Columbia's snowplow drivers train for the big one

Friday, December 24, 2010 | 1:28 p.m. CST; updated 2:57 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 28, 2010

COLUMBIA — The clock edged toward 11 a.m. Friday as Matt Cain stared out of the cab of his truck through the swirling snow toward Interstate 70. A short distance away, Kyle Fletcher idled in his own truck.

They both waited patiently for a call from dispatch. When it came, through a headset plugged into each man's ear, they lowered the massive blades of their plows and plunged west on Business Loop 70.

Cain and Fletcher are partly responsible for keeping Columbia’s snow-removal fleet, which includes six pickup trucks with plows and spreaders, four graders and 20 large plow trucks, moving. The city also makes use of five backhoes and two front-end loaders to clear snow from more than 500 miles of roads, according to the city’s website.

In order to perform the tricky work, maintenance employees must first pass through the Missouri Department of Transportation's Snow Academy, Fletcher said. The one-day crash course in Sedalia fulfills part of the training requirement  — a “dry run” with the equipment in good weather — and includes classes on snow and ice removal procedures and policies.

The second stage of training is completed in bad weather with an experienced driver. The trainee observes proper operating techniques first-hand, then performs them under supervision.

“It’s pretty cool,” Fletcher said. “Plow trucks are the kind of thing that always made my eyes go big as a kid, and now I get to drive one. Plus, who doesn’t like a white Christmas?"

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Ben Frentzel December 24, 2010 | 11:50 p.m.

Colorful language, but still concise. That crash course sounds like fun.

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