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When winter weather hits, plow operators’ days start early

Manhattan spread blue salt which has calcium chloride. It melts very cold temperatures thactivates when cars drive over it. |

Manhattan spread a blue salt, which has calcium chloride. It melts in very cold temperatures, that activates when cars drive over it. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 16, 2014 7:05AM

The sky still was dark Saturday morning when Bob Dilling first dropped his plow.

Visibility was about a quarter-mile at 5 a.m. He and his crew hit the streets to start clearing snow. It would prove to be a long day.

No stranger to helping others, Dilling is a Homewood police sergeant full time and a Manhattan Emergency Services lieutenant part time. In a past life, he was the Illinois Department of Transportation Emergency Traffic Patrol Officer, responsible for clearing inner-city expressways in storms, accidents and emergencies.

Now, during winter snows like Saturday’s, he gets a crew of drivers together to plow lots and private drives. His company is called Pound Snow.

They started on Friday night. Sitting around the table in Dilling’s garage, the guys made a plan. Pound Snow’s list includes companies, strip malls, mechanic shops and private drives. Not a full-night’s sleep later, they started at 5 a.m. in Manhattan, then New Lenox before heading on to Channahon, Mokena and Joliet.

En route, Dilling saw a 70-something woman shoveling her lot, and he stopped to help — no charge. By 8 a.m., temperatures rose to 28 degrees, with a wind chill factor of 19 degrees. In some areas, there was a white out, with zero visibility. Snow continued to fall throughout the morning at the rate of about a half-inch an hour.

All the while, Dilling explained the differences among plow trucks. Guys like him typically have a 71/2 foot plow on the front of a standard pickup truck. Municipalities, such as Will County, have 12-foot plows, spanning a lane and a half. State trucks also have liquid calcium chloride, stored in tanks on either side of the truck. The liquid form helps activate the salt in very low, sub-zero temperatures, Dilling said.

Dilling, along with one of his drivers, Craig Bowdre, tag-teamed to plow lots more efficiently. They went through their list of paid jobs, plus a few freebies. For example, they always try to include the driveway of a recently widowed neighbor.

After the blizzard of 2011, Dilling and Bowdre received awards from the Manhattan Fire Protection District for their plowing efforts. Dilling said the former mayor had taken trucks off the road for budgetary purposes, leaving two stations unplowed. Because of Dilling’s emergency experience, he and Bowdre automatically cleared the driveways of both stations. Since then, the fire district has purchased it’s own truck and plow.

However, Saturday morning, the snow kept coming. By 9 a.m., what had been plowed at 5 a.m. was ready to be done again. By noon, the snow slowed, giving the crew a chance to break and get ready for another shift later in the day.

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