Superintendent of Highways Shawn Hayes and the Town of Schaghticoke

When it comes to the town of Schaghticoke’s highway superintendent you might say it’s a case of all in the family. Current superintendent Shawn Hayes has been at the helm for seven years. He took over for his uncle, Willy Hayes, when he retired in 2007 after serving in the top spot for 29 years.

Like his uncle, Shawn grew up in the town and all of his family lives close by. That's where the similarities end.

Shawn’s story began when he went to work on the Robe-Jan Herrington farm for about 10 years as a hand milking cows and putting in hay.

“I started there when I was 15,” he said. “After that I went into the auto body repair business, going to work at Marshall’s Auto Body in Troy around 1988. In 1990, I opened my own shop here in town called Body by Hayes. I didn’t make any money doing that so I decided to get a real job. I was too nice of a guy. I didn’t charge enough. Customers would chew me down and I didn’t want to turn anybody away. A lot people wouldn't pay so I’d be spending money I didn’t have.

“That’s when I decided to come here. I [actually] started with the highway department in 1998 doing auto body work. I painted the equipment, nothing mechanical. I left after six years because I didn’t get along with my uncle,” he said, chuckling. “After that I drove a school bus for a year before becoming the superintendent of the town water department. We took water samples, fixed main breaks, read and repaired meters. It wasn’t a bad job, but it wasn’t my favorite. I liked the highway department so when I knew my uncle was retiring … I had enough experience that I thought I stood a good chance of getting in. I ran for superintendent in 2008 and again four years later unopposed. It’s kind of hard to lose that way.”

Seven years later, Shawn seems to have found his “dream” job.

“This is probably the best job I’ve had. My main reason for wanting to become superintendent was I liked the highway department. You’re doing something different all the time. You’re not in the same place too long, doing the same thing, day in and day out. Seasons change and so does the job.”

Hayes is a member of the Rensselaer County Highway Association, serves on the board of directors for Rensselaer County, and has been an annual attendee at the Cornell Highway School for seven years.

“Not knowing exactly about roads, it’s nice to be out there learning how to fix something. I’ve learned a lot about being a boss, how to talk to your employees and get the most out of them. There’s also a lot of good communication among the attendees. There are so many superintendents and everyone has gone through something you haven’t. You mention it and someone will say, ‘I just had that last year and this is what we did.’ Sometimes you learn more from talking to the other supers than you do from the actual school.”

A graduate of Hoosick Valley High School, Shawn has been married to his wife, Barbara, for 16 years. Together they have four children: Jessica, 30; Mike, 29; Shawn, 28; and Ashley, 26. They also are grandparents to Morgan, 6; Neil, 3; Bonnie, 2; and Amelia, 1.

When he’s not overseeing the highway department, this super is hard at work on his farm.

“I own an acre and three-quarters and rent another 20 acres from my parents. We have five cows, eight pigs and 20 ducks. In the summer we raise chickens and in the fall it’s turkeys. Got rid of the horses. No money in those.”

When he hangs up his hat with the highway department how will Shawn like to be remembered? “That I was the best boss here. That’s my goal. If I can do that I’ll be happy.”

On the Job

The department’s facilities are situated on a 10-acre parcel of land. They include a “new” highway garage, measuring 80 ft. by 280 ft. that was built in 2000; 80 ft. by 200 ft. of the building is heated and has air-conditioned offices. The steel structure has partial concrete walls, 15 overhead doors and a separate welding bay. Its 12 bays house all the department’s trucks.

The structure also is home to the highway department’s offices along with those of the Water and Sewer Department, a break room and restrooms.

“We have two other garages that are used for storage; one is on Chestnut Street and the other at the landfill. The one at the landfill is small; probably 30 by 30. We store equipment in that one, too — usually our sweepers and other off-season items.

“Our salt shed was new in 1998. It holds 4,000 tons of sand and salt. We mix it three parts sand to one part salt. Typically, that doesn’t last all winter. We fill it in the fall. When the new budget comes out in January and we can fill it again. Then we hope it doesn’t snow much the rest of the winter.”

As superintendent, it is Shawn’s responsibility to maintain the town’s 88 center-lane miles of road; 83 of which are blacktop and the rest are gravel. That translates into nine plowing routes that take four hours to complete. The highway department also does maintenance for 3.5 miles of roadway for the village of Schaghticoke.

Road resurfacing and repair usually takes place during the months of April through November.

“Half the crew is raking out all the turfed up spots from the winter, reseeding and adding topsoil where it’s needed on residents’ lawns. After that the sweepers go through and pick up all the sand and such from the side of the roads. Once the sodding is complete the guys can patch with hot mix so the plants are open. Some areas still have snow when we start but as soon as there’s no frost in the ground it’s raked off.

“We quick fixed (cold patch) potholes all winter, but it doesn’t last long. It was a bad year for potholes. The temperatures were cold then warm then cold and warm again. We’d fix them and the next time it would rain or snow we’d either plow them out or they’d be frozen. That all makes a difference on how we do things and our scheduling. Last fall, there were things we should have been doing, but it had rained so much everything flooded and the sides of the roads washed out.”

Despite their best efforts, the highway department will be patching and paving again as the temperatures start rising.

“When it comes to paving we go with whatever money we have. We contract it all out to local companies. We have $125,000 from our town budget and $196,000 from CHIPS. We just try and do as many roads as we can. When we’re close to running out of money we’ll find a short road and go as far as we can with the money we have.”

Now the department is gearing up for summer.

“We start cutting shoulders for the roads we’ll be paving next year. We try and get a year ahead on that and replacing culvert pipes. That gives them the entire winter to have the traffic pound them back down so when you pave them they don’t dip over every culvert pipe. Every year you sand and the sand goes in ditches and builds them up so the water can’t run off the road. We cut that off with a grader and pull the dirt up under the road so the road goes right down to the ditches and the extra dirt is eliminated.”

Shawn depends on his crew of eight full-time employees and three part-timers to serve the town’s 7,500 residents. His staff includes Roland (Smiley) Maynard, deputy superintendent, assistant mechanic and foreman; Mark Brock, Melvin Miller, John Culliton, mechanic; John Weir, Duane Monaco, Ken Bulson, John Hayes, Patrick Kerr, Evan Rosko and Roy Simmons. All are Machine Equipment Operator Lights (MEOL).

“I have a good bunch of guys. Smiley’s is my right-hand man. He helps me out with a lot of stuff and makes things easier. The rest of the crew… no matter what you tell them to do, they do it. When I first started, boy, being friends with them and telling them what to do was hard after working alongside them for so long.”

Under Shawn’s attentive eye, the town of Schaghticoke’s highway department functions on a total operating budget of $700,000, which includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $196,000.

Staying within that budget isn’t a challenge for Shawn.

“The town puts together a budget and asks us what we’re looking for next, what piece of equipment we need. We get $14,000 to spend on the little stuff, like brooms, a sand hopper and plows. Since I’ve been here, we’ve been getting two new dump trucks every four years.”

As for the rest of the vehicles, “We’re on a 20-year rotation so every 20 years we’ll have all our trucks replaced.”

To help with its daily operation, the department boasts an imposing fleet of equipment that includes:

• 1966 and 1967 Elgin sweepers

• 1968 Ingersoll Rand tow behind compressor

• 1972 Gradall

• 1980 International Paystar 500 tandem truck

• 1982 Chevy 2500 4 x4 cab pick-up

• 1984 GMC high lift bucket truck

• 1985 Caterpillar road grader

• 1986 John Deere loader 544D

• 1986 Chevy 1500 4 x 4 pick-up

• 1987 wood/chuck chipper

• 1989 John Deere 4 x 4 loader 544E

• 1989 International 1600 dump truck

• 1990 International 4900 dump truck (two)

• 1990 Case triple gang flail mower

• 1990 Trail 7700 utility trailer

• 1992 Chevy 3500 4 x 4 pick-up

• 1995 Ford tandem vactor

• 1995 International 4900 dump truck

• 1998 Custom 16000 utility trailer.

• 1999 Dodge 1500 4 x 4 pick-up

• 1999 Ford F550 4 x 4 dump truck

• 2000 International 4900 dump truck

• 2002 Homemade 1700 utility trailer

• 2003 Homemade 1700 utility trailer

• 2004 Chevy 3500 quad cab pick-up

• 2005 International 7500 dump truck

• 2009 International 7500 dump truck (four)

• 2013 John Deere triple gang flail mower

To keep those vehicles running well, the department possesses all the tools necessary to perform routine maintenance. In addition, dump trucks are greased and inspected every 1,000 miles, oil changed every 250 hours, and water filters and air dryers changed annually. Pickup trucks are serviced every 2,000 miles.

Another plus is having two mechanics on staff.

“Now it seems like you need a computer to work on anything. We have laptops for the trucks and the guys know how to work that stuff. Computerized trucks have been around for about 10 years. During that time I’ve only had to bring one truck back to the dealer because we couldn’t fix it. It still costs money when anything breaks on them. They go down just as often as they did before except now $100 is $800.”

Shawn’s “dream” piece of equipment would be a mini-excavator.

“Right now we rent one. The department has an old Gradall but it works. We want to get a new model that we could use for a multitude of things but they’re expensive.”

Variety of Responsibilities

It’s not all road work for the men of the highway department.

“We’re starting a drainage project in Pleasantdale. It’s going to be upgraded. Right now it’s too small to handle the water. Bigger pipe has to be installed as well as new grates at the end where it’s hilly and water runs down the road. The roads are roughly 40 feet wide because of parking on both sides of the street. Big troughs are in place at the bottom. They’re about 18 inches deep and still can’t catch all the water. The water fills up, runs over and floods out the neighbors. It seems we’ve had considerably more rain lately than we did in the past. The current pipes are 12 inches and we have to pump them up to 24. It’s one of the bigger projects we’ve had. The town pays for it and because it’s on a county road we can get the county to use their equipment. That will work out well. They’ll do the digging and we’ll supply the materials.”

Other responsibilities of the department include assisting the water and sewer department maintaining the town’s bridges on Aiken Road and Buttermilk Falls Road and cutting down trees and putting gravel on roads in the town’s two cemeteries.

With so much to do, is there a favorite part of the job?

“When the year is done, you’ve spent your budget and are happy with what you’ve accomplished. That’s the best part of the whole job. That’s happened quite a bit and it makes you feel good. We overspent a few times and came close to not having enough money to make it through to the end of the year but that was mostly because we tried to do more than we had money for. Still, we’ve paved a lot of roads since I’ve been here compared to before. We use to do one mile of road each year. Some years we’ve done up to eight.”

Is there a least favorite part? For Shawn, it’s the double-edged sword known as winter.

“It’s the most important and my least favorite part of the job,” he chuckled. “The weatherman calls for snow and you’re up at midnight, one, two, three, four o’clock, waiting. I’ve gotten up more than once and it didn’t do anything. When it finally does start snowing I try and get the crew out around three a.m. We’re done plowing before the morning rush hour but that’s only if it snows at one or two. If it starts falling after four o’clock it’s five before everyone is here and six before they actually get on the road and get started.

“It takes us four hours to do the routes once. Now the residents can’t get up their hill. You try and explain to them that you have to start on one road and end on another four hours later but they just scream, ‘I pay my taxes.’ That’s the worst. After a while you start to hate hearing those words.”

On the flip side, “Winter also is the most important part of what we do, You have to keep the roads in the best [condition] you can for the safety of the residents.”

Change Is Good

In spite of the changing times, modern equipment and having to do more with less, Shawn still finds the simple things about his job most rewarding.

“It feels good to see a road paved that was nasty before or you had a wicked snowstorm and you nailed it. You had the guys in on time. Everybody plowed their beats. Nobody complained. The roads were bare when you were done. That’s the most rewarding thing right there. You did a good job and it’s done right. Everyone stayed with it. No one broke down. It’s like, ‘Boy, we aced that one!’”

Schaghticoke History

As early as 1300 multiple Indian tribes inhabited the land that is now the town of Schaghticoke. In 1675, Governor Andros, governor of the colony of New York, planted a tree of Welfare near the junction of the Hoosick River and the Tomhannock Creek — an area already known as Schaghticoke — “the places where the waters mingle.” The tree symbolized the friendship between the English, Dutch and the Schaghticoke Indians. The Indians were Mohican refugees from New England. They were welcomed to Schaghticoke because they agreed to assist in protecting the English from the French and the Iroquois. They remained until 1754.

Until the Revolutionary War, Schaghticoke was part of the Colony of New York. Most of its citizens were governed by the city of Albany, which owned the land they rented. Meanwhile, New York sold the remainder of what is now the town of Schaghticoke in several large land grants.

At the time of the Revolution, Schaghticoke was not an organized community. There was a settlement around Knickerbocker Mansion and farms elsewhere in the area, but the only government was in Albany. The New York colonial government created the District of Schaghticoke, which included most of current Schaghticoke and Pittstown, for taxing purposes. The 14th Albany County Militia was raised from the Schaghticoke and Hoosick districts. Johannis Knickerbocker of Schaghticoke was commissioned as its colonel on October 20, 1775. After the Battle of Saratoga in 1977, Peter Yates became colonel.

Schaghticoke was a dangerous place to live during the Revolutionary War period (1775-1783). At first, concern was with the Loyalists’ residents who might remain loyal to Great Britain. In the fall of 1777, Schaghticoke was directly in the path of General Burgoyne’s invasion — stopped at the battles of Bennington (Walloomsac) and Saratoga. Burgoyne’s Indian allies and Tories raided the area for food before and after the battles. Major Dirck VanVeghten evacuated his family to Albany for safety. Around the time of the Battle of Saratoga, he returned home to check on his farm in Schaghticoke. He was attacked, killed and scalped by a band of Indians and Tories.

Many residents fled the area for the safety of Lansingburgh or Albany. Ann Eliza Bleecker, wife of John Bleecker, a local farmer, left for Albany with her two small daughters. Her infant died of dysentery enroute. This event led her to write one of the earliest American novels, “The Adventures of Maria Kittle,” which dramatically retells the story of the Indian attack on the Kittle family of Schaghticoke in 1711.

Throughout the colonial and revolutionary periods there was a controversy surrounding the New York-Vermont border. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys first formed to force the creation of the state of Vermont before fighting for our nation’s independence. They wanted the Hudson River to be the Vermont border. They — along with others — incited riots in the Schaghticoke area during the Revolutionary years. While there weren’t many Loyalists in Schaghticoke during the Revolution, there was a sharp division among the residents over Vermont.

During the summer of 1781, Colonel Peter Yates and his militia were stationed in Schaghticoke to put down any possible insurrection against New York State. The activity culminated in an “invasion” of 200 men from Bennington in early 1782, put down by Colonels Yates and Henry VanRensselaer’s militia regiments. The Vermonters then took their dispute to the United States Congress, where it was finally settled in 1790, when Vermont became the 14th state.

The “new” New York State government organized much of the state into towns by a legislative act in 1788. Schaghticoke was among those towns and was part of Albany County until Rensselaer County was formed in 1791. Following the Revolution, Schaghticoke became infused with immigrants, especially from England and Ireland. Population centers grew near streams where the water powered an assortment of mills. In 1792, William Chase constructed the first bridge over the Hoosic River at what would become the village of Schaghticoke. Most residents were farmers growing crops for the local industries.

Although the town of Schaghticoke developed industrially and agriculturally, it never developed into a political center. One of its hamlets — Hemstreet Park — faces Mechanicville across the Hudson River; two others, Pleasantdale and Speigletown, were part of Lansingburgh for almost 100 years. Melrose grew at the junction of the railroad and the road, with a substantial number of its homes being built as vacation retreats for the wealthy Trojans. The village of Schaghticoke was incorporated as Harts Falls in 1867. The falls of the Hoosic powered large woolen, flax and powder mills.

In the 20th century, agriculture remained strong in Schaghticoke, while industry all but vanished. Hemstreet Park, Pleasantdale, Speigletown and part of Melrose grew into suburbs, with residents commuting to work in Troy or Albany. Agriculture remains a force in the community but the town is experiencing increasing residential development along with the political, social and economic issues that entails.

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