hope the residents will think I was worthy and fair. I learn every day and I think I have done all I could do to bring the [town’s] roads and highway system to a higher, better level.”

Willie is a member and former secretary, treasurer, vice president and president of the Rensselaer County Highway Association; a member of the executive committee and former president of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways; and has been an annual attendee at the Cornell Highway School for 28 years.

In his spare time he busies himself on his 135 acres of land. He gardens, plays golf, tinkers in some mechanical work and builds things — such as a smoker tractor —out of steel.

On the Job

The department’s facilities are situated on a 10-acre parcel of land. They include a new highway garage, measuring 80 by 280 ft. that was built in 2000; 80 by 200 ft. of the building is heated and has air-conditioned offices. The steel structure has partial concrete walls, 15 overhead doors and a separate welding bay. There also is a salt and sand shed built in 1998 and a recycle center.

As superintendent, it is Willie’s job to maintain the town’s 87 center-lane mi. of road; 80 of which are blacktop and the rest are gravel. That translates into eight plowing routes that take four hours to complete. The highway department also does maintenance for 3.5 mi. of roadway for the Village of Schaghticoke. That includes paving streets and sidewalks, vacuuming catch basins, sweeping and patching.

Beginning in late October, crews begin “winterizing” the roadways. The process starts when the grader is sent out to shape up the gravel roads.

“After that we will be doing sand and salt, mixing 4,000 tons and putting it in the shed,” explained Willie. “That amount increases all the time. More salt to the sand so we get more melt. Once that’s done we change our equipment around — another seasonal change — putting on the sanders, hoppers and plow frames. Then we’ll cut trees and brush.”

Willie depends on his crew of 10 full-time employees and one part-timer to serve the town’s 7,200 residents. Staff includes Mark “Hubert” Bassett, deputy superintendent; Mark Brock, assistant foreman; Melvin Miller, machine equipment operator light (MEOL); Lee Harrington, MEOL; Roland Maynard, assistant mechanic; Shane Napoli, MEOL; John Culliton, mechanic; John Weir, MEOL; Ed Kyea, MEOL; and Joe Simon, MEOL. John “PT” Hayes is a part-time driver (MEOL).

Under Willie’s vigilant eye, the Town of Schaghticoke’s Highway Department functions on a total operating budget of $1 million, which includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $108,000.

Staying within that budget is not without its challenges — especially when it comes to getting the job done.

“I used to have a five-year [road] work plan but that didn’t work,” said Willie. “The five-year was too far in advance. That is largely due to the projects changing every spring because of road failure. I’m always dropping projects off the list and adding new ones. Now I have a two-year plan.

“I have to stay within my budget. I had a program for 2005 and as of October, I already had to eliminate some projects in order to deal with emergencies. I’ll pick up the balance of that list in 2006, and then next year’s list is gone. It’s a vicious cycle because of funds and the increasing cost of materials. You’re always doing more with less.”

Willie prides himself on the fact that the highway department owns all its vehicles.

“All of our equipment is totally paid for; the garage is not. We like to operate on a pay-as-you-go basis. We paid for our last truck in cash.” Impressive, when you hear the department purchases new trucks every four years.

Other equipment is acquired on an as-needed basis. To keep those vehicles running well, the department possesses all the tools necessary to perform routine maintenance. In addition, dump trucks are greased and inspected every 1,000 mi.; oil changed every 250 hours; and water filters and air dryers changed annually. Pick-up trucks are serviced every 2,000 mi.

Another plus is having several guys on staff who are good mechanics. “We repair everything — motors, transmissions, differentials. We do our own tire and body work … we do it all.”

Willie’s “dream” piece of equipment would be a tracked excavator.

“We don’t own one presently, but getting one will happen sometime in the future. They’re expensive, although I would look for a used one. If one came along next year it may be possible but for the time being I’m just looking.”

Myriad Responsibilities

Each year, the highway department paves approximately 2 mi. of road. In 2005 — due to some extra money from the town board — 4 mi. were completed. Plans also are on the drawing board to widen the gravel roadways for paving.

“We’ve been trying to do a mile of gravel each year for the past five years so we can eventually eliminate it [gravel]. Gravel mines in this area are few and far between. It has not only become harder to get, it’s also more expensive.”

But it is not all road work for Willie and his crew. Last year, one project entailed installing some large French drains.

“They [the drains] are trenches filled with rock and are used to drain off underground water. That particular drain was 700 feet long with the deepest point being 29 feet. It took one week to complete.”

Another project involved a contract to construct a bridge over a railroad crossing. The new bridge on Hansen Road was worked on by Bette-Crain Contractors of Watertown. The deck size is 26 by 100 ft., which gives two 13 ft. travel lanes. Bridge construction is seven pre-stressed concrete box beams, concrete abutments, deck walls, with a pedestrian fence box beam guide railing. The structure is situated over a Boston and Maine Railroad track and carries an H-20 load rating.

Other responsibilities of the department include assisting the water and sewer department with digging and maintaining the town’s four bridges.

Change … It Had to Come

Over his approximately 30-year career, Willie has witnessed many changes. His staff expanded from five employees to 10. He started out with 20 pieces of equipment and now has a fleet of 47. But perhaps the biggest changes have been a result of advancing technology.

“Technology has changed the way we do our job. It has made equipment fairly easy to operate; less maintenance is required; and the newer machines perform better.”

On the downside of that change is that despite improvements and advances, Willie’s job hasn’t become any easier. That, he said, is because good help is hard to find.

“Today’s generation is being educated to be ‘computerized.’ It’s only human nature to want a good job and make a lot of money. So these days, where are you going to find people to perform manual labor? Who’s around to dig a ditch, drive a truck or operate equipment? Eventually, I don’t know where highway departments are going to find help.”

In spite of the changing times, modern equipment and tight budgets, Willie still finds his work rewarding.

“The reward for me comes when I see the end result of a project. That means I have solved a problem.”

About Schaghticoke

As early as 1300, multiple Indian tribes inhabited the land that is now the Town of Schaghticoke.

In 1675, Governor Andros, governor of the colony of New York, planted a tree of Welfare near the junction of the Hoosick River and the Tomhannock Creek — an area already known as Schaghticoke — “the places where the waters mingle.”

The tree symbolized the friendship between the English, Dutch and the Schaghticoke Indians. The Indians were Mohican refugees from New England. They were welcomed to Schaghticoke because they agreed to assist in protecting the English from the French and the Iroquois. They remained until 1754.

Until the Revolutionary War, Schaghticoke was part of the Colony of New York.

Most of its citizens were governed by the city of Albany, which owned the land they rented. Meanwhile, New York sold the remainder of what is now the Town of Schaghticoke in several large land grants.

At the time of the Revolution, Schaghticoke was not an organized community. There was a settlement around Knickerbocker Mansion and farms elsewhere in the area, but the only government was in Albany. The New York colonial government created the District of Schaghticoke, which included most of current Schaghticoke and Pittstown, for taxing purposes.

The 14th Albany County Militia was raised from the Schaghticoke and Hoosick districts. Johannis Knickerbocker of Schaghticoke was commissioned as its colonel on Oct. 20, 1775. After the Battle of Saratoga in 1977, Peter Yates became colonel.

Schaghticoke was a dangerous place to live during the Revolutionary War period (1775-1783). At first, concern was with the Loyalists’ residents who might remain loyal to Great Britain. In the fall of 1777, Schaghticoke was directly in the path of General Burgoyne’s invasion — stopped at the battles of Bennington (Walloomsac) and Saratoga.

Burgoyne’s Indian allies and Tories raided the area for food before and after the battles. Major Dirck VanVeghten evacuated his family to Albany for safety. Around the time of the Battle of Saratoga, he returned home to check on his farm in Schaghticoke. He was attacked, killed and scalped by a band of Indians and Tories.

Many residents fled the area for the safety of Lansingburgh or Albany. Ann Eliza Bleecker, wife of John Bleecker, a local farmer, left for Albany with her two small daughters. Her infant died of dysentery en route. This event led her to write one of the earliest American novels, “The Adventures of Maria Kittle,” which dramatically retells the story of the Indian attack on the Kittle family of Schaghticoke in 1711.

Throughout the Colonial and Revolutionary periods there was a controversy surrounding the New York-Vermont border.

Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys first formed to force the creation of the state of Vermont before fighting for our nation’s independence. They wanted the Hudson River to be the Vermont border. They — along with others — incited riots in the Schaghticoke area during the Revolutionary years. While there weren’t many Loyalists in Schaghticoke during the Revolution, there was a sharp division among the residents over Vermont.

During the summer of 1781, Colonel Peter Yates and his militia were stationed in Schaghticoke to put down any possible insurrection against New York State. The activity culminated in an “invasion” of 200 men from Bennington in early 1782, put down by Colonels Yates and Henry VanRensselaer’s militia regiments.

The Vermonters then took their dispute to the United States Congress, where it was finally settled in 1790, when Vermont became the 14th state.

The “new” New York State government organized much of the state into towns by a legislative act in 1788. Schaghticoke was among those towns and was part of Albany County until Rensselaer County was formed in 1791.

Following the Revolution, Schaghticoke became infused with immigrants, especially from England and Ireland. Population centers grew near streams where the water powered an assortment of mills.

In 1792, William Chase constructed the first bridge over the Hoosic River at what would become the Village of Schaghticoke. Most residents were farmers growing crops for the local industries.

Although the town of Schaghticoke developed industrially and agriculturally, it never developed into a political center. One of its hamlets — Hemstreet Park — faces Mechanicville across the Hudson River; two others, Pleasantdale and Speigletown, were part of Lansingburgh for approximately 100 years. Melrose grew at the junction of the railroad and the road, with a substantial number of its homes being built as vacation retreats for the wealthy Trojans.

The Village of Schaghticoke was incorporated as Harts Falls in 1867. The falls of the Hoosic powered large woolen, flax and powder mills.

In the 20th century, agriculture remained strong in Schaghticoke, while industry all but vanished. Hemstreet Park, Pleasantdale, Speigletown and part of Melrose grew into suburbs, with residents commuting to work in Troy or Albany.

Agriculture remains a force in the community but the town is experiencing increasing residential development along with the political, social and economic issues that entails. P

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.

Jump to Profile: