Sitting behind his desk Dan Ballard almost looks out of place. Gone are the kitchen table and chairs, the appliances and the boilers that used to surround him. Instead, the room he sits in is sparsely furnished — a computer, desk and office chair, a few chairs for guests, several wall hangings and lots and lots of space.
Don’t be fooled by Ballard’s new digs, though. Even though headquarters is a little bit of heaven here on Earth, his mission remains the same: to run the Town of Roxbury’s Highway Department.
Dan was first elected highway superintendent in 1989. Prior to becoming the town super he was employed by the highway department in various capacities for the better part of 18 years — he took a two-year hiatus to serve in the U.S. Army.
“I went to work for the department when I finished school in 1971. I started as a laborer then I began running equipment and became the patrol foreman in Kelly Corners, which is between here and Margaretville,” he recalled.
After nine years in that position Dan headed south to Cape Coral, Fla., for 4.5 years, where he operated excavators and a road grader. But the heat got to be too much so he sought the cooler temperatures back in his hometown.
“When I returned to Roxbury in 1985 I was a laborer/truck driver/heavy equipment operator. In 1989 the superintendent at the time passed away. The deputy wasn’t interested in the job so I decided to run. I thought it would be a challenge.”
Born in Margaretville, New York, Dan is a 50-year resident of Roxbury. He and his wife of 18 years, Marilyn, have six children: Daniel Jr., 34; Danielle, 32; Nicole, 25; Brianne, 24; Beau and Brooke, 22; and five grandchildren ranging in age from five to 14.
When Dan is not driving a highway department vehicle he can be found behind the wheel of a car pursuing his passion — auto racing.
“This is my 22nd year racing at the Fonda (N.Y.) Speedway. I’ve won four championships: one Street Stock Championship and three IMCA Championships,” Dan boasts. “My third victory was this year. My 22-year-old son is racing now.”
An avid hunter and fisherman, Dan also is president and treasurer of the Delaware County Highway Superintendent Association.
Dan’s term as highway superintendent ends in 2007, at which time he will be eligible to retire.
“I already have my [retirement] papers made out,” he admits. “What would I do after this? There are numerous odd jobs I can do. I mow a bit for a gentleman in Margaretville who has a landscaping service. I also run a grader for a company in Kingston when they get busy. They have grader operators who will be retiring soon. I was asked if I would be available. I said, ‘most certainly.’”
Getting the Job Done
The Town of Roxbury Highway Department is in charge of maintaining 120 lane mi. of town road. Of those, 25 are gravel and 42 are paved. During the winter months, that translates into 11 plowing routes that take three to four hours to complete. The town also is responsible for plowing an additional 8.5 mi. of county roads. Dan readily confesses that is his least favorite part of the job. “I don’t like being out in the cold so much anymore! The last few winters have been mild but that makes it rough on the roads. It warms up and thaws the road out, and then it freezes, causing considerable road work in the spring.”
Dan gets help from his 11 full-time employees who keep those roads safe for the town’s 2,500 residents. Key staff includes Steve Schuman, deputy superintendent; Ed Docsklik, head mechanic; Bill Sprague, mechanic’s helper; Don Osborn, Neil Coerman, Jeff Haskin, Steve Greene, Len Hults, Chris Kratochuil, Earl Krom and Larry Shultis, heavy equipment operators.
The Town of Roxbury Highway Department functions on a total operating budget of $1,767,113, which includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $140,000.
Dan’s proudest moment as highway superintendent occurred in June 2006 “when I walked into our new garage.” About nine months in the making, the new state-of-the-art headquarters measure 80 by 200 ft. — a far cry from the former 120 by 40 ft. facility. It also has 17 bays compared to five, “and we still don’t know if we are going to have room inside for everything. Here, I have an office and there’s a kitchen/lunch room and a unisex bathroom with a shower. In the old place the office, lunch room and boiler room were all one in the same. We also have a 2,200 cu. yd. undercover salt storage facility that was built in 1998,” Dan explained.
The old facility consisted of three buildings. One was sold recently. The railroad will be leasing the one that was connected to the old feed store in town and the highway department will be using the third one for cold storage.
To get the job done the highway department uses a variety of equipment that includes:
• 10 dump trucks
• 2 rollers
• 2 graders
• 1 brushcutter
• 2 loaders
• 1 backhoe
• 1 power broom
• 1 water truck
• 1 trailer
• 2 Ford F350s, 2 F550s
• Chevrolet 2003 Pickup
• Chevrolet 4500 with plow
• Chevrolet 2003 1-ton
As a matter of practice, Dan purchases one new piece of equipment each year so he doesn’t get behind. He is, however, “trying to get the town on a five-year plan. I’ve explained to the [town] board that with a five-year plan you get back out of the machinery or the truck as much as you paid for it so it wouldn’t cost that much each year. Unfortunately, the board doesn’t see it that way. Maybe some day, or the next superintendent or you get a board that you can work with that will see that’s the way to do it.”
While there is no pressing need for new equipment, Dan hopes to add a new front-end loader to his fleet. All of the highway department’s apparatus is purchased except for one roller, which is rented. “That may be something we will buy next year. The price of equipment keeps increasing but if you use state bids you can save some money.”
Similar to most highway departments, the majority of vehicle maintenance is performed in-house. Drivers usually service the vehicles and Dan employs a mechanic and a mechanic’s helper who can handle most anything that comes up. “Our new lift also makes it easier for servicing vehicles.”
When it comes to acquiring new vehicles Dan must consider the implications modern technology can have on his fleet. Nowadays, equipment has become easier to operate, more efficient and seems to last longer. But for his department that might not be a good thing. In spite of the positives, “I don’t know if it is easier to maintain. Any new trucks you buy require a computer to hook them up on and we don’t have that.”
What else has changed during Dan’s tenure?
“We used to have the old galvanized culverts. Now we have plastic, which is easier to work with and lasts much longer,” Dan said. “There also are different types of asphalt that can be used. One of the big things for us now is we use MotorPave on our high volume roads.
“We have been using it for about 10 years. There are a lot of pluses. It gives you more of a road surface. You put it down at three inches and it compacts to two and one-half. It’s thicker, more pliable. It gives a little bit, lasts longer and is cheaper than blacktop. With MotorPave the stone gets dumped into the machine and the paver mixes it and lays it down.”
All of that is important considering Ballard and his men try to reconstruct/resurface an average of 20 roads each year.
In addition to roadwork, the Town of Roxbury Highway Department is involved in a variety of other projects.
“We are in the process of replacing a deck on one of our three bridges,” Dan said. “Recently, in conjunction with the construction of our new facility, we performed all of the dirt work for the garage — septic system, drainage and foundation.
“In addition, now that our new garage is completed, I am in the process of putting all our roads, culverts, trucks, equipment and personnel into our new computer. That will save us a tremendous amount of time and paperwork.”
About the Town of Roxbury
In 1788, while Israel Inman was on one of his hunting excursions, he came upon the broad and beautiful flats of the east branch of the Delaware River, near its headwaters and about 2 mi. above the present village of Roxbury. The valleys and hillsides were covered with the forests. To him, this was just a place to pitch his tent and he started a settlement, doing very little clearing. John More had settled over east of the Grand Gorge, 6 mi. east, some two years earlier, but west of the Gorge, Inman was the pioneer, as far as Roxbury is concerned.
In 1789 a party of “land lookers,” consisting of about 20 families, came into Delaware County from Fairfield County, Conn., to explore and find a favorable place for a permanent settlement.
The party came by way of the Catskills, over primitive roads, with a blaze upon a tree here and there for a guide and with streams unabridged. After passing several small settlements, they arrived at Benjamin Barlow’s, in Stamford, some distance below the mouth of Rose brook on the Delaware.
As the “barn room” for horses was scarce, the horses were turned into the woods to browse. On the third day they were missing. A searching party composed of Abram Gould, George Squires and Josiah Patchin was sent out with three days’ provisions to find them. Following the trail of the horses, the searchers were led up Rose brook and at noon were at the top of the mountain, nearly where the road now crosses.
They soon discovered the hunter Inman, who was a stranger to them. The day before he had taken up the horses and was following up the trail to discover the owners.
The hunter brought the three strangers to his mansion in the valley. Discovering that they were searching for a good location for a permanent settlement, he volunteered his assistance.
They went up what is now the West Settlement brook and decided on that valley as the place for their future quarters and then returned to the rest of the party with the missing horses. They called upon Nehemiah Hayes and David Squires to accompany them. In moving into their new settlement they went by the way of what is now Stamford and Moresville, then along an Indian trail through the gorge, down the Delaware to the little clearing of Inman.
The land was measured off with a piece of rope. In “drawing cuts” the middle lot fell to George Squires. On his lot they erected a rude cabin of crotches and poles covered with elm bark. Bedding was the boughs of trees.
Their chairs were blocks of wood and dishes were large chips. Cooking was done in a large kettle suspended over a fire beside a huge maple log in front of the door.
The town of Roxbury was formed from Stamford on March 23, 1799.
The township of Roxbury — all 90 sq. mi. of it — offers some of the most stunning vistas in the Northeastern United States. Nestled in Western Catskills, this bucolic corner of Delaware County offers perhaps the broadest diversity of recreation, history, architecture, outdoor sports, cultural and artistic enrichment, and peaceful contemplation that you’ll find anywhere in the Catskills.
Unlike many long-treasured destinations, the Town of Roxbury has held onto its unspoiled character and authentic charm.
In addition to the rural vistas and farmland, there are three distinct areas within the township itself: the village hamlets of Roxbury and Grand Gorge and the Denver/Vega Valley.
The entire hamlet of Roxbury is on the National and State Register of Historic Places, a feast of 19th-century architecture with walking tours available. Roxbury also provides many other pleasures — golfing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, gallery hopping.
At the heart of the village is Kirkside Park’s gorgeous 11-acre “lawn”scape. Now restored to its 19th-century easy-going splendor, with adirondack bridges spanning the East Branch of the Delaware River and gravel paths meandering through its meadows, it’s the ideal spot to fish, picnic, ponder, build a snowman or throw a frisbee, all within a stunning mountain backdrop. Summer Saturdays, the Roxbury Nine vintage base ball club, with their baggy 1898 uniforms and 19th-century style of play is often out in force in the park. And every Labor Day weekend, the entire Roxbury community hosts “Turn of the Century Days” turning the clock back to 1898 in their fin-de-siecle finest.
(The information in this section, “About the Town of Roxbury,” courtesy of the town’s Web site at www.roxburyny.com and at www.dcnyhistory.org.) P