Superintendent of Highways Jonathan Foote and the Town of Morris

CEG Staff

For many, the road to the highway superintendent’s chair is usually a pretty typical journey up the ladder. But Jonathan Foote’s path to the top spot in the town of Morris’s highway department (and what he did once he got there) was far from typical.

In 2011, the town of Morris’ highway superintendent decided to step down. None of the current highway department employees, however, wanted to leave the comfort zone of their current positions or to put themselves in a position to deal with local politicians. So their plan as a crew was to try to select what they viewed as the best candidate and get him to take the position.

At the time, Jonathan was running his own contracting business and getting to an age where climbing on and off of rooftops and doing back-breaking jobs on a day-to-day basis was no longer recommended. But before he ran his own business, he was busy earning degrees and serving the country: he has an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from SUNY Cobleskill and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Education from SUNY Oneonta. He also served in the United States Air Force as a sergeant working in administration and personnel.

He was, however, born and raised in the township that he now serves in, and the members of the highway department bent his ear and convinced him that he was the man for the job.

Paving Roads, Mending Fences

Within the town of Morris is situated the village of Morris, which was incorporated in 1870. These two departments with similar wants and needs, similarly understaffed, with very similar job descriptions, with the village located completely within the boundaries of the township, had nearly no cooperation or interaction with each other when Jonathan came into office.

update

“I am sure it has been the case with other town highway superintendents, but the lack of cooperation between our two agencies was astounding,” Jonathan said. “We could be plowing a road that crossed through the village and would literally lift up our plows and remove no snow from that road until we had left the village limits. If one of the two agencies needed a truck, trucks were never shared. If a flagger could be commonly shared, it did not happen. If the town was in need of a tractor loader backhoe and the village had one, it was not lent. We could have pieces of equipment in our fleet that are totally underutilized, but not share them with the village.”

Eventually Superintendent of Public Works of the Village Russell Nichols and Jonathan started to compare notes, identify wasteful areas, and see to it that things really changed.

“Today if the village is sealing a street, we think nothing of loaning them a truck and a crew member. We regularly share flaggers. We’ve had water emergencies where we’ve helped each other out with crew and equipment.

“The village has one truck, if it breaks we are more than glad to let them use ours. We never raise our plows. In a snow emergency, we help each other out and coordinate our efforts.

“It’s a hard thing to put a number on, but we estimate that we save each other $50,000 to $60,000 a year. This does not even factor in the value of a safer work environment. If you are trying to get by with less than the required manpower or making do with equipment that’s not really right for the job there are all kinds of safety issues. After a major storm, we will send guys down into the village to help with cleanup.”

At first, the village and town residents were a little surprised to see these shared efforts, but ultimately they liked it, according to Russell.

The town of Morris’s crew has four full-time members: David Birdsall, Wayne Korth, Derrick Anderson (deputy superintendent) and John Kogut. The village’s staff includes Russell and one other full-time employee.

Being Organized, Planning Ahead

Jonathan feels that one of the first things that he was able to bring to the highway department was his organizational skills and his familiarity with paperwork from his years in the military and operating his own business. Much in the area of budgeting and projects like FEMA paperwork had been overlooked or put aside, and focusing on that area was right up his alley, he said.

“My most difficult day in this job was certainly the first day. [The outgoing superintendent] gave me a box of FEMA paperwork, the key to the building and left. Thank goodness for an eager and helpful crew that was anxious to see some change and wanted to see me succeed.”

The town has an operating budget of $500,000 annually, plus an additional $118,000 in CHIPS money. Early on to help him along with his learning curve Jonathan got involved in the Otsego County Association of Highway Superintendents and the NYS Association of Town Superintendents of Highways.

The Town of Morris highway department is responsible for one hundred lane miles; 48 miles of which are paved and the remaining are dirt.

Because of the amount of dirt roads, road grading is an essential part of the town’s responsibilities. With the fleet being the age that it is, with some trucks in excess of 20 years old, and some of the earthmoving equipment significantly older than that, the highway department crew members have become very adept at welding and fabrication to keep the older machines operating when replacing them is not an option.

One of the areas that Jonathan has brought to the department is the use of computers. He uses computer technology for correspondence with the state, bookkeeping and to follow detailed weather reports for approaching storms.

“The weather information available on the Internet today has made our plowing far more efficient,” Jonathan said. “We can estimate exactly when the storms are going to begin, how long they are going to last, and how much precipitation to expect. We have four plow routes, each of which takes three-and-a-half to four hours to complete. Anytime we can avoid dispatching the trucks unnecessarily there are savings for our taxpayers.”

One of the things Jonathan is trying to implement is more long-term planning, which has been complicated by expensive and devastating short-term events.

“Since I’ve been in office we have had three ‘100-year’ floods and those kinds of curve balls make long-term planning a real challenge. We have had a lot of unanticipated costs related to the flooding including extensive culvert and bridge repairs. However, my bookkeeping background has come in useful when it comes to dealing with agencies like FEMA and we have been able to recoup a large amount of flood damage expenditures from FEMA.”

One of the organizational techniques that Jonathan is executing with his crew is dividing the township into four regions and making a crew member responsible for each of the four regions. A “To Do” list is developed for each region and it’s up to the crew members to prioritize the list and complete as many projects each year as possible.

Currently all of the paved roads in the township get scheduled for resealing every five years, so one of the priorities for each crew member is to make sure that the roads he is responsible for are properly prepared for sealing when their time comes.

Like all highway superintendents, Jonathan Foote has his own plan of action in dealing with upset residents.

“Nobody likes to get those phone calls about chewed up mail boxes, but they have to be dealt with and I try to deal with each residential issue personally. Everyone feels like snow removal should be dealt out equally. The sad truth is that during a snow emergency when all hands are on deck and all trucks are out at times we have to prioritize. A dead end street with two residents may not be at the top of the priority list, but I have found that if we sit down with the residents and show them the problem we are dealing with, the problem can be resolved. Most people don’t understand what it is that we do and all that is involved in it, but I have found that if you can sit down with the individual and paint a clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish you turn a problem into an ally.” P

[[Sidebar 1]]

Equipment Inventory

One of the most recent equipment acquisitions made by the town was a 2014 Mack 10-wheeler, which was equipped by Henderson Truck Bodies. The town has allowed much of the equipment fleet to age extensively and one of Jonathan’s primary focuses is to bring the fleet up to date.

The equipment inventory for the town includes:

Trucks:

• 2014 Mack 10-wheel dump with plow and wing;

• 2013 Chevy 3500 with 9-foot plow and spreader;

• 2012 Mack 10-wheel dump with plow and wing;

• 2007 Ford F350 with 9-foot plow;

• 2005 Volvo 10-wheel dump with plow and wing;

• 1999 Volvo 10-wheel dump with plow and wing;

• 1993 Ford 6-wheel dump with plow, wing and sander; and

• 1988 International 6-wheel with plow, wing and 2500 gallon tank,

Equipment:

• 2007 New Holland tractor loader backhoe;

• 2001 Case tractor with loader, broom, flail mower, boom mower, and finishing mower;

• 1997 20-ton tilt trailer;

• 1995 Ingersoll-Rand DD90 vibratory roller;

• 1991 Woodchuck chipper;

• 1991 Case 721 loader with 4-in-1 bucket;

• 1987 Champion 720 motorgrader;

• 1962 Caterpillar 955 track loader; and

• 1940 York General road machine.

[[Sidebar 2]]

Notable Neighbor

The village of Morris is the home of Dr. Naylor, officially known as H.W. Naylor Company Inc. The company’s history goes back to 1914, when Dr. Naylor became troubled by the use of folk remedies to treat disease, most of which caused infection.

Dr. Naylor was “a frustrated engineer who liked to work with new ideas,” according to his grandson, John Elliott, vice president of H.W. Naylor Company. “It was his inquisitiveness — which now might be labeled something like ‘scientific imagination’ and then was known as ‘tinkering’ — that led to the company’s growth and reputation for quality.

Dr. Naylor’s products are primarily for the care of a cow’s udder. Products like Mastitis Indicators, Blue-Coat, which is a sanitary product, and their most common product, Dr. Naylor’s Bag Balm, which is an antiseptic ointment for the cow’s udders, which many a dairy farmer has used over the years to give a nice coat of protection to his own hands.

Word of his products grew quickly, and by 1926 Dr. Naylor expanded his animal hospital to open a small factory. The company still operates today from its simple little office in the village of Morris.

[[Sidebar 3]]

Linn Tractor — the ‘Torque Monster From Morris’

For nearly two decades the mighty Linn ‘HafTrak’ was without peer. Approximately 2,500 examples of the ‘torque monster from Morris’ were produced between 1917 and 1948, and thanks to a rabid fan base, they remain popular today, attracting a crowd whenever the handful of remaining operational Linns are shown or operated.

According to Wikipedia, Holman Harry Linn, a native of Maine, was searching for a better machine to travel rural roads with his dog and pony show equipment.

Although Linn's early tractors were visually similar to the logging tractors manufactured by his former employer, Alvin O. Lombard, the track systems differed enough that both men received U.S. Patents on their respective designs; Lombard favored a rigid track — Linn a flexible one. Clearly Linn's tractors were based on Lombard's concept, but a close examination of the respective patents reveals no infringement, at least where the tracks are concerned. If either inventor had bothered to apply for a patent on the overall design of the two units, the case would not be so cut and dried.

H.H. Linn’s patented ‘Flexible Traction’ units gave the Linn tractor a distinct advantage over a conventional motor truck enabling it to traverse rock-strewn, muddy or hilly terrain previously inaccessible by a motor vehicle. Power was transmitted to the ground via the rear crawler tracks which included a spring-loaded steel triangle, pivoted at its apex, which allowed the track bed to flex and conform to the contour of whatever surface the Linn might encounter.

The Linn tractor history is an intricate part of the history of the town and village of Morris, N.Y. This tractor, once a mainstay of equipment used by highway departments for road maintenance and snow removal, was manufactured in Morris from 1916 to 1952.

Linn “gave up on a six-wheel-drive design by 1907 to have Alvin Lombard, of Waterville, build a machine using the tracks off a Lombard Steam Log Hauler and underslung gasoline engine and wheels on front. It was equipped with a ship-style cabin with living quarters and able to pull a string of wagons behind as well as supply electric lights for his circus.”

When the concept of rural snowplowing became accepted around 1920, Linn was one of the pioneers. At that time, there were no paved roads, or they were very limited, so plowing snow with a wheeled vehicle was nearly impossible. Linn’s tractor, an early hybrid between a crawler tractor and a truck, was a vehicle whose rear end was a track system and front end was a steerable wheeled system.

The Linn proved popular with loggers, miners, contractors and municipalities, serving double duty as a road-building machine during the summer months and a snowplow during the winter. Under ideal conditions company literature claimed the Linn could travel up a 50 percent incline and some customers, particularly Barrie, Vt.’s Vermont Marble Co. stated their Linns regularly carried a 20-ton load up a 22 percent grade.

When equipped with skis a snow-going Linn road train, (one or two Linn tractors towing from 10 to 16 log sleds) could increase productivity 10-fold, with numerous North American logging and mining outfits testifying to their efficiency in Linn advertising. One Linn snow train, operated by the Hudson Bay Mining & Smelting Co. Ltd., pulled a 120-ton load from their supply depot to its Flin Flon, Manitoba/Saskatchewan, outpost and the Amtorg Trading Co. exported numerous Linns for use in the Russian province of Siberia.

Early Linns were equipped with four-cylinder Continental Red Seal engines while later editions could be ordered with a wide variety of power plants ranging from four- and six-cylinder Waukesha and Hercules gasoline engines to the six-cylinder Cummins diesel torque monster. From 1929-on, Linn was owned by American LaFrance and a handful of Linn prototypes were equipped with American-LaFrance V-12 gasoline engines. Early Linns were limited to a top speed of 5 to 6 mph, although later units equipped with the big Hercules six-cylinder could reach a top speed of 12 mph.

Numerous New York municipalities owned Linn snowplows, which could be equipped with their choice of snow-fighting equipment manufactured expressly for the Linn by Champion, Frink and Sergent, according to the CoachBuilt Web site (www.coachbuilt.com). Early models equipped with bi-lateral wing plows required from two to three operators, plus the driver, but later units offered hydraulic control, allowing a Linn plow to operate with just a single operator (plus the driver — a necessity as the Linn could be a handful to drive in inclement weather).

The firm’s swan song was the 1939 Linn C-5 convertible tractor truck, which could be operated as a standard Linn off-road or as a conventional truck (albeit with front-wheel-drive) while on the road. Unfortunately the C-5 came one decade too late as Linn’s main customers — municipal highway departments — were already abandoning their Linns in favor of more modern and versatile roadbuilding and maintenance equipment offered by Walter and FWD, and shortly after War’s end, Linn quietly withdrew from business.

(Information in this article courtesy of http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/l/linn_mfg/linn_mfg.htm and http://www.gasenginemagazine.com/company-history/linn.aspx.)

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

Jump to Profile: