Highway Superintendent Joe Herbst and the Town of Webster

Laurie Mercer

Even in this age of instantaneous communication, even as fiberoptic rings embrace the Webster highway garage hooking into the communication pulse of the town’s fire, police, schools, and library, the heartbeat of Webster’s highway operations are stored in a deep, metal file cabinet. In the superintendent’s office is a collection of red, leather-bound diaries. Every diary chronicles every day some superintendent or another has been on the job, going back to the early 1960s and continuing right up to the present.

The town’s budget for highways is right around $5 million with a CHIPS allocation of $135,000.

Joe Herbst, the appointed highway superintendent for the past five years and a member of the department for 28, continues to log handwritten accounts of major weather events, including temperature, wind direction, and other important data. You never know when handwritten redundancy will become valuable. In his department of 39 laborers, he also has two women backing him up with administrative duties. He has two foremen and is constantly on the hunt for new products and operating procedures to maintain his department’s competitive edge.

“Those books — that’s how we keep track of actual snowfall here. We have maybe 23 to 30 inches difference from the Monroe County Airport measurement. Then we can have that much difference just in town from the north to the south.”

The day’s recordings on Christmas Eve 2012 probably briefly chronicle how Webster joined the ranks of places like the Sandy Hook School and Columbine. Once again a deranged person — a “sleeper” is what Joe called him in security terms — brought Webster some horrible national attention. William Spengler, the shooter, deliberately ambushed firefighters responding to a call for fires he had set to his house and a car. Caught in an ambush, two of the first responders died and two more were wounded. Some media people called it a massacre.

Thus Webster joins a list of lovely small towns that have suddenly become identified with murderous rages that led to the deaths of innocent people.

In Webster, just two days after the event, on December 27, the town roads had 12 inches of fresh snow by morning as well as at least 4,000 police officers, state troopers, firefighters, and border patrol agents who came to pay their respects to Lt. Michael Chiapperini, 39, a long-time police officer and fireman and 19-year-old firefighter Tomasz Kaczowka, who were killed. Two others, Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter were injured in the early Monday morning shootings that began at 5:30 a.m. and ended not too long after that when the shooter shot himself in the head.

Spengler’s torched house revealed the remains of his sister, who had threatened to sell the family home. Spengler had already served his sentence for the death of his 92-year-old grandmother whom he beat to death with a hammer in 1981. The only person left to face charges is Spengler’s 19-year old-female neighbor who helped the man she knew as “Uncle Billy” buy the guns he used. New York State’s new gun law includes a “Webster provision” that mandates heavy penalties for the death of first responders.

Suddenly in town, solemn marches and the sound of bagpipes keening were becoming commonplace. Even three months later, the number of charity events in Webster aimed at this and other social issues is overwhelming. Joe likens Mike Chiapperini’s widow Kimberly as demonstrating at these memorial events the dignity that reminds him of how Jackie Kennedy once led the country in mourning. Mike’s son Chip, on duty as dispatch at the local Ambulance Corps at the time, took the initial call for help and then followed the events live over the dispatch radio.

In addition to the first responders, many in uniform from all over the county, 14,000 people quickly converged on Webster driven by their emotions and a desire to honor the first responders’ heroism. Joe says that people in town took in strangers and paid for rooms at the local hotels for visitors they would never meet. Tissues are never far away in Webster, even in the highway superintendent’s office. This was the second horrific incident in an otherwise seemingly safe and prosperous town. In the previous event, late in 2011, a 15-year-old adopted boy doused his home, still decorated for Christmas, with gasoline and lit it, killing his father and two brothers. His mother and sister were injured when escaping from an upstairs window.

The juxtaposition that many public workers have to experience today between what is normal and abnormal in their communities has always been part of Joe’s training in the Webster highway department because his facilities are within 10 miles of Ginna Nuclear Power Plant — one of the largest and probably one of the oldest facilities of its kind in the eastern United States.

“Not many highway crews have dosimeters and ID cards with REM measurement and iodine pills,” he says. “We hope to never implement any of these; yet training and preparedness are essential components for the welfare and safety of the more than 45,000 residents and the people driving through on our roads.”

Since his fraternal twin is assistant director for Monroe County’s 911 programs, training for emergencies is “shop talk” they sometimes share. In his 24 years in the department Joe says training for nuclear disasters has always been part of the job.

Dosimeters built into their photo ID badges help monitor radioactivity levels. He says Ginna just re-did their tubes, and the crane that was necessary to take the top off the facility required 180 tractor trailers coming through town. Annual training contains more simulation these days for a real life feel and effectiveness, and fewer chalkboard exercises. Joe says this year the trainer, unbeknownst to the crew, gave an example to the foremen to quickly figure out. Joe says the example might be a motor vehicle accident in one place in town with serious tree damage occurring someplace else. He adds, “Within five minutes of the assignment being handed out, the crew was spot-on with the correct responses. The training went really well.”

Snow Shoveling for Celebrations of Life

With the number of mourners in town Joe had the entire crew engaged.

“We had to borrow some equipment from neighboring towns, including a backhoe and a small truck because ours were down,” he says. “Ridge Road from the school all the way to the gravesite and the fire hall where two victims were members was critical to remain clear.”

Sixteen inches of fresh wet snow had to be pushed back off the roads much farther than usual. The crew was out working, clearing and making way in places that they don’t normally do — for example, the school parking lots, in order to make way for the fire engines, personnel, vehicles, and pedestrians.

Hardest of all for Joe, who was a friend of Mike’s, was that the event caught him on a long vacation with his family, his first one in two years. The town supervisor and police chief urged him to remain in Florida knowing that there was little else that could be done. Joe’s two foremen — Jess Kujawa and Joe Marrapese — took charge while Joe spent more alone time than usual on the beach. He adds, “The community outpouring was incredible, but not being here was awful for me.”

Highway Basics Challenged by Substantial Growth

“I might have guys here for 20 hours during a major event like the one we had two Fridays ago,” says Joe of another early spring storm.

His highway inventory includes 400 lane miles — with 115 county, 25 state, and 226 town — plus an additional 35 miles of state highway that bisects the town. As he described it himself in a brief essay called, “Winter,” he wrote, “When they say lake effect, that’s Webster. Our town can vary as much as 30 inches in difference in snow accumulations just in our town alone, let alone the rest of the county.

“It’s not uncommon to have 6 inches of snow in our northeast corner of town, and the other 60 percent of the town to be in sunshine.

“For 17 years Webster was the leader in growth for Monroe County,” he says. “We still have lots of new development.”

Homes with lake and bay views are often especially tony, although many older cottages still remain. He cites the proximity to Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands (two hours away) and Niagara Falls (1.5 hours), plus the town’s attractive and well-situated new commercial area called Town Center — it’s a plaza, not a mall — as being strong incentives to live here. He said that once Town Center opened with every imaginable franchise and retail outlet, construction of housing and commercial buildings strengthened once again.

The town added an ice rink and theater to enjoy outdoor concerts. The trail system is designed to entice exercise of every level. There is a tradition here of good neighboring and excellent sports programs in both the parks and recreation departments and in the schools. Herbst’s family came here from Germany in the early 19th century. Roots run deep; of his 11 siblings only one of them ever left the area.

“Webster is unique. While Monroe County averages a 4 to 7.5 percent growth rate, Webster pushes the 26 percent mark. This is a very desirable place to live. We have had all the amenities since Xerox (then called Haloid) built a large plant here in the mid 1950s.”

Now that Xerox is selling choice parcels of real estate, the town stepped up and bought 80 acres of open space graced with the former corporate giant’s recreational facility, now used for residents’ enjoyment.

The roads help development as well. Joe explains how the expressway bisects the town, while Route 104 runs right through it, so access is quick to any place you want to go. Every road has a major intersection so that shutting down any section can be easily done. Everybody going to or coming from Rochester passes over Irondequoit Bay, a handsome body of water with steep cliffs, on the bridge.

A Fiberoptic Ring and Disaster Preparedness Training

Especially since 9/11, Joe says there has been a big push for the highway department to be hooked into the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The operations center facility itself, in Henrietta, is amazing, says Joe.

“Fiberoptics has been a part of it for the better part of a decade, but we were never hooked up. Fiber was a missing link for me. We wanted to have it in-ground, using abandoned water mains.”

As of late February his department is just about 200 feet short of the final connection in the ring. A short piece of completely new road had to be created for access bordering a commercial mall.

“This has been a two-year-long project. We are trying for as much connectivity as possible. Once completed it will link the highway department to the police, school district, court system, and the libraries.”

During Superstorm Sandy, Joe’s crew had 90 big trees go down, which caused them to close three different roads to access and repair the damage, including removal.

“They were those huge old willows, flat and shallow root balls. Where they went down they took stuff — power and vehicles — with them. In other storms the species of tree has been different. Willows, especially, thrive near water.

Joe says based on the needs of first responders, his department could provide support to different groups including RG&E or FEMA. Possible actions might be cleaning up after an accident, pulling vehicles out of ditches, or taking out downed trees around utility lines. It was during four major repairs on the busy Bay Bridge, which required shutting down traffic lanes, that he was reminded of how important it is to communicate with other agencies involved, even in a peripheral way.

“We had EOC meet up with the DOT, fire, and police to determine how best to proceed with shutting down lanes for repairs. It’s a very busy bridge. A lot of good things came out of that meeting. For example, we learned that the company doing the bridge work had never notified anybody that they had people in a trapeze under the bridge! They never notified emergency responders. First responders have sophisticated techniques, including aerial backup and scuba teams when needed, so it’s a good thing we all met first. What if the worker had had a heart attack below the bridge?”

Nearly Surrounded by Water

Being near the water is central to why many residents choose to live in Webster. With a total of 35.5 square miles, Webster is bordered on the north by Lake Ontario and on the west by the lake’s huge Irondequoit Bay. Nestled on the south shore of the lake is about 8.5 miles of shoreline in town. The entire west side of town has another 6 miles of meandering shoreline. Because a lot of drinking water is drawn from Lake Ontario, the quality of the water that is discharged from many sources in town is of critical import and under constant scrutiny by Joe’s department.

Joe cites his more than 78 miles of creeks and streams situated on four separate watersheds, 1,100 miles of storm sewers, 3,300-plus catch basins, and 105 retention/detention facilities. The crew even did some “throttling down” of some serious flooding in a house built right over a creek — with a glass floor so the residents could watch their pet koi swimming beneath their feet. The house was built long before zoning regulations would have prevented it.

“They have a glass floor in the living room where they can watch their koi fish and things. Even in winter you could look through. Obviously this idea precedes any kind of codes. When they had flooding with water going over the floor, rather than underneath it, we were called in to address the flooding.

“We had to go on county land, which takes permits, to modify an outfall structure where the water was going through there. We first detained the water on county property and cleaned up the obstructions, hopefully for good. We put a gate valve in it. That was in 2006, and we have never had a single problem again.”

They have had plenty of situations, however, where pipes were crossed in people’s houses and raw effluent was being discharged.

“You’d be surprised about the number of crossed pipes. Water, especially the cleanliness of discharged water, is a big concern in my department.”

Joe’s attitude toward water in Webster is generally to address “throttling down.” He also uses the term “giddy up” for work in general (as in we do not want any “giddy up” on the project).

Joe has a Harley Davidson clock on his office wall that goes off with a deep resonating Harley sound at certain intervals. He always has music on when he is working. He is a motor head, no doubt about it, but also restores a vintage car — especially his 1956 DeSoto with a 330 Hemi under the hood, a car he acquired as a teenager. The treasure has had three brand new coats of paint and yet still has less than 136,000 miles on it. In his three-car garage, which he built along with his home in 1990, he says he sometimes gets bored, sands the car down, and repaints it.

When he recently re-did the car’s brakes he installed drum brakes with dual cams on each one, “with the breaking ability of one of our big trucks.”

His co-workers, including two office assistants, kind of chuckle about what appears to be his boundless energy. He isn’t nervous and jerky at all, just driven to get to the point where he gets to measure his results because he is already feeling pretty confident about the work his crews have accomplished. Even his photographic business card is a standout from what is standard in town; he designed it himself.

He helps give the workers ample opportunities to shine. The man has more than half a dozen community-given awards for merit on his office wall. Happily he adds, “I like to raise the bar,” and says that the plaques are proof in the pudding.

Cost-Cutting Solutions for Webster

“With 3,300 catch basins, we do a significant amount of catch basin gutter repairs. The standard in the industry is to use wood to form a catch basin. One of my guys said this is sort of stupid because after you get two or three basins formed, the wood is crap and you have to take it apart and rebuild the form.”

Joe says the new design created in-house is not wood but made from some 3/16 metal steel plate. He then welded some turnbuckles on the inside. The procedure now is to oil them up and slide them down into the catch basin. When you open up the turnbuckle, it expands out, and you are ready to pour concrete. The worker then turns the turnbuckle, which shrinks back in, and pulls it out. Being reusable they can make catch basins of any size all day long.

“They fit any size catch basin. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. The crew has built four of them.

“We are not losing any inventory, including lumber. It can expand and contract. Even if the catch basin is rectangular you can use it because the two units go in either way

Another seemingly simple solution was triggered by the constant need to pry off manhole covers.

“We are constantly looking through magazines looking for ideas to heighten our efficiencies. Billy Semmler, one with a talent for fabrication, got the original idea and then modified it. Billy’s innovation focuses on a fulcrum point, using a spring instead of a pick.”

Joe says this reduces the town’s liability in the event of an accident. Now workers can put the handle to it and pick it up in one move. He is making five more of them now. “When your town has about 2,000, 90-pound manholes, you know how much work they are to pull with shovels and picks.

Safety also is an issue driving their manufacturing of airfoils, which redirect the wind off the backs of heavy trucks, which helps keep the lights clear for improved signaling. He says they bought the first unit and successfully copied the design, which they are now producing for every truck.

Growth and Progress Take More Time, Equipment

Joe says that when he first joined the department as a laborer 28 years ago, the plows could deliver a straight run in 45 minutes; now the time needed is an hour and a half.

“We used to do a full-out plow run in three and a half hours, now it takes five, and that’s just based on where we are today.” On road surfaces he estimates they do an average of 17 miles accomplished over an eight-year cycle.

He says the equipment has always been good. His inventory has 73 pieces of large equipment including, for everyday operations: eleven 10-wheel trucks; six 6-wheel trucks; four F570 club cab trucks; one F550 dispatch truck; and five F350 pick-ups. Then there are the excavators, hoes, bulldozers, graders, skid steers, fully equipped panel vans, sweepers, mowers, loaders, 10-ton rollers, tandem axle chipper and leaf vectors, and a flusher truck. He is proud that Webster was one of the first towns to outfit an F750 club cab with a high-speed plow and wing. They now have four of them in rotation. He calls the units “one of the most versatile vehicles we have for year-around applications.” They also have two 550s for dispatch and masonry work along with five one-ton pick ups.

For construction work they call on the rubber-tire excavator, a track shovel, and two backhoes for excavation needs. For grading operations it’s two bulldozers, a grader and a skid steer. For maintenance they rely on three flail mowers with a boom, and three sweepers for keeping the roads neat.

He says the three loaders are used for muscle work; one is equipped with an onboard computerized scale for accuracy. Paving operations use two, 10-ton static rollers and a 1-ton vibratory unit. Smaller paving operations are done with a 2 ½-ton vibratory unit and two 1-ton static rollers.

For backup they have three panel vans completely outfitted with road saws, chainsaws, laser transit, cut off saws, a water pump system with online tanks, and every hand tool to satisfy every need, as well as some specialized equipment such as a plate tamper, jumping jack, core bore drills, and concrete ring saws.

His is especially proud that his sign department, under the direction of Sue Trottier, produces about 1,800 signs for the town, all up to the latest standard’s manual on uniform traffic control devices (MUTCD).

Newly Expanded Facilities

Joe’s background is in construction, and his skill sets are mirrored in his multi-talented crew, most of which worked in the private sector before coming here. Headquarters, with offices and facilities including room for 16 truck bays complete with wings and plows, welding/fabrication, hydraulic hose room, and sign shop (to make every sign in town), have been expanded with a new, built-by-the-crew 60 x 260-foot outbuilding with half-heated floors.

“We had everything undercover but it was like a can of sardines. If you want to work on one piece of equipment, three more had to be moved twice.”

Joe says he can easily imagine capturing the heat from the substantial rotting leaf pile and pumping it into the garage to heat the floors. It’s an idea currently on his mind. As for costs, he is still doing the research.

For the here and now the top of the pyramid on his construction schemes is the new salt barn, once again constructed by the highway crew during off-peak hours. The barn is unusual in that it incorporates rows of beautifully orchestrated sander cages. This might be his best work of art yet. It’s way beyond functional and good looking. Consider the inspiration for the new facility.

He says he knew the old roof of the existing salt barn — almost 400 square feet of metal roofing — was going to need replacing. So he took the upgrade as an opportunity to build an entirely new, slightly larger, energy-efficient salt barn with built-in sander cages — one for each truck under wings built all the way around the barn on three sides.

“I knew I wanted everything having to do with salt and sanders central in one place, away from the garage,” he says. Even the hoses, made offshore, which previously rotted out quickly with the sun, rain, and weather on them, are now safely stored indoors. Of his elaborate salt barn/sander storage complex, he says, “I have seen others similar to this one, but ours is a little more elaborate than most.”

They also constructed a place in the front with retaining walls for the two large liquid tanks for salt additives and salt brine. “We can do anti-icing to get ahead of the storm before any type of weather is evident, as well as deicing when conditions demand that instead.

“Our sander cages, where all the sanders used to hang were made from 80 pound railroad ties in 1970, and it was all starting to rot,” he says. “Every time you took a sander off or put one on, the whole thing would shake and move around. Well, we do work all over the place, and I knew where some 6 by 6-foot guide rails were being taken down and discarded.”

He says it took him about two and a half years to finally get enough rails, including straight beams from various projects. All the acquisitions needed a game plan, permits, and approvals from Monroe County.

When asked why strong metal guide rails need replacing so often he says, “Probably because they weren’t meeting current specifications. Or, the road profile changed where they needed a curve instead of a straight product.”

He says that since all the rails were different lengths, they cut them all off to 16 feet in his multi-functional welding shop. The structure is solid enough for 20 trucks and sanders all identified with letters and numbers that match each truck to each sander and are assigned to their own bays. He says, “We can raise the sanders up and put the trucks right underneath them.” In addition, the new space allows every plow, bucket for the backhoes, and loader bucket to be indoors.

He also worries about the aesthetics as they recently filled in the hips of the barn roof. Originally he wanted a special treatment on the gable ends of the building, but the budget wouldn’t allow it. His priority needed to be the 60 x 260 barn they were building for equipment storage and repairs and for hand-painting equipment, not spray. He hasn’t given up on the instinct towards beautification, however. He quietly says while eyeing his new salt barn’s face, “I may just stain it gray to tie it into the building a little more.”

They take great pride in the appearance of their equipment here, even getting compliments on a new truck that is actually dozens of years old but restored and repainted and clean. Each driver is assigned his own truck. Joe says he has one employee who is so possessive of his truck that Joe has to force him to take a vacation. He says, “He can’t stand the idea of anybody else driving his truck. He’s got one of the newer ones.”

As for repainting vehicles in the town’s signature school bus yellow color, he says that each year they give two to three trucks a touch up and two to three others a “full load of body work.”

“Residents often mention that we have new equipment, but what we actually have is equipment that has been cared for really well.” He cites a 17-year-old truck with 200,000 miles on it still looking like a “front line truck.” He says maintenance is something he emphasizes here and at home where his teenage hot rod is so coddled that it has no need for windshield wipers on it. Calling it his “baby,” he says he would never take the street ride out of the garage in the rain, but it does provide classy transport for weddings and parades sometimes.

For morale-building exercises, Joe likes to keep his old blue uniform from when he was a laborer in a file drawer in his office. He says if someone is out at the last minute and help is needed, “I’m not afraid to swing the hammer.” In fact he kind of likes doing the real job and not just jumping in the truck to act like a boss. Work appeals to him, especially grunt work like mixing mud for catch basins. “I remember where I came from,” he says. “It shows my level of respect for the crew.”

He did say it has been a year since he got into a truck, which he describes as part truck/part Barcalounger in terms of creature comforts never known before.

“I build morale with workers because I get right down beside them every day.” He also likes to sponsor a spring fling, which involves a high-end dinner for everybody and their partners at Hedges, a four-star icon right on Lake Ontario in Webster. It’s been going on for so long they have a standing reservation there.

In a department where perfect attendance is more the norm than the exception, there is recognition for perfect attendance for 10 years, 20 years, and so on. Over half the laborers have perfect attendance, and another large group has only missed one day. If the idea of rewarding attendance is a new one for you, Joe suggests gift certificates in the monetary amount that matches the number of years the person has worked. The two employees he lost to cancer, whose portraits are on his office wall, he describes as phenomenal guys.

His contact with town residents heavily favors e-mail. He also carries his mobile phone and will respond 24/7 if need be. He inherited the job of Webster’s safety director from his friend Mike Chiapperini, one of the two early responders killed on Christmas Eve. He says of the incident, “I do think people are getting more involved. I know I’ve taken care of a 97-year-old widow for the past 18 years by shoveling her driveway.” He says he thinks the community has become more involved in checking in on their neighbors’ well being. He adds, “I can tell you the school districts and others are implementing much more stringent measures for any threat, no matter how incidental it seems. There is now zero tolerance for that.”

More Salt

The previous barn held 3,300 tons of salt. Joe’s concerns include the cost of off-site storage as much as capacity. American Rock Salt has begun to charge municipalities large amounts of money for salt that was purchased but not yet delivered, a scenario common this mild winter. This is not a situation that caught Joe unawares. “A heavy behavior modifier for us here is that salt mines are now charging for storage at a certain amount per ton. Towns and villages without sufficient storage are going to have to pay. So the burden of storage goes to the highway barn.”

This winter, which was mild, caused Joe to use a lot less salt than usual. Webster, which can store about 4,500 tons of salt, was initially going to be charged $1,400 for one month of salt storage. Joe says, “They gave us a break. There are a lot of towns with little storage capacity at all.” Because of the temperatures and avoidance of salt storage costs, he opened the new salt barn with about 400 tons of product almost running out the door.

One of the biggest technological changes for Joe is the emphasis on electronics and the capabilities to monitor inventory and measure everything. By monitoring, controlling, and measuring inventory of various road treatments and application rates, Joe says he can meet the need for documentation — especially when hundreds of miles of roads here are cared for by other entities.

“We just got the specs back from the county on snow and ice removal in all 19 towns in Monroe County. Because the towns are paid for their services, it comes down to demonstrating efficiency.”

He says Webster is nearly always at the top performance level because “We welcome technology to handle efficiencies. The calibration now is finite whereas in the old days it was a matter of a few numbers on a clicker.”

Talking About the Old Days

It will not surprise anybody who has been around Joe for any length of time that he was once a fervent athlete in many different sports — volleyball, baseball, hockey, tennis, lacrosse, and “anything else they were playing.” The town of Webster, itself, has been singled out as a #1 Sports Town USA by Sports Illustrated. Among Joe’s three daughters — Jessica, Katelyn, and Megan — all of whom excel at sports, one is on a full athletic scholarship at the University of Vermont. He says the van the family used to get to the tournaments had 160,000 miles on it in just two years!

Joe grew up in a family that originally moved to Webster in 1837. The cemetery on Harris Road that his department tends to with weed whacking and dead tree removal has headstones going back to the late 1700s. Joe is one of nine siblings including a fraternal twin. He says he was born towards the “end.” “Young enough to remember an older brother going off to fight in Vietnam when I was five years old.” Of the tribe, that brother is the only one to leave the area, ironically becoming a police chief in Webster, Texas.

In this family the names for men — Mike, Bill, and Joe — continue to be recycled; they were also known for running a soda shop in the village in the 1950s. A lot of friendships were formed sitting on the soda fountain’s round metal stools.

When Joe graduated from high school he went to work for Agway for seven years, then a strong cooperative for farm goods.

“It was a great place to work, selling everything from food to grain.” What really impressed him was the emphasis on training. Training was “huge,” he said.

As Agway folded he began his own company aimed at landscaping, decks, and patios. The idea was one-stop shopping for suburban customers. He says, “We did well,” but it was taking him 80- to 90-hour weeks to stay afloat. With eight trucks, all but one with plows, they stayed busy in winter. But problems with his partnership caused it to crumble. He is succinct, “Let’s just say my partner wasted our profits. Money was missing. It got ugly after that.”

So Joe returned to “swinging a hammer,” a second job for him even today. He explains that with three family members in college, including Mary, his wife, who was downsized from Chase and is working towards her masters degree in education at Brockport, and one more daughter in high school, he needs two jobs to make ends meet.

He joined the town’s highway department when some men he was playing sports with suggested it to him. “They said there were some openings coming up, and that it was a great place to work.” At the time he remembers job sites where open fires were used to keep nail guns from freezing up, so the change was appealing. He was married and beginning a family. A job with long-term career goals had its own draw. When he started, he says, “we used to have a plow and a wing man. I was the wing man. Then when the operator had a heart attack, I took his spot. I just lucked out to have that seat so soon.”

“I was hungry. I am aggressive. I just started climbing up, and I would make sure I learned whenever a new product was coming up so I already understood how it works.” He uses the example of his learning about routing. He explains, “Every storm sewer at every joint has the potential for failure. With ground infiltration you end up with sinkholes. So we used to have a camera for inspection and routing. So I familiarized myself with it for when it got to that point.”

His knowledge of drainage led naturally to other jobs on the crew. When the foreman retired the job was posted, and four or five of them, including Joe, went for it.

“As the town was developing, technologies were changing. I think they [for the most part the former highway superintendent who would make the decision], saw my willingness to accept change and go with it when it makes good sense.”

Joe became the highway superintendent. He may no longer play basketball and soccer, but he continues to lead his own highway team and to set the pace.

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.

Jump to Profile: