Days after a nor’easter dumped almost 2 feet of snow in Massachusetts, the snow banks that turned wide avenues into quaint narrow lanes still stand.

And there’s no municipal help in sight.

All I can think about is how the crews of 1960s-era Lewiston Public Works Department would laugh in mockery if they could see the paltry snow-removal efforts of today.

Yes, back then it cost much less to clear snow, and we probably sacrificed our library and school budgets. But we had the best snow-fighting team in America.

As soon as a storm let up, the DPW, which had already dispatched dozens of snow-pushing plows, sent its tireless snow-clearing team into action.

First priority: the downtown streets — Lisbon, Lincoln, Park and Main. In the pre-mall days, the downtown was all-important to commerce.

Then the crew would radiate to the next largest arteries and maybe hit a smaller residential street or two. It was a very rare treat when they visited Franklin Street where I lived.

I enjoyed the action. Around breakfast time, I’d phone the DPW and ask for the location of today’s operations. Some unlucky secretary, compelled to talk to an eight-year-old kid first thing in the morning, listed seven to 12 streets. Then she asked why I wanted to know.

“To see the Loader,” I said.

When my mother wasn’t working, she chauffeured me to a street on the list. Sometimes the DPW was working when we arrived. But if not, we were in for a terrific payoff — a parade of hungry, snarling, snow-fighting equipment.

First appeared what I called “the little guys.” Each was a small bug of a vehicle with two big tires, canvas-covered cab and oversized plow to which was affixed a metal wheel for balance.

Oblivious to the curb, they jumped onto sidewalks, popped wheelies and extricated snow around utility poles. With help from the 10 or so shovel-toting foot soldiers, they pushed the snow into the gutter.

Then came a pair of graders, arachnid-like monsters with a single large plow. With their massive angled tires, the graders obliterated the snow banks and transformed them into a thigh-high snaky line of white down the center of the street. This prepared the stage for the star — the Loader.

In later years, the Loader was a snow blower on steroids that sucked in the snow and exhaled it into a slow-crawling dump truck at its side.

But earlier, the Loader was a stegosaurus-like escalator that gathered the snow onto its conveyor belt like a deceptively friendly animal of prey.

The conveyor system was likely not an optimum arrangement, because the dump truck had to drive close behind, and underneath, the Loader. Once the truck was filled, it made its getaway while the Loader stopped to catch its breath.

One time, because the Loader suffered a mechanical problem, the crew got way ahead and built miles of snow lines on several streets.

Unseen by me, some anonymous prankster had placed icy boulders on top of the line — an act of treason.

Oh, no, I thought. How will the Loader handle this obstacle? And why would anyone do such a thing? My mother didn’t have the answers.

Years later, when I was a teen, I landed a summer job with a DPW survey crew. I liked the bustling garages where, in the morning, the men gathered to sip coffee, talk sports and tease a fellow employee.

One day I noticed a quiet area out by the perimeter fence. In the weeds were dozens of derelict DPW vehicles, their orange bodies rusting and paint fading.

One sad specimen amid the clutter stopped me cold. It was my old friend.

Time had not been kind to the Loader. Its conveyor belt was askew, its cab windows shattered. It looked like a junk heap. But I knew the truth: It was once a king.

Peter Ward was born and raised in Lewiston. He now lives in Melrose, Mass.


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