Pushing aside priorities to push away the snow

Sunday, January 14, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:13 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

Columbia’s Cornerstone Baptist Church may have a somewhat quieter worship service Sunday.

“I probably won’t be able to go to church tomorrow,” said 22-year-old Chris Jackson, drummer in the church’s band. “I have to work.”

Jackson is one of 16 snow plow drivers who was working Saturday for Columbia’s Public Works Department. His 12-hour shift began at 8 a.m.

The married father of one daughter has been working with the city for two years.

“I’m still classified as one of the rookies,” he said, laughing.

His assignment is District 3, which comprises the Southwest area of the city.

On Saturday morning, the quiet inside the truck Jackson was driving was broken by the sound of the dispatcher giving directives and the scrape of the sharp blade cutting into ice on the road.

“It’s more like slush,” he said, as he made a left turn at the intersection of Garth Avenue and Business Loop 70. “We’ll put some cinders down, leave it for a while, and that’ll melt it up pretty good.”

He pulled his blades up as he approached I-70 Drive Southwest, a state road.

“We’re not supposed to touch these roads,” he said. “MoDOT (the Missouri Department of Transportation) does it.”

Some residents don’t understand that duties are split between the Department of Transportation and the city’s Public Works Department, he said. And city workers are not supposed to clean up state roads.

“Some people get frustrated if I am not cleaning,” he said. “They ask, ‘Why are your blades up?’”

When the blades are down, however, his traffic-light yellow truck is a welcome sight to some residents.

His eyebrows furrowed as he approached a hill on Ridgemont Road.

“I don’t like backing up,” he said, staring intently into his rearview mirror.

Jackson’s is a single-axle truck, so he had to call for help from a twin-axle truck, which is a weightier vehicle that can better navigate the hilly area.

While he waited, he plowed nearby streets. Some were not on the list he had been given.

The dispatcher’s voice came over the radio. A driver with a heavier truck was on its way. At the mention of the relief driver’s name, Jackson had a snappy reply for the dispatcher. “I didn’t call in for trouble,” he said, smiling to himself.

“Sometimes we have to joke around to make the day better,” he said.

He waved at residents walking dogs, children dragging sleds and other drivers as he continued his rounds.

“We’re gonna get these streets clean — the way people would like them,” he vowed. “It takes a while.”

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