Town of Martinsburg Highway Superintendent Carl Morrison’s days are numbered. His 17-year career running the highway department is coming to an end. But oh, what a journey it has been.
It all started 56 years ago when he was born into a family of 10. Carl grew up in Martinsburg about 2 mi. away from the highway department’s garage.
“I have five sisters and four brothers, one of who is my twin. Growing up in a large family like that was challenging. Times were tough back in those days, but we were a close-knit group and we managed,” Carl remembered.
A 1971 graduate of Lowville Academy in Central School, Carl graduated from a two-year vocational program he attended during his final two years of high school. He majored in conservation and forestry. Following graduation, Carl went to work as a heavy equipment forklift operator for AMF Incorporated Bowling Products. After 17 years with AMF, Carl took a position with the town of Martinsburg highway department as a medium equipment operator (MEO).
“I spent four years as a grader operator before I realized I wasn’t happy with the way [the department] was operating. That’s when I decided I either would have to run for the highway superintendent position and do things my way or find another job.
“I was elected to my first two-year term in 1991 and became superintendent on Jan. 1, 1992. Last fall the town attempted to change the position to a four-year term, but the residents voted it down. They didn’t want to be ‘stuck’ with someone for four years if they didn’t like the job they were doing. What can I say? It is a small community and the residents like to have their say.”
Carl and his wife, Karen, have been married for 37 years. They have three children: Ryan, 36, Tina, 32 and Melissa, 27. The couple also has four grandchildren: Marek, Maddox, Alyssa and Kara.
Carl is a member of the Highway Superintendent’s Association of Lewis County having served as president for 10 of the past 17 years. Currently, he is the organization’s secretary/treasurer. He also is a member of the NYS Association of Town Superintendents of Highways Inc. and a 30-year member of the Martinsburg Volunteer Fire Department.
When Carl retires this spring there will be no rest for the weary. He plans on spending more time with his wife and grandchildren, camping, hunting and fishing.
“My wife and I will be spending more time at our camp. It’s in the town of Martinsburg about one mile from the house. It’s out in the woods and away from the telephones. I also plan on taking up woodworking again. I’m pretty much self-taught. I use bench tools — little stuff. I used to make dressers and clocks. Maybe now I’ll get into other things. I’m going to remodel the interior of the addition we put on the house in 2004. [Retirement] will give me time to do that,” he chuckled.
So how would Carl like to be remembered? “I would like to be known as the man who made the town’s roads more user-friendly and for making extreme improvements to the equipment in terms of updating. Those were the goals I set out to accomplish and I think I have pretty much succeeded.
“As I look back on my 17 years as super I have to thank my wife for her support and understanding because she was totally opposed to my running for this position. Also my town board has been great to work with. They allowed me to run the show my way.”
On the Job
The town’s 140 by 40 ft. highway garage was built in 1960. The structure serves as the department’s main operating facility. It houses all of its vehicles and Carl’s office.
“There are five bays. Four of them are 40 feet deep and are located on the east wall. Coming in from the building’s south end is one large door where we put three vehicles side-by-side. The main plow goes there because of its length. Everything is crowded. The equipment keeps getting bigger and nothing fits like it used to,” Carl explained.
There also is a 40 by 100 ft. cold storage building where the off-season equipment is stored. Surprisingly, the department doesn’t have a salt storage shed. Instead, “We mix our salt and sand together and keep it in a pile outdoors. Our mixture is weak. It’s about 100 tons of salt to 2,000 tons of sand. Ours is a pretty rural area so there’s not much trouble with hard pack. The residents are accustomed to driving on it so I see no reason to change.”
The safety of the town’s roads is a major concern for Carl and his crew, especially during the winter. Lewis County is one of New York’s snow capitals. As of February, 250 in. of the white stuff had fallen.
“Winter started in October this year when we had several storms that dropped over two ft. of snow. Normally we don’t get any measurable snow until mid-December. Needless to say it’s been a long winter.”
Plowing the town’s roads after-hours is one of Carl’s least favorite parts of the job.
“It’s different during the daytime when we’re all here. It’s routine. We only go out once at night so I wait as late in the evening as possible calling in the crew. We take a chance things don’t plug up during the evening.”
New digs for the highway department have been in the works for nearly eight months.
“A new garage has been in the back of our minds for several years … ever since the Maple Ridge Wind Farm Development came to the area. That project brought considerable revenue into our town, surrounding towns and the county,” Carl recalled. “Without that we more than likely wouldn’t be designing a new facility.
“I am happy to report that we are actively in the process of building a new highway municipal complex. Meetings are being held with architects and we are gearing up for public hearings. Upon completion the building will measure 100 by 150 feet. Even with the municipal offices in the same building we will more than double the square footage of our current garage.
The department is hoping for a groundbreaking soon.
“That means we will be in a new facility in December. It will be an aggressive schedule. We have to be out of our present building around the time the snow melts. The structure will be demolished and we will build on site. In the meantime we’re preparing to operate out of our cold storage facility. A concrete floor and heat will be installed and a construction office trailer and a break room will be set up for the guys. As you can see there’s a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in,” said Carl.
The job of superintendent calls for Carl to maintain the town’s 78 lane miles of road. Fifty-three of those miles are gravel and the rest are paved. That translates into two plowing routes that take roughly three hours to complete. Approximately 40 mi. are single lane, low volume roads. In 1998, 35 mi. of those roads were designated by the town as minimum maintenance. At the time only 54 mi. in the state (including Martinsburg’s 35) had such a designation.
To make plowing easier Carl implemented a road maintenance schedule.
“It is an ongoing process. Every road needs some gravel because it is native soil. We attempt to address frost issues and weak spots and get a little something done on everything. During the last few years we have worked on rebuilding some of the town’s main artery roads that are still gravel.
“I also established a 10-year asphalt road schedule that combines rebuilding some of those roads to improve their bases while adhering to a five-year maintenance routine. It’s difficult to stay on a 10-year plan with asphalt in this area because of the frost/thaw cycles but we’ve managed to stay with it pretty well.”
Carl depends on his crew of six full-time employees to serve the town’s 1,200 residents. His staff includes Deputy Superintendent Jerry Gorczyca, MEOs Dave Ortlieb, Craig Forney, John Platt Jr., and Tyler Jones and automotive mechanic Mike Pleskach. Carl, Craig, Tyler and Mike also are certified water treatment operators and Jerry, Dave and John tend to the wastewater facility.
“Up until two years ago we had four full-timers but again, the wind project enabled us to hire another two employees. One of those was our auto mechanic,” said Carl.
Prior to having a mechanic on staff each of the men was responsible for maintaining and repairing their vehicle. Now, due to Mike’s education and experience, the department performs more of the work in-house and is better at troubleshooting and preventative maintenance.
“When Mike came on board I immediately put him in charge of scheduling vehicle services and ordering and maintaining parts and inventories. The downside to that was I never realized how many tools we were lacking!”
With retirement swiftly approaching Carl would like to thank his crew “for a job well done and for making me look good. They are a great bunch of guys who go above and beyond what I ask of them. It was at their suggestion about five years ago that the highway department took on the responsibility of the town’s three water districts, one sewer district, a playground, boat launch and 13 cemeteries. For years the town was ineffective in its efforts to hire individuals to care of those areas. Most of the time we lent a helping hand so the sensible thing was to take charge and set up a maintenance schedule for everything.”
Under Carl’s attentive eye, the town of Martinsburg’s highway department functions on a total operating budget of $935,000 that includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $120,000.
To help get the job done the department maintains a fleet of equipment that includes:
• 1973 Chevrolet C-60 dump truck
• 1977 Oshkosh snow blower
• 1979 Mack 4X4 double wing/V-plow
• 1981 Volvo loader model 110
• 1996 Volvo tandem axle dump truck
• 1997 JD loader model 644G
• 1998 Brush Bandit chipper model 200
• 1999 Champion grader model 720A
• 2000 New Holland tractor model TS90 with Alamo boom mower
• 2000 Gradall model XL4100
• 2001 utility trailer/self-contained jetter system
• 2003 International 2574 double wing/one-way plow with proline sander
• 2005 York Rakes model HT
• 2005 Dodge Ram 1500
• 2006 Ford F-450
• 2007 Ford F-150
• 2007 Skid-steer loader model 600 with backhoe attachment
• 2007 Volvo loader model 110
• 2008 Caterpillar Challenger tractor
• 2008 lawn utility trailer
• 2008 International Paystar 5000 double wing/one-way plow with Proline sander
When it comes to budgeting for new equipment Carl tries to stick to a 10-year plan.
“Thanks to the windfall from the wind farm (no pun intended) we were able to catch up on updating our vehicles. The biggest difference is we are able to pay cash for the equipment. In the past the more expensive pieces [grader, large plow trucks] were bonded. With the less expensive purchases we did a combination of trade in and cash. Now the department actually has an equipment reserve fund,” Carl said.
“Our rule of thumb is to purchase new if it’s equipment that is used consistently. The tandem axle dump trucks need replacing more frequently. They are on a 10-year turnover plan. Plow trucks are about 10 years now also. It was 20 years because it’s seasonal equipment. It’s nice to be able to get rid of them while they still have some value.”
Like most highway superintendents, Carl agrees that today’s equipment has come a long way.
“Everything is more expensive,” he chuckled, “but it also is more user-friendly. As with any technology there are glitches involved. The biggest handicap we have is the new emissions don’t allow us to perform our own engine work so we’re forced to farm it out.”
The equipment isn’t the only thing that has experienced an evolution. Carl’s job has too.
“It’s more complicated now mainly because of Dig Safely New York. [Formerly UFPO, Dig Safely was established to promote a safer digging environment.] A few years back a gas line came through the hamlet of Glenfield and we had to call before digging for anything — whether it was to put in a sign post or a culvert pipe — to make sure we didn’t hit an underground gas or telephone line. While it’s in everyone’s best interest, the procedures are time consuming and often delay projects.”
Another challenging aspect of the job for this highway superintendent is dealing with the right-to-farm laws.
“In this area we have what I call corporate farms. The biggest farm in Lewis County is Marks Farm. It’s milking approximately 5,000 head of cattle. The equipment is over-sized and overweight. None of the town’s roads were built for that type of equipment so we’re trying to keep things safe for the public. Because of the right-to-farm laws, however, nothing can really be done about it,” Carl explained.
The right-to-farm laws are designed to strengthen the legal position of farmers when neighbors use them for private nuisance and to protect farmers from anti-nuisance ordinances and unreasonable controls on farming operations. Every state has enacted some form of right-to-farm laws.
Carl’s best day on the job was when the Maple Ridge Wind Farm started up.
“It was a culmination of five years [beginning in 2000] of planning, public hearings and construction. Through my efforts and those of the town of Lowville highway superintendent Jack Flint, Harrisburg superintendent Terry Snyder, Lewis County super Tom Sweet and attorneys representing each entity we spent two years developing a highway agreement. The final contract covered everything from pre-construction through reclamation. All in all I think it was a good document. It was not without some problems but for the scope of the project it did an adequate job of addressing any issues that could ensue.
“We also had the advantage of visiting similar projects in the towns of Fenner and Madison in Madison County and getting valuable insight from officials in those communities. As I write this I am admiring the fruits of my labor as I can see in excess of a dozen turbines right from my living room window spinning on the horizon on a sunny winter day.”
Other projects that came to fruition during Carl’s tenure include:
• Replacing one of the town’s three bridges with a structure similar to a Brady Bridge. This lifted any weight restrictions and removed the bridge from the Department of Transportation’s inventory.
• Reopening an abandoned stretch of road by putting in a pre-cast boxed culvert. This action yielded positive benefits for the snowmobile industry.
• Improving Borkowski Road at an estimated cost of $500,000. This agricultural access road now can accommodate today’s modern farm equipment.
• Repairing a golf crossing road that had been taken out due to flooding and antiquated piping. This FEMA project required the road to be closed for an entire summer.
As his days at the helm dwindle down to a precious few Carl prepares to pass the torch to his successor.
“Tyler Jones will become the next highway superintendent. He’s been with the department for a few years and is very interested in its operation.”
Does he have any advice for the new super? “Keep a clear head when dealing with the public. I have been proud of my ability to do that. Quite often the residents just want to vent their anger. I’ve been successful in keeping my wits about me. I have offered him that same advice. I have taken him under my wing and suggested what works for me. He’s pretty levelheaded. I think he’ll do a great job.”
About the Town of Martinsburg
The town of Martinsburg is located in Lewis County. Named after its founding father, Walter Martin, it is situated in the west-central part of the county south of Lowville, the county seat.
Settlers began arriving in the town around 1801. It was established in 1803 from part of the town of Turin. When it was first formed the town name was spelled “Martinsburgh” and in 1891 it was augmented by more of Turin.
The community of Martinsburg was the county seat for Lewis County until 1864. At that time it moved to Lowville. The Martinsburg Town Hall, built in 1812, is the site of the first county court session that was held that same year. In 1839 it was the site of the county’s only execution.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau the town of Martinsburg occupies a total area of 76.1 sq. mi., of which 75.8 mi. are land and the remaining 0.3 mi. are water. The Black River serves as the east town line and the western part of the town is situated on the Tug Hill Plateau. New York State Routes 12 and 26 are north-south highways through the town with Route 12 being the more easterly route.
Communities and locations in Martinsburg include:
• East Martinsburg: a hamlet east of Martinsburg village and located on NY-12
• Glendale: a hamlet east of East Martinsburg
• Glenfield: a hamlet east of Glendale on the shore of the Black River
• Graves and McGraw Corners: located east of Wetmore
• Tabolt Corners: located by the town’s southern line
• West Martinsburg: a hamlet southwest of Lowville near the town’s northern line
• Wetmore: a hamlet in the south-central part of town
• Whetstone Gulf State Park: located at the town’s southern line
• Whittaker Falls Park: located east of Martinsburg village
In 2006 the town became home to the Maple Ridge Wind Farm Development, the largest alternative energy project east of the Mississippi River. This two-phase venture installed 188 wind turbines. Each one measures 320 ft. tall or roughly the same height as London’s Big Ben or the same length as the football field at Giants Stadium.
The windmills are spread out in a jagged 12-mi. line through Lewis county, leeward of Lake Ontario. Powerful lake-effect winds generate enough electricity to power about 500 homes from each turbine. These new-generation turbines are bigger and more powerful than any others in the area. Their blades are 131 ft. long and their tips are racing at approximately 138 miles per hour. When all of the towers are operating at full capacity they are capable of generating 320 megawatts of pollution-free electricity, the equivalent of a mid-size power plant. In addition, the turbines have changed the economy and the landscape in the town of Martinsburg and Lewis County. P