Some of Eagle County’s toughest jobs
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Think your job is tough? If it involves dressing up in nice clothes, and pleasant surroundings, it may be cushier than many other jobs in the valley. There plenty of people working tough jobs, providing services that tend to be taken for granted yet are essential to everyday living. These people are hard workers, who toil regularly at tasks that most people would do anything to avoid.The Enterprise staff this week went searching for just a small sample of the valleys tough jobs, and the people who work them. Here are their stories:
Have an urge to go home in the evening, and find a sympathetic ear to listen to the story of your tough day at the office? Try being a member of a paving crew dealing with the challenges of laying a mat of fresh asphalt on a busy road intersection.Youve seen these guys toiling away, but have you ever really contemplated what theyre dealing with?On a mid-summers day, the asphalt that is being laid down on the road has been heated up to 315 degrees. The outside temperature may be hovering in the 90-degree range. The passing motorists, out of sorts because of the construction delay, often dont obey the 25 mph speed limit in the construction zone. The paving crews tend to be on the receiving end of a lot of one-fingered gestures, frustrated horn honking, or shouted profanities.Its part of the work. Were used to it. Most of the public looks at a road construction project as a nuisance, says Ron Marmon, construction supervisor for B&B Excavating. But he is quick to add that probably the reason the paving crew is out there working is because of the needs of the passing motorists. Good road surfaces are essential to any community; and are particularly important in a fast-growing mountain valley where much of the workforce often commutes 20 to 30 miles to get to their jobs.Marmon, who started with B&B as a truck driver, has been with the company for 17 years. He has worked his way through all aspects of paving, including about five years on a paving crew.That is the most difficult job to do on the labor side, he says.Fall is the busiest season. The contractors get a little nervous this time of year. They want to get those projects completed and sealed, Marmon says. Last week, crews worked on re-paving the West Vail roundabout, while traffic was routed around them.Felix Olguin, of Gypsum, started working on the B&B paving crew when he was 19. Thirty-six years later, hes still at it. These days, hes a paving crew foreman.I like the challenge, says Olguin, noting he particularly enjoys working on different designs on driveways, parking lots, and roads.I have a super crew. Theyre really a nice group of guys, he adds. The paving crews work nine months out of the year, depending on the weather. The work days often run 12 to 13 hours, and most crews work five to six days per week.The hardest part of the job is dealing with the heat, in the peak of summer.June, July and August can be pretty tough, he says. I drink lots of liquids water and Gatorade. In fact, Marmon says B&B budgets $150 to $200 a week just for ice, water, and Gatorade to keep the crews hydrated.Most paving crew members learn their skills on the job. B&Bs philosophy is to cross-train employees, teaching them to run the various machines. Safety is a key concern. Every morning, before starting work, the paving crew employees fill out a form detailing the jobs they are doing, and listing the risks involved. The company is big on safety seminars, and tool box talk safety lectures.Employees are required to wear protective equipment hard hats, vests, long pants, steel-toed boots, and gloves. The company provides sunscreen.Theres a lot more to the job than passers-by might observe. Crews must constantly monitor the materials going into the asphalt, the temperatures, and the gradation of the gravel. Theres plenty of science and math involved. The asphalt must be laid down to an engineers specifications. Timing is critical, when dealing with hot asphalt. Too thin a layer wont hold up. Too thin of a layer creates other problems. Theres plenty of paperwork, too. Everything must be documented, particularly on government jobs.Were not just a bunch of dumb lugs, Marmon says.Paving projects are also big budget jobs.On a big road job, we could have $5,000 an hour rolling non-stop. Then if something goes wrong all of a sudden, youve got that much money waiting, says Marmon. Theres some strong loyalty among the B&B paving crews. The pay scale reflects the difficulty of the job. One five-member paving crew has collective 90 years of experience.It is important work people wouldnt be getting around without paving crews, Marmon says. Typically the general publics reactions is, Oh, God, heres another construction crew. Im going to be stopped for five minutes of my busy life.Olguin says that the B&B job has allowed him to stay in this valley, and raise a family.Its been a super job. I just like what I do, he says.
Collecting the trash for Eagles estimated 6,000 residents is a tough job that gets a little tougher all the time.A few years back, the towns trash crew could clear out the Eagle Ranch trash in a couple of hours. Now it takes two trucks and a full day to complete the subdivision route. The massive increase in garbage is one of the most vivid examples of the communitys boom-town growth.Bob Trujillo has been collecting Eagles trash for the past 10 years. Adam Plott has been on the job for the past four. Both men like the independent nature of their work; and both note that recent technological upgrades have kept them in their jobs.Before 2002, Eagle trash collectors had to manually lift garbage cans and dump the contents in the back of the trash truck. These days, town residents are issued trash cans that are picked up and emptied mechanically. The automated trucks provided a huge quality-of-life upgrade in Trujillos work life.In the old days, people would fill up their cans with grass and they would be heavy to lift. Then in the summer, it would be hotter than heck, he says.Trujillo and Plott collect trash from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Thursdays are reserved for machinery upkeep or holiday catch-up. A couple of mornings a week, the two pair up to complete the commercial Dumpster routes. Safety regulations mandate two-person teams work the back-loading, Dumpster dumper. The rest of the time, they split up to cover residential trash routes.The biggest challenge in the average trash collecting day is people who put inappropriate stuff in their trash cans. For instance, the mechanical arm cant handle the weight when a homeowner stacks up chunks of concrete in the can. Then theres the issue of people stacking additional garbage around the can or claiming the crew missed a pick-up in order to fill up the can a second time.Plott notes that honesty is a better policy. Sometimes homeowners will call the town and admit they just forgot to put out the trash. In most cases, the truck driver will stop by again.Trujillo and Plott said winter weather brings real safety concerns. Its always dangerous driving up the road to the landfill in the winter. We have to chain up the truck to get up that road. Coming down is the worst, says Plott.As for the perks associated with their tough job, Plott said he is the owner of a discarded Dyson vacuum. He salvaged the vacuum from the trash and discovered the only problem with the machine was a faulty cord. The company sent him a new one for free.Trujillo enjoys kids reactions to the trash truck. Youngsters like to watch the mechanical system dump their families trash and they like to hear the trucks horn. And sometimes, the trash collectors come to the rescue. Trujillo recalled a couple years back when a local business operator inadvertently placed her bank bag in the Dumpster.She followed us all the way to the landfill. We spread out the stuff from the Dumpster all over the ground, then sat up there for three hours, looking for checks, says Trujillo. But the average day is more mundane and a surprise in the trash is more likely to be a dead animal.Ive have found quite a few skunks, but no bodies, says Trujillo.
When the toilet is flushed, its contents go out of sight and out of mind. But not for Tim Reitz, supervisor of the wastewater plant in Gypsum. Reitz and the rest of the wastewater plant staff deal with 420,000 gallons a day of water contaminated by toilets, showers, dishwashers, washing machines and other waste that goes down the drain. The waste water is purified and is released into the river.This 24/7 job. Reitz and staff work eight hour days and come in on the weekends for a couple hours per day.Sewage comes in here everyday. It doesnt take the weekend off, Reitz says. Reitz is also always on call. If something goes wrong, an auto alarm calls Reitz back to the plant. Working at a wastewater plant is not a glamorous job. Some days you get dirtier than others. That is a fact of life in this industry, says Reitz. There are not a lot of people who want to do this kind of work … if you are 20-something and have the option of dealing with human waste or something else, what would you do? However, Reitz explains that job security is a major perk, which is why he got involved in the first place. Theres job security, because of a shortage a certified operators, says Reitz.Reitz says that not only will he always have a job, but that the town of Gypsum pays him well. In fact, industrywide, wastewater treatment jobs pays well.I raised four kids on it and put a couple through college, says Reitz. Reitz takes pride in his unappreciated line of work that he has been involved in for 28 years.The best part of my job is that you can actually see what you are doing. There is a tangible product at the end of the day, says Reitz. To see the difference and the result in the water, beats shooting e-mails and doing budgets. I am very proud of the work I do.
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