Superintendent of Highways Tom Ingraham and the Town of Hamlin

Laurie Mercer

“I’m really comfortable with the people and with the work,” said Tom Ingraham, superintendent of highways of the Town of Hamlin, who joined the department in 1973.

He became deputy foreman in 1986, a position he held for 15 years before becoming superintendent. After serving for 39 years on the highway system, this year in September Tom will retire and probably pick up the pace on a farm tractor working the fields for a neighbor. For a man who grew up on a farm in a largely rural upstate town, his working life will have come full circle.

He also will have more time for family, including wife, Julia, daughter, Kathryn, and son, Brian. Brian, who began doing highway work part-time while he was in high school, was immediately hired by the Town of Sweden when he graduated from heavy equipment trade school in Pennsylvania. Tom is proud that Brian is an assistant foreman at age 29.

“I’ve always looked up to him,” said Brian. “When I was a kid he would take me with him snow plowing.” Brian nominated his father to be profiled in this magazine.

Kathryn, his daughter, lives in a community group home, working for Lifetime Assistance, a non-profit organization. “Lifetime has been fantastic. She loves it. She lives with four other girls close in age, and they are always out doing something.” As he looks at retirement, his wife is entering a new career after many years as a teacher’s assistant. She is partnering with another woman to create a home health care business.

Retiring certainly doesn’t mean he’ll stop taking care of business, but he may go on a cruise or visit Florida.

Is he planning on relaxing? “Yes I am,” he replied. Much of the pressure on today’s superintendent, he said, is to maintain the budget in a state that is cutting back on many areas that directly affect the town’s highway garage. “Sometimes I’ve wished I could do more for people,” he said. “A lot of them realize that. Oh, people will try and push to get something done. But I’ve always noticed that if you do something right in somebody’s front yard, they’ll pay a million bucks for it. But if they are just driving up and down the road where you’ve been plowing, paving and mowing, they don’t necessarily see the benefit.”

Tom’s total operating budget is $1,354,460. Of that figure, $55,467 is the CHIPS allocation.

“Whoever the next person is to take this job, they are going to have to look at that type of thing,” he added. He has 11 crewmembers, and two of them are going to try and get the superintendent’s spot in the upcoming election.

The Town of Hamlin has just under 10,000 residents, a 1,200-acre state park on Lake Ontario on its north end, and 181 lane miles of road for which to be responsible. Sixty-six miles are town roads, 73 are snow and ice maintenance for Monroe County, and 42 are state roads, again for snow and ice maintenance. Hamlin is the second largest-size town in the county.

It turns out that a variety of work done for the county helps Hamlin maintain its tax base.

“Probably out of my budget, I’ve got to bring in $700,000 in revenue, so we have to have projects going on all the time,” explained Tom.

Creating water lines takes up a lot of crew time, besides highway maintenance. Other less traditional projects his crew is working on right now include a handicapped accessible entrance to the town hall, which is located in a former school. The Lions Club (Tom is a member) is funding that project with a brand new, 40-ft. by 60-ft. metal building that a member found for sale — reasonably priced — in storage out of state.

Over the years his crew built tennis courts, a roller blade court and a basketball court. Other community development funds are being used to repave parking lots in the town’s active recreational area. They put in about 10,000 ft. of water lines last fall, but Tom has noticed that county-required work is being cut back. How does a small town avoid raising taxes for highway work?

“We have to cut back on the budget a little bit or people will be paying more taxes,” he said. Less salt? “No they won’t accept that. People want dry roads.” Hamlin stores bout 750 tons of salt in two bays — one straight salt and one treated. What about no brush pickup? “We could stop, but that won’t save much,” he said.

“The way the economy is, to start big projects you need federal grants, and those are drying up right now. We do get community development grants because we are low income. We write for them ourselves.”

Another recent surprise was one more cemetery being added to his list of three small rural properties. One cemetery is taken care of by a family with a lot of family members. The one just added was not planned for in this year’s budget even though cemetery maintenance is mostly mowing.

Surprisingly there was one good economic blip on the budget line. Wood chips have become a commercially valuable commodity. Last year, the Town of Hamlin saved about $15,000 by selling brush to Niagara Generations, which has a plant that consumes wood chips. “We stack up the brush and they take it away,” he said. What town doesn’t have brush? Tom said, “We used to have to hire the Town of Greece to use their grinder, so this has probably saved Hamlin money.”

But Tom is worried that residents won’t still get free chips. He still has a small pile from last year. Ever responsible to his neighbors and the people who elected him to office, “They really like the free mulch,” he said.

The railroads once created prosperity in the Town of Hamlin. Being in a large fruit belt along Lake Ontario caused a large canning factory to build in town while local farmers produced a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In Hamlin’s hamlet, called Morton, alone they grew thousands of tomato plants.

Other picturesque locations in town are Benedict Beach, Bluff Beach, the Brockport Yacht Club, Kendall Mills, Onteo Beach, Sandy Harbor Beach, Shore Acres, Troutburg (a beachside hamlet) and Walker.

At one point in the town’s history, which Tom still recalled, apple storage and shipping by train were big parts of the community. Duffy Mott, a fruit processing company, made a lot of applesauce here. Now the rail line is a cinder path favored by snowmobilers and ATVs. Hamlin has become a bedroom community.

Times have changed, and the last hardware store and car dealer moved out of town years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s the town’s proximity to Rochester caused small subdivisions to be built among former farm fields.

“I’ve always been happy here,” said Tom. “There are advantages to working in the small town that you grew up in, although I used to know a lot more people. What I liked about the job all my life is that you do the same things all year, maybe, but everything you do is different every day.”

Hamlin’s highway garage has one point-person on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Basically the person functions as a dispatcher. He also goes out and plows if there’s a storm. Tom admitted that with a day that used to routinely start at 4 a.m., he doesn’t come in quite as early as he used to.

He said one disadvantage to small town neighborliness is that Hamlin has three separate school districts. Residents don’t know which team to root for. One can drive down many roads and find that each shoulder is in a different town’s boundaries. For example, residents of Eastern Hamlin receive mail from the Hilton Post Office, attend Hilton Central Schools, and are included in the Walker and Hilton Fire Districts.

The people of Central Hamlin have a Hamlin address, attend Brockport or Hilton schools, and are serviced by the Hamlin Fire Department. Western Hamlin is served by the Morton, Kendall, and Holley post offices, Kendall Central Schools, and the Morton Fire Department.

Residents have their choice of parks for recreation including a fishing dock on Sandy Creek for spawning salmon and bass, playgrounds suitable for all ages and baseball diamonds.

Cooperating Municipalities Control Costs

Last year Hamlin was awarded a shared Municipal Service Incentive Grant for $192,000 for a street sweeper to be shared with Clarkson, Sweden and Parma.

“Monroe County and the 19 towns in the county have a unique partnership in which the county contracts with the towns for the majority of the roadwork done on county roads,” Tom said. “We do the work on county roads in our town as well as working on county roads in other towns. Frequently towns get together on paving projects on their roads.” He said working last year was especially difficult as the price of asphalt topped $75 per ton.

“We also contract with the county and state for all of their snow and ice operations in our town,” he said. “In 2008, the county, towns and villages worked to develop an Intermunicipal Agreement for county fleet services, equipment sharing and the sale of alternative fuels.

“We have had a good working relationship for many years with the county and other towns. The big thing now in state government is a call for consolidation, but we’ve been doing this for years, and it works really well. We have a works committee that meets four times a year, and we talk about the issues. Snow and ice are discussed at every meeting, but we also talk about other things. The county will hand out projects to the towns.” Tom said that some of the larger towns have too much work to be able to do it alone.

Tom cited milling and resurfacing with hot paving and surface treating, and draining as being typical of the projects his team is asked to do. “There is a move now toward micro-paving and such,” he said. “It’s more expensive than surface treating, and you have to do it on a road that is already in pretty good shape. Micro-paving is just another tool in the box.”

More common are the calls for “T&L,” which means “true and level.” Using a grader, they get the road back to level and then surface treat it with a machine they built for the job a few years ago. T&L is frequently needed at the edge of a highway where the edge has broken down. The Town of Hamlin highway crew responded by building a shoulder machine that hooks onto the front of the grader on the truck. It has a belt on it and the hopper puts the stones where they are needed.

Tom explained, “Commercially they make a self-propelled model, and we kind of styled ours on that. We built the thing for about $1,200 while a self-propelled new model would be about $75,000.” They also bought a used 1995 Ford F800 with vac-con sewer jetter for $27,000 as opposed to a new one, which would have cost about $75,000.

Another cost-savings idea that is gaining in popularity is to increase the number of one-man operations for snow and ice. “We went to that last year. We still do two-person sometimes because of all the wind we get. When we have big snow building up on the shoulder of the road, we’ll put another man out there for another set of eyes in the cab,” Tom said.

Wind and Weather

It is no surprise to the locals that a large company wanted to build a commercial wind farm in Hamlin. The land is fairly flat, and Lake Ontario’s breezes are only three miles north. That idea has ended neighborly feelings all over this town, which voted against the farm. Currently two residents have applied for and received a variance for domestic wind turbines on their own property.

Signs that are pro-wind and anti-wind can be seen on lawns all over town.

“I do think it’s a shame,” said Tom. “A wind farm would have added to the tax base.” Hamlin is currently being re-assessed for the first time in 30 years. Tom said, “The residents will either be angry or pleasantly surprised.”

The town roads are affected by snow and wind from both lakes Ontario and Erie. Tom explained that as farmers move to larger equipment they are also are pulling out the old hedgerows, which did a lot to protect roads from drifting snow. “You can go for miles now and not see a hedgerow,” he said.

“Lake levels are a big deal here. We do have lake homes. Right after I started working here we had Hurricane Agnes, and we had to haul sand bags for residents to do what they could to prevent flooding.”

A few other times the Army Corps of Engineers has supplied lakeside residents with something called a “gabion,” a box that helps break up waves before they hit shore.

Hamlin Beach State Park

Hamlin Beach State Park at the northern end of Hamlin is now nearly 1,300 acres with almost four miles of lake frontage, picnic and play areas, shelters, and approximately 300 improved campsites. During Memorial Day 2009, every site was booked.

The state park was created by a historic group established as an answer to the Great Depression, called the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC provided jobs for young, unemployed, single men between ages 18 and 25 who were willing to work for $1 a day. The men allowed 83 percent of their salary to be sent to their families to help relieve the economic burden of the Depression.

By 1938 there were more than 1,500 CCC camps in the United States. One of those camps, Camp State Park #53, was located on Moscow Road in Hamlin. For six years (August 1935 through August 1941), “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” developed what is now the state park. They built roads, landscaped and reforested, constructed stone buildings, water fountains, a sea wall and a jetty.

Visitors today who camp or bike and hike around are actually enjoying a natural wonder that made young men get up at dawn. In a local newspaper from 1935 a reporter described the first arrivals as, “Five truckloads of sun-bronzed and khaki-clad youths jouncing over a dirt road near Hamlin Beach yesterday afternoon to pour forth the first contingent in Monroe County’s new CCC Camp.”

Camp newsletters repeatedly state the food was first rate. During its six years of operation about 1,200 young men were involved in Camp State Park 53. Barracks life ruled. There were five barracks of 40 beds each. Each building had three pot-bellied stoves kept by fire guards 24 hours a day in the winter.

Wake up call was 5:45 a.m. Return to camp was 3:30. Given the all-male bonding, pranks were common. Finding your shoes nailed to the floor was a favorite. Another hoot was the famous “snipe hunt.” New recruits were encouraged to hunt late at night armed with a flashlight for a “snipe” — a non-existent species.

Classes in every skill and interest possible were offered, including things like leadership, carpentry, cooking, chip carving, first aid and crafts. Construction crews had stone masons who quarried their own stone, carpenters and forestry crews who planted trees and ran a saw mill. This was a self-sufficient compound.

Badminton courts, water lines, septic tanks and leach fields. The CCC had its own nursery, and everything was built from scratch to high standards. A photographic record of the CCC camp shows a well-organized effort to integrate work with fun.

When war was declared, however, and the CCC camps had closed, President Roosevelt had over 1,000,000 experienced men between 20 and 25 years of age who were trained in basic skills and in top physical shape. The disciplined ways of army life were familiar to all of them.

By Sept. 3, 1941, the camp was vacant with only a caretaker on site.

Eventually transformed into a farm labor camp and a prisoner of war camp for Germans and Italians, the camp barracks were razed shortly after the close of World War II. The fruits of the CCC remain in the well-maintained brick work, public bath houses, shelters, and pavilions. Beach beautification has never been more apparent.

The CCC camp was one of Hamlin’s important gifts to the other citizens of the world.

Saying Goodbye to All That

Tom said that letting people go, which happened only twice, has been the hardest part of being the buck stopper. “One was a DWI; he couldn’t come to work. The other was a young guy who wanted to hunt rather than do brush pick up.” As for how he reached his own conclusion that it was time for him to leave the job, he is a little vague.

“I haven’t been talking about it,” he said. “Everybody had to give a letter of intent by March.” Even though two of his crew are vying for his job, his clear cut choice is his deputy Steve Baase. Steve said, “I’m excited. I started off being nervous. My wife is behind me 100 percent.” His son, however, at age 16, simply gave his Dad his own endorsement by saying, “whatever” with a shrug.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” he added. “That’s why I became Tom’s deputy years ago.” P

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