Pushing snow: Long-time provincial plow operator relishes role


Published on February 16, 2017

Robert Watts has been pushing snow for the province for more than 15 years. He likes his job, but would enjoy it even more if motorists would be a little more cautious driving in poor weather.

©JIM DAY/TC MEDIA

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — With roughly 60 minutes left in his long shift, Robert Watts is taking a final run Thursday pushing snow off roads in Charlottetown and Stratford.

Conditions suit him to a tee on this particular morning.

Visibility is good.

No snow is falling.

The wind is not nearly as strong as it has been during the recent rash of storms that have pounded the province.

And, to his delight, the 49-year-old Clyde River man has little company on the road.

“It’s a very quiet day out here today,’’ he observes with a smile.

That certainly is not always the case.

Heavy traffic can make Watts’s work far more challenging and stressful than his relatively relaxing run Thursday.

Too many motorists, notably those trying to rush in to work, fail to offer Watts and his big rig much respect.

“They don’t give you much room,’’ he notes.

“They are zigzagging…they don’t give you a break.’’

Robert Watts, 49, of Clyde River hops out of his cab Thursday after putting in a 12-hour shift clearing snow for the province.
JIM DAY/TC MEDIA

When Watts is plowing roads, he must balance his attention between clearing snow with being mindful of motorists driving too fast, too close, and too carelessly.

“I’m constantly looking back and forth at what’s around me,’’ he says.

Watts, though, has long settled comfortably into his role behind the wheel.

He has been plowing snow for the province for more than 15 years.

Today, he is one of approximately 75 drivers that take to the road in one of the roughly 150 provincial snowplows to clear the main roads and feeder roads across Prince Edward Island.

When the snow flies, as it has been doing rather relentlessly of late, Watts works 12 hours on and 12 hours off, working either noon to midnight or midnight to noon.

“Sometimes it goes by pretty quick,’’ he says.

“It depends how busy you are.’’

He keeps the cab of the truck very warm in order to ensure the windows remain clear.

The heat came make him a bit sleepy at times, he concedes, but to remain alert the one-cup-per-day coffee drinker relies on plenty of sleep before hopping behind the wheel.

Watts has a fairly set approach to his route, usually following the same path in clearing snow over 20 to 30 kilometres of road that includes the Charlottetown Bypass and Hillsborough Bridge.

He also relishes the role.

“I like pushing the snow,’’ he says.

“I like seeing it come off the wing.’’

 

Shawn Lund, a heavy duty mechanic, repairs a broken wing brace on a snow plow Thursday in the provincial garage.
JIM DAY/TC MEDIA

Team effort

Back at the provincial garage, a team of 20 mechanics, half a dozen welders, on machinist plus laborers and support staff work to keep the province’s snow clearing equipment in working order.

The recent harsh weather has put them – and the equipment - to the test.

Depot manager Donnie Marton says both the workers and the machines have faired well.

“It’s been really busy but our equipment has held up really well,’’ he says. As for the workers, he adds: “A lot of hours – long hours, but a great bunch of guys, an incredibly talented group. There is nothing they can’t fix.’’

Allan Misner works in the provincial garage hosing down a loader mount blower that goes on a front-end loader. The blower is capable of blowing 3,000 tons of snow an hour.

©JIM DAY/TC MEDIA