Highway Superintendent Bill Gardner and the Town of Forestport

When telling Superintendent's Profile about his background, Bill Gardner said he was born and raised on a farm in Delaware County. In Andes, N.Y., to be exact.

Bill attended what was then the Delhi Agriculture and Technology Program for one semester.

“I didn't like it so my parents offered me the farm,” he said. “I quit college and returned home. We raised dairy cows on our 285 acres. It was one of the deals that you had to go bigger or get out. So that's what I did. It was a lot of work. I can tell you that.

“After I sold the farm, I went to work as a foreman for a friend of mine. He owned a construction outfit (Construction Foresight) in Liverpool. Not long after, a supervisor's job opened up in the Liverpool School District. I passed the civil service test and got the job. I was the maintenance supervisor from 1981 to 1988. I supervised eight employees and 12 campus locations. My mother got sick so I moved back to Andes.

“I stayed there for a year. I started doing carpentry work as Gardner's Handyman. I did that until I got the job with the sewer department here in Forestport in 1989. I was doing the laterals from the houses to the main line and running the backhoe. They had just put in a new sewer system. I did that for six months before I was hired on the highway department as a heavy equipment operator. In 1999, there was an opening for highway superintendent. I ran for the position and won. I've been here ever since.”

So, what drew Bill to the position?

“I worked here for five or six years before I ran for it,” he said. “My job with the Liverpool school district also helped because I did everything there, including the budget. That's one of the stumbling blocks for a lot of superintendents. It wasn't a problem when I was in Liverpool. But here, they cut my budget almost $200,000 over the past six years.”

Married to his wife, Lisa, for 32 years, Bill spends his off hours, “Doing some carpentry work. I also enjoy going to the stock car and horse races. The horses are at Vernon Downs and I go to Utica-Rome for the stock cars. I used to fish and hunt but no more. I do a lot of snowmobiling. Not much traveling. Once in a while I'll go to Yankee Stadium.”

When it's finally time to hang up his hat, this super would like to “relax. It's always go, go, go. I've been that way my whole life. It's about time I take it easy.”

The Job

“Our big garage is 30 x 140,” he said. “The one out back is roughly 30 x 60. There are six bays on the main barn and five on the back. We have five plow trucks; one is our backup. [Highway Clerk] Dorothy Hajdasz and I each have our own office. We also have a break room.

“We don't have a salt shed. We mix our salt in with the sand as we put the sand pile out. We truck the sand in and mix it with the salt. We bring in 5,000 tons each year. Typically, that lasts us but this year was the lowest ever. Even using a lot of sand, we have between 200 and 300 tons left. This year we sanded 29 times. Last year it was 13. There was a lot of ice.”

As highway superintendent, it's Bill's job to maintain the town's 104 center lane miles of road, 32 of which are county roads. That translates into four plowing routes that take approximately four-and-a-half to five hours to complete.

A six-man crew helps him serve the town's 2,000 residents. His staff includes HEOs John Fallon, Roger Hitzeroth, Shane Mooney, Benjamin Seelman and Carl and Richard Winters.

“They're versatile. All of them can do anything — welding, mechanic work. We also employ a laborer, Steven Scouten, and a night watchman, Jim Pelno.”

Under Bill's guidance, the town of Forestport highway department functions on a total operating budget of more than $1 million. That includes salaries and benefits for its employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $165,000; $24,000 from Emergency Winter Recovery; and $28,000 from PAVE-NY.

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

• 2015 International 7600

• 2005 International 7000

• 2011 International 7600

• 2015 International 7600

• 2016 International 7600

• 2009 International 7600

• 2011 Chevy Silverado pickup

• 2112 Chevy Silverado dump truck

• 2100 GMC Sierra dump truck

• 2005 Caterpillar loader

• 2000 grader

• 1995 Ford tractor with broom and mower

• 1998 John Deere 450 dozer

• 2014 John Deere loader

• 2008 JCB Vibromax roller

When asked how he budgets for new equipment Bill explained, “We're on a 10-year replacement plan for our plow trucks. Our other equipment is old, but it's not used that much. We're in good shape. We buy new and on state bid. We never lease. Some of the towns are talking more about leasing. I haven't got into that, yet. I don't know if it's more cost-effective. In the long run, it might be a wash. You wouldn't have to worry about maintenance.

“We work on our own vehicles unless it's something we can't fix here. That's when we'll call International. They'll come down with their computer system, so we don't have to take our truck there. The computers don't act up often because they're all fairly new. We have a 2014 and 2016. Our oldest trucks — our backups —are 2005. Next year, another truck is up for replacement. Then we'll get rid of the 2005 and keep the 2011.”

For Bill, one of the best parts of the job came when they switched their underground fuel tanks out for above-ground ones. Now they have a key system that keeps track of the department's fuel.

“That was done about six or eight years ago. We had to dig up the old tank. Yokam's Fuel Company from Utica did the work. They put the key system in, which plugs right into our computers. Everyone has their own number so we know who got the fuel, what time they got it and how much. The first year we saved 3,000 gallons. Before that, there was no way to know when and where it went. The money came out of the General Fund. Total cost was around $35,000.”

Over the years, Bill has experienced a lot — good and bad.

His worst day was “when we had an axle break on a plow truck. It was in the middle of a storm on one of our back roads. We had to fix it right there. We jacked it up and put in a new axle in little more than half-a-day or more. That happened right after I started working here.”

The most rewarding was “seeing everything I've completed around here, like the 10-year replacement program for the plow trucks. I started that right after I took office. We had nothing but junk. I had four different kinds of trucks. Some were beat. The board had to approve it. No one opposed.”

His biggest surprise was “the people in the town. They're cooperative. You're always going to get one or two bad ones (chuckles) no matter what you do. Overall, they're good people.”

The most challenging part?

“Paving, especially when the weather doesn't cooperate and we have to reschedule. We try to do one mile because now we're doing hot paving instead of the cold stuff. It lasts longer. It's finer and it plows and sweeps off better. Whereas the motopave, or cold paving, is good but doesn't last as long. The hot lasts 15 years while the cold lasts eight to 10. We made the switch two years ago. I tried a spot down in the village. I was happy with the results so I did it last year. We're doing it again this year.”

And the most memorable? “When we tipped one of our trucks over. The guy who was plowing was told not to go up the hill. Well, he started up and couldn't make it. He slid down backward, went into a ditch and flipped over on its side. The driver and the wingman were in the truck when it tipped over and rolled on its side in slow motion. The wingman and the driver were inside. Luckily, no one was hurt. We had to have the wrecking company [Shufelt's] come and flip it back over.”

If he could, would Bill change anything about the job? “I don't know of anything. It's programmed like a well-oiled machine.”

When asked to describe his job in one word, Bill hesitated for a moment before answering.

“Interesting,” he said. “You never know what might come up.”

About the Town of Forestport

Forestport is the youngest — and one of the largest — towns in Oneida County. Located in the foothills of the Adirondacks, it's also the fastest growing town, according to the Boonville Herald.

It's almost impossible to visualize the wilderness of 200 years ago that greeted the few hardy pioneers who came into the area at the close of the Revolutionary War. Parts of three early land patents are included in Forestport. In 1761, Matthew Adgate, a member of the first Constitutional Convention and the New York State Assembly, purchased by contract 45,000 acres of land for two shillings sixpence an acre. His patent, to what is known as Adgate's Western Tract, was issued Jan. 30, 1778, and was later broken up into the Picquet, Gouverneur, Miller and Swanton and Devereaux tracts.

It embraces White Lake and Otter Lake as well as Forestport. The Remsenburgh Patent of 48,000 acres was granted in 1787 to Henry Remsen, J. G. Klock, George Klock and John Van Sice after they petitioned the legislature that this area had been conveyed to them by deed in 1766. This acreage is in the general area of Enos Road and Kayuta Lake. Thomas Machin was granted a patent in 1788 of 31,360 acres. He emigrated from England in 1772. He was a skilled engineer and surveyor and assisted in placing the chain across the Hudson River to protect West Point from British ships during the Revolution.

The Woodhull Tract of eight square miles, or a full township, was apparently a later grant. This comprises the land in the village and east of the village. In its early days the town had several names. The first was Smith's Mill, from a sawmill on the west side of the Black River. Truman Yale started a chair factory nearby and also built the first frame house on the east side of the river. Then, Dr. Platt Williams moved in, built an impressive home on the Alder Creek Road, and a sawmill a mile and a half down the river.

The settlement became known as Williamsville. It also was known derisively as Punkeyville for the tiny biting insects that staged an annual spring invasion. The building of the Black River Canal Feeder, which was completed in 1848, brought both work and transportation to the area. Besides the feeder itself, two dams were built to provide storage reservoirs for the canal. One was made across the outlet of North Lake and the second replaced a sawmill dam in what is now Forestport village. With adequate transportation and shipping assured, more sawmills began to spring up. People who lived in the outlying settlements of Grantville and Meekerville moved to the village. At one time, lumber was hauled from the mill at Grantville for shipment on the canal by means of a wooden railroad. There is nothing left of either Grantville or the railroad now. Meekerville, on picturesque Woodhull Creek, is a ghost town except for a few summer homes.

With the increase in population, schools and churches were needed. A two-room schoolhouse was built with a room for smaller children on the ground floor and one for the older pupils upstairs. Four churches were organized: Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic. The Methodist Church closed nearly 50 years ago and later the Episcopalians bought the building, remodeled it, and tore down their own beautiful church that stood near Beechwood Cemetery.

The first minister in the Presbyterian Church was the Rev. William Cleveland, brother of President Grover Cleveland. The president brought his bride here to visit and for a short time Forestport was much in the limelight as reporters overcrowded the hotels and filed daily news stories by means of Horace Dayton's telegraph. A parade led by the town band was staged in the president's honor. In the early days while the town was still a part of Remsen, its neighbor to the south, voting became a problem. The residents alternated voting one year in Remsen and the next in Williamsville. However, many of the Williamsville men worked in the woods and it took real effort to reach the polls before closing time. This seemed an injustice and the resentment grew until one year a small group of men persuaded Frank Tracy, who always had the fastest horse in town, to drive them to Remsen. Before the astonished Remsenites realized what was happening the men snatched the ballot box and took it to Williamsville where their co-workers would be in time to vote. That clinched the matter.

In 1860, a committee was named to divide Remsen and Williamsville into two separate towns. James Mitchell and Charles Thomas of Remsen with William B. Jackson and Alfred Hough were paid $1.50 per day to serve on the committee. It was not until Nov. 24, 1869, that the new town was formed and the first town meeting held in March 1870 made it official. Robert Crandall, postmaster, suggested that their name be changed to Forestport and everyone, including the United States Post Office Department, agreed. It is the only post office with that name in the United States.

The old records spell it as two words Forest Port, but in a short time it was changed to one word. In 1870, the population was 1,276. Records listed 25 log dwellings, the largest number in the county. Some years after the division from Remsen, the land on the west side of River Street was annexed from Boonville. Anson Blake had acquired much of Dr. Platt Williams' holdings by marrying his daughter and he decided to clear the land and grow corn. He brought crews from Canada to help cut the virgin timber, which was eagerly converted, into lumber by the sawmills. Piles of hemlock bark accumulated and a large tannery owned by Proctor and Hill at Woodhull took advantage of this to become the largest in the state, with 480 vats which used 6,000 cords of bark each year to process 25,000 hides.

All this aided industry in the area, but the farming venture failed. The soil was too sandy and the growing season too short. Among the early mill owners were T. R. Stanburgh, Seifert and Harrig, James Gallagher, Hough and Hurlburt, Forestport Lumber Company, Phillip McGuire, Charles Hayes, Francis LaFountain, Denton and Waterbury. All this lumber business generated a thirst and saloons sprang up as fast as the mills. The husky bartenders aided by a baseball bat had no trouble keeping order, for “there was no law north of Remsen.” For the superstitious, Forestport history bears out the old adage that things happen in threes. Three times the village was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. There were three breaks in the canal feeder. After the second fire, which took 14 buildings, the village incorporated with John H. Neejer as its first president. A water system was installed but before it could be turned on a third fire burned seven buildings.

For a time, the village owned its own electric light plant but sold it many years ago and in 1937 the village voted to dis-incorporate. The turn of the century saw the land being stripped of timber and the mills began to close. Jobs were less easy to find. Before this, in 1897, a few men put their heads together and decided that a break in the canal feeder would solve that problem. At one point the canal parallels the Black River and is 70 feet higher. Holes dug surreptitiously during the night became larger in a few hours and morning found a vast opening in the canal bank, with water pouring into the river. Seventeen hundred men and teams worked around the clock for a month before the damage was repaired. The men were paid $1.65 a day and the teams 35 cents an hour. The first break brought such prosperity that another occurred the following May. Again, everything boomed but the state began to be a little suspicious. When a third break occurred in September 1889, the state sent Pinkerton detectives to investigate and 13 men were arrested. Five were sent to prison, three fined, and five freed, two for turning state's evidence.

Forestport once had two supervisors at the same time. After the death of John Coughlin, the town board could not agree on a successor and by a fluke both Fred S. Liddle and Mrs. Laura LaFountain were appointed. Neither would withdraw, and the matter was finally settled by the courts with Mrs. LaFountain the winner. Forestport had the first central school in Oneida County built in 1927 after the existing schoolhouse burned. A few years ago, the district consolidated with Adirondack Central in Boonville. A new elementary school replaced the old one, which is now used for town offices, meetings and community activities. Otter Lake and Woodgate have discontinued their one-room schools and have joined with the town of Webb school at Old Forge. At present the Rome Specialty Company, which manufactures fishing tackle is the only industry in Forestport. The Village Boat Shop has an active business throughout the summer months and restaurants, such as the Buffalo Head, provide year-round employment. The Mid-York Bookmobile serves the village while local interest in starting a Forestport Library has had limited success. In the pre-electric refrigeration days Woodgate supplied ice to the city of Utica. Each winter, the huge blocks were cut packed in sawdust and stored in a large icehouse for the hot summer days ahead. The icehouse burned one night with flames that could be seen for miles.

The Oneida Pink Granite Company operated a quarry at one time about a mile or so from White Lake and shipped carloads of the beautiful stone for building purposes. Otter Lake never had an industry except logging. It did have one of the early hotels where guests were introduced to Adirondack vacations. Roscoe G. Norton did a great deal to develop Otter Lake into the thriving summer community it is today.

The volunteer fire company, organized after the big fires, was reorganized as the Forestport Fire Fighters. In 1998, the Fire Fighters operate from one station on River Street, Forestport, and serve approximately 245 square miles in three districts. It is the largest protection area for a single-station volunteer company in the State of New York. The Fire Fighter's 43 active members, plus an Explorer Scout unit and social members are also an important unifying organization in a community that sprawls along more than 70 miles of town roads. The trend of developing the center of the community reversed many years ago in Forestport. Community donations are the principle source for equipping the Fire Fighters.

Today, there are six well-equipped trucks, tankers and emergency vehicles that respond to more than 170 calls per year. The forest has reclaimed the land again and the few farms have disappeared. White Lake and Otter Lake are ringed with summer camps and pleasure boats ply their waters in summer. Little Long Lake boasts Camp Nazareth, a Catholic summer camp for boys and girls. Round Lake is owned by the Masonic Home in Utica whose residents spend the summer here. Camps nestle on the shores of Kayuta Lake and sit beside Woodhull and Bear Creeks. Houses now line the North Lake Road and Enos Road and the people socialize in many little communities scattered throughout the area.

(History courtesy of https://townforestport.digitaltowpath.org:10104/content/History#documents.) P

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