March 14, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

Highway heroes keep traffic moving 

Plow drivers just want a little room to maneuver

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Another winter storm swept through Whistler this week and for a few hours, as always, the road conditions were less than ideal. With spring itching to push the winter of 2013 into the past Pique reporter John French went for a ride-along March 12 with Mainroad Contracting to see firsthand the challenges faced by snow plow drivers on Highway 99. He discovered it isn't a job just anyone can do — patience and concentration are key.

The worst of the storm is over and after five hours of plowing between Function Junction and the new Wedgemont subdivision James Goochey has pulled his Mainroad Contracting snowplow off the highway to take on a passenger.

He reaches out with a friendly smile to shake hands as I move to sit down in the only other seat in his office.

Getting into the cab of the newest truck in the Mainroad fleet, a solid looking orange Kenworth, is a bit more work than hopping into my pickup truck. The 15-tonne (33,000 lbs) monster is the equivalent weight of two hefty adult elephants and measures about 13 metres (45 feet) in length. At a height of three-and-a-half metres (12 feet) this truck won't squeeze into the underground parking lot at Creekside.

With a laptop computer, two cameras and a portable recorder in tow, I feel like my tentative entry into the snow-pushing hulk is holding Goochey back already, and he hasn't even put the rig in gear yet.

The instrument panel in front of Goochey is intimidating, with the newest technology wrapping the driver in a cocoon of controls. He looks completely at ease as we head north on Highway 99 toward Pemberton.

Sitting comfortably behind the wheel of the truck, which is equipped with a plow at the front, a small plow underneath the vehicle and a wing on the passenger side, Goochey starts to explain the plow's operations. A stick that looks like a fancy video game joystick from the 1980s controls all the components — it activates hydraulic devices to lift, lower and angle the blades.

The wing is particularly cool. To help the driver keep the wing from catching on barriers, signs and other plow hazards, a green laser is aimed at a point on the road out in front of the rig to show the driver how close it can get to the right side of the road.

I quickly get up to speed with the challenges Goochey and his fellow drivers face on snowy days.

Pedestrians are difficult enough to see in the light of day, says Goochey, but in the dark they are impossible to spot. If the concept of "even more impossible" existed, pedestrians walking on the road at night wearing dark clothing would fit the notion.

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