When speaking with George Worden, superintendent of Highways of the town of Remsen, it is evident that he is very fond of his highway equipment, which he keeps meticulously well maintained.
It also is apparent that he is somewhat nostalgic, since he keeps three vintage Oshkosh trucks in his fleet, despite owning four late-model Freightliner tandems and a 2008 GMC 5500 dump truck.
George has spent his entire life in Remsen and has been at work for the town for more than 50 years so a little nostalgia is understandable.
He began his work in April 1958 as a motor equipment operator. At the same time, he owned and ran a family farm that included a herd of 55 registered Ayrshire cattle and more than 200 acres. It was not unusual for George to start his day mowing hay or spreading manure for several hours before heading to work. He would end his day with several hours of planting crops afterward.
When he first became highway superintendent, in 1980, he decided it was time to give up the farm. For his past several terms in office George has run unopposed, although it has not always been that way. Several years ago he lost the primary to a young guy just out of high school. George, who is a Republican, had to run as an independent and he put a lot of work into it. That year he received 740 votes and has run unopposed ever since.
“I believe that owning and working my own farm helped me understand budgets, the importance of maintaining equipment and a good understanding of taxes. As a self-employed farmer I learned that patience and hard work pay off in the end. My 22 years working for the highway department as a motor equipment operator added tremendously to my understanding of the town and what the taxpayer was looking for — good roads that are maintained and reasonable taxes to accomplish this goal,” George said.
Changes in the Scenery
Through the past half century, George has seen a lot of things change in the town and in his work. One of the biggest changes, he said, is the pay.
“Back in 1958 I worked for $1.68 an hour. We would typically put in 50 to 60 hour weeks or more, but we were only paid for 40 hours. The only time we were given any overtime pay was on Saturdays and Sundays and then it was based on the $1.68 [per hour rate]. At that time there was no such thing as time-and-a-half for overtime,” George said.
“Another big thing seems to be the weather. In the ’50s, ’60s and even the early ’70s it seemed like the snowstorms were much worse. But maybe it just seems that way because the equipment we use to clean up now is so much better. Back then your plow route took about six hours to complete. Today our average route is two hours,” said George.
Something else that has changed, according to George, is the expectation people have of the highway department and snow removal.
“In those days just about everyone was a dairy farmer. The dairy farmers’ biggest concern was getting milk to the station. Most of the farmers had trucks equipped to handle snow, so because they were able to get out we typically didn’t bring the plows around until there were 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground. Today the public would never stand for this. Years ago state roads developed a zero tolerance policy for snow or ice buildup on the roads and today commuters expect the same on town and country roads,” George explained.
Even the roads themselves have changed from the old days. When George began working for the town of Remsen the roads all were dirt. Now most of them are paved and the land on both sides of the roads has been pushed back with adequate ditches and the roads are wider. All of this gives the highway department a place to put the snow when it starts to pile up, instead of plowing a narrower path, as they had to do 50 years ago.
The highway department now stores its salt and sand separately. Mixed by wheel loader, the mixture is customized for each load, depending on weather conditions. All of the town’s Freightliner trucks are equipped with double-wing plows which, according to George, operate much faster, eliminate the need to double back on a route for clean up and make the clean up of intersections much easier. All of the plows are Tenco and they are equipped with Tarco spreaders. Each truck has a single operator; they do not have wing men.
The Right Attitude, the Right Equipment
The town has experienced some growth over the years. People have moved in from down state to build seasonal country homes or to live in Remsen year round, which means that the town budget has stayed comfortable and allows George to invest in the equipment and facilities he needs. The town board is very supportive of George and his crew, which makes George’s job much easier. He has seen many good highway superintendents leave office out of sheer frustration from dealing with their boards.
“They [the town board] have the attitude that they are very comfortable with my recommendations and that if we need equipment to get the job done it should be purchased,” George said.
George makes his purchases off a state contract unless he cannot get the machine with the features he wants. In that case, the equipment is put out for local bid.
Recently, the town purchased a used 1992 Gradall 660G as well as a portable PTO driven generator that can completely operate all aspects of the town’s garage in the event of a power failure.
The building of the town’s new garage is something that George considers a highlight of his career. Up until its completion in 1998, the highway department worked out of a building so small that most of the equipment had to stay outside and George didn’t have so much as a desk, let alone an office. The building was not in good condition and was always very cold, according to George.
The new garage was built on 60 acres of land on the outskirts of Remsen. In addition to the garage area itself, there is room for George’s office, a break room, boiler room, bathrooms and showers. The best part, according to George, is the radiant floor heating, which he likes so well he had it installed in his own home.
“Heat rises, so why have your heat source come from vents located in the roof of the building? The heat only wants to go up from there. With radiant floor heating the source of the heat is where it is most useful to you. When they bring the trucks in on winter days they thaw out almost instantly and the system is so efficient it costs less to heat the new building even though it is two or three times larger than the old town garage,” George said.
A new facility such as that is great for a crew so dedicated to keeping their equipment in working order. In addition to George, the Remsen highway department employs Brian Hill, Richard Roberts, James Murphy and William Horn, all of who are motor equipment operators.
“I’ve got a really great bunch of guys. They are all great to work with and they get along with each other very well. Rarely are there any issues among the employees that I have to get involved with and if they start running short of projects to do they eagerly come to me looking for more work,” said George.
It isn’t often that the crew does run out of work, so careful are they about equipment maintenance.
“We are very conscientious about our maintenance program. We do frequent oil changes, change air cleaners, grease trucks and so on. We pretty much go by the book. The equipment manual is the Bible and we follow it. I’m fortunate to have a crew that is meticulous and concerned about the equipment they operate. They take great pride in their equipment. For example, they will routinely do preventative maintenance on their trucks and even wash their trucks after using them,” said George.
The attention to maintenance that George and his crew exhibit pays off handsomely for them. They have a Cat 1999 983G rubber-tired loader with more than 4,000 hours on it. Yet, other than routine maintenance, only one $9 part has needed to be replaced. All of their equipment stands the test of time, including the Oshkosh trucks, all of which are in perfect working order.
Although by-the-book maintenance serves the crew well as far as equipment is concerned, innovative thinking has made a number of things easier and better for the employees and the town.
The town has its own gravel pit with a long-term lease. It pays $1 a yard to make its own sand and gravel. The biggest expense, however, was hiring a local company to come in and do the actual screening. This would cost the town as much as $7,000 a year.
A crew member, Jim Murphy, came up with an idea: the highway department should build its own screener. He designed one, and the crew built it in their shop for $1,200, saving all the expense of hiring a custom screener.
“We [also] implemented two trash days each year, spring and fall, when town residents can turn in pretty much any trash they’d like and there’s no charge for them to do this. We built a concrete area where residents can dispose of their unwanted items on trash day. This includes metal, wood and other recyclable products. We then use our loader and remove the trash from this area and put it into a dumpster. This is a good example of the ingenuity of our men,” George said.
The highway department also has been involved in the building of two town parks and also helps the village of Remsen with projects such as changing the sand in the village’s sewer treatment plant.
Outside the Department
In addition to having a wonderful crew, George is grateful to have a good working relationship with the town board and with surrounding towns.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our town board. We work well together and when we do have issues we have the ability to work them out to the satisfaction of both sides. Sometimes it gets rough, but we’re just trying to provide the best answer for the residents of the town. Overall, our town board in Remsen is a wonderful group of people who have the concerns of the people at heart. I am fortunate they are there,” said George.
The town of Remsen also works with the surrounding towns and the Oneida County highway department.
“We assist them in stocking sand, paving roads, oil and stone roads, removing trees, cleaning out ditches and so on. The towns work closely together on projects,” said George.
The surrounding towns of Trenton, Boonville, Forestport and Steuben all have a policy of sharing equipment with each other as needed. They also loan out trucks to Oneida County.
George also belongs to and attends the monthly meetings of the Oneida County Superintendent’s Association where many good ideas for the benefit of the towns are discussed.
However, George does not participate in the statewide meetings because, as he points out, “If I went to those meetings I wouldn’t be here.”
Into the Future, Back to the Past
Even with 50 years of work under his belt, George does not plan on retiring. As long as his health allows him to, he will keep working. His longest-standing goal is to have all the town roads paved.
“My goal has always been to have all town roads paved. I don’t mean just throwing some oil and stone on them, I’m talking about preparing the roads the right way and then paving them. It’s quite costly for the town and the CHIPS program helps us to accomplish this goal. Really, the people in the town of Remsen deserve this, the visitors to the town of Remsen will remember it and who wants to move into an area where there is a limited number of good paved roads?” said George.
In addition, George wants to complete paving the area around the town highway garage, which he said would cut down on mud and dust, and pave 2 mi. of road this summer. He also is in the process of putting rollaway tarps on all of the trucks to comply with the requirement that all aggregate loads traveling on the highway must be covered.
George’s policy of being available to the townspeople 24/7 has been in place since 1980. This is evidenced by the fact that he is nearly always at the barn. He will often go out and see a resident who needs something done on a weekend. When roads need to be inspected, George does it himself, saving the town up $10,000 a year by not having to hire inspectors.
“The residents can call me at home or at the highway garage. They can come to the garage to discuss their issues with me. I’m always available to them,” George said.
However, even if George did decide to retire today, he could look back on a long and interesting career.
His best day was “the day we moved into our new Town Highway garage. It was a mansion compared to what we had before this. The employees loved it too,” George said.
George’s least favorite part of the job is not getting up at 2 a.m. to check for snow on a cold winter morning, as people might think, it’s doing paperwork. Still, blizzards aren’t easy either.
A particular challenge George remembers is when a blizzard in March 1993 dumped 4 ft. of snow on the town. George and his crew worked non-stop for 25 hours and then went home to get some sleep. Four hours later, they were back at work.
“I think back to those days when we had blizzards and our equipment wasn’t the best and how we would be out for three or four days straight plowing roads. This was tough on the men and the equipment,” George said.
It wasn’t easy on his wife, Carol, either.
“My husband has always been a hard worker. George is dedicated to his job and I know he loves this town. Early on I worried about him when he was out plowing for days at a time and it was always good to have him come home safe and sound. In the early years we had a farm and when my husband was out plowing and couldn’t make it home I would do the chores and take care of our [five] children. There were times when it wasn’t easy on us, but we supported each other,” said Carol proudly.
Summing up his 50 years George said simply, “These 50 years have been so meaningful to me. I’m very lucky to have a family that understands and supports me during this time. My work crew are marvelous workers and the town of Remsen residents have instilled in me their confidence and integrity. I can say I have honestly enjoy working for them.”
About the Town of Remsen
The first settler in Remsen Township was Barnabas Mitchell who came from Meriden, Conn., in 1792 and located about 5 mi. northeast of the present village. He was soon followed by Nathaniel Rockwood, John Bonner, Perez Farr, Bettis LeClerc, Jonah Dayton, John Kent and Shubael Cross, nearly all of whom were from New England. Capt. Shubael Cross settled at what is now Bardwell Mills and there he built the first sawmill and gristmill. In September 1795, five families from Wales also located in the vicinity, being the first of their nationality to stake their future prosperity here. The settlement was gradually increased by other arrivals and by the fall of 1801 the population numbered about 60 families or nearly 300 people.
On March 15, 1798, legislation was passed forming the new county of Oneida from the county of Herkimer and it was enacted that “All of the town of Norway lying in the said new county of Oneida, shall be erected and organized into a new town, to be called Remsen.”
That same year the first town meeting was held in Bardwell Mills at the log house of Samuel Howe, who was elected the first justice of the peace. Those elected to other offices were: Ephraim Holister, supervisor: Philip Scott, town clerk (and first physician); Stephen Hutchinson, overseer of the poor (and first postmaster of Remsen): and Joseph Brownell, one of three road commissioners. The township at this time did not have enough male inhabitants of legal age entitled to citizenship to fill all the customary town offices such as fence viewer and hog-reeve.
The population of Remsen township in 1860 was 2,670. At this time Remsen included the present town of Forestport. Town meetings were often held at Higby’s Tavern (Penn Mountain Inn) because it was centrally located.
In 1869 the voters decided that the township should be divided and, on Nov. 24, Forestport was set off and organized as a separate town. Following the division, Remsen contained a population of 1,184. The first settler within the confines of the village of Remsen was Peter A. Becker prior to 1796. After the death of Baron von Steuben, several settlers on his patent relocated to the village. Within a few years after arriving they built a sawmill, gristmill, blacksmith shop, ashery and a store. The small settlement continued to grow and, in 1845, the village of Remsen was incorporated by an act of the legislature.
By 1878 it had become a village of many establishments. Today the number of businesses in the community has greatly decreased while the population continues to increase. The family dairy farm, once the leading occupation in the area, has steadily declined over the years.
Today, a huge event in the town is The Remsen Barn Festival, which is always held the fourth full weekend in September along Main Street in the village of Remsen. It features acoustic music, street entertainment, traditional handcrafts, authentic foods and artwork. A dedicated group of local residents organize the annual outdoor festival. The committee coordinates the vendor/exhibitor application process, event setup and local preparation, parking and public transit, and events throughout the weekend. The festival originated in 1980 and attracts thousands of visitors to the town each year, rain or shine — or sometimes, even snow.
Information about the town of Remsen was taken from http://town.remsen.ny.us/content and http://villageofremsen.org. P