Bill DuBois has been the Sodus highway superintendent since 2000. But before that, he had an entirely different line of work … apples.
Bill’s family has been in the apple business since 1935 and their 125-acre apple orchard produces an average of 70,000 bushels of apples a year. When he retires at the end of this year, he plans to return to the family business.
So how did Bill transition from being a fruit farmer to being a highway man?
To occupy himself during the long winters, Bill started driving snowplows for the town in 1968. He actually worked part-time for three different highway superintendents until filling the job himself.
“I really enjoyed the plowing time. For me it’s a lot like one of my other favorite pastimes, mowing the lawn. It’s a great opportunity to unwind and be alone with my thoughts. However in 1999, many of the Sodus highway department crewmembers were not in a happy place. Morale was very low and they were looking for a change to happen and had it in their heads that I would be the man to change it.”
Despite his reluctance, Bill was eventually convinced to run for the job and in 2000 he began the first of his four-year terms. His first days were some of his best, and worst, while on the job, he said.
“My best day on the job ever was my first as highway superintendent. I walked through the doors, the men were smiling from ear to ear and had put up a sign that read ‘Under New Management.’
“My worst day occurred not much longer after that. The crew had a member who seemed to be a walking accident. The board had had enough and had requested that the previous superintendent cut him loose. When I came on the job the board let me know their opinion and basically told me that it was on me. Just a few weeks later that employee had an accident with one of the trucks and damaged it. While trying to figure out what to do about the situation he was assigned garage duty for a few days of shop maintenance. Apparently while backing one of the trucks out of the garage he backed over and damaged one of our stainless steel sanders. The crew covered for him and I didn’t find out until several days later. By now, the board had gotten wind of the situation and wanted to know what I was going to do. Having no idea what the problem was with this employee, I suggested to the board that all town highway employees submit to a DOT physical. The policy was soon implemented and we found out that he was legally blind. Dealing with that situation was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”
Bill tackled the morale issue by befriending the other employees and improving working conditions.
“Not everyone would agree with this technique, but I make every effort to be a friend first to our employees. These guys put in a lot of hours doing work that not just everybody could do or would do. Yet they have the same challenges and at times hardships to deal with that everyone else does. Kids that have to get to school, sick family members, financial hardships, and everything else that life deals out. I try to be understanding of all of that first and foremost.”
According to Bill, when he first started as superintendent, working conditions were less than satisfactory.
“There was very little insulation in the walls and the cold wind just howled through the place. The windows were either so dirty that light couldn’t pass in, or in some cases they had been shingled over. The bathroom was a closet connected to the furnace room. We’ve really tried to make this a pleasant atmosphere to work in.”
The fleet also needed updating.
“Our entire fleet was junk. I told our board that we were reporting to work at 7 a.m., working our equipment for one hour, and then spending the rest of the day repairing the equipment. In 2002, we bought a new loader. In 2003, we bought our new motorgrader. Shortly thereafter we bought a bulldozer with a cab and air conditioning; and today the oldest truck in our 10-truck fleet is a 2004. We are currently replacing our trucks on a 10-year cycle. We are typically leasing new trucks and then converting them to a purchase. All of this we have been able to accomplish without impacting the taxpayers at all.”
Battling the Elements
The town of Sodus highway crew was put to test with a fluke ice storm in 2002 that dumped an inch of ice over their area in April. Cleanup lasted until the end of June.
With an inch of ice coating on all of the tree limbs, trees were falling everywhere. With the trees falling, went the power lines. The power lines were ripped off of houses, torn off the poles, scattered all across the ground, many transformers were actually blowing up.
“The first thing that we had to do was clear the roads of the trees and power lines. We had three crews out working night and day doing nothing but running chainsaws and using loaders to push the trees out of the roads. Our own highway department had no power and neither did most of our residents. [Today, the entire highway department can be powered by a single generator plant, which was purchased after the disaster.]
“There was so much debris on the road it would take us three hours to clear one lane of traffic to move one-quarter of a mile. Crews were called in from as far away as Texas to help clean up and restore power. We were instructed to handle every power line that we saw as if it was live. The potential was there for many accidents. Working several weeks with no electricity and several months beyond that, we were able to clean up and restore our community with absolutely no injuries.”
Bill is a member of the County Highway Association as well as the NYSAOTSOH. He also currently is the president of the Wayne County Highway Superintendents Association. He served as secretary for eight years and vice president for two years.
“I am very proud of how the Wayne County highway superintendents interact with each other. Through our inter-county agreement if I need a piece of equipment, any one of the surrounding townships is more than willing to make that item available to me and it works both ways. Just last week we had nineteen trucks put together for a paving job in the village of Sodus. I believe there were trucks there representing every township in the county.”
Some of the pieces of equipment that are shared countywide were actually engineered and constructed by town of Sodus employee Craig Brownell. On several occasions over the years, Craig has taken pieces of road building and construction equipment and modified them to meet a very specific need.
One year, the town was able to procure a conveyor system attachment used for widening roads at an auction. What it did not come with was a drive train or a source of asphalt. The idea was hatched to mount the asphalt conveying system to an old Blaw-Knox paver to create a self-propelled road widener. In the course of 90 days, Craig took an old truck chassis to mount the two systems together, replaced the old gasoline engine with a diesel engine, and a new hybrid piece of equipment was ready to go to work.
After using the road widener successfully on several town of Sodus projects, it has been made available for use to other Wayne County townships.
This year, Craig tackled the design and creation of a motorgrader/paver conversion kit. He fabricated a set of angled wings that are mounted to the front end of the town’s Galion motorgrader. Those wings gather up asphalt that’s being poured on the ground in a pile in front of the grader and push the asphalt beneath the front axles between the tires to the motorgrader’s blade. That blade has an adjustable steel sheet bracketed on each end of it that limits how far the asphalt can spread and dictates the width of the paving job.
Why go to all of this trouble?
Renting a paver is a very expensive proposition and can represent one-quarter to one-third of the cost of a paving project. Using Craig’s motorgrader/paver, the town is able to direct 100 percent of the budgeted cost to buying asphalt material and pave a lot more road on the same amount of money.
The rest of Sodus’s inventory is made up of (2) 2011 Work Star 10-wheelers; (1) 2006 Chevy pickup ¾ ton; (1) 2004 Western Star 10-wheeler; (1) 2005 Western Star 10-wheeler; (1) 2014 Western Star 10-wheeler; (2) 2008 International Pay Star 10-wheelers; (1) 2009 International Pay Star 10-wheeler; (1) 2009 International Dura Star 6-wheeler; (1) 2010 International Pay Star 10-wheeler; (1) 2015 Caterpillar 962M loader; (1) 2006 John Deere tractor – front loader; (1) 2009 John Deere excavator; (1) 2011 Ford one ton; (1) 2010 Dodge pickup ½ ton; (1) 2003 Galion grader; (1) 1985 Ford tractor; (1) 2002 equipment trailer, 50-ton; (1) equipment trailer, 2500 lbs.
The town is looking to add a 10-wheel dump in March 2016 and purchasing a new double drum asphalt roller is on Bill’s radar.
Primary communication in the department is done via cell phones and two-way radios. The town of Sodus is responsible for 175 road miles of town roads plus 95 miles of county roads. Eight of the town’s 98 roads are gravel, the rest are paved. During plowing seasons responsibilities are broken up into eleven routes, each taking about 3-1/2 hours to complete.
The full time-crew is made up of the following individuals: Bill; Dave DeFisher, MEO-Forman; Larry Lockwood, MEO; Pat Allen, MEO; Al VanAcker, MEO; Andy DeMay, MEO; Craig Brownell, MEO; and Jeff Lapp, MEO. Additionally, the highway department has the following part-time crewmembers: Tom Putnam; Pete Tinklepaugh; Brian Cline and Ron Cook.
The annual operating budget is $1.7 million in addition to approximately $200,000 each year in CHIPS money. They have an undercover salt storage capacity of 600 tons.
Back to the Farm
After 15 years at the job he “didn’t really want,” Bill is ready to retire and head back to the apple orchard.
“I have enjoyed this job. It’s been a great ride. I have really been able to manage to get along with everyone. For the first two years I tried to please all of the taxpayers. I did have to resign to the fact that it was impossible. I look forward to my ride to the office each day, but it’s time for the younger guys to take over.”
Bill is retiring with his wife, Nancy, who has already been retired from her hairdressing business for some time. Bill and Nancy have known each other since the fifth grade but didn’t marry until later in life. Their family includes his son, Wesley; his stepchildren Chris, Tim and Angella, as well as seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
The two of them look forward to a lot of quiet time together and some not so quiet time looking after their grandchildren, and they anticipate traveling to historical sites like Gettysburg, Jamestown and Mount Rushmore, that they have not yet been able to take the time to visit.
Nancy looks forward to less phone calls.
“That darn phone. It never stops ringing, he will never put it away, and he never ignores a call. I will not miss the winter evenings with him getting up at 1 a.m. or pacing all night looking out the window.”
About the Town
The town of Sodus is the northern-most township in Wayne County and has approximately 10,000 residents.
The town’s northern border is created by Lake Ontario and much of the town’s heritage has been impacted by its location on the lake. The town includes hamlets of Sodus Point, Sodus Center, Alton, South Sodus, Wallington and Joy. The village of Sodus was incorporated Dec. 30, 1917, and the village of Sodus Point was incorporated in 1858. Sodus Point is located on the banks of Lake Ontario and is a well-known summertime vacation destination.
The town of Sodus was formed in January 1789. The name of the town was derived from the Native American word “Assorodus,” meaning silvery water. The first settlement was built in 1794 under the direction of Charles Williamson. During that year the first road from what is now known as Sodus Point was cut to the village of Palmyra. During the same year Williamson built a pleasure yacht, a grist mill, a saw mill and an inn. He had the town surveyed and drew up plans for the creation of a city.
Records indicate that in 1803 as many as 40 slaves were in the area; they were eventually freed and started their own colony on the point. Sodus Point later played a part in the Underground Railroad. During the mid-1800s Captain George Garlock ran a freight schooner out of Sodus Point called The Free Trader. He would take a load of lumber or ore out of the docks in Sodus Point and cross over to Canada, often times picking up slaves in small boats who were looking to find their freedom. Several homes in Sodus also were noted for being stops on the Underground Railroad. These homes included underground passages for escaping slaves on the run.
Sodus Point played a significant part in the War of 1812. It is one of the few locations that British troops landed on U.S. territory. On Saturday, June 29, 1813, British Naval forces appeared off of Sodus Point. Colonel Swift, who led the local militia, which had been formed to protect Sodus Point, dismissed his men and left Sodus, having removed all public property to a place of security. Under the direction of Captain E. Hull, about 40 men collected with a determination to put up a resistance if the enemy should decide to land. That evening, under the cover of darkness, a force of 100 British troops landed on the shores of Lake Ontario undiscovered and marched towards the village where they were met and fired upon by Captain Hull and his men. Shortly thereafter the British returned to their ship, only to return the next day to plunder and destroy many supplies and private property that was in the village, as well as setting fire to the homes. Having executed their mission, the British then left the area. Until the completion of the war, the British continued to take every opportunity to raise havoc with the communities along the banks of Lake Ontario.
During World War II, Sodus Point was host to a P.O.W. camp that held approximately 130 German prisoners of war. The prisoners were put to work on local farms and in canning factories.
In 1885, a lighthouse was erected at Great Sodus Bay and the harbor has long been considered the best harbor on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The lighthouse tower is a square cast iron tower constructed on a concrete and stone pier. There is a 2-1/2 story limestone keepers quarters, which housed the lighthouse keeper when the lighthouse was still in operation. It was in service from 1834 to 1901 and was used by the Coast Guard as a housing unit until 1984.
The Shaker religion and the statewide celebration of Arbor Day both had their origins in the town of Sodus. One of the longest surviving “new” religions ever developed in the United States, at its peak there were Shaker communities scattered across New York, New England and extending into Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. One of the core teachings of the Shaker movement was celibacy, which made recruitment difficult and maintaining the interest of young members nearly impossible. At one point the Sodus Shaker community called Groveland had hundreds of members, but by the early 1900’s only 34 members were left and the property was abandoned.