“Everything I do is for the veterans.”
Whether it’s riding his motorcycle as part of the Patriot Guard Riders or raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project*, Steve Oliver, highway superintendent of the town of Guilderland, is all about helping the men and women who served this country.
“I do anything and everything veteran-related. I’m president of the American Legion Riders Post #977 Helderberg in Altamont. We’ve only been a group for three years, but we’re very active. The first year we did a poker run and raised $10,000 for Wounded Warriors. Last year, we raised $15,000 for Soldier On**. They’re trying to buy the Ann Lee Home in Albany and turn it into a facility where veterans can get off the streets and get counseling. We’re so excited. We can’t wait for it to happen. The vets will get a cot, three meals and be able to talk to their peers about anything.
“I’m also part of the Patriot Guard Riders of New York***. I recently did a Patriot Flight. We meet the veterans at the various places and escort them down with our motorcycles. We set up flag lines. It started in the Midwest with a private citizen with his own plane. Some veterans were talking about how they’d love to go, but they couldn’t afford it so he flew them there for free and it caught on. Albany has two flights in the spring and two in the fall. It’s a very moving experience.”
How It All Began
Following his 1979 graduation from Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School, Steve joined the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion (CB).
“Anything that needed to be built, we built it. I was an equipment operator. I was in active duty for seven years, stationed in Port Hueneme, California. There were 800 individuals per battalion and there were eight to 15 battalions. The CBs are made up of construction workers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and engineering aides. It was my choice to work with them. That’s what I wanted to do and I wouldn’t take anything else. I went to A School while I was there. It’s a basic equipment school where you learn how to operate graders, loaders, bulldozers.”
Steve’s first deployment was to the Philippines for 10 months.
“We built roads, piers, a facility for the Navy Seals. I came home and went to the California Crane School where they teach you how to use more specialty equipment. My next deployment was to Midway Island for another 10 months. It was a little gas station in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Japan. There’s basically a gas station in the middle of the ocean. It’s a supply area with an airport and a deep harbor. We put sheet piling around the entire island to stop the erosion.
“We’d be back in the States anywhere from six to eight months between deployments. Then we’d go again. My third deployment was to Sicily for 11 months. We built a sports complex; knocked down three hills, leveled the whole thing, drainage, gravian walls, dozer work.”
Steve’s last deployment was back in Port Hueneme for two years.
“I was transportation supervisor. I dispatched buses for troop movement and other equipment that was needed around the base. It was crazy. My wife loved it because I was home for a while. I got out in 1987 and started here that same year.”
Steve admits he didn’t actively pursue the highway department’s top spot.
“I didn’t really think about it. It was never anything I wanted to do. I started here as a laborer. I was running the grader because there was no one else to do it. Then I became an Operator 1, 2 and 3 and foreman. Operator 1 is primarily a truck driver. Two and three get more into heavy equipment, with three being more of a crew leader or sub-foreman. I came up through, turning down foreman twice.
“I wasn’t ready to get out of the machine. Then my body started getting a little beat so when they offered it to me again I said, “Why not?” I took the foreman job in 2010 and in 2011 they made me deputy superintendent. I still had no desire to become superintendent but after a year of doing the job I said, “I can do this. Why should I work for a politician? I’m going to try and do it myself. So I ran opposed and won. I became highway superintendent in 2012. I’m running again this year unopposed.”
It seems like working the “highway” was a natural progression. “My father worked for the NYS Thruway Authority. My grandfather was a foreman for Albany County in Knox and my great-grandfather worked on the road to Whiteface Mountain.”
Steve and his wife, Leah, a clerk with the town building department, have been married 32 years. They have three children and six grandchildren. Daughter Heather and her husband Ben have three children; Gabriel, 9, Payton, 7 and Colton, 4. Meaghan and her husband Chris are parents to Bella, 13 and Katlin and husband Justin have two daughters, four-year-old Lily and eight-month-old Isabella.
In his spare time Steve loves the woods and hiking.
“I’m an aspiring “46er.” There are 40 peaks over 4,000 ft. in the Adirondacks. I’ve hiked 30 and have 16 more to go. My wife hikes with me but she’ll only do the small ones.”
When it comes time to vacate the superintendent’s chair Steve is looking forward to “travelling across the country on my motorcycle, spending more time with my grandkids and doing more with the veterans.”
All About the Job
The highway department’s facilities consist of a main building that houses the superintendent, two foremen, the secretary and a locker and break room.
“This little extension is new, probably the late ’90s. The rest of the building is late ’70s. We also have a mechanics area that includes truck and small vehicle lifts and a welding and paint bay. We do complete restoration here. We rebuild them from the frame up.”
The department also boasts a four door bay “where we can back the trucks up four deep,” five cold storage buildings and a 2,500-ton capacity salt shed.
“We roll out of here with about 100 to 150 tons per storm. Last winter we ran about 4,000 tons. We mix salt and calcium and spray it on. The calcium speeds up the salt process. We’ve been experimenting with liquid brine to try and use less salt. We have some steep hills so sometimes we’ll use salt on those areas.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of these facilities is the full sign shop/department.
“We make all our street and road signs for Albany County as well as the towns of New Scotland and Berne and the village of Altamont. We’ve been doing that since I’ve been here. We got into the sign business when Albany County disbanded the program. They called and asked me if I wanted about $30,000 worth of materials. All we had to do was make their signs when they needed them.”
As the highway department’s “chief of staff,” Steve is in charge of keeping up the town’s 340 paved lane miles of road. That translates into 17 plowing routes, two men per truck, that take about 3.5 hours to complete.
Steve’s 42-member crew help serve the town’s 35,000 residents. Key staff includes foremen Bob Haver and John Valletta and Lee Kwaggs, shop foreman.
“I also have the storm water management officer in my department. It’s different from the water department. It’s all storm water, drainage and wetlands. Since the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) was implemented we’re required to do a lot more.
“I just put a young guy in there who’s computer savvy. He’s mapping the whole town and outfalls. When he’s finished I’ll be able to pull up the exact catch basin they’re going to work on. I’ll know how deep it is, what size pipes are in it. It’s pretty cool.”
This superintendent knows the importance of having a good and loyal staff.
“I couldn’t do this without them. We’re a team, not a one-man show. Every one of us will do anything. I’m proud of that.”
Under Steve’s fastidious eye, the town of Guilderland’s highway department runs on a total operating budget of $4,591,950 that includes salaries and benefits for employees.
To help with its daily operation the department uses a squadron of equipment that includes (but isn’t limited to):
• 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee
• 2015 Ford F-250 pickup with plow (2)
• 2009 Ford Ranger 4 x 4 pickup with plow (2)
• 1994 Elgin street sweeper
• 1999 G.M.C. VacAll street sweeper
• 1959 Oshkosh 4 x 4 snowplow
• 2005 International vacuum truck
• 1990 (2), 1991, 1995 (2), 1997, 1999, 2000 (2), 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 (2) International dump trucks w/plow and wing
• 1971, 1921 Oshkosh 4 x 4 dump trucks w/plow and wing
• 1979, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1995 (2), 2001, 2003 (2), 2008, 2011 International dump trucks w/plow and wing
• 1992, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2012 Ford dump trucks
• 2009 Ford F-350 sign truck (2)
• O.D.B. leaf vacuums (8)
• Three skid steers
• Hopper spreader
Who maintains all that equipment?
“My shop maintenance supervisor, Lee, oversees the entire shop and our six mechanics. Matt Walsh is the body technician.”
How does Steve budget for new equipment?
“The best way I can. The board has to approve any purchase over $20,000. That’s pretty much anything we want or need to buy. I try to build up my fund balance so I can buy what I need. I don’t like to borrow money. I’d like to have a five-year cycle but financially that’s not possible. We’re still running some old trucks. I have a 1959 Oshkosh that still runs and we have two others from the ’70s that could go at any time. We also have trucks from the ’80s and ’90s that can go on the road. They’ve been completely rebuilt by our staff. That’s the only reason we can run these old trucks as long as we do. I just updated some pick-ups and leased an excavator because we needed one. We’re looking to buy a new snowplow. I try and keep what the guys need going.”
While modern technology isn’t for everyone, this highway superintendent embraces it. As for equipment, “In the beginning they were harder to work on but the guys are getting caught up with the technology. I’ve sent some of them to school and we have the diagnostic equipment that shows you where to go so we don’t have to send anything out.”
Technology also has changed how Steve does his job.
“Everything was handwritten — now it’s a touch of your fingertips. Thanks to the mapping programs, instead of driving to a site I can pull it up and tell you why you have a lake in your backyard. Thanks to Google Earth, I can look at the contour lines on the map and see a hole in your yard.”
Like most highway superintendents these days, Steve finds doing more with less to be the most challenging part of his job.
“It’s a challenge trying to make the money work. There’s more to do but the budgets don’t go up much. Not enough to even notice. They [the town board] make it look good but when it comes right down to the nuts and bolts of the money, it doesn’t really change.”
If he could see into the future what would Steve see in his crystal ball?
“Our own paving operation. It’s been a goal but it’s hard to find the money to get it up and running. I’m about $600,000 away from that now,” he says, laughing. “We have the people in place to do it. I just need to find the money to buy the equipment.
Not to worry. I’m a “CB.” Our motto is “Can Do” so don’t tell me I can’t do it.
About the Town
Since its pioneer days in the 1700s and its formal beginning in 1803, the town of Guilderland has been a unique, historic location.
Mohican and Mohawk Indians used the clear waters of the Normanskill to fish and barter downstream at the Dutch trading post near Fort Orange (Albany).
By 1740, early Palatine and Dutch pioneers traveled the Schoharie Plank Road by stagecoach and wagons on their westward journey to find a new home. Many settled at the foot of the magnificent Hellebergh escarpment. There they built their homes because of the rich soil, abundance of timber and water power from the numerous streams.
One of the oldest settlements and the site of Guilderland’s earliest industries was at French’s Hollow. In 1795, Peter Broeck had already established a clothing factory. By 1800, a knitting mill, button factory and grist mill employed the early pioneers in the settlement nearby.
In the village of Hamilton (now Guilderland on Rte. 20), in 1785, Dutchman Leonard DeNeufville started a glass factory called the Hamilton Glass Works. It was subsequently owned by Patroon Jeremiah VanRensselaer and the Schoolcraft family.
The town of Guilderland became incorporated by an act of legislation on February 26, 1803. The first town meeting was held at the Appel Inn in Guilderland Center on April 5, 1803. Agriculture replaced Guilderland’s forests, the Great Western Turnpike was completed and railroads cut through the country side bringing growth in small hamlets with post offices, stores, churches and schools. The town flourished.
In the early 1900s, the western end of Guilderland remained mostly rural. The eastern end of town began to develop into a residential and commercial suburb. By the end of the 1900s, shopping malls, apartment complexes, business centers and a State University had changed the landscape.
Each century has brought changes in the character of the Guilderland township, a great change from the days of stage coach and wagon. With the rapid development in the last half of the 20th century, residents of the community have risen to identify the transformation in their town and have proceeded with a vision for the future. P
(History courtesy of http://www.townofguilderland.org.)
*Wounded Warrior Project is a charity and veterans service organization that offers a variety of programs, services and events for wounded veterans of the military actions following the events of September 11, 2001.
**Soldier On is a private nonprofit organization committed to ending veteran homelessness. Since 1994, the organization has been providing homeless veterans with transitional housing and supportive services.
***The Patriot Guard Riders is an organization based in the United States whose members attend the funerals of members of the U.S. military, firefighters and police at the invitation of a decedent’s family.