For town of Horseheads Highway Superintendent Marty Vanderhoff, a job well done is reward enough for his toil.
Whether it's keeping the streets safe in winter, cleaning up after a storm or doing more with less money, those are the best days on the job for this town resident of 50-plus years.
Marty grew up on a farm in Elmira Heights and worked for his father's construction company, Vanderhoff Construction/Vanderhoff Excavating.
“I drove a dump truck, dump truck trailer, hauled equipment around for different jobs. We blacktopped and did anything that had to do with residential housing. We put in several developments. My father is still in the business.
“I split out of that and went to work for a private company called Banfield-Baker. Then I worked for Zeiser Vault for seven years. It was all pre-cast. They had their own burial side, pre-cast for septic tanks, drywalls and manholes. I drove a crane truck and delivered products. After that, I went back to work for my dad for four years. That's when Elmira Heights called.
“Elmira Heights was a street department. I was hired as an operator/laborer in December 2003. I worked there until February 2012. I'd heard that several other departments were looking for a superintendent and deputy superintendent. I put my application in at Horseheads and was hired as the deputy.”
“I was in Elmira Heights for nine years. They mentioned that when John retired, I'd be the next superintendent. Then the Horseheads job came along. I said I'd try it and see if I like it. If I didn't, I could always go back to Elmira Heights.”
Marty was appointed highway superintendent in 2015.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Married to his wife, Linda, for 21 years, Marty is the proud father of two sons and two stepdaughters. “My son, Brian, 32. works for Core Materials driving a crane truck. He and his wife, Amy, have two children, Mason, 8, and Madaleine, 5. Eric, 28, is a union electrician through Mills Electric. He has a six-year-old daughter, Kasey. My stepdaughter, Kristen, lives on an island called Jersey in the U.K. At 39, she has her own clothing line and does fund-raising for the local hospital and government. My other stepdaughter, Jenn, is 32. She works for Visiting Angels Home Senior Care.
During his off hours, Marty and his wife enjoy traveling.
“We've been overseas several times. A group of us went to Scotland, Paris then to Jersey. My dream destination would be Hong Kong. I like the bigger cities even though they're a pain to get around. They seem to spark me more. I'd also like to visit Hawaii and Las Vegas one day. My wife and I also like to take day trips to Kuka Lake and the casinos. I used to hunt and fish, but not anymore.”
All About the Job
Built in 1986, the town of Horseheads' highway department is spread out among several buildings, including:
• Wash bay
• Salt barn
• Main highway department building
• Three sheds
• Park bay
• Truck lifts for large and small vehicles
• Fuel station (old fuel station converted into storages)
• Two offices
• Park pavilions
“We have a new salt barn that's 62 feet by 100 feet and holds roughly 3,300 tons. I have a salt mixture and a country mix — 1B stone — that consists of three buckets of stone to one bucket of salt. Compared to sand, the 1B gets better traction. It's not as dirty so, in the spring, when we're out there with our street sweeper, it's easier to clean up the sand. We also have a combination of sand and stone. It's three buckets of stone to one salt. There's probably 2,000 tons of winter mixture in the barn now. I'll order another 3,000 tons of salt that will be delivered 300 tons at a time until the building starts to get empty. Then I'll add more.”
As the highway department's “top dog,” Marty is responsible for maintaining the town's 188 lane miles of road; all of which are paved. That translates into 10 plowing routes that take four hours to complete. He also takes care of one of the biggest BMX (bicycle motor cross) tracks in the state.
“We have a 1,400-foot-long track. Within the last three years, the place has grown tremendously from about 20 BMXers to between 120 to 180 on weekends. That's about a 400 percent in-crease. Todd, who just retired, built the track 20 years ago when we put in the development out there. In addition, nine baseball fields, a pavilion, two lacrosse and three soccer fields sit on 44 acres.”
Together, Marty and his crew of 11 serve the town's 24,200 residents. His staff includes deputy superintendent Tyler Griffin; equipment operators Mike Dipetta, Jeremy Radford, Brenton Austin, Krista Rhodes, Chase LaRue, Alex Loper, Justin Riker, Ben Hager and Zack Holden; and Matt Mowchan.
“Krista has her CDL and her own truck (It's a standard) and plow route. She runs the street sweeper. I told her, 'You're running it. You're going to know how to maintain it.' Now, she jumps right in. Changes the oil. Tightens the belts.”
Marty also has a staff of part-time and park employees. Part-timers are Wesley Radford, Jessica Personias, Curtis West, Billy Rapalley, Tom Barcomb, Tom Spring and Carl Bush. Park employees include Billy Rapalley, Gail Malow, Bill Eastwood, Gary Bliel and Gary Patrick. Some of them go over to the highway department as part-timers during the winter.
“I couldn't ask for a better crew. Everybody here knows their job and they do it well. What they do makes me look good. They work well as a team. There's a new crew of young guys at Elmira Heights. First time plowing this year, I had to send one down there and one to help plow. They got it the way I wanted it the first time. I was impressed. I took them out to breakfast because of that. I told them, 'There's always room for improvement, but it was an awesome job.'”
As of January 1, 2018, Marty is doing double duty. He took over the village of Elmira Heights.
“With me working in the village, the board always said they were going to get me back. I declined seven times. Finally, they said, 'It's in the town of Horseheads, so we'd like to give it a shot.' I told them I'd make it work. It took nearly one year to get the contract straightened out. The problem with the previous superintendent was he'd tell the guys to do something then somebody would jump in and say, 'I want you to do this.' There were too many cooks in the kitchen. I'm the type of guy who, if something's thrown in my lap, I'll make it work. As a team, we'll make it work. And we did.”
Under Marty's guidance, the town of Horsehead's highway department runs on a total operating budget of $3 million that includes salaries, employee benefits and an annual CHIPS allocation of $128,555.99. He also has a $400,000 budget to run the parks.
To fulfill its responsibilities the department uses a cavalcade of equipment consisting in part of:
• Volvo L110F loader
• Caterpillar mini-excavator
• John Deere tractor with mower
• Mack 700GU dump truck
• Ford F550 dump truck (two)
• Cub Cadet 864 snowblower
• Caterpillar D5K2 bulldozer
• Mauldin 3000 small roller
• Kubota Z725-60 mower
• Kubota B3350 SU tractor
• Cat 938M loader
• Mack GU712 dump truck
• International 7600 dump truck
• Caterpillar 938 loader
• Volvo C110 loader
• 10-wheeler dump truck
• Single axle dump truck
• Caterpillar DK5 dozer
• Caterpillar 308 excavator
• 1,100-lb. sled tamp
• Power broom (2)
• 208 skid steer with 30-in. milling head
• Tymco street sweeper
• John Deere 6025 with 22-ft. Alamo mower
• Fuel truck
• Water truck
• Pickup trucks
• Bandit 13887 wood chipper
• Rollers (small, medium and large)
• 580 backhoe
• Ventra mower
• Steiner mower
Marty admits he's accomplished a great deal since he's been in office. For starters, he developed 10-year plans for equipment and roads.
“There are 187 roads in the town. Some are short; others are long. It all depends. I try to do six miles a year with stone and oil. The only thing I changed from my predecessor is I use a hot mix instead of a cold one. The difference is the cold mix is an asphalt that's put down with a pugmill. We mix it in the parking lot. We haul the materials in, mix it, load it in the truck and then take it to the job. If you roll it, the emulsions will break up. That's what bonds it together. Years ago, I was told that's the way to go because of the wet winters up here. It's more flexible. I hadn't dealt with that until I came up from Elmira Heights.
“Lots of townships still use cold mix. At first glance, it looks cheaper but after everything is hauled in — the time and the trucks and the fuel — it's not cost efficient for us. At one point, everyone in Chemung County used a cold mix. Some of the other superintendents are still using it. When I worked for my dad, we built quite a few roads. We'd put hot mix down and we'd be set.”
Marty's 10-year plan for equipment is equally effective.
“Starting with my pickup trucks, I'm looking at every two years. That way, they still have a one-year warranty. For what we pay, we'll probably make a little bit on them. The 550s, 10-wheelers and single axles are on a seven-year plan to get swapped. Items, like the road mower, street sweeper, rollers and woodchippers, are on a 10-year plan. We have a few leases and buy-back programs with Milton Cat and Case. Every year, I swap the loader out. That way, we're not changing oil, fixing tires. It's all under warranty. For the amount you're swapping out, you'd be putting out for a service plan.”
How does a highway superintendent budget for new equipment?
“I try to put $300,000 in for new equipment every year. Now we have some vehicles that are on a five-year payment plan. That adds to the budget. Then several hundred thousand dollars is added in for previous payments. I still try to get my $300,000 in, which I do most of the time, but it's a struggle every year.”
Like most highway superintendents, Marty admits technology isn't always his friend.
“Computers and I don't see eye-to-eye. I write everything down. That's what the previous superintendent did. Now, everything is digital. Like a new grader. They don't have steering wheels anymore. Instead, they have levers. If you played Atari, you'd be good at that. I was brought up old school. The backhoes with the levers. Now everything is joysticks. If I jumped in one now, I'd be all thumbs.
“We also have a new backhoe with a quick steer on it that was giving us trouble. A representative from the dealer was here and couldn't figure it out. They called their engineers to find out what's wrong. They're waiting back on that. Hopefully, they'll give them the OK to change the power steering out. We would have tackled the old equipment, put in a new steering box and be done with it. That's the problem with new stuff. It's still on warranty. Then you have to get the company to warranty it. We still can use it, but when you go to turn it feels like hitting a big stone in the road. It catches and turns and catches and turns. Someplace there's not a lot of pressure for it to operate properly.
Marty is the first to admit he likes almost everything about his job — except the paperwork — especially when it comes to FEMA. They're tough to deal with. They have field staff to help you out, which is great, but when you hear FEMA and paperwork, it's like, 'Here we go again.' You do everything you're supposed to then at the end, the amount of money you get makes you say, 'Was it worth it?' If you got millions of dollars, then yes but for something small…”
Now, four years in, is there anything he'd like to change about the job?
“It would be nice to have a secretary and a new facility where there's room to put everything. We're crouched, even with all the doors on this place. The Parks' stuff is here too. I'm trying to work on the building out there. Then I'd have plenty of room and I could add several bays.”
Looking ahead, Marty has an ambitious list of projects he'd like to bring to fruition.
“I'd like to keep up with our road inventory/construction. I have several [housing] developments I want to do next year. Birdland is one. It's milling and paving mix. We went through this year and did all the dry wells. We tried to do the crossover pipes the year before. We'll let them settle, so when we're ready to redo the roads, they won't settle. I also have a long road that has to be done in three phases. It'll be finished next year.”
When asked to describe his job in one word, Marty hesitated for a moment before answering.
“Fun. I like what I'm doing. That makes a difference. If it was something you didn't like, you'd dread getting up in the morning and going to work.”
Like most highway supers, when it's all said and done Marty wants to be remembered as “being an easy-going boss, doing a good job, helping people and keeping the town roads safe.”
What more could the townspeople ask for?
How It Started
Horseheads is the first and only town and village in the United States dedicated to the service of the American military horse. A 28-sq.-mi. memorial, unparalleled in American military history, is the proud distinction that enshrines the town and village of Horseheads.
Sept. 24, 1779 — this date hallmarks the time and hallowed ground where lie the true relics and sun-bleached skulls of the American military pack horses of the armies of Major General John Sullivan. These peaceful servants of General Sullivan and his officers, with about 5,000 “ragged rebels” (as expressed by King George III) brought forth a gallantry in the American Revolutionary War's western campaign against the Six Nations of Native Americans (Iroquois).
Burdened down with heavy military equipment in their 450-mi. journey through a wooden wilderness from Easton, Pa., over to Wyoming, and on up the Susquehanna River Trail to Elmira, N.Y., they continued north through Horseheads to the Finger Lakes Region and west to Geneseo. Returning the same route to Horseheads, these military pack horses had reached the end of their endurance. Here, General Sullivan, through humanitarian reasons was compelled to dispose of these partners in the cause of American freedom.
A few years later, the skulls of the horses were arrayed along the trail in defiant fashion by a few returning Native Americans, as a gesture that the same fate would be met by any settler, should he attempt to homestead on this location. The first settlers, reading these Native American signs, promptly built their homes on the spot. The town and village of Horseheads rose in tribute to glorify the event. This location, first known as “The Valley of Horses Heads” was later changed to Horseheads.
The village was incorporated on May 15, 1837, as “Fairport,” not Horseheads originally, because of its location on the Chemung Canal, which had then been in operation nearly four years. The 16-mi. feeder canal coming down the valley from Corning joined the Chemung Canal just a short distance northeast of Hanover Square. The important office of the toll collector was located here, and all boats and barges were required to stop, have their cargoes weighed and pay tolls on same. There was a lock on West Franklin Street where old and young gathered to watch the boats “locked through.”
There were many people who loved the old revolutionary-born name and urged its return. Due to their efforts, the name Horseheads was restored in 1845. Again in 1885, the name was changed to North Elmira. Just one year and much political fireworks later the old name was re-turned.
The Horseheads Historical Society was established to preserve the history of the village. Among the facilities the society is responsible for are Zim House, the Museum at the Depot and the bandstand in Teal Park. The village owns the bandstand, but the Historical Society has a special interest as Zim (Eugene Zimmerman) designed it.
The Teal Park Bandstand was designed and built by “Zim” and his father-in-law in 1910. Located on S. Main Street, it has weekly summer band concerts. Its 100th anniversary was celebrated in 2010. It has been placed on the National Register.
Zim House was conveyed in 1980 to the Historical Society by Laura Zimmerman. The home includes all of the contents consisting of papers, sketches, correspondence, furniture and many fine mementos of Zim's life. It is also on the National Register.
The Railroad Depot, located on W. Broad Street, was purchased by the Historical Society and restored for use as a museum. displaying artifacts of local history. There also is a display of local schools and graduates.
The town is proud to have had Eugene Zimmerman as a resident of the community. “Zim” was a political cartoonist in the 1800s working in New York City but married a Horseheads girl and built his home here.
(History courtesy of http://www.horseheads.org/index.php?n=About.History) P