For Rick Thompson the road to the village of Ardsley highway department was paved with seafood, hamburgers and fried chicken. After discovering — and pursuing — his love for food and cooking, he joined forces with the highway department. Now, roughly 40 years later, he still gains satisfaction from both.
Rick grew up in Kings Park, Long Island, a small town in Smithtown. The oldest of five brothers, he attended Kings Park High School. Following graduation, he attended Suffolk County Community College, where he earned an associate’s degree in business.
“While I was in college I was working in the restaurant business. One summer they wanted me to train as a cook. I went behind the line and got hooked.”
That was an understatement. “I owned a few restaurants. One was a theme-type eatery called Bentley’s. Then I traveled to Columbus, Ga., and worked for the Simon Malone chain. After that, I came back to New York and opened another Bentley’s in Portchester. It was a real neighborhood tavern and restaurant. Next, I went to work for Tony Roma’s followed by the Horn and Hardart franchise in New York City, where I served as general manager at their Broadway and 48th Street location right in Times Square. At the end, I went to work for another TRF in Queens, became district manager and ran eight locations.”
So how did Rick end up as highway superintendent for the village of Ardsley?
“A laborer’s position opened up with the village. I jumped on board because by then I was married with two young kids. I wanted out of the restaurant business. I didn’t want to become a slave to it. My first job with the village was in 1998, riding on the back of a garbage truck. Shortly thereafter, I joined the highway crew and started learning the ropes. In 2005, the deputy superintendent, Ronald Scencen, left and I was promoted to his position. I worked as the number two man under Louis Pascone before replacing him in 2010.”
For Rick, the journey was a natural progression.
“I was always happy I took the position. I had a lot of ideas. I’d seen a lot of things over the years and there were some things I wanted to change. My predecessor was here for 61 years. He was pretty much stuck in the 1940s in his operations and the way he ran things. The village board went along with it. That’s why we got into some of the situations we’re in now, like outdated trucks and in a temporary garage since 1978.”
In an attempt to turn things around, Rick began addressing quality of life issues.
“The parks were being let go. Part of the Saw Mill River runs through here, so we started doing a lot of work on the banks and clearing debris because flooding is a major issue here. When Louis was here there wasn’t any pre or preventative maintenance. We had the Army Corps of Engineers implement a Flood Control Project to keep Route 9A from flooding out. We never made much of an effort before, but we do now.”
In his spare time, this highway superintendent finds his plate overflowing as he generously gives back to the community.
“I prepare three dinners at the firehouse for the seniors. We also get about 80 to 90 seniors for a spring and Christmas dinner and a summer barbecue down at the park. Every Memorial Day, prior to the parade, I make breakfast for all the veterans before they march. Afterwards, I cook about 1,000 hot dogs and hand them out to the crowd.
“I also work on the ‘Stuff the Bus’ Pajama Program three times a year. They get a couple of school buses and residents donate books and new pajamas. The woman who coordinates it has all these orphanages and agencies and they send a list of what they need, the ages and sex. We fill the orders, put them in boxes and deliver them.”
If that’s not enough to tire a person out, Rick is the fire marshal for the village of Ardsley. He cooks for the Panther Society, which is a group of parents who cook at football games and wrestling and basketball tournaments. All the money raised goes to scholarships. In addition, he’s a former ASP soccer, CYO basketball and Ardsley Little League softball coach.
“I guess I am pretty busy. No wonder I’m tired all the time.”
Rick chuckles when asked about retirement. “I would like to stay another 10 years, but I don’t know if I see that. It would be my choice. I’ve worked pretty hard all my life. As rewarding as this job can be, I think it’s time for a little ‘me’ time. I would love to move down south, play a lot of golf and spend time at the beach.”
When the time comes for Rick to call it a day, he would like to be remembered as “someone who was fair, honest and hard-working.”
All in a Day’s Work
The highway department’s facilities include eight buildings and a salt shed. “
The garage is a big pain with us here. We’re in a Quonset hut right along the NYS Thruway. When we moved here in 1978, it was supposed to be a temporary location. Do I need to say more?” he said, chuckling. “It’s not even the village’s property. It’s the Thruway’s and we have a permit to be here. Not much you can do with it. It’s a long, straight, tin building. Looks a little like an Army Quonset hut. It’s one big, long bay. There’s a double door in the back where we can get a garbage truck in, but other than that, if you want to get something out of the middle you have to pull everything out.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about it. One of the biggest problems here in Ardsley is most of the real estate is gone. Where would you even put a garage anymore? The new administrator is very sharp and she’s got a lot of good, creative ideas. I think she’ finally going to get us out of here — one way or another.”
The department’s salt shed houses roughly 350 tons of salt.
“That wouldn’t be enough for an average winter. We get several deliveries throughout the season. Our budget goes from June to June, which makes it a little easier because come December we start planning our budget for June, which is a slower time. We’re not getting battered with storms.”
As superintendent, it is Rick’s job to maintain the town’s 23.9 lane miles of road; all of which are paved. That translates into six plowing routes that take about 20 minutes to clear.
Rick relies on his staff of 15 full-time employees to serve the town’s 8,000 residents. His crew includes Patrick Lindsay, deputy; Anthony Bailey, head mechanic; Norman Wilson, assistant mechanic; Dennis Kopek and George Kaiser; heavy machine equipment operators; Joe Galluccio, Evo Riguzzi, Russ Coapman, Mark Florkowski, Bill Watson and Joe Corvino, skilled laborers; and Rich Denike, Rob Wootten, Vic Bailey and Steve Marsek, laborers.
“Most of the guys have been here 15 years or better. They’ve been a great crew for me and I appreciate their hard work and what they do on a daily basis.”
The village of Ardsley’s highway department functions on a total operating budget of $2,019,550 that includes salaries and benefits for employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $85,000.
Rick admits his restaurant experience “is a giant plus when it comes to running the highway department. I run it like I run a business. I’m responsible for a lot of cost centers (like a budget line). We’re a small village. We run everything out of this garage. We handle sanitation, recycling, street lighting, storm sewers, everything but water.”
To help carry out its duties the department uses a bevy of equipment that consists of, in part:
• 1995 Mack dump trucks (2)
• 1996 Mack garbage trucks (8)
• 1997 Mack garbage trucks (12)
• 2003 Mack garbage trucks (14)
• 2004 Jeeps (2)
• 2004 Ford Crown Victoria
• 2005 Mack garbage trucks (15)
• 2007 Ford F450 small dump trucks (7)
• 2007 Ford F350 lift gates (4)
• 2008 International dump truck
• 2009 International dump trucks (11)
• 2010 Ford Mercury car
• 2011 Mack garbage trucks (16)
• 2014 Ford 250 pickups (9)
• 2014 Freightliner dump trucks (5)
• 2014 Ford F550 bucket truck
• 2015 Ford F350 small dump trucks (10)
Every highway superintendent prides themselves in having an up-to-date fleet. For Rick, that is easier said than done.
“About 80 percent of our fleet sits outside because not everything fits in the garage. Because of that, we have to replace them more frequently. We’re a small village and our tax base is next to nothing. There’s no industry, no real business, so the majority of the income comes from the taxpayers.
“Last winter, it was taking me six hours longer than it should have to clean up after storms because I had four trucks down at a time and tied up in the garage. There’s only so much room to work on them, number one, and everything was aging out. So we made a big push and have three new vehicles coming next year. They’ll have stainless steel bodies. Now they have metal bodies with a lot of rust. You can imagine plowing with a truck that’s all rusted, even with the undercoating. Salt is like acid. It eats through everything.”
This was the first year Rick submitted a 10-year capital plan.
“Our new village administrator had us file it. She has some foresight and knows how to plan, so I think we’ll start to see things turn around. I put in for two more vehicles next year and spread the rest out over the next 10 years.
Rick agrees today’s equipment has come a long way.
“On a whole, it’s simpler to operate. All the spreaders are computerized. Sometimes it takes the guys four or five trips out before they get the hang of it. Once they get over that hump, they actually can control what they’re spreading. It makes it easier and saves a lot of product.”
Technology also has changed the way Rick does his job and the highway department operates.
“It’s changed everything. It’s made things easier and is factored into nearly everything we do. Scheduling, budget, payroll, are all computerized now. Nothing’s handwritten anymore. You’re not a slave to your desk, writing paper after paper. Except for two drawers of files, everything is right at your fingertips on a hard drive. If we were still using pencil, paper and eraser it would take forever.”
On the flip side, the most difficult part of Rick’s job has been doing more with less.
“Until the new administrator came along, the most difficult part was getting all our work done with aging or no equipment. When I first took over, my inventory and equipment were next to nothing. I’ve been adding as we go along, but people don’t seem to understand. You need the right tool for the right job. We’d be going out patching potholes and instead of having a vibrating tamper to compact them in, we had this old metal roller that weighed a ton. Guys were breaking their backs lifting it in and out of the truck and it did a lousy job. But that’s the way they did it for 30 years and that’s the way we kept doing it. One of the first things I did when I came in was to throw that thing away and bought a vibrating tamper.”
In addition to maintaining the village’s roads, the highway department is responsible for two major parks and five pilot parks.
“We also take care of the Ashford Avenue Bridge. It runs over the Saw Mill River Parkway and the NYS Thruway. It’s actually the county’s bridge, but we do a lot of maintenance: plowing, salting, and keeping the sidewalks clear. In March, they started tearing down the bridge and five piers and are replacing the whole thing. It’s a three-year project. Ashford Avenue is a major cut-through, connecting this side of the county to the Hudson River. They’ve been putting million dollar Band-Aids on it for the last 10 years. Two years ago pieces of the underside fell onto the Thruway. They recently spent $980,000 to put netting and boarding up underneath the deck.”
Looking ahead, Rick has several projects he’d like to see come to fruition, including:
• Safe Routes to School Sidewalk Project: install ¼ mile of concrete sidewalk running from the village line to Farm Road;
• Set up a tree trimming scheduled for the entire village;
• Build tree boxes in the downtown business district;
• Install guardrails in areas where they have been needed for years; and
• Replace all street lights with LED lamps.
Most important, however, is dredging and cleaning out the river.
“Equipment-wise I don’t have what we’d need to handle a task like that but I do have the manpower and knowledge. I’d rent the equipment or reach out to the town of Greenburgh and surrounding areas to get it done.”
About the Village
The area that includes the village of Ardsley was originally inhabited by the Weckqueskecks, a branch of the Mohican tribe of the Algonquin nation. Ashford Avenue, the main road, was once a trail used by the Indians to travel from the Hudson River to Long Island Sound.
After the Dutch came to the area, the land was part of the Bisightick tract of the Van der Donck grant purchased by Frederick Philipse in 1682. In 1785 the state of New York confiscated the land from his grandson, Frederick Philipse III, after he sided with the British in the American Revolution, and sold it to local patriot farmers who had been tenants of the Phillipse family.
The village of Ashford was formed from some of these portions, named for the main road. Notable businesses included a blacksmith and a saw mill and grist mill both situated upon the Saw Mill River. Three pickle factories were in operation by the Civil War, and in the 1880s the construction of the Putnam Railroad and New Croton Aqueduct led to a population boom, which saw the installation of electric lighting and improved roads. Due to the presence of an earlier Ashford Post Office in New York State, the town took the name “Ardsley” after the name of a local baron's estate, and the first village postmaster was appointed in 1883. The village was incorporated in 1896. By 1898 the population had grown to 372.
The renaming of Ardsley is attributed to Cyrus West Field, who owned 780 acres (3.2 kmz) of land lying between Broadway (Dobbs Ferry) and Sprain Brook (Greenburgh) named Ardsley Park. He had named Ardsley Park after the English birthplace of his immigrant ancestor, Zechariah Field (East Ardsley, West riding of Yorkshire.)
Ardsley would continue to grow at a steady pace, until a fire destroyed the village center in 1914. This led to the reconstruction of several buildings, and the establishment of a fire department in the former schoolhouse. Two more population booms would follow, the first spanning the time between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Depression, and the second following World War 11. A public high school was established in 1912, with an addition in 1925. The school did not suit the needs of the growing population, so the current high school was established in 1957, with its first graduating class in 1958. The old high school was converted into a middle school, until in 1971 the $5.5 million middle school was built. The Concord Road School was built in 1953 with an addition in 1966.
This second boom led to the eventual construction of several village schools, including Concord Road Elementary School (1952), Ardsley High School (1958), and Ardsley Middle School (1967). The village was greatly changed by the construction of the New York State Thruway in the late 1950s, which resulted in both the loss of the Ardsley station on the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad and the loss of much of the downtown business district.
On Oct. 19, 1985, an earthquake measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale shook Ardsley and was felt over much of the New York City area.
As of the 2000 census, there were 4,269 people, 1,432 households, and 1,212 families residing in the village.
* (Information in this section courtesy of www.ardsleyvillage.com/home/pages/history; www.westchestertowns.com and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ardsley,_New_York.)