Superintendent of Highways Salvador Cesario and the Town of Lenox

Fran Foran

It might be said that Salvador “Tony” Cesario, highway superintendent of the town of Lenox in Madison County, was born into the position.

In 1956, Tony’s father, Charles, began working for the Lenox highway department. When Tony was a child and was off from school, he enjoyed spending time with his dad at work. It was this introduction to highway department work that led Tony to follow in his father’s footsteps.

And, as his father had done with him, Tony would take his son, Adam, to work with him. While in high school, Adam began working for the highway department as part of a work-study program. After graduation, he continued to work for the highway department.

Today, three generations of the Cesario family are working together continuing the legacy started by Charles 50 years ago.

“When I was a kid and my dad worked for the highway department, if I wasn’t in school, he’d pick me up every day and take me to work with him and I absolutely loved it,” explained Tony.

“When my son was little, still in a car seat, I’d pick him up and take him to work with me. I’d sit him over where the wingman would be. I worked both jobs, and Adam obviously loved it.”

But as highway superintendent when Tony must deliver “marching orders” to his son and father, has that ever been an issue or problem?

“It’s really not that big of a conflict. The bottom line is that everyone involved understands that requests made have to be followed,” Tony said.

“Certainly there has been some friction, but I can’t say that it’s ever been anything that’s gotten out of hand. Look at my father, he’s been doing this for decades. He’s pretty self-guided. He knows his job, and he does remind me from time to time that he knows what he’s doing.”

Tony was a machine equipment operator for Lenox before his election as superintendent in 1992. Since then, he has been elected for four-year terms with his current stint expiring in 2009.

Although Tony grew up in the Village of Canastota, he has called Lenox his home for 48 years and lives there with his wife, Laurie, and children, Adam, 23, and Kindall, 20. He knows the town and its people and enjoys helping them. And, to stay in touch with the community, Tony has a cell phone for 24-hour calls.

“It’s all about people in this town. They are all very good people. They’re very nice and they’re very thankful. It makes us feel wanted and needed,” said Tony.

“Believe me, it’s not horribly unusual for me to leave my house to respond to a call as late as 10:30 in the evening. But this [caring] attitude pays off for me. I run for four-year terms and in the fall of 2005, I ran unopposed. I think that speaks well for our department,” he explained.

And Tony gives a lot of credit to his wife for her understanding of his job and the hours it entails.

“Laurie has been a tremendous support to me and to our kids. She graciously puts up with the ridiculous winter time hours.” he said.

When Tony does find some time away from his job, he enjoys hunting, fishing, camping, cycling, and participation in the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, local parades and Old Home Day events.

Keeping Costs Under Control

Tony confesses that his least favorite part of his job is doing the budget. Currently his highway department’s budget is $626,073 with a CHIPS allocation of $45,400.

“We try to heed [Tony] Salvador’s input and get the highway department any equipment it needs, and according to Tony, currently the equipment fleet is in pretty good shape,” said Rocky DiVeronica, Lenox supervisor.

Although Tony finds the funding sufficient for the department’s needs, he and his crew still find ways to keep costs down.

“Rocky and the town board have been really good about keeping our tax rates low. That puts some real pressure on my department to keep costs under control. For instance, we don’t pay any overtime. It all goes out in the form of comp time and we pay out the comp time in time-and-a-half. Actually, our employees really like the system,” said Tony.

Another cost-saving measure was the building of in-box sanders for some of the department’s trucks.

“Several years ago, we designed and built our own in-box sanders. We had a couple of very light winters without much snowfall and we decided that it would be very efficient to build a sander that would slide in the back of the trucks over the tailgate. This would allow us to lose very little sand capacity,” explained Tony.

“We built about five of these at a cost of $2,500 each. New ones would have cost as much as $9,000 each,” he added. “Last year, we also had the need for additional machinery storage and we built our own barn. The barn measures 30 by 100 feet and is capable of storing eight to 10 vehicles.”

Another cost-saving measure is preventative maintenance. The trucks are used year round, but twice a year the trucks are pulled down and reviewed. All repairs from tires to motors are done in-house.

“We buy a new truck for the fleet about every four years and are really moving toward standardization. For instance, soon all trucks in our fleet will be Macks. We have a strong rapport with John Melack, our representative with Beam Mack. We work closely with them and it has eliminated a lot of the need for us to inventory parts.

“As needed, we call in our parts orders to Beam Mack and nearly without exception, the parts are in inventory and ready for use. This process just makes everything easier for us. We are stocking parts just for one brand. All the way around, it makes life much easier for us,” explained Tony.

In addition to truck standardization, he anticipates the addition of a new 10-wheel snowplow truck to be added to his fleet, as well as a Gradall. “Down the road, I know that our Gradall will be getting a little tired and that’s going to have to be replaced soon,” he said.

“However, the standardization is not critical in all areas of what we buy. For instance plows and boxes really don’t need standardization so we get the best possible deal that we can on those items.”

Shimming the Road

Tony’s crew works from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and consists of Keith Webb, foreman; Dan Pluff, machine equipment operator; Chris VanLare, machine equipment operator; Adam Cesario, laborer; Dan Smith, machine equipment operator; and Charles Cesario, part-time maintenance.

They are responsible for 40 lane mi. and 30 mi. of county roads — two roads are gravel and 38 are paved. The department also opens old drainage ditches to reduce flooding and uses approximately 3,000 tons of blacktop each year in the department’s paving operation. In the winter, the crew plows four routes, which takes two hours to plow.

“We started a new road maintenance program about 14 years ago. Up until that time, we periodically touched up the roads with oil and stone … but I never agreed with this approach.”

Tony explained: “As far as I was concerned, the first time I made a trip down the road with the plow, I was watching all that oil and stone roll off the wing. Soon after I took over as superintendent, we purchased a paver and started putting down a half-inch coat of asphalt instead of oil and stone.” Tony refers to this as “shimming the road.”

“The half-inch coat of asphalt sticks and holds and puts virtually a new surface on the road. We now shim every road in the town every three years and we have without question, the best looking roads in the area,” said Tony. “In addition, the shimming process extends the life of the road before it needs major reconstruction by approximately 10 years.

“One of the reasons we can use this approach is that there are no major industrial facilities in our township that have a lot of large, heavy vehicles running across our town roads. By using this method, our roads never reach a point of total disrepair. Every three years, we’re giving them a good makeup job,” he said.

However, some of the work is shared with other municipalities, which includes hauling snow with the village of Canastota; plow roads with the village of Wampsville; and haul stone, cut trees and drainage work with Madison County.

In addition, the department is responsible for mowing three cemeteries and maintenance of a pump station and a skate park.

Past Department Projects

A number of years ago, the village of Canastota took down its worn out, wooden World War II monument and put it in storage. In 1988, DiVeronica saw an old photo of the memorial and wanted to have a new one built, but there was little interest. However, over the past few years, service groups such as the VFW have worked with area residents to raise funds for the new monument. It will be entirely granite and will be built at a cost of approximately $100,000.

Tony and his crew have just completed the site excavation and preparation for the World War II memorial in Canastota’s Clarks Park. They also were responsible for the completion of a 2,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the town hall.

“Tony and his crew do a great job for us. They were instrumental on jobs like preparing the site for the World War II memorial and doing all the site work for our expansion on the town hall,” said DiVeronica.

In 2000 with the urging of the children and Tony along with the support of local businesses, Lenox built Lenox Skate Park for skateboarding and skating.

“The kids actually came to the town [board] and asked if something could be built for them to skateboard in. Initially, the request was met with some resistance,” said Tony.

“One of the concerns that the residents had was the liability that the park would create. To work around this, every child that uses the facility signs a waiver, which the town keeps on file,” he explained.

Tony, along with several other residents, became very involved in working with the kids and with local merchants to build the skate park.

“Our town offers very little else to help keep the kids off the street and this project was very important to me. I was able to work with Callahan Industries. It donated all the asphalt and stone needed for the project. Rapasadi Fence in Canastota, donated all of the fencing to surround the park and Kimes True Value Hardware gave us all of the building materials,” he said.

“The kids worked closely with the town in designing the project. We got that skate park built practically for free — between grants and donations. Today that dream is a reality and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

When school is in session the facility is open every day from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. On weekends, it is open from noon to 7 p.m. However, if Tony has his way, the skate park would be enclosed for use all year.

Future Department Projects

Years ago, the highway department went through 2,000 yds. of sand a year. Now with the new snow removal standards that residents demand, it goes through 6,000 yd. a year. With this tremendous increase of materials, storage space is inadequate for the town’s barn that was built in 1956.

“Our facility is really getting quite old. We virtually have no room for sand and salt storage, which can be quite a problem. In addition, the town’s equipment inventory virtually has tripled since then. When I came to work here, we owned one 10-wheel truck, now we have five. We really need a new town barn and the town has bought into the idea,” said Tony.

“Our real challenge has been looking for the right piece of land. I need to find a facility that’s close to town and is accessible to village water, yet it needs to be somewhat protected from future development.

“No one is going to want a town barn in the middle of the residential area and housing in this area has been showing some good growth,” he said.

In addition to the new town barn, the highway department will be maintaining more road miles.

“We’ll be taking over the private roads around Oneida Lake. For generations the homes on the lake were seasonal properties, but over the years those properties have become more and more valuable to the point where more and more residents are staying in them all year,” explained Tony.

“It seems inevitable that eventually the town will be taking over the maintenance and snow removal of these roads. Most of the roads are dead ends and are very narrow to access. It will be quite a challenge.

“When I first took over, the town maintained seven dirt roads. Now that is down to two. Those roads have no residents on them and we keep them open strictly on a seasonal basis,” he said.

Biggest Career Challenge

In the 14 years that Tony has been the superintendent of the Lenox highway department, he has faced many obstacles, but his biggest challenge occurred during the big snowstorm in 1993.

“It was the last time we ever mounted the V-plow on the truck. There was a fluke lake-effect storm that dumped in the neighborhood of 11 feet of snow. We put the V-plow on our 1959 Walter truck. The snow was considerably over the roof of the Walter,” Tony said.

“We agreed to make an exception and plow the private roads down by the lake. There were residents in there and there was no way they were going to get out. The state had issued a state of emergency and that’s what gave us the right to go into the private roads. It took us over two days to clean up the mess.”

Although dealing with the snowstorm was difficult, it also was his “best time on the job” and the townsfolk awarded him a plaque for his efforts. However, snow removal also caused Tony to have his “worst day on the job” when two of his four trucks broke down.

Road maintenance and snow removal are not the only jobs connected with the Lenox highway department. An unusual aspect of his job involves the dead animal disposal — an unpleasant job that his department inherited.

“I don’t know how the highway department got stuck with the job of taking dead animals from the animal shelter to the landfill. But, believe me it is pretty morbid and nobody really wants to do it, so I generally give it to my son,” he said.

Tony’s Philosophy

Doing his best for the people has always been Tony’s favorite part of the job.

“I have always looked at the residents and taxpayers as my boss. Too many people in our line of work forget that they work for the taxpayers of the community. When I’m approached about a resident issue, whether they are right or wrong, it is my responsibility to listen to and respond to every complaint. I don’t have a secretary and our answering machine directs callers to my cell phone, which I have with me day and night.

“My goal is to maintain the high standard of service to the community; continue to save tax dollars; and to keep an ‘open door’ policy,” concluded Tony.

About the Town of Lenox

Carved from the town of Sullivan, Lenox was established on March 3, 1809, and is situated in the north central part of Madison County, NY. The town was named after Lenox Township in western Massachusetts and for many years was the largest township in Madison County.

The first partition of Lenox occurred in 1836 when 5,000 acres in the southeast corner was partitioned to help form the town of Stockbridge. Sixty years later in 1896 the second division occurred when more than 25,000 acres was partitioned from the eastern and southern part of the town to form the towns of Oneida and Lincoln, respectively. The town of Oneida became the city of Oneida in 1901.

The early days of present-day Lenox Township saw the construction of the Erie Canal across its entire width. Canastota, the largest community in Lenox, which bisected the Erie Canal became an important canal port. By 1840, the railroads would be a competing factor to the Erie Canal.

Farming was the main occupation in the early years prior to the Civil War. Wheat was grown extensively south of the canal while apples was the major crop north of the canal. After the Civil War, the focus was in industrialization. Like most areas across the Empire State, factories sprang up in Canastota.

In the mid 1880s, the Great Swamp just northwest of Canastota was drained and agricultural endeavors commenced. This area came to be known by the locals as “The Muck or Mucklands.” The first crop in 1887 yielded 3 acres of peppermint. Later, celery and onions would be the chief crop on thousands of acres.

The Crouse, Bauder and Wilson families owned large plantations on the Mucklands during the 1890s. After 1900, these large muckland plantations were broken up and sold to mainly Italian immigrants who had settled in Canastota in the early 1880s to work on the railroad. At one point in the early 1930s, these mucklands were the second largest onion-growing district in the United States.

The highways in Lenox have been a pioneer to tragedy. The first fatal automobile accident in Madison County occurred in 1909 in Lenox as well as the first fatal automobile accident on the New York Thruway in the 1950s. Both fatalities were the result of driver error. However, Lenox has for years and at the present time maintains one of the finest town highway systems in the state.

At the present time there are two incorporated villages, Canastota with a population of 4,400 and Wampsville, the county seat with a population of 800 located in the Town of Lenox.

Attractions

Running through the center of Lenox and Canastota is the Erie Canal.

The Erie Canal is the source of much of the history of the area and is the reason that most villages up and down the canal even exist.

For approximately a century the canal was the primary transportation hub moving raw goods from across upstate New York into New York City and distributing finished goods from New York City out through the Erie Canal into the Great Lakes and on to the rest of the country.

In addition to the only Skate and Bike Park in Madison County, the area is home to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. It is located just outside the Village of Canastota, off Exit 34 of the NYS Thruway.

Each June, thousands of fans are attracted to the annual induction to the Boxing Hall of Fame.

(The section, “About the Town of Lenox” was written by David L. Sadler, who is the Village of Canastota historian and the Town of Lenox research historian.) P

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