All hail your Eagle County snowplow driver |

All hail your Eagle County snowplow driver

Tom Glass
Vail CO, Colorado
Tom Glass

Eagle County, COLORADO ” Name a gardening topic strong enough to compete with skiing a week before Christmas in Eagle County. Hmmm, that draws a blank as vacant as the flower boxes on Bridge Street.

Lacking an avalanche of ideas, I went looking for guidance from real garden writers thinking that they might have solved the riddle of writing about gardening in winter. I readily chose the “December Garden To Do List” of a ubiquitous internet service provider as a prime place from which to lift an idea or two.

They recommended buying potted flowers. They also suggested that sharpening garden tools would satisfy the appetite of one’s green thumb this time of year. I want to know how?

Their how-to on sharpening a shovel brought forth much holiday mirth for me. Their method involves plunging the blade of a shovel into a bucket of sand laced with motor oil and then “using a back and forth sawing motion” to sharpen it.

Let me know if that tip works out for you. Try it. I could be wrong, but I suspect there’s more futile work involved in that than in carving a frozen ham. If it doesn’t work keen for you, come this spring I’ll lend you a file and some WD-40. I’ll also point you to an approved dump site for your oily sand because there’s no dropping that greasy grit off at a NAPA store for recycling.

With the pickings slim on the carcass of December gardening, I’m defaulting to a typical liberal media ploy to fill space somewhat productively: a holiday tribute hailing an overlooked group of working class heroes. I’ve chosen snowplow drivers as the put upon persons of the season.

For those of you that might object to my hijacking this column away from gardening, remember that the name of this column is “Plain as Dirt.” There’s plenty enough Woody Guthrie built into that title to allow me to write about most anything as long as it involves sweat and hard work outdoors that is not particularly profitable when figured on an hourly basis. Besides, a healthy percentage of the men and women behind the wheels of those trucks pushing snow into your flowerbeds are landscapers in summertime. That almost makes this topical.

The dynamics of snowplowing are simple. Have a summer season occupation and a four-wheel drive pickup truck; add $5,000 worth of snowplow to $100 worth of door hangers advertising your willingness to scrape out a living from betwixt the teeth of blizzards, and you can call Ski Town, USA your hometown year ’round. Not much can go wrong ” until it snows.

To make the dollars work ” about a grand a week ignoring expenses like gas and a transmission rebuild in spring ” you’ll need about 30 driveways preferably huddled together in tony, well-served, cul-de-sacs down on the moderating Eagle River valley floor. More likely, though, you’ll be out ahead of the municipal plows, careening and sliding to the homes of duplex cliff dwellers, still in dispute over last year’s plow bill, whose driveways are chipped narrowly into the faces of the sheer canyon walls that wander miles off both sides of the main river drainage.

Say it takes 10 minutes to plow a drive, add another five for four shovelfuls lightweight volcanic rock to be flung into the gale across the icy steep spots and some cleanup by hand around the main entry door. That comes to 450 minutes.

Things are looking good. There still remains one minute per residence to commute between each push before you’re drawing overtime pay ” plenty of time to finish before your clients’ go to work or up on the hill at 7 a.m. Let’s see, that means you’ll have to get at it at 11 p.m. the day before the storm is to arrive. No problem. After the first two or three snows the first week, efficiencies will be gained and you can sleep again in May because, hallelujah, the forecast calls for more of the icy white that fuels these mountain towns. Have you ever greeted your snowplow driver after a three day push? They are ghost-like husks of men and women. Their reddened eyes glow starkly from dark sockets hollowed into faces creased by a lack of sleep.

Oh well, back to it. Shakedown done, it is time for some rest, but, not so fast. You’re not going home. It continued snowing during your shift at the rate of an inch an hour. Your first driveway plowed lies buried once again under eight inches of fresh POW … you can almost hear customers chanting that commonplace phrase at once clever and completely useless, “But, I don’t need it plowed at 2 a.m. because I’m asleep … ‘sleep … ‘sleep … ‘sleep,” echoing off the walls of the Eisenhower tunnel and down the valleys all the way to Utah. This situation begs two things: more coffee and another dozen powdered mini doughnuts.

It’s at moments like that that I’m glad we live in a relaxed place ” a place where every resident knows the unwritten rule regarding work on powder days. To those of you plowing us forward to a record-breaking year, I hope to see you all at the Vista Bahn around 10ish. Send me bona fide proof you plow for a living and took the powder-day bye, (a pink slip will do), rode the lift up and then caught a gravity ride down, and I’ll buy you a venti cup of joe. No worries. Viva Vail Valley.

This holiday time remember ’tis a joyous season and tip the hell out of your snowplow drivers. Nail the envelope to the garage door tax free. They earn it dangerously and impossibly hard.

Tom Glass writes a weekly garden column for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments or questions about this column to

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