Superintendent of Highways Wayne Kelder and the Town of Rochester

You can tell a lot about a person by their work area. Take town of Rochester Highway Superintendent Wayne Kelder for instance. Although he boasts a pensive demeanor as he answers questions about his family and his role as highway superintendent, his surroundings depict a lighter side.

Sitting alongside Wayne atop an adjacent table is his deputy — Ted E. Bear — complete with hard hat, safety goggles and name tag. There also is a miniature sandbox fully equipped with a loaded dump truck, rake, shovel and orange safety cone perched on his desk that doubles as a stress reliever.

It doesn’t take long to realize Wayne doesn’t take himself too seriously. When it comes to his job, however, it’s a different story.

A native of the town of Rochester, Wayne enrolled in Cornell University’s animal science program, which focused on dairy science and farming. Upon completing his studies he returned home to help manage his family’s 22-acre farm — a prosperous dairy farm since the early 1800s.

“At one time we milked 120 cows. That was considered a large farm in this area. Now there is very little farming left. The farms that are still around are in the central and western portions of the state.”

Wayne and his wife, the former Elizabeth Harder, have been married for 45 years. They have three children, Christopher, Deborah and Brian, and four grandchildren. The couple operated the family dairy farm until 1987.

“That was when my oldest son graduated from Cornell and wanted to farm. Our farm wasn’t big enough for both of us so I decided it was time to do something else.”

When the superintendent’s position became vacant in 1988 Wayne seized the opportunity.

“I wanted to do something for the town. Prior to my appointment as superintendent I served 18 years on the school board and was chairman for 16 of those years. I didn’t have any previous experience with the [highway] department but I was a farmer so I knew equipment and how to work with employees.”

It was his school board and farming experience that best prepared Wayne for the superintendent’s job.

“Both taught me how to manage people,” he recalled. “Farming educated me about machinery and budgeting while my work on the board helped develop my negotiating skills. Unfortunately that didn’t give me the hands-on experience of what to expect as a highway superintendent.

“On the farm you had to remove snow but removing snow from a barnyard is different compared to snow on public areas. The public has different demands than the cows. With farming if you were a little out of sorts in the morning the cows didn’t know it. When you come to work here people know your mood right away so you must be able to show a good side. Also with farming after you’ve worked all day you’d say, ‘I did a fine job. I’m really pleased with the work I did.’ Now I have about 7,000 people judging what I do every day. It takes some adjusting to realize maybe they didn’t think you did a good job.”

Wayne is a member of the Highway Superintendent’s Association of Ulster County and the NYS Association of Town Superintendents of Highways Inc. In his spare time he helps his son with the dairy farm and enjoys hunting and fishing on the St. Lawrence. Wayne also has his pilot’s license and while he enjoys flying, “I haven’t done much of that lately. I’ve been too busy with this [job]. I owned my own Cessna plane, but as I told my kids, ‘I sold my plane to put you through college.’”

As Wayne inches his way toward retirement he hopes to leave the town’s infrastructure better than the way he found it.

“I’d like to think I’ve made improvements. I told the residents I would strive to make the highway department efficient and accountable and I feel I have done that. I would like to be remembered as someone who was fair and who gave the community the best he could.”

Wayne is a man of few words when it comes to tooting his own horn. His wife, however, is eager to speak about her husband and his 22-year love affair with the town.

“The job of highway superintendent is a 24/7 responsibility Wayne approaches with efficiency, diligence, interest, enthusiasm and integrity. He seeks little personal recognition. Though it is an elected position the infrastructure and highway maintenance is performed in the best interest of the town and all its residents without exhibiting favoritism to any factor. Wayne possesses the wisdom and ability to assess and analyze any situation and after considerable research he finds the safest and most efficient solution. He is visible and accessible to everyone. Wayne takes great pride in a job well planned and shows his appreciation to his entire department for their efforts.

“Wayne has made it a policy to know how to operate all of the equipment enabling him to aid anyone who might require assistance. Having farmed or worked much of the land in his town he understands the geological makeup of what he’s working with. Be it mining sand from a field he encouraged the town to purchase, crushing gravel in a town-owned bank or overseeing the closing of the town’s landfill, Wayne has promoted a great savings for the town’s residents. Through his unending efforts and efficient recordkeeping Wayne has enabled the town to receive FEMA grants for infrastructure upkeep that otherwise would have been a direct cost to the residents. He has the insight to look at a project, see the big picture and design a solution that others might not have seen. One of his children describes him as a logistical and innovative genius.

“Wayne deals with difficult situations directly and positively. He is ready and willing to listen to everyone. Wayne has been elected to his post 11 times. He often was cross-endorsed and sometimes opposed. He has been the top vote getter in almost every election. Wayne is an honest and dedicated person who applies his expertise and common sense to benefit the town. He has been a great resource to others. Wayne is not only the town of Rochester highway department superintendent. He is my husband and the nicest, fairest person I know.”

All About the Job

The highway department’s facilities consist of a single building with nine bays.

“We have room to get all our snowplow trucks and loader inside for the winter,” said Wayne. “That way when we start out in the morning everything is warm.”

There also is a 3,000-ton capacity salt storage shed on the premises.

“We have a [sand] mine where we bring in the sand and mix it,” said Wayne. “We also have a gravel mine for crushing our own road materials to save money and have a better product. It costs about $4.50/ton for us to crush it versus buying it for $13 to $14/ton.

“Every four years the low bidder comes in and crushes different sized materials. I don’t think many other highway superintendents do that,” he added. “Some have screening processes where they have a bag and they screen out to separate the heavy from the fine. I don’t like that process because whatever shape stone goes through the screen is the size that comes out. When we’re finished the crushed material packs better making it a higher quality road material. We’ve been doing it ourselves since I’ve been in office.”

As the highway department’s “top gun,” Wayne is responsible for maintaining the town’s 120 lane miles of road; 25 of which are gravel and the rest are paved. That converts into 11 plowing routes.

“There are nine snowplow runs that use the large trucks with wings and sanders. The other two runs are cleared with a small truck. On average we can make a sand run in 1.75 hours and it takes 3.5 to 4 hours to complete the plow run depending on the amount of snow and how slippery the roads are. Generally, the town doesn’t get much snow because it’s in between the mountain ranges.”

That wasn’t the case on Wayne’s first day on the job. He started amidst one of those infrequent snowstorms.

“Driving to the office I asked, ‘What did I get myself into? What am I going to do when I get there?’ I decided the best thing was to tell the men to do exactly what they did during the last storm. That’s the way we went through it. I watched them work and over time made adjustments to how things were done. At that time I had a 17-man crew. Now I’m down to eight and I’m getting as much — if not more — done than when I had more men.”

That crew helps Wayne serve the town’s 7,500 residents. His staff includes deputy superintendent/foreman Jeff Frey, HMEO/mechanic Barry Davis, HMEOs Vernon Bush, Steve Ballard, Eric Eck, Terry Paddock, Harm Meidema and Jared Gundberg and secretary Merci Sciarrino.

Wayne is quick to praise his loyal staff.

“I appreciate their efforts in trying to do a fine job. Around here we know each other’s capabilities and what we can accomplish. They know what to expect from me and I know what they can do. I would like to thank them for working for me.”

Under Wayne’s attentive eye, the town of Rochester’s highway department runs on a total operating budget of $1,369,365 that includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $215,000.

To fulfill its responsibilities the department uses a fleet of equipment that includes:

• 1971 JD750 bulldozer

• 1981 JD510 loader

• 1989 Ingersoll Rand roller

• 1989 Champion grader

• 1991 Komatsu excavator

• 1992 Dressta loader

• 1994 2 International dumps with plow/wing/sander

• 1996 International dump with plow/wing/sander

• 1998 GMC pickup with plow

• 1999 2 International dumps with plow/wing/sander

• 2001 2 International dumps with plow/wing/sander

• 2003 Chevy pickup with plow

• 2003 Caterpillar loader

• 2004 Caterpillar excavator

• 2004 2 International dumps with plow/wing/sander

• 2006 Chevy pickup with plow

• 2007 2 International dumps with plow/wing/sander

• 2007 JD 5525 tractor side mount mower and over rail boom mower

• 2008 Chevy pickup with plow

• 2008 Chevy 1-ton dump with plow

When it comes to purchasing new equipment Wayne adheres to a five-year plan.

“Sometimes a vehicle breaks down unexpectedly or we attempt to extend the life of another for one more year but we generally stick to the plan. I try and replace several trucks within a few years with the rest being done on an as-needed basis. If it’s a year when I think I can pay cash for it I will. If not we bond,” he explained.

“I buy everything new and all the equipment is standardized. The snowplows are all Internationals. Our small trucks are Chevys and the pickups are GM. Every truck is the same so if one breaks down I can put any man in any truck. Standardizing our equipment also got us away from having one of this and one of that because of the low bid.”

Wayne believes that while today’s vehicles are more efficient that doesn’t mean they are built better.

“Sometimes I think we are building things today with planned obsolescence. We also are a throw-away society. Instead of fixing an alternator you trade it in. It’s cheaper. I don’t think things are built as well. I’m not saying vehicles are unsafe. It’s the same in farming. I have a tractor that was built in the ‘60s and is still going. New ones are not built to last that way.”

Wayne doesn’t have a “cast in stone” number of road miles to pave each year. Rather, the highway department stretches its budget so it can pave as many miles as possible. “Hopefully we can keep up so the roads don’t deteriorate before we can fix them.”

Over the years Wayne believes he — and the department — have become more efficient.

“We’ve had to. The job is more demanding now. It used to be we could wait until the snow stopped to plow the roads. Today more people work outside the community, which means they are using the roads more so we have to plow more frequently. When this was a farming town as long as the roads were cleared in time for the milk truck it was alright. Road maintenance also is greater due to the increased traffic.”

For Wayne, reflecting back for the best part of the job thus far was closing the town’s landfill. In 1994 there was a law that required any existing landfills to be capped. The job went to bid and after reviewing them, the board asked for the highway department’s help.

“We took on the responsibility of closing it, which meant first putting down a layer of gravel followed by sand and finally three feet of clay. Another 10 inches of seed bed went on top of that before it could be seeded and vented. Then we dug all around it and put down clay to prevent migration. It took an entire summer to complete, but we haven’t had any problems in 15 years. As a result of our efforts the town incurred a tremendous savings.”

Basking in the satisfaction of a job well done is another favorite part of the job for Wayne.

“Sitting back and looking at a job well done — whether you put in a bridge or culvert, built a road or maintained a safe highway during a snowstorm — is the most rewarding,” he said.

The downside of the job for Wayne? Politics.

“I don’t think there should be any politics in the highway department. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to get enough votes to win. It bothers me that every two years someone tries to find something you might be doing differently and make it so the opposition looks better. If a person is doing a good job why not endorse them and vote for them? The next election is coming up and they’re already starting to foil our records. I’ve been here 22 years and I’ve gone through this before. They haven’t found anything yet and I don’t think they will.”

About the Town of Rochester

Located in the center of the famous mid-Hudson valley, the town of Rochester is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of New York City providing peace and quiet with clean, fresh air, pristine streams and far-reaching vistas.

Essentially rectangular in shape the town of more than 56,000 acres lies adjacent to the northeast flowing Rondout Creek in Ulster County in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. To the west the town affords easy access to over 700,000 acres of the Catskill State Park. To the east lie the Shawangunk Mountains and more than 17,000 acres of protected lands in the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park.

Rochester is rich in history. Formed from a number of hamlets, many of which had their own one-room schoolhouses, the town boasts the largest number of continuously inhabited old stone houses in New York, some dating back to the 17th century. Accord (the site of the highway department and other town offices) and Kerhonkson are the town’s two largest hamlets.

In the original Rochester Patent (named in honor of the Earl of Rochester), which was dated 1703, Queen Ann of England granted town trustees the right to convey ownership of lands in the town of Rochester to settlers. The area included the present towns of Rochester, Wawarsing and Gardiner and portions of Sullivan and Delaware counties.

In 1703, the year it was incorporated, Rochester had a recorded population of 334. Minutes of town trustees meetings dating from that year grant numerous requests for land. They also mention already established saw and corn mills and existing property boundaries. By 1710 additional elected officials included a supervisor, town clerk, constable, collector and assessors. Later additions to the town board were a surveyor of highways, common pounder, overseer of the poor, fence viewers, horse gelders and firemen.

Several school districts with one-room schoolhouses and elected trustees had been organized by the 1790s. They included Newton (later Whitfield), Mombaccus, Kyserike and Pleasant Ridge (later Rock Hill). Eventually, the number of districts reached 17 several of which were operational into the 1950s.

It goes without saying that farming was the basic activity of nearly every family in the town of Rochester during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many farmers, however, had other occupations that included producing wintergreen oil, quarrying millstone and bluestone, milling corn, wheat and lumbers (and later paper), blacksmithing, coopering, shoemaking, wagon-making and store keeping. Economic boom times for Alligerville and Port Jackson (Accord) came during the Delaware and Hudson Canal era. The canal was constructed alongside the Roundout Creek and operated between Kingston and Honesdale, Pennsylvania, from 1828 to 1902. Port Jackson was the location for stores, hotels and a lumberyard. In addition to more hotels and merchant establishments, Alligerville had a brickyard, carriage manufacturers, boat yards and a millstone dock.

The entire town of Rochester enjoyed a period of prosperity from 1902 into the 1940s when the Ontario and Western Railway (there were stations in Accord and Kyserike) provided transportation-to-market for products of the local farms, mills and quarries. During the summer the trains also brought visitors from urban centers, mainly New York City, who were in search of fresh air and healthy food for their families.

For the better part of the 20th century the summer resort industry played an important role in the town’s economic life. Accommodations for paying guests were provided first in private homes and later in over 50 bungalows, colonies, camps, boarding houses and hotels.

(History courtesy of P

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