Kirklin Woodcock remembers it well. It was 2002. Kirklin lived a mile from the highway department.
“When I came around the corner, I saw everything I put together disappear in the flames,” he said. “It was hard to comprehend. It took me several months to get my feet back on the ground — with the investigation and being upset about the fire and all that. It was devastating. I had to face the fact that it was a bump in the road. If I couldn't come back from it, I'd have to get out. I'd have to do something else. That wasn't for me. You do what you have to do and keep going. That's what I did.
“We worked on rebuilding right through to the end of 2003. Some of our equipment was stored in other facilities around town. A local contractor let us use some of his cold storage barns for our vehicles. I can't thank my colleagues enough. I got phone calls from people saying, 'We're sending you a truck.' The State of New York sent three. The city of Saratoga Springs sent one. Just about everyone in the town sent what they had. We never missed a beat thank God. After the fire I made over 100 personal phone calls to thank everybody who bailed us out.”
Kirklin was born and raised in the town of Wilton. “I'm a farmer boy, per se. We had a small farm and my father was in the trucking business. He used to haul can milk [farmer's cans]. He had a bunch of those trucks and that's what we used to do from the time we could drag a milk can and help the driver get it on the truck.
“I come from a big family. There were nine kids [three sets of twins]. I have a twin brother, Karl, and then there were two sets of boy/girl. We're all close. I'm 77. My oldest sister, Fanny, is 74 and my oldest brother, Roger, is 83.”
Kirklin attended Schuylerville Central School before being sent to Fort Dix, N.J., for his basic training.
“Then I went to the Heavy Equipment Training Facility in Fort Lee, Va. I served five years as a PFC truck driver with the National Guard in Watertown, N.Y. I was discharged in 1962. That was back when they had the draft.”
He's been married to his wife, Sandra, for 55 years. They have one daughter, Deborah. Married to Dr. George Siniapkin, they have one daughter, Caitlin, 25.
Now, in his 35th year as superintendent, Kirklin reminisces about his road to the highway department.
“I wanted a change in my career. I was a UPS driver and on the road a lot. I was there for 20 years. I also worked at the highway department back in the early '60s and for my father's business. As I got older, the gentleman who was here ahead of me was fixing to retire. I thought that would make me a good second career. I knew I was taking a chance at being elected, but I took that chance and I've been here ever since.
“I've been opposed two or three times, including this last election cycle. One of my fellow employees thought it would be a good idea to be superintendent, but I was successful.”
In what little spare time he has, Kirklin enjoys restoring old cars.
“I just sold my last pickup truck. I'm also a professional auctioneer. I've been doing that for 25 to 30 years. I do a lot of local benefit auctions, including the Double H Hole in the Woods. in Luzerne, N.Y., that was started by Paul Newman and Charlie Wood.”
How did this super get to be an auctioneer?
“I don't know. It was interesting. I had a store and an auction business at one time when I was working for UPS. I decided to put the business on hold and take care of my career. Then I went to work for the highway department and couldn't do both. Now I travel around and do benefits and help several other auction houses.”
Vice president of the Saratoga County Highway Superintendent's Association and a member of the New York State Highway Superintendent's Association, Kirklin is up for re-election to another two-year term in 2019.
All in a Day's Work
The town of Wilton's highway department is spread out among several buildings. The new garage has 24 bays.
“Our building is about 80 feet wide and 300 feet long. My secretary, my office and my three foremen are at one end. Then it goes to the west with 12 bays on each side. Our frontline equipment is housed inside. We also have a breakroom, but it's too small because of the growth. At some point we'll have to address that.
“In 2007, we built a modern dome salt shed that holds 1,200 tons. Capacity was our biggest concern. We used to have a wood shed with concrete sides that held 300 to 400 tons of salt. Now it holds 1,200 tons and every time we open the doors to go out for a storm, I use 200. Normally, we use about 5,000 tons per winter and 3,000 yards of sand, but last year we used 6,000. When it gets cold, we blend.”
In his role as highway superintendent, Kirklin is responsible for maintaining the town's 220 lane miles of road, all of which are paved. That translates into 16 plowing routes that take 3.5 hours to clear.
Kirklin's 18-man crew helps serve the town's 16,000 residents. Full-time staff includes foremen Frank Holden, Rich McCane and Mike Monroe; mechanics/MEOs Tom Hammond and Jonathan Hoffman; MEOs Jake Beaudet, Jason Brueckner, Dave Coffinger, Josh Harrington, John Helenek, Lewis Jenison, David Locke, John Phillips, Dan Salmonson, Tony Santiago and Tyler Sarro; laborers Dave Counter and Bill Dowd; part-timer Mark Welden; and Lori Olson, highway secretary.
While Kirklin's drivers have their CDL, he thinks that may be a thing of the past.
“It's serious. I can't stress that enough. You can't get people in a highway job like everyone thinks you can. That's because everyone is hiring CDL drivers. Everybody. At least in our area. They're not available. An individual has to spend extra money for a CDL. Then they must get their endorsements for air brakes, hazardous materials and things like that. It's nothing to spend $200 to $300 for a license so you don't think he's going to come to work for $12/hour. Not when the trucking company down the road is paying $20. The younger people don't want to drive trucks. They're into computers and high-tech stuff. Here in Saratoga County, we have a high-tech company, GlobalFoundries. Their payrate is six figures and up. The technology in our area that's changing to computer and finance is drawing the younger people and the laborer with the shovel … guess what? It's disappearing fast.”
The town of Wilton's highway department runs on a total operating budget of $3.5 million. That includes employee salaries and benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $156,169; $35,000 for PAVE-NY; and $27,000 for Extreme Winter Recovery.
To help carry out its duties, the department uses a bevy of equipment that includes:
• 2000, 2002, 2005 Freightliner dump trucks
• 1996, 2005 Case tractors
• 2015 Dodge Ram
• 2006, 2009 Western Star dump trucks
• 2016 Dodge Ram 3500
• 2011, 2012, 2018 Western Star 4900 SA, SB, SF
• 1989 Mack tractor
• 2003, 2009 Johnston/GMC CAT vacuum sweeper
• 2016 Morbark chipper
• 2018 Bomag roller
• 2000 Ingersoll Rand roller
• 2000 Cedarapids paver
• 2005 John Deere dozer
• 1998 Midland shoulder machine
• 1998 Meyers camel jet
• 2009 Ford F350 pick-up
• 2008 Western Star 4900FA tractor
• 2012 Bobcat skid steer loader
• 1995 Leroi compressor
• 2006 John Deere 80C excavator
• 2001 Hypac roller
• 2000 JCB backhoe loader
• 2003 Volvo dump truck
• 1997 International 4900 bucket truck
• 2006 John Deere 310SG backhoe
Every highway superintendent prides themselves in having an up-to-date fleet. For Kirklin, that's easier said than done.
“We have a program in place that the town board is supposed to abide by. We're trying to replace big trucks, dump trucks, pick-ups, on a yearly basis. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. With my new liaison with the town board, I was told they're going to replace one of my big trucks every year. If that's the case, I'll have vehicles that are 16 years old before they get replaced.
“The big tandem trucks have to be updated most often because they're in salt five to six months out of the year. If you get one that's 10 to 12 years old, they're pretty well ripped. They don't have a lot of miles on them, but the salt eats them up. Pick-up trucks are the same way. I'm getting better mileage on some of the older trucks.”
The highway department also has a computerized fuel system.
“Everyone has an ID number they have to punch in or they don't get fuel. Every piece of equipment also has an ID number. Our fuel system supplies all the fire departments in the town, the Parks and Recreation department, emergency squads. Everybody in the town gets fuel out of our fuel island. We have printouts and computers so we can back charge each department for the amount of fuel they use. That way, the highway department isn't charged for all of it. I think we may be starting that with salt this year too.”
Like most other towns, money and trying to get things done is difficult. Wilton is no exception.
“It's frustrating when you know you have certain things to do and you can't get them done because of monetary reasons or it's put off longer than it should be. Then you have to spend more money than if you jumped on it right away. You have a sidewalk that's all crumbled up, so go fix it. Oh, we can't do it this year. We'll do it next year. Well it's going to cost more money next year.
“I guess I'm proactive rather than reactive. When I get my budget, I'm in charge of it. It's an agreement to spend highway funds. I sign that agreement and then the town board members sign it. It's like a contract. If they give me a million dollars on a piece of paper that's signed, that million dollars is mine to spend the way I see fit, but I don't do that. I always let the town board know what I'm going to do and what I'm going to spend money on. I don't have to, but I try to because I like that line of communication so I'm not blindsiding anyone on the board. I don't think that's right.”
With money in short supply, when asked what he'd do if someone gave him a big bag of money, Kirklin was quick to respond.
“If I had more money than I knew what to do with, I would set up a fund for the Double H Hole in the Woods and take care of my family as best as I could. We have a situation. My niece has a daughter with no arms and no legs. There are no prosthetics; I do all I can do for her, but if I had lots of money, I'd make sure she's taken care of … my whole family really. When Brooke was born, she had one tiny leg with a toe on it and no arms. There are no prosthetics; nothing to attach them to. What God didn't put in her arms and legs, He put in her brain. That's for sure. She's phenomenal. She's 25 now and does computer work with her foot. In spite of needing 24/7 assistance, she earned a college degree and got married. What's worse? After she got married, the state took her benefits away. Can you believe that?”
Now, 35 years in, Kirklin admits the job has been everything he expected.
“I expected to work hard because I've worked hard all my life. I also expected I would be a public servant and do what I could to keep our town safe and our highways in good condition as far as the residents are concerned. My background tells me that's what I should do. I don't like to set goals I can't reach. That can get you down, but I did set a goal of 30 years attending Cornell's Local Roads program and still be here at 80 years old. I'm almost there.”
By the way, Kirklin received his 30-year award this year.
When the time comes to retire, Kirklin would like to be remembered as “Joe Blow — a working, middle class guy. No feathers in my cap. I just did what I was supposed to do.”
About the Town of Wilton
The one common link between the Native Americans, early settlers and present-day residents of Wilton is “Love of the Land.” As the Iroquois were attracted by the forests, streams, mineral waters and good fertile land, so were the first pioneer families.
Trails used by trappers and traders crossed Wilton both North-South and East-West. In 1693, there was a three-day battle near one of these crossings between British troops under Peter Schuyler and parties of French and Indians. The battle took place near Stiles Corners. Neither side could claim victory, but the skirmish is known as the “Battle of Wilton.” The site is noted by a historic marker at the corner of Parkhurst Road and Gailor Road.
The first settlers came to Wilton, or Palmertown as it was known earlier, between the French and Indian Wars and the Revolution. In 1764, the Brisbin brothers began a saw mill on the Snook Kill, which comes tumbling off the Palmertown Mountain Range in the North west section of Wilton. After the Revolution, the families of Stiles, Kings, Phillips, Laings, Perrys, Emersons, Dimmicks, Johnsons and McGregors left their marks as well as their names on many small hamlets such as King's Station, Stiles corners, Dimmicks corners, Emersons Corners and Mt. McGregor.
Emersons Corners was named for Broadstreet Emerson who owned a Tavern circa 1790 that was the first seat of government in Wilton. The site is marked by a historic marker at the corner of Ballard and North Roads. In the late 1800s, a bottling plant distributed the Gurn Spring Mineral Water and the area was then known as Gurn Spring. The Spring was closed in the early 1900s. The Gurn Spring Methodist Church circa 1885, the South Wilton Church and the Wiltonville Church 1871 are still in existence, but no longer operate as Methodist churches. The combined congregations now occupy the Trinity Methodist on Ballard Road.
The McGregor brothers came from Scotland in 1787 and settled in an area near Palmertown. They began farming and operated a gristmill soon after they arrived. Duncan McGregor built a small hotel atop a mountain, which became known as Mt. McGregor. The Hotel Balmoral, a grand luxury hotel, was built on the mountain in 1883 and was destroyed by fire in 1897.
General Ulysses S. Grant died of throat cancer on July 23, 1885, in what would later be named Grant Cottage. He had arrived at the cottage from New York City on June 16, with his family, servants and doctors. He was able to complete his memoirs in the short time he had left.
Today, the cottage remains essentially the same as during the Grant family's stay. Visitors tour the downstairs of the cottage, viewing the original furnishings, decorations, and personal items belonging to Grant, including the bed where he died, and floral arrangements that remain from Grant's August 4th funeral.
There also is a short path to the Eastern Outlook, which commands a spectacular view of the Hudson Valley, from the Adirondacks in the north, the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east, and the Catskills to the south.
The Visitors Center offers interpretive displays and exhibits, a short introductory film, and a gift shop filled with books, memorabilia and numerous Civil War-related items.
Grant Cottage is owned by the State of New York and opened to the public by The Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage Inc.
There are approximately 10 miles of trails open to the public in the town of Wilton for a variety of non-motorized uses.
Approximately 25 acres of the 310-acre Camp Saratoga is owned by the town, which includes five miles of trails for hiking pleasure, beautiful Delegan Pond for fishing, cabins and a pavilion for community and group activities.
Each location offers its own environmental benefits for public enjoyment.
In 1996, The Nature Conservancy and its partners established the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park as a special community-based conservation program — a balance between people, community and habitat.
The program's mission is to preserve the land, ensure the survival of native wildlife and natural communities, protect and provide habitat for the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly, create a natural area for education and recreation, and maintain the rural character of the local community.
Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park is a nonprofit organization. Its mission is to conserve ecological systems and natural settings while providing opportunities for environmental education and recreational experiences.
Visitors also can climb an authentic fire tower and view a replica fire observer's cabin without having to climb a mountain! Get a treetop view of Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park.
This 60-foot, Model LS-40 Aermotor fire tower was placed in memory of Thomas C. Luther, who founded The Luther Forest in 1898 and who was an entrepreneur and pioneer in the world of forestry. In memory of Thomas F. Luther and William R. Mackay who carried on The stewardship of The Luther Forest for two more generations as professional foresters. And to further Honor Thomas F. Luther, a stout supporter of the Boy Scouts of America and a Charter member and First Commissioner of the Saratoga County Council, instrumental in the creation of Camp Saratoga in 1930, and a 1943 recipient of the Silver Beaver Award.
(History courtesy of https://townofwilton.com.)