BETHEL — In the midst of a 27-mile round-trip run — one of many made during Tuesday’s storm — Zach Meisner noticed a truck parked on the side of the road, and the wing of his 32½-ton plow truck was headed straight for it.

With calm confidence, he grabbed one of the many levers to his right and quickly lifted the wing to avoid damaging the poorly parked pickup.

Just another day for a snow fighter.

The Maine Department of Transportation has roughly 400 trucks in its fleet and is responsible for plowing about 8,400 miles of state roads. The state plow truck drivers, referred to as “snow fighters” on the MDOT web page, begin their battle with Old Man Winter before a storm even begins, and don’t stop until hours after the last flake has fallen.

Meisner has been plowing for the Bethel crew for five years, and is used to moments in which he must act quickly to avoid disaster. Tuesday was no exception, bringing a storm that caused hundreds of cancellations and dumped snow, sleet and freezing rain on the roads.

His day started at 7 a.m. sharp, when he arrived at the MDOT garage on Route 2 and completed a detailed “pre-trip inspection” on his truck, a 2014 International 7600, complete with 10 wheels, nine gears and 430 horsepower. Meisner checked that the tires and edges of the plow and wing were in good condition, verified there were no broken parts on the truck, filled the giant hopper in the back of the truck with salt and fueled up with diesel.

“I get about 3.5 miles per gallon in the winter, and about 6 miles per gallon in the summer,” Meisner said.

By 6 p.m. Tuesday night, he would have gone through about 50 gallons of fuel, and his day would not end until at least 11 p.m, if not past midnight.

After the truck was pronounced “good to go,” Meisner took the first trip out. His route runs from the MDOT garage to Breau’s Too in Bryant Pond. Each run takes about an hour and a half, depending on the conditions of the road. When he’s done with one run, he leaves the garage to go back out again.

As Meisner plowed the road, he analyzed the condition of it and what needed to be done.

“Every storm is really the same except when it comes to freezing rain,” Meisner said. “(We) salt every run. If you don’t, the road turns into a skating rink.” 

With Tuesday’s storm bringing a variety of precipitation, the snow fighters made it a priority to get the roads nice and salty.

“The slush on the road means it is saturated with salt,” Meisner said. “That’s good because it keeps the precipitation from bonding to the road. When the wetness in its many varieties — snow, sleet, freezing rain — bonds to the road, that means ice, which is much more difficult to manage.

As Meisner went along his route, snow gushed over the right side of the plow and the many mirrors rattled with the vibration of the huge truck. A small, round mirror in the front of the truck, attached to the yellow bar that controls the height of the plow, is one of the most useful tools Meisner has, showing him the right edge of his wing and assisting him in avoiding obstacles in the road.

Meisner’s supervisor, Dan Bradbury, drove by and radioed instructions to adjust the plow to “the third hole” when Meisner got back to the garage at the end of the run.

Where the plow attaches to the frame, there are three heights it can be inserted into. The lowest hole, Meisner said, the crew never uses. The second hole is for “normal” plowing, and the third hole is used to help the plow achieve “a more aggressive angle,” so the roads can be scraped down to the tar.

Meisner did as he was instructed and headed back out. Back and forth, all day, along Route 26, clearing the winter mess he’d just cleared an hour before. At the end of his more than 12-hour day, another inspection of his truck awaited, including refueling and refilling the hopper, as well as paperwork on his mileage and hours worked.

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