Chilled: Working outside in the elements
SCHUYLER COUNTY—Snow and cold weather look different from inside a building than out in the midst of it. But most of those whose work takes them out into winter’s worst are philosophical about it.
Robert “Hobie” Stapleton, water superintendent for the town of Hector, says warm clothes and insulated underwear are essential. “Our job’s a little harder in the winter, but we prepare to be out every day. We work from the lake all the way into the hills. Along the lake, it won’t be as cold or as windy as in Logan, and you could have a couple of inches at the lake and then almost a foot up there.”
And although the snow may occasionally slow his progress, some jobs have to be done no matter what weather arrives. For safety, tower-climbing is always done in pairs, and a cell phone is always carried for safety as well as convenience – though Stapleton, like others whose work takes them to many areas around the county, notes there are still some “dead areas” where cell service is limited.
The worst part of his job in the winter is dealing with a water-main break. “You’re going to get wet,” he says, and in cold weather, that can be truly unpleasant.
“Tell you the truth, cold generally ain’t that bad,” says Gary Covert, who works for Ferrellgas. “Road conditions can be the worst part. I travel a lot – yesterday I drove 181 miles. This morning I’ve already been to Ithaca, Geneva, Lodi, Hector, and Romulus. But if we know the roads are going to freeze, we don’t move a wheel. We’ve got bad stuff on our [propane] trucks!”
Because Covert repairs furnaces, cold weather will take him into cold basements where all furnaces are on the floor. Absolute worst? “Rain. You get wet and you’re wet all day. You can’t keep your paperwork dry.”
Moving from a cold and damp space into the warmth of a truck or indoors can make the cold a little more bearable. But in some jobs and situations, that isn’t always possible.
“Well, it’s cold,” Dennis Bauchle says of going outside to do farm work. Marcia Bauchle, who farms alongside her husband, explains they can take things a little easier since they’ve changed from dairying to raising meat animals and vegetables for market.
Some years ago, she recalls, their tractor got stuck during a blizzard, and Dennis got frost-bite as the whole family labored to free the tractor so it would not be frozen-in. They ultimately succeeded, but they returned home to find the blizzard’s high winds had blown their house door open, blowing snow inside. It took hours to re-warm the house and the family slept in a huddle by the wood stove that night.
Mail carrier Sharon Van Fleet says the key to comfort is dressing in layers. Watch her suit up for the outdoors and it’s clear she means a great many layers, plus spare footwear in case the first pair gets wet.
“And you need adequate footwear and good socks, and a good heater in the car,” she says. “I’m very cautious on the roads, watching out for the other guys who may be driving too fast on slick roads.” But she adds, her customers and the scenery make the work worthwhile.
With repair people on call and on the road seven days a week, Empire Telephone Company’s outside plant Supervisor Jack Nichitoruk helps his workers plan for working outdoors with regular trainings on weather safety.
He encourages repair people to “Put on layers and layers of clothes, because they have to be warm outside and then comfortable when doing inside repairs. Insulated boots with heavy socks are important. And we’ve had a few ice storms where you have to be very careful and cautious about breaking ice off a pole before you actually climb it. And if it’s real windy or cold, you want to be sure people aren’t over-exposed for too long. If it’s too cold, you get out of it, get in the vehicle and warm up.”
And on further reflection, he adds, “You know, the heat of the summer can sometimes be worse than the cold of the winter. If you’re getting really cold, you know it, but you don’t always realize you’re having a heat stroke. It goes both ways.”