Although he hasn't decided if he'll retire when his current term ends on Dec. 31, 2021, Kendall Highway Superintendent Warren Kruger is already contemplating both “a bucket list 27 miles long” at home and his legacy after 32 years on the job. “I think my legacy will be 'I paved this road. It's no Mt. Rushmore,'” he deadpanned.
In all seriousness, he imagines his legacy will be the evolution of the highway department into a diversified public works department that serves the community. “There isn't much of anything we will not tackle,” he said.
When he does retire, his future successor will benefit from the notes and files he's compiling so the next superintendent can get off to a good start. His own predecessor held the position for 25 years before retiring, so Warren understands how beneficial a little explanation and direction here and there will be to the next in line.
A Draining Legacy
During his tenure in office, Warren has rebuilt and paved his share of roads, but the work he is more likely to be remembered for — and which he enjoys the most — will probably involve drainage.
“I enjoy drainage work,” he confirmed: the installation of water mains and upgrading infrastructure in culverts is a benefit to the agricultural, residential and road infrastructure.
For the first 20 years on the job, Warren led his crew in performing extensive drainage work because surface water was an issue. They put together a strategy and “made dents in issues all over town” by forming drain basins and creating box culverts, which he said work well in flat areas like Kendall.
They rebuilt and upgraded thousands of feet of the 100-year-old storm drain system in the hamlet and the reworked drainage infrastructure dating back to 1930s' Depression-era WPA projects. Their work has received recognition in the form of the Contractor of the Year Award from the Orleans County Soil and Water Conservation District in 2003, an award normally reserved for the private sector.
Whether updating old systems or installing new ones, Warren relies on the latest technology. Kendall was the first town in Orleans County to purchase and use laser equipment for drainage work.
It's work he enjoys.
“I like laying out large drainage projects. It's fun because it's not the norm. Each [project] presents unique challenges that are a change of pace from routine road work.”
Drainage work continues, with plans to install another mile of water main next spring.
However, over the years, the work has been interrupted and delayed by issues with Lake Ontario. For example, 2017 saw a disaster with lake levels at their highest in 100 years, only to be followed two years later by near-record shoreline flooding that resulted in a second declaration of a state of emergency requiring an immediate response that included pumps, sand bags, AquaDams and the National Guard.
New York State provided $100 million to rebuild communities along the Lake Ontario shoreline after the 2017 flooding and announced an additional $49 million this year as part of the first round of funding under the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative. Funds will be used to install more resilient box culverts to assist when high water levels clog them with debris and to install riprap along the waterfront to protect the eroding shoreline.
Erosion contributes to flooding and drainage challenges. “Erosion is a big issue,” he said.
In the hope of protecting shoreline property, he applied for a $397,000 state grant to install break walls and erosion control structures on eight town-owned lake sites. Work was scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019, but flooding delayed the start of work until fall. They're in the process of completing work as weather permits.
After the 2019 event, New York State announced an additional $49 million as part of the first round of funding under the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative. Kendall is to receive $9 million on a joint project with the town of Hamlin to install a sewer system along the lake shoreline areas affected by the flooding. The highway department will receive $1.5 million to address culverts and drainage ways issues.
The Town of Kendall
Located in Orleans County, about 25 miles northwest of Rochester, the town of Kendall wasn't officially formed (out of about half the town of Murray) until 1837, but the first settlers arrived from Vermont circa 1812. The area settled slowly because it wasn't on a travel line or trade route, it hadn't been surveyed into lots for sale and because the land was covered in dense forest, bogs and swampy terrain.
The opening of the nearby Erie Canal in 1825 made settlement easier and boosted the local wheat and lumber markets. Nevertheless, the population remains slightly under 3,000, and is roughly divided into three categories: the old guard with agricultural interests, whose families have lived there for generation; the bedroom community — residents who relocated from urban areas where they continue to work; and the lakefront community. “It's a balancing act,” Warren said. “They all have varying interests and needs to accommodate.”
A repressed area, at heart, it's a rural, agricultural area with a snippet of tourism — “mostly fishing,” Warren said.
Whichever way it's categorized, Kendall is where Warren has lived all his life. His father was a machinist and mechanic who ran a business focused on construction machinery, which is where Warren got his start. After high school, he studied drafting, but worked in the transportation and construction industries.
The oldest of eight, he has always had a close-knit family. He and his wife, Lynette, have five children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild, almost all of whom live close by. The motivation to be around his family, along with his involvement in the community, encouraged him to seek a local job. The position of highway supervisor pays less money than some careers he considered, but he said there are trade-offs.
He was first elected on Jan. 1, 1990, and has never been opposed in an election.
“I get along with both parties,” said the unflappable superintendent, adding that he's “been through six or seven town supervisors” and numerous board members during his tenure.
The position suits his nature, offering diverse duties such as plowing and fabricating. It incorporates his background and skills from construction and offers him ample opportunity to do what he enjoys: “designing and fixing things.” For example, although the town hires La Bella Associates, an engineering firm in Rochester, for major design work, he prefers to do as much design in-house as possible.
Equipped for the Job
Warren and his crew of four full-time employees do 99 percent of all equipment maintenance in house, as well. But, he added, “like Clint Eastwood says, we know our limitations.” Comfortable working on brakes, clutches, kingpins and engines, or doing routine PMs, he shies away from the complex specialized electronics on newer equipment.
The equipment they maintain includes:
• Four Macks and two Peterbilts — all-purpose trucks to dump, plow, etc.
• One Freightliner low-pro truck for the subdivisions
• Three pick-up trucks
• Two rubber-tire rollers
• A Cat grader
• A mini-excavator
• A 20-ton large track excavator
• One rubber-tire excavator
• A drum roller
• A self-propelled chip-spreading machine for tar and stone maintenance
• A couple medium tractors with bush hogs and other attachments
• One large tractor with a loader for mowing and a power broom attachment
• A Cat 950 loader
• A Bobcat
• Assorted pumps and generators
• A used vacuum truck to flush sewers and manholes
• A historical Brockway that, while it still runs, has been used largely for ceremonial and display purposes, such as the town's 200th anniversary. Warren is considering donating it to the Brockway museum when he retires.
• A 68-ft. self-propelled manlift to trim trees and put up decorations
• A shoulder machine they built to work on roads. “It's an attachment for the loader,” he said.
He explains that they keep equipment a long time if it's used every day.
“By the time I'm ready to get rid of it, its lifecycle is done,” Warren said, adding that “the guys are handy; they keep equipment in working condition.”
If it's support equipment that is infrequently used, Warren isn't opposed to doing a little bargain shopping for used equipment. “I'll take a risk to save money.”
When the town needed a chip spreader, he bought two non-running ones for a few thousand dollars with the intention of making one running spreader. “It's old technology, but it works.” In fact, he chuckles, it's so old, its serial number is only five digits. Nevertheless, he rationalized, “Even though we only use it 10 to 12 days a year, it costs $2,400 per day to rent one, so it's cheaper to own this stuff.”
This philosophy has saved the town close to $2 million over the past 27 years, he calculated. The money saved has been invested in the roads.
He has a good working relationship with neighboring towns, sometimes swapping or co-purchasing equipment, but this has drawbacks because sometimes there's not enough equipment to go around. With a shortage of small grading dozers and brush chippers available, both items are on his wish list. But, he lamented, “something more important always comes up.”
With a gross operating budget of $773,000, it's difficult to allot money for big equipment purchases. Warren said he can count on a CHIPS allocation of $81,445, but the past couple winters, the town got a “$10,000 bump” for extreme weather. He supplements the equipment budget with revenue earned from contract work for state and county plowing and water main installations.
Budget restrictions are only part of the reason Warren keeps older equipment in good working order. The hands-on superintendent values machinery and sees the value in taking care of it.
In-house maintenance is possible because Warren built up the town's shop, adding lathes, milling, a hydraulic press brake, welders and other key items. Each of his full-time crew has a particular skill set, he said, which he puts to good use.
Full-timers Eric Maxon, Charles Patt, Jason Hardenbrook and Thomas Wilson are supported by about six part-time people — college kids in the summer, farmers in the winter — working eight-hour shifts Monday-Friday. “They turned down four 10s,” Warren said, in favor of a five-day work week.
Among their duties is care and maintenance of three cemeteries and the local ballfields. The three cemeteries were once privately owned, but due to financial trouble, the municipality had to take them over, so his crew is responsible for mowing and trimming tree branches and hedges.
They're also responsible for snow clearance. Displaying his droll, self-deprecating humor, Warren joked that when he took over the superintendent position, he had an image of himself standing on the rooftop with his cape blowing in the wind, shouting: Bring it on! “Now,” he quipped, “I'm happy if it doesn't snow.”
There's little chance of that. Winters can be harsh in Orleans County, which averages 150 inches of snow a year. “The lake makes it volatile,” Warren said, citing the wrap-around effect it has on snow in their semi-flat basin.
To keep roadways clear, the town has four standard plow routes that take 2 to 2-1/2 hours to complete. Consisting of 56 town lane miles, 44 county miles and 22 state miles, all are paved but three-quarters of a mile in town.
Further aiding traffic, crews spread 2,500-2,600 tons of salt mix during an average winter. Their salt barn — a storage facility they built in 2003 for $100,000 — features a bunker-silo foundation with a cover-all on top. The 5,000-sq.-ft. barn can store up to 3,000 tons, giving Warren capacity for 400 tons of reserve if the building is filled.
Warren saved money by building the salt barn. He cut costs by purchasing a used 7,500-sq.-ft. Morton-type building from another township after they discontinued their recycling program and auctioned off the building as surplus. The building was disassembled and moved to Kendall, where it joins the main building, a 9,750-sq.-ft. structure built in 1965 and two out buildings that total 9,000 sq. ft. of storage space.
The town doesn't have a wastewater treatment plant, but Warren said they might be getting one soon. “It's in the early stages of initial study.” The town received a commitment for a grant to pay for sewers along the shoreline due to lake flooding.
State funding under the Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative will cover 95 percent of the costs of connecting homes to a wastewater system in order to solve septic issues for lakeside residents by connecting them to a sanitary sewer and conveying wastewater to a treatment facility. Funds in excess of $9 million have been allocated by the state. Currently, Warren added, the town is “50/50 well, with 28 miles of public water, but no sewers.”
All the town's vehicles are two-way radio-equipped. Crews use their cell phones as back-up. There's an office computer and another in the breakroom, which serves as dispatch when they're on snow watch. But the hands-on superintendent isn't fond of emails. “I like to be out working with the guys,” Warren said. “I don't want to face a lot of e-mails when I get back to the office.”
Far from being unsociable, Warren likes people. He just prefers “old-school” communication via phone or in-person. Dealing with the public is one aspect of the job he enjoys, although, like most superintendents, he doesn't like paperwork or bureaucracy. “I like my community,” he acknowledged. “There are a lot of good people here.”
There are a lot of good people at home, too. Warren said he has never used up all his vacation time, but these days, he's trying to find more time to spend with his wife and family. The couple like to ride their Harleys on short day-trips or weekend outings, but they have aspirations to venture farther.
“We want to go to Virginia, the Carolinas — ride in the mountains in the fall or early spring when things are changing. If it rains, Kruger says they can camp because he recently purchased a used self-contained Class B camper van big enough for two people, which they can use as a two vehicle for the bikes.
In between trips, the private pilot can indulge another transportation-related hobby by flying his Cessna 150. Back on the ground, while his wife gardens and takes care of office plants for a living, he can take care of their dog, cats, two parrots, fish and their five ducks. “Grandfathers shouldn't be allowed to go to Tractor Supply with grandkids,” he joked.
A car collector and restorer, Warren owns a 1912 Ford model T and a 1929 Ford pickup. He also maintains a “mini antique car” for his grandchildren that he and his father built. There are other vehicles tucked away in barns, awaiting restoration. But, “don't tell my wife,” he laughed.
For now, the easy-going Kendall native looks forward to going to work every day, where he said he tries not to get too stressed. His wife thinks he's married to his job and he admits that “I don't like the idea of retiring,” but said eventually, when he does retire, he hopes the next person carries on with the same mindset and work ethic he has demonstrated since 1990. “I just try to do the best job I can, to be fair and honest.” ? P