A small trout stream runs along Route 80 near the Town of Stark. When winter comes, the frigid rushing water helps trap the chilly moisture close to the ground, creating a freezing problem for nearby roads. When it warms up and the temperature is just right and a gentle breeze is blowing, the freshets of water rise up and fog billows across the roadway.
Either way, it often means work for Superintendent Tony Grescheck and the Stark Highway Department, which is located approximately 25 miles east of Utica.
Grescheck, who has been superintendent for the past seven years, grew up in the tiny town of Stark, located in the southeastern corner of Herkimer County. Agriculture and related business constitute a major part of the economy of Stark, which has a population of approximately 600 families. Some residents maintain homes in the district and commute to jobs in the Mohawk Valley, Utica, Fort Plain and Cooperstown.
Tony knows the town, as well as its 20 miles of roads like the back of his hand. He is familiar with the personalities of most townspeople, as well as the personality and the quirks of every road, lane and alley under his jurisdiction.
“I served on the Town Board for 10 years and gained a lot of experience doing that. When the superintendent position became available, I went for it. I felt I had a lot to offer,” recalled Grescheck.
Prior to his election, Tony operated his own dairy farm consisting of approximately 500 acres with 125 head of cattle. He said that a lot of his experiences on the farm helped prepare him for the post of superintendent, including equipment operation, building construction and equipment maintenance.
Many other people thought Tony had a lot to offer, too. Grescheck has been re-elected to the post every two years since assuming it in 1996.
It might be a small town, but there is more than enough work to keep Tony and his four full-time staff members — Richard Rogers (HEO), Gary Brown (MEO), John Mayton (MEO) and John Brown (MEO) — busy all year around. Three of the four employees he supervises have been on board for 10 years or more.
“We have a good sense of how we all work together, especially in stressful situations, such as winter snowstorms. Retention of key employees is important. The long-time tenure helps promote teamwork, which is essential for road crews,” said Tony.
Grescheck, like most other New York road supers, has his favorite snowstorm memories. Some are not good memories, but they linger anyway. His worst moment on the job happened on his second day of work.
“On the second day on my job a huge snowstorm hit the area. We had to put the V-plow on the trucks for the first time in years,” said Tony. “Right after the storm we had a big thaw. The roadways got so soft that the trucks could barely move across them and the roads were washing out in several areas.”
The road washouts and other problems prompted Tony to begin a long-term road rehabilitation project that has dramatically improved the quality of roads.
The miles of dirt and seasonal roads offer the township a charm that he and other Stark residents treasure. The Town of Stark was settled around 1770 and was formally founded in 1828. It is named after General John Stark, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Although it was settled as a farming and dairy center, it had its brush with geological fame.
According to local historians, a German miner, whose name is not recorded, prospected the area for a number of months, searching for lead, iron and silver. He apparently located a large vein of silver on some land in the northwest part of the town.
He began mining operations, driving a tunnel 2,000 feet long into a hill. He took out a quantity of ore that he claimed to be silver. But, in his digging he also encountered an underground spring that flooded the mine and stopped all work for good. He left Stark never to return and no one bothered to investigate his soggy claim.
The hills of Stark are outlying spurs of the Adirondack range of mountains, which are a part of the Appalachian chain that enter the state on the northeast, and extend in a southwesterly direction to its center, crossing the Mohawk River at Little Falls. These hills form the watershed between the Mohawk and Susquehanna rivers.
Interestingly enough, the head of the Susquehanna River is Summit Lake, which lies about 2 mi. south of the nearby Town of Van Hornesville. The water from the lake flows two ways, north into the Mohawk River and south into the Susquehanna. This is the only lake in this part of the state that distributes its waters to different river systems.
The most significant landmark near the Town of Stark is Cooperstown. Approximately 15 mi. away, Cooperstown is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Farmer’s Museum. Cooperstown is located along the banks of the beautiful Otsego Lake. Much of the traffic along Route 80 through the Town of Stark is summertime tourists off to visit the Hall of Fame.
One of the great sources of pride in the town of Stark is the Owen D. Young Central School of the Van Hornesville School District. The school has a student population of 254 in grades K through 12 and 49 staff members.
The school owes its existence to the generosity and keen interest of Owen D. Young, who was named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1929. When the area’s little one-room schoolhouse burned down, Young, chairman of the board of General Electric Company, founder of RCA and NBC, and advisor to five U.S. Presidents donated to the community a new rural school.
This was no ordinary rural school. It was not a one-room affair like its predecessors. It contained classrooms, workrooms, and a library and served as a community hall. Madame Curie designed the school’s science lab and Franklin D. Roosevelt, then governor of the State of New York, spoke at the school’s first graduation in 1931.
The community has always demonstrated support for the school, recently authorizing and completing a $10.5-million building renovation project. The project not only included classroom renovations, but a new gymnasium, new outdoor swimming pool, parking facility, and upgraded technology.
The school has its own $650,000 trust fund for scholarships. Able seniors also can win Clark Foundation Scholarships from Cooperstown. Seniors can attend Herkimer County Community College as well. Some of this year’s seniors will graduate from high school with up to 12 college credits.
The district has provided for computer education with five computers in every elementary classroom; and two full computer labs at the high school, along with a bank of laptop computers serving as a portable computer lab.
The philanthropy and dedication of one individual is a source of pride for all and Young’s legacy lives on in many Stark residents, including Tony. As mentioned above, Tony and his crew helped restore and refurbish many of the roads.
“We have several miles of dirt and seasonal roads in our township. Now residents along these dirt roads have seen oil and stone laid directly in front of their properties. This has eliminated a tremendous dust problem during the hot summer days for those residents,” said Tony.
Previously, liquid calcium was used to address the dust problem, but Tony found a cost-effective way of doing it better.
“Liquid calcium was quite expensive and not very effective. The oil and stone is paying for itself in its first few years of application,” Tony explained.
The road department performs approximately 1.5 miles of road reconstruction each year. This year it completed reconstruction along Gross Road, which included the moving of all utilities, road-widening and the construction of new ditches.
In recent years the town completed the construction of its new salt barn, which was designed by Tony. It allows for storage of 600 tons
“This allowed the Town of Stark to use clear salt. This has significantly improved the travel ability of our roads during the area’s severe winters.”
The town also purchased a Dickey-John computer system to maintain a consistent amount of salt being applied to road surfaces.
“Because of more accurate record keeping now, we are able to document everything more clearly. I have been able to save the town thousands of dollars,” Tony said.
He added that Stark plans to build an addition to the town barn to add town offices and to create additional machinery storage.
The Town of Stark gets an economic boost from New York State, which pays it to maintain a 14-mi. stretch of NYS Route 80. In the wintertime the plowing of this road provides significant cash flow to the Town of Stark. This practice, of course, is done in other areas of the state where the state has no facility located near roads for which it has ultimate responsibility.
“This year’s storms were particularly rough on the Town of Stark. Over seven feet of snow was received in a 14 day period starting with a 42-inch blast on Christmas Day, followed by nearly the same amount on January 3 and 4,” Tony recalled. In the weeks following the storm many snow banks reached heights exceeding 15 ft. and had to be snowblown on a daily basis
He said the disaster took a real toll on his payroll budget, but the state’s paying for the plowing of Route 80 as well as additional FEMA funds offset much of the cost. In all, Tony’s department is responsible for 19.49 mi. of town roads. It also plows and salts 14.7 mi. of state roads and 28.93 mi. of county roads.
Tony prides himself on keeping a sharp eye out for funds. He offered several examples.
“Recently after the purchase of a new truck we discovered that the state had been undercharged significantly for our plowing over about a seven-year period. It took plowing through a lot of red tape and a whole lot of persistence, but in the end, the state reimbursed us over $55,000 for the shortfall,” he said.
Tony said plowing through the paperwork was well worth the effort. He offered another example.
“Several years ago we had some significant flooding in the area and FEMA declared a federal emergency. Some other superintendents discouraged me from going after the relief funds. They said I would end up doing a lot of the paperwork for what would amount to a piddly amount of money.
“Well, they were wrong. We had four employees of FEMA sit in our town barn and they helped us do all of the paperwork. In the end we picked up about $65,000 in aid,” he said.
“I get a lot of benefit from the meetings of the Herkimer County Town and Village Highway Superintendent’s Association. I obtain a great deal of good information from people who have held superintendent’s posts for many years,” he said. “Each year we take our entire crew to the show that is put on by Profile Publications at the New York State Fairgrounds. We find this to be a great source of information and the crew really enjoys the day off.”
Tony’s annual operating budget is $250,000. He has a fairly extensive stable of equipment to draw upon and rarely leases equipment. Significant suppliers to the Town of Stark include Tracey Road Equipment, Five Star Equipment, Utica Mack, Wayne’s Welding, Hanson Enterprises and Rifenburg Construction’s St. Johnsville Quarry.
Tony has several projects on the drawing board already for 2003 and beyond.
This year, he plans some major work on Welden Road, including replacing a small bridge with a large culvert and paved road.
“My long-range goal for the department is to have all the town’s roads paved and to continue to provide quality service with minimal additional cost to the taxpayers,” he said.
He takes the job personally, because, after all, Stark is his town. It is where he and his wife, Therese, live with their three children, Angela, 21, Nathan, 18 and Brian, 10.
“I enjoy making things work and getting things to work. Of course, it is difficult and challenging. Impossible weather conditions make it difficult to meet everyone’s needs at times,” he said.
Still, he tries. Ask his wife, Therese, she’ll tell you.
“I am so proud and so relieved when he comes home safe and sound. All the roads are clear and he is home. I am pleased to see him content, working hard and making a contribution to the community,” said Therese Grescheck.
Of course, working is not the only thing on Tony’s mind. He plays hard, too and relishes the time he spends on the golf links, hunting, riding his motorcycle or just being with his family.
“Since I have been superintendent, I have met many new people throughout the county, New York State, as well as vendors who have been very helpful. A lot of them have become friends,” he said.
“Stark is a small community. I really like the feeling of satisfaction I have that comes with serving the community where I have lived all my life and where my parents still reside,” said Tony. P