“I couldn't wait to get to work,” recalled Louie Cacciotti, thinking back to 1964 and his first year at the highway department for the town of Lancaster, N.Y.
Today, more than 50 years later, Cacciotti (known by his family and friends as “Big Lou” or “Uncle Louie”) still wakes up every morning at 5 a.m. ready to take on the workday as deputy superintendent of that same department.
In his career, he has worked with seven different superintendents, five supervisors and more than 100 employees. However, the one constant spanning this time has been Cacciotti's work ethic and unwavering respect for the people he has worked with, side by side.
Cacciotti started his career in the department at the age of 21, as a laborer.
“I loved being outside,” he said. “I took one of those quizzes that tell you what to do when you grow up. Mine came back, do something outdoors.”
And as a laborer, Cacciotti had many opportunities to work outside.
“One of my first jobs was salting the roads,” he recalled. “There were no automatic sanders. It was a dirty job and we did it by hand. I'd stand in the back of the truck, and throw 36 tons of salt while the wind slapped my face.”
Cacciotti said a strong sense of balance was how to survive back then.
“If the driver made a sharp turn or slid on ice, he'd have kept going and never known I wasn't there anymore.”
Luckily, Cacciotti didn't fall off. He moved up — from manual labor to management. There were plenty of snowstorms along the way and Cacciotti was on the job for most of them.
“Most times I was on the road before the drivers even got on their trucks,” he said.
Cacciotti remembered one storm in particular.
“It was the blizzard of 1977. We had five Brockway plow trucks and a high lift. The drifts were as high as the street lamps. Our trucks couldn't get through.”
Cacciotti said the swift aid from his neighboring departments was much more powerful than the storm itself.
“They came from all over and brought bigger blowers. It took 11 days to get the last people out of their homes. We got it done because of their help.”
In 2009, Cacciotti became interim superintendent.
“Until then, I'd done everything,” he said. “The staff respected me for it. My motto on managing people hasn't changed since then. Treat others how you want to be treated, hopefully, it will trickle down.”
Nowhere has this philosophy been more evident than with the on-going relationship between Cacciotti and his current supervisor, Dan Amatura, highway superintendent of the town of Lancaster. They started working together in 2010.
“Danny and I make a good team,” Cacciotti said, proudly. “He came from road construction. He showed me how things were built. I taught him operations and maintenance.”
And it was Cacciotti who encouraged Amatura to run for superintendent.
“Danny was a former board member. He knew the politics of the job and liked it. I liked working directly with the guys and was happy to be his deputy.”
“Calling Louie organized is an understatement,” said Amatura. “He has these three-ring notebooks, tons of them. All are painstakingly, meticulously written, with hand-drawn schematics and photographs of every project in the town since he began working there.”
Amatura recalled a drainage situation on Aurora Street when he first started as superintendent.
“I wanted to get some cores on the road,” he said. “It would have cost the town $6,000. Louie pulls out this binder from 1976, with documented detail when and where the shoulder had been widened, and how much blacktop was used. I didn't need the report … it was all in those notebooks.”
Those notebooks, coupled with Cacciotti's extensive memory and experiences, were the impetus for him to apply and receive a grant to implement a GIS (Geographical Information System).
“We scanned all of Louie's notes and now that data can be accessed with a touch of a finger on a keyboard. His records have saved the town thousands of dollars more than once.”
Cacciotti has always lived in Lancaster. He's married to his wife for 58 years, has three children and five grandchildren, who also live in Lancaster. Over the years, he has witnessed a lot of changes in his industry.
“There were lots of empty lands back then,” he said. “Now the town is thriving. The technology is amazing. The tandem vehicles today can plow and sand in one run, with one truck and only one driver, eliminating the wingman. There's air-conditioning, and the six- and 10-wheelers are more efficient and can cover more miles in less time.”
Technology has aligned with Cacciotti's prevailing priority over his long career — safety for co-workers.
“The work we do can be dangerous,” he said. “Rear back-up cameras with lighting and sound devices, adapted cruise control, collision mitigation systems all keep our people safe. If we only had automatic sanders back then.”
In May 2019, Cacciotti celebrated his 55th year working at the department.
“People always ask me when I'm going to retire,” he said. “I like being part of the action. Why would I stop doing what I love?”
Amatura sees Cacciotti's passion for the job every day and summed up his deputy with what he calls his favorite memory of him.
“It was 4:30 in the morning and freezing cold. We were finishing up plowing a storm that had recently died down. Snowflakes were still falling lightly. All I wanted was a hot cup of coffee and the warmth of my office. But Louie? He was smiling and said, 'isn't it beautiful?' That's Louie for you.”?P