When Simsbury resident J.P. Bellott started working for Avon Public Works 20 years ago, he remembers hearing veterans talk about the days when it took one plow driver and two others with shovels to clear one route in a snow storm.
That was about 40 years ago. Now, as is the case for the present Nor'easter, it takes 10 six-wheel, full-size dump trucks and one medium dump truck to cover Avon's 11 plowing routes, about 10 miles a piece, according to Highway Foreman Paul Welsh. There are also four smaller trucks with plows if needed.
"That's how far we've come in 40 years," said Bellott, highway maintainer 3 with a specialty in tree work. "30 to 40 years ago, Avon was a farm town."
Bellott, who is originally from Granby, ran his own contracting business there before working in Avon.
This winter, his Avon plow route spans between Stagecoach Road and Lovely Street.
For plowing, Bellott drives a Freightliner dump truck the town purchased last year. While driving, he can flip a switch that moves chains onto the tires for more traction in the snow if needed.
The truck also has a system that releases salt onto the road in front of the rear tires as the vehicle is moving to pre-treat the pavement. A monitor in the front shows Bellott the rate the mechanism is running at. The salt release halts when the vehicle stops so that salt won't be wasted.
A typical plow route might require as much as 3 tons of salt. The salt is most effective when sprinkled onto the roads soon before snowfall begins, Welsh said. When it mixes with the snow and water, it creates brine, Bellott said. It can take as much as two hours to pre-treat his route with salt, he said.
"When it starts to melt the snow, it sticks to the road," Bellott said Friday. "Tonight, when it's snowing 3 inches an hour, you want to stay on that."
On a typical day of work, Bellott gets up at 5:15 a.m., drinks coffee, feeds his dogs, checks on the wood stove and leaves around 6:30 a.m. On the day of a storm, he kisses his wife goodbye and tells her he'll "see her in a few days."
Plowing the snow takes as much as three hours each run. But Welsh said that "each storm is different."
Whether playing radio tunes in the heated cabin or spending time thinking during the long hours on the road, Bellott said that plowing can be "relaxing" and "tranquil."
On his route, he's experienced everything from the amusement of a child throwing a snowball at him through the open truck window to acts of kindness from residents. He befriended an older man who once waited at the end of his driveway in his slippers and with his cane to give him coffee.
The six hour clean-up when a snow storm ends is the hardest part of the job, he said. Many Public Works employees don't get to clear their own driveways until a day after they're done plowing in Avon.
Addressing the common frustration of people who've ever had a plow push snow into their recently shoveled driveways, Bellott advises residents to wait until plows have pushed the snow all the way to the curbs before shoveling the bottom of their driveways.
"Not only when they shovel out the driveway it makes it worse because now they've left a huge void," Bellott said. "Now instead of the snow piling up on the side of the road, as soon as it hits that void it dumps it right in there. It's a horrible feeling."
People don't always realize that the plow will come back more than once, he said. He and the other plow drivers try to be sympathetic.
"We're like them," he said. "Our wives are at home doing the shoveling."
Each road gets two passes in each direction at a time, the first time to clear the middle and the second to address the sides.
Bellott also stressed that the town has an ordinance against shoveling or blowing snow onto the road. If private contractors clearing driveways push snow onto the road, he said that the homeowner would pay the fine.
Bellott also often sees boards protecting mailboxes from plows. He assures residents that he and the other drivers are careful to avoid them. Public Works plow drivers are required to fix any they knock down.
Bellott was one of the plow drivers during the October snowstorm in 2011. When Welsh called his employees back to headquarters at 10 p.m. at the height of the storm, it took Bellott and others 45 minutes to return from the Lovely Street area because of the dangerous conditions.
"It was frustrating because there was basically nothing you could do because there were so many trees down," Bellott said, adding that roads with trees on wires delayed opening them up.
On Friday afternoon, the snow came down gradually as the latest storm hit Avon and Bellott anticipated it picking up overnight.
"We'll be here all night tonight," he said Friday.