For town of Sidney Highway Superintendent Jamie Roberts, a job well done is reward enough for his toil.
Whether it's keeping the streets safe in the winter, cleaning up after a flood or doing more with less money, those are the best days on the job for this town resident of 50-plus years.
Born in Rome, N.Y., Jamie's family moved to this history-laden town when he was seven.
“I graduated high school in Sydney. I attended Community College of the Finger Lakes but never graduated. I was studying to be a forest ranger but things happen. I worked in a lumber yard for a while then in 1984 I went to work for the highway department as a laborer. I moved up to truck driver and in 1997 I was appointed highway superintendent after the acting super retired.”
What drew him to the position?
“I thought I could do a good job. There were some things I wanted to do my way.”
Married to his wife, Jeana, an x-ray technician at Bassett Hospital, they are parents to Karleigh, 35, a bookkeeper; and Michael, 23, a senior at Massachusetts Maritime College. Two dogs and three cats round out the family.
During his off hours, Jamie enjoys playing a round or two of golf.
“I've been golfing quite a while but just recently joined a league. We're in the 40 range for nine holes. We're not really good but we're not really bad either. We have fun. I also try to go for a walk after work. You get out there and leave work behind. If you had a bad day, you take a good long walk and when you get home everything feels better.”
How long does Jamie plan on staying as the highway's top dog?
“Everything's going well. I plan to run for another four-year term in 2019. I'll take a look in four years and see what's happening and we'll go from there.”
When it's finally time to hang up his super's hat, he'd like to “do odd jobs. I know everybody so I could be a Walmart greeter or a greeter or something in Disney.”
“Our main building was built in the early '70s. It's a metal butler building that's 142 by 50. We also have two storage buildings across the road from us. One is 65 by 38 feet and the other is 100 by 40 feet. Our salt shed is 32 by 30 feet. We built it in about three weeks in 2011. The guys did a good job. It holds about 100 tons. We go through 300 tons/year. We don't salt everything. We sand and then mix the salt. That works well for us.
“We also have a lunch/break room, a storage lot where we keep our stone and I have my own office. Every Monday morning, two different guys mop and sweep. So, when people come in, they see a clean shop. It's a good first impression. The same with the trucks. I like to have them clean. The taxpayers pay a lot of money and it's nice for them to see them all cleaned up.”
As highway superintendent, it's Jamie's job to maintain the town's 56 center lane miles of road, 6 of which are gravel and the rest are paved. That translates into six plowing routes that take approximately 3½ hours to complete.
A five-man crew helps him serve the town's 3,700 residents. His staff includes Rick Newell, Roger Elwood, Mark Marshall, Tom Hunt and Ed Bishop.
Under Jamie's guidance, the town of Sydney highway department functions on a total operating budget of $807,079. That includes salaries and benefits for its employees and an annual CHIPS allocation of $124,900.
To fulfill its responsibilities, the department uses a convoy of equipment that includes:
• 2009 Mack truck
• 4 International dump trucks (2004, 2006, 2008, 2012)
• 1991 Ford cab chassis
• 4 Ford F350 pickup and plow (2006, 2009, 2011, 2016)
• 2008 Case backhoe loader
• 2017 John Deere loader
• 1998 John Deere tractor with bucket
• 1987 Bomag roller
• 1983 Cat grader
• 2008 John Deere X540
• 2005 Case JX 109 mower
• 2014 Kubota tractor mower
• 1993 Kuhn roadside mower
• 1998 Bandit brush chipper
• 2011 1,000 gal. Hopper tank, gas
• 2016 2,000 gal. Hopper tank
• 2002 MIG welder
• 2000 pole saw
• 1999 Coleman generator
• 1998 Ice Ban storage tank
• 1996 Honda Banjo pump/sprayer
• 1989 and 1998 Harder slide in spreaders
• 1987 electric spread cinder spreader
• V plows
When asked how he budgets for new equipment Jamie said, “We usually go with a large piece of equipment and then the next year go with a smaller piece. That lets us put the same amount in every year and save some for the next year and the larger equipment. Getting money is tough but they [the board] usually end up giving in. I try to buy new. We've purchased some used pieces, like a Broce broom. For stuff like that it's fine. For the trucks, because we keep them for so long, it's better to have the newer equipment.”
Like most highway superintendents, Jamie admits technology isn't always a good thing.
“With the old equipment if the truck stopped running you'd pop up the hood and find out what was wrong and you went down the road. With the new stuff, you have to take it some place and have it put on a computer and they give you an idea of what it is. Then they start nit-picking, changing this and that and it ends up costing a bundle to get a small item repaired. The new technology does make the driving easier. The steering is so much nicer and the drive control and looking at all the gauges on the dashboard and know what's going on.”
He does admit that they're easier to maintain.
“They tell you when they need servicing. Because we're using synthetic oils, you can go longer in between services. Synthetic oil is a newer blend of motor oil that has some different lubricants in it. The oil lasts longer and has more lubricating features. It can be used in all equipment. It's a little more expensive but it's worth it in the long run. You're getting 6,000 miles to a service run where you used to be getting 3,000.”
For Jamie, one of his favorite parts of the job is highway school.
“This will be my 21st year. It's a chance to get away, meet some guys and learn a lot. This year we broke the attendance record the first day. There were 900-plus superintendents, including more women. When I started, it was all men in suits. This year some of them were wearing their orange shirts.”
What's most rewarding?
“Getting to know all the people. I've met many nice people since I've been highway superintendent: salesmen, some from Highway School, Delaware County DPW. They helped me out a lot. If I have a situation I can call them.
“We also have shared services with the surrounding towns — Bainbridge, Unadilla, Franklin. That's especially helpful when we're doing our cold mix paving. You need so many trucks to haul the asphalt so the more trucks the better. The three miles we just did were at the other end of town. It would have taken a week to do with my three trucks. With their help, we got it done in two days. We share rollers. Ours works well for blacktop. Towns will reach out to me and we'll send them out. The town next to me has a roller that works well for compacting dirt. They bring that over when we're working on dirt roads and roll it for us.”
Over the years, Jamie has experienced a lot — good and bad.
“The worst was the 2006 flood and the cleanup. We helped the village of Sydney pick up all their flood debris because everybody's homes were flooded. Residents took everything out of their homes and threw it in piles in the front yard. We had to go down with our bucket loader and load everything by hand then dump it into the trucks. We were there for at least two weeks. That's an on-going problem for the village. They're dealing with all these flood properties. People couldn't move back in. They got federal and state money to raise the houses. Depending how much water you have in your house, they're raising it above the flood line.
“After the flood, we worked on an historical railroad. The O and W Railroad used to come through town back in the '60s. They built these arches by hand where the streams would come through. The flood took out one of the arches and it had to be replaced. It ended up costing so much money we couldn't do it exactly the way it was built so we had to put in concrete blocks with the facing on it. It was a $2 million project. I never spent that kind of money before.”
Looking ahead, Jamie has an ambitious list of projects he'd like to bring to fruition.
“We're gearing up for a grinding job. I have a road that's 2,000 feet. It's so out of shape and the base is gone. Gorman will come in with their big grinder and grind it down. Then we'll put crushed gravel in front of it and put the new crushed gravel into the old road base. Next, they add calcium to harden it up then we resurface it.
“We've done a grinding project two years in a row. It's worked out well for us. For some roads, the base is shot. If you just put blacktop on top of it, it'll last several years before it ruts up again. For this project, we're going down into the base and adding more gravel to build it up. With the calcium in there, it binds it up, hardens it up and tightens it up. Putting a double surface stone and oil on it holds it together and makes a good road. I've had good luck with that.
“There's also a large culvert we have to fix that I'm working with DEC on. It's a three-foot culvert and it's in bad shape. The walls collapsed and the pipe is rotted. DEC determined that the pipe should be 8 feet. So, I have to go from a 3-foot pipe to an 8 foot DEC determined that whenever we get four or five inches of rain a section of road floods over because the culvert's not big enough. Not sure if we're doing a three-sided box culvert or a squash pipe.
“I'd like to set up an equipment replacement plan that works well and doesn't change when we get a new board member. We're getting closer to a point where I'd just sham and seal roads instead of spending all that money on one road.”
If that's not enough, “Next year we're going to pave two miles and do another grinding.”
When asked to describe his job in one word, Jamie hesitated for a moment before answering, “Fun. I have a good time. Some mornings in the winter it's hard to get up. You drag yourself out of bed. Go through the cold. You sit in the truck while it's warming up but once you get going…In the summertime it's fun because it's things I love doing.”
When all is said and done, Jamie Roberts would like to be remembered “as Jamie. You remember him. He was the nice guy.”
The locality now known as Sidney, N.Y., began its history at the junction of the Susquehanna and Unadilla Rivers. Over the centuries, the Oneida and Iroquois tribes used the area because of the convergence of the trails along the rivers, which they used for transportation. At least two, and probably more, Native American tribes made their home in the Sidney area.
Recorded history of Sidney began in the early 1770's when Reverend William Johnston built his home in the location of the current Sidney Airport. The area was referred to as the Johnston Settlement or Sidney Plains and was geographically part of the Otsego County and the township of Unadilla.
During the American Revolution Reverend Johnston and most of the nonloyalist population of the area fled to Cherry Valley for protection from the pro-British Native Americans and the Tory claim-jumpers. In July 1778, in order to scatter Native Americans, New York's Governor Clinton ordered Colonel William Butler to burn their villages along the Susquehanna River. Soon after Reverend Johnston and the other white settlers returned to the area.
In 1796, the state legislature subdivided Otsego County. Delaware County was created from this subdivision. Later the town of Sidney was subdivided to create the town of Masonville.
During its formative years, Sidney's economic base consisted of farming, timber, potash harvest and services catering to farming needs. In October 1866, the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad began service to Sidney. The Albany and Susquehanna was later purchased by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad. In 1873, the Ontario and Western Railroad, the O & W, connected a North running rail line to the D & H rail line, and Sidney became a railroad hub.
Within a decade, Sidney built three hotels, doubled its population, and attracted more industry. By 1910 the Village had a French cheese factory, silk mill, cigar factory, carriage works, glass works, novelty works and the Hatfield car manufacturing plant. However, by 1920, as a result of bad luck and bad business, which included a series of fires and strikes, most of these businesses closed or left the area.
In 1925, Scintilla Magneto Company, a Swiss firm with headquarters in New York City, bought the old Hatfield building and began manufacturing magnetos in Sidney. In 1929, the Bendix Aviation Corporation purchased Scintilla. Over the years, Bendix gained a world-class reputation for aerospace products. Currently the company is known as Amphenol Aerospace Corporation and employs approximately 1,100 factory workers and is one of the largest employers in Delaware County.
Keith Clark, the world's largest manufacturer of calendars, moved to Sidney from New York City in 1949. Having steadily expanded its calendar business, today it employes more than a thousand people. In addition to calendars, Keith Clark manufactures all varieties of time management products, which it ships throughout the world. Currently the company is known as ACCO Brands and employs more than 700 employees.
Una-Lam, a division of Unadilla Silo Company, moved to Sidney from Unadilla in 1963. Una-Lam manufactures fire-resistant, laminated-wood arches, beams, storage sheds, swimming pools, hot tubs, and other wood products. There are numerous smaller businesses and industries in the area.
The village of Sidney maintains a small airport, a police department, a volunteer fire department and an emergency squad. The Civic Center houses municipal offices and services. Most religious denominations are represented, and the community supports a myriad of service organizations and public interest groups. There is an AM-FM radio station, a weekly newspaper and the high school operates a television station. The school district encompasses two towns and parts of three others. The public library is chartered to service the school district's residents.
Currently the village has a population of approximately 3,900.
(History courtesy of http://sidneychamber.org/visit-sidney/history-sidney.)