It was 2:30 a.m. Tuesday when Chris Nile received the call to come into work. A winter storm that was expected to bring the first significant snowfall of the season had started to hit Bangor a couple of hours earlier.
An hour later, Nile was in an 11-foot-tall, orange City of Bangor plow truck running his usual route on the city’s west side, clearing snow from some of the city’s main arteries. Nile toggled between an angle plow on the front of his two-axle truck and a wing plow on the right side to clear the wintry mix of freezing rain and snow off the roads while he squinted through the wipers going at full speed.
The storm started Tuesday around midnight with rain, when the temperature was about 24 degrees.
“As soon as the rain hit the pavement it froze, so we were treating ice first thing in the morning,” said Eric Willett, Bangor’s public works director. “We have to use extra salt to treat the ice that’s bonded to the pavement.”
At 10 a.m., all 52 public works employees were out clearing snow from roads, sidewalks and parking lots throughout the city, Willett said.
The city has 25 plow trucks that make rounds for hours on storm days — from the beginning until all the roads are cleared and treated, hours after the storm ends. Twelve of those trucks also salt and sand the roads.
Nile has operated one of these 12 trucks for more than a year. He was a public works employee from 2000 to 2008, then returned in 2017.
He is responsible for plowing outer Union Street from Vermont Street to the city line, Ohio Street out from Griffin Road to the city line, and Finson Road. He also clears some smaller streets along that route, including some in the Capehart neighborhood.
Because Nile drives one of the trucks that spreads salt and sand, he also is responsible for salting and sanding some streets that his colleagues plow. The city generally uses salt on the frequently traveled roads downtown and sand in the outer parts, Nile said.
At 10 a.m., Nile was already plowing the same roads for the third time since he had started early in the morning. After noon, he planned to do about five more runs, each one about two hours long. Between runs, he often returns to the public works office to refresh his salt and sand supply, and to take a break.
“You keep doing it until it all stops and you do your final cleanup,” he said late Tuesday morning. “But that’ll be 11 o’clock tonight. When it snows, we get called in and we could go 30 hours straight, depending on how bad the snow is.”
The city plows all the major roads multiple times during a snowstorm, with the exception of state routes that the Maine Department of Transportation is responsible for clearing. When the orange Bangor truck passed the DOT’s yellow truck on outer Broadway — which is also Route 15 — on Tuesday, Nile pushed the toggles to lift his plows away from the road and waved at the state’s snow plow operator.
As he turned left from Broadway onto Hudson Road, Nile had to stop to let several vehicles turn before he did.
“You’re always a defensive driver when you’re plowing,” he said. “People just do their own thing. They think we’re big and slow, so they’ll pull out in front of you or ride right behind you.”
The truck’s blind spots do not allow Nile to see behind him, so he often has to lean forward to check his mirrors and check his windows to see if there are cars following him. A couple times, he pulled over to let them pass him.
“There’s always different challenges, you know,” he said.
Sometimes it’s cars parked in the road. Other times, it’s mailboxes. Occasionally, as with Tuesday’s storm, he has to deal with ice and the wintry mix that Nile said almost hit his windshield like hail.
But Nile likes the job, he said, because he has operated snow plows all his life. As he pulls over to accommodate cars or weaves in and out to avoid running over mailboxes, he’s amused.
“We laugh all the time about it. You get frustrated with us, but you get frustrated if the roads aren’t plowed,” he said. “Can’t have both.”