Standing in front of the town of Caneadea highway department feels like home. Autumn's arrival is marked by the brilliant colors of the changing foliage — a sure sign that winter isn't far behind.
Mark Wilcox, highway superintendent of the town of Caneadea, has already started preparing for those long winter months. He knows all too well what to expect.
“In this part of the state, the snow starts flying around the middle of November,” he said. “It usually stops around the end of March. Sometimes, it's snowed in the middle of April. This little corner gets hit quite frequently. We can get snow upwards of the 100-inch mark for the entire winter.”
Mark is no stranger to Caneadea winters. He has spent most of his 49 years in the area, graduating from Geneseo Community College in 1995 with a criminal justice degree.
“After graduation, I worked on a farm in Short Track, N.Y., for a while. I milked and fed cows, cleaned the barn, helped with haying. At that time, there weren't as many police jobs like there are today.”
So how did Mark end up as highway superintendent?
“In December of 1996, I started working for the town as a seasonal worker/laborer. I actually worked all year but they'd lay you off for a week or so to break it up so you weren't considered to be full time. I got my CDL in 1997 and started learning the equipment. I was equivalent to a mechanical equipment operator (MEO). I was hired full time January 1, 2000, and became superintendent in February 2017.”
Mark also had a personal connection to the job.
“My grandfather was superintendent in the early '70s. He held the position for six years. My brother, Richard, also was superintendent around 1975. I was deputy superintendent for several years under him. He knew his stuff and was a good mentor. The job has changed a lot since they were in office. Everything from the type of work they did to the equipment they used.”
Mark and his wife, Lori, have been married for a little over two years. She works for Stericycle picking up hazardous wastes (the big containers that hold the needles) for various hospitals. The couple has two daughters: Kodae, 24 and Emily, 22. Emily is a stay-at-home mom to one-year-old daughter, Oakley. She and her fiancé, Dakota, live in Olean.
Mark is a member of the Allegany County Highway and the New York State Highway Associations. In his spare time, he loves to hunt and golf, although he admits he's “not too good on the links. I also love watching the Buffalo Bills play.”
On the Job
The department's facilities are interconnected.
“The office and what we call the old shop is what was here originally,” Mark said. “I believe it was in the 1960s. Sometime in the '80s, they added two more bays, a parts room and an attached garage. At that time, there was a three-bay cold storage that wasn't enclosed on the front side. Around 2010, there was enough money to enclose and insulate it and add garage doors. We have five large bays that can handle most any equipment and three smaller ones. Several pieces have to stay outside all winter.”
“Our salt shed holds several thousand tons of salt and sand mix,” he added. “Lots of times we'll go through more than that, especially the last few winters when there was a lot more snow. Our township is in the northwest corner of Allegany County. If the wind is right, we'll get some lake effect off of Erie.”
The town also has its own gravel pit.
“If you have your own gravel pit, you must have a mining permit regulated by the DEC. Our pit is being sold, so we're probably going to have to purchase gravel elsewhere at a higher price. We don't own the pit. We pay the landowners for the gravel, then pay a crushing outfit to come in. It's getting harder to find good gravel and a good gravel pit because a lot of the ground is clay. It's not very gravely. Our pit is actually in the town of Rushford, just out of our township. We've been making a 75-minute haul round-trip per load. That doesn't last long. Sometimes if it's raining, we'll haul all day so we can stockpile. It costs too much to have it hauled.”
As superintendent, it's Mark's job to maintain the town's 110.3 lane miles of road; 15.27 of which are gravel and 36.38 are paved. That translates into three plowing routes that take about three hours to clear.
Mark relies on his three full-time employees to serve the town's 2,339 residents. His crew includes mechanical equipment operators (MEOs) Sean Hatch, deputy; Cory Armison; and Tevrett Covedill. While Mark feels fortunate to have a great batch of guys, “I could use more help. When I started as a seasonal employee, there were four full-time and three part-timers who worked most of the year as laborers/equipment operators. Now there's three. Just as I was taking over as superintendent, the part-time position was cut. I'm trying to get it back.”
The town of Caneadea's highway department functions on a total operating budget of $183,500.
“That includes CHIPS, PAVE-NY and Extreme Winter Recovery. We also receive $128,500 for summer road maintenance.”
Keeping the Fleet Current
Mark acknowledged that the trucks and equipment are so much better now than when his grandfather and brother were running things.
“In the last 15 to 20 years, there's been a big jump in prices. Now, a tandem axle, 10-wheeler plow truck is around $225,000 to $230,000. We looked at one of our 90s something and it's almost $100,000 cheaper. The regulations don't help where you have urea systems, burn offs and DEF. They have to do with emissions on the diesel engine for better emissions for the environment. That's added another $10,000-$30,000 to a piece of equipment. It causes a lot of maintenance issues, too. Quite a few of them have had problems because of that.”
To help get the job done, the department uses an imposing fleet of equipment that includes:
• 1991 Ingersoll Rand dirt roller
• 1995 wood chipper (jointly owned with the town of Belfast)
• 1997 Hitachi track excavator
• 2004 Hyundai HL757-7 wheel loader
• 2005 Terex backhoe
• 2007 Superior broom
• 2009 Kubota M8540 tractor with Diamond flail mower
• 2009, 2016 Chevy 2500
• 2010 Kenworth tandem dump truck with Tenco plow equipment
• 2013 Interstate 20-ton trailer (jointly owned with the town of Belfast)
• 2013 Freightliner tandem dump truck with Everest plow equipment
• 2013 Volvo EW 160 rubber-tire excavator
• 2018 Ford F350 dump truck with plow and sander
• 2018 Mack tandem dump truck with Everest plow equipment
• 2018 Felling 8-ton trailer
• 2019 Bomag 47-in. double drum roller
• 2019 John Deere 672G all-wheel drive motorgrader
Every highway superintendent prides themselves on having an up-to-date fleet. For Mark, that's easier said than done.
“Trying to keep up with the equipment you have to constantly be purchasing something. We got behind. Based on its life expectancy, our loader was due this year. Also, our grader was overdue and our roller was well overdue.”
When it comes to budgeting for new equipment, “Normally, one truck is bonded and one piece of equipment is leased. Our first lease was for a 2013 Volvo rubber-tire excavator. It was for 15 years. I fought them on that. I didn't think it was a good idea because it was such a long time. I worried about going that far out, but it will be paid for this year. I'm trying to get a new loader starting with next year's budget. One company offers a seven-year lease at 3.9 percent. Another is a smaller percentage but for five years. I'd like to see fewer years even though you're holding more.”
Mark also is happy about his recent purchases.
“We purchased a 2019 Bomag 47-inch double drum roller outright this year. Thanks to Senator Kathy Young, we also bought a 2019 John Deere 672G motorgrader all-wheel drive. She was able to get us most of the $300,600. We had to pay $3,000 to $4,000 out of our budget. You can't beat that. She left the position shortly thereafter. That's going to hurt some areas out here. You could tell she cared about her constituents and her area. If she could help, she did.”
When asked about his favorite part of the job, Mark was quick to answer. “Summer construction work. I love being outside and operating the equipment.”
The most difficult part?
“The long hours in the winter. That affects your family, too. Lots of times it's seven days a week. If it's bad, anywhere from 4 a.m. to 10 at night. You can't get to sleep right away. You need time to settle down. The guys may go home and grab something quick. Then, within an hour, they're back at it.
“I have a budget for overtime. Some of these winters, we come close to spending a lot of what was in there for wages. Plus, salt and sand. My predecessor had several lean years, so he allowed the budget to keep going down on salt and sand. He didn't understand you can't go off your lean years. You have to plan for the worst so you have enough money to plow and salt roads.”
Mark's worst experience came before becoming highway superintendent.
“One summer over a decade ago, we got hit with a big flood that caused major damage. We got everything fixed and then we had another flood that ripped everything out. It took a lot of time and money to fix it the second time. You don't forget something like that.”
Has the job been everything he expected?
“There was more unexpected stuff. You never realize as a worker how much paperwork and computer stuff there is in addition to helping the guys do their work. There's a lot more to it than you'd think. Every year, they add more regulations, more paperwork to fill out. I was pretty well prepped to be able to do the job thanks to my brother.”
Looking ahead, Mark would like to replace a drainage grate system that's a long grade at the bottom of a hill.
“It catches the water off the hill, so it doesn't run into one of the college buildings. It's about ready to fail. I've been working with a welding outfit to get estimates. It's about a $15,500 job. It had me worried and stressed a little because part of it could fail at any time, so I'm trying to get to it as fast as I can or as fast as they can get the materials. It's looking like later this month. I'm hoping for the best that it lasts that long.”
Would he like to change anything about the job?
“I wish I had the money to buy new equipment. I'd like to see all the roads hard road. With our budget, I don't ever see it happening. The services are suffering and it's making us do more with less.”
About the Town of Caneadea
Caneadea is a town in Allegany County, N.Y. The population was 2,542 at the 2010 census.
The name is of Seneca language origin and means “where the heavens rest on earth.” The Seneca were the dominant Iroquoian tribe in this western part of their territory and were known as the “gatekeepers.” They were one of the Five Nations of the Haudenonsaunee or Iroquois League.
The town is in the northwest quadrant of the county.
Caneadea was named after the upper, or old Seneca village located on a bluff above the east side of the Genesee River opposite the site of present-day Houghton. They were one of the original Five Nations of the Iroquois League or Haudenosaunee, and dominated the western area of the large territory. Sometime in the latter half of the 18th century, the Seneca built a square log council house here with the help of British troops from Fort Niagara. Usually their council houses were in the form of longhouses.
The region was first settled by European Americans around 1800, after most of the Seneca had left for Canada, with a remnant forced to a reservation. Their bands had allied with the British during the American Revolutionary War and, after defeat, it had ceded all its territory east of the Mississippi River to the new United States, without consulting with its allies.
The town of Caneadea was founded in 1808 from part of the town of Angelica. However, the town was reduced as the population increased and other towns were formed from this territory in the county: Friendship (1815), Rushford (1816), and Belfast (1824 and 1831). The Caneadea Reservation of the Seneca tribe was once located in the town, but they sold off their claims in 1825 under pressure from white speculators.
The former Genesee Valley Canal once passed through the town.
The Caneadea Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 36.3 sq. mi. of which 35.6 sq. mi. is land and 0.69 sq. mi., or 1.91 percent, is water.
The town developed along the Genesee River, an important and historic Western New York river, which had also been valued by the Seneca. Rushford Lake is partly at the town's west line, and Caneadea Creek is an important stream in the town.
New York State Route 19 passes through the town (north-south) and intersects New York State Route 243 north of Canaeadea village.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,694 people, 650 households, and 436 families residing in the town. The population density was 75.8 people per sq. mi. There were 1,098 housing units at an average density of 30.9 per sq. mi.
Notable people: Lady Baldwin, 19th-century baseball pitcher and William Muldoon, wrestler and first New York State Athletic Commissioner.
(History courtesy of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caneadea,_New_York)