Feb 172013

The Blizzard of ’13 will be remembered for a long time, but it’s likely to be a really strong memory for the hundreds of plow truck drivers that labored for hours — some of them for more than 24 straight, to keep the roads clear.

Josh Degen’s strongest memory is being the only vehicle on sections of Route 3 and 128 Saturday morning, after the snow stopped and before the driving ban expired. No other traffic on either side of the road or in the rearview mirrors as he drove into Boston after clearing roads in Dunstable, to plow out his company’s commercial customers. “I wish I’d gotten pictures — it was really eerie,” he said.

Degen is pretty well-known both as a long-time Groton Selectman and owner of Earthscape Inc., a landscape and landscape construction company. But landscaping is seasonal work and in the off-season, he’s always on the road when the winter weather is the worst and other drivers are heading home. He’s been plowing snow for almost 30 years, since 1984. His company serves about 30 commercial plow clients in Boston, and Earthscape is in its tenth year under contract to Dunstable, to clear town roads.

He usually drives a black Ford F-350 one ton truck with dual wheels in the back, pushing a 9 foot wide plow through snow lit up with a herd of LED strobe lights. During the blizzard, he was on the road from early Friday, through Saturday, and on into Sunday with just a few breaks.

Now I’m looking at the world through a windshield
And see everything in a little bit different light
— Del Reeves

“The hardest part of the job is doing a good job and not taking out people’s mailboxes, landscapes, or cars. You need incredible depth perception. When you have massive amounts of snow on your blade, you have to be aware of trees, rocks, stuff that’s barely sticking out but that you have to miss.

“And you need the stamina to stay out there for 24, 30 hours straight on these huge storms.

“You always have to be concerned that the person driving the other way isn’t a great driver. There have been at least 50 times over my career where people have done stupid things that would have resulted in fatalities or heavy damage,” he said.

His favorite part of the storm is at the end. “Getting paid,” he said with a laugh. “It’s white gold. But it’s fun being out there once the snow stops flying, and the sun comes out the next morning. After the snow ends, we go anywhere from 3-6 hours beyond the end of the storm, cleaning up the municipal buildings, town fields, library, and making a final pass over the roads.”