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Dayhoff: Snow removal today much different from when storms of yesteryear hit Carroll County | COMMENTARY

On Feb. 21, 1902, Carroll County experienced a rain and sleet storm that the American Sentinel newspaper hailed as “The Great Sleet Storm.” Historian Jay Graybeal describes it as “one of the worst storms of the last century.”

In 1902, Carroll countians were just starting to become dependent on the telephone and electric power. However, the Democratic Advocate proclaimed: “The wreck of the system in this city of the Western Maryland Telephone Company was nearly complete. Two-thirds of the poles were down … and wires snapped and tangled all over the city... .”

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The American Sentinel wrote, “Telephone wires broke in every direction; telephone poles snapped off like pipe-stems; great branches of trees fell crashing to the earth and the alleys in this city were blockaded by the debris. Even the wide Main street was covered with piles of broken tree limbs and obstructed to some extent by the wires of the several electric systems in the place… Many of the (telephone) poles … carried between 200 and 300 wires…”

Green Street in Westminster, looking east from Center Street after a rain and sleet storm on Feb. 21, 1902. The photograph was taken by Westminster’s Mitchell’s Gallery and was later donated to the Historical Society by Mrs. Robert K. Billingslea Sr. and the County Commissioners who donated the J. Leland Jordan Collection in 1954.
Green Street in Westminster, looking east from Center Street after a rain and sleet storm on Feb. 21, 1902. The photograph was taken by Westminster’s Mitchell’s Gallery and was later donated to the Historical Society by Mrs. Robert K. Billingslea Sr. and the County Commissioners who donated the J. Leland Jordan Collection in 1954. (Kevin Dayhoff)

The Democratic Advocate reported, “The electric light company suffered some damage and for three nights the city was without street lamps. … Families … had to go back to coal oil lamps…”

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Another storied winter storm in Carroll County history occurred on Feb. 20, 1947, which emphasized the increasing importance on commuting to work in automobiles as one local newspaper account detailed in great depth the impact of the storm on roads rendered impassable as a result of the storm.

According to a Feb. 28, 1947 article in the Carroll County Times with the headline, “Snow storm stops traffic - All Roads Leading to This City Were closed … School Sessions interrupted…

“One of the worst snow storms or blizzards that has visited Maryland, struck here last Thursday morning … covering the ground from 8 to 14 inches… State snow plows labored during the night cleaning the roads, also the county roads department worked until late Friday night to clear away the snow and had the traffic moving at a slow pace. But a heavy wind appeared Saturday morning and closed tight all roads leading out of the city.

“In Westminster, the roads are under the State Roads supervision, snow plows worked all night Thursday, traveling through the city and piled the snow high along the streets but kept traffic open. Many piles of deep snow were visible along Main street with automobiles under them.”

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“Left stranded were trucks and passenger cars in deep drifts to stick fast until Sunday afternoon when the roads were partially opened to allow traffic to move through. There were one way passages at many points on various state roads and up to yesterday some of the roads had single traffic lane with high snow drifts on each side, resembling a deep cut. The county roads are still closed at places and will remain so for a while…”

Westminster did not do much in the way of snow removal until the late 1940s or early 1950s. The city did not have the equipment or enough employees to do snow removal — or the money. Snow removal is staff and equipment intensive — and expensive. And when the city began to remove snow, often private citizens and local farmers helped and snow removal was confined to opening a path one-lane wide. Much of the snow was hauled to the city playground where it was left in huge piles that lasted well into spring.

Today, things are quite different. According to a recent email interview with Zac Amoss, the assistant street superintendent for the city of Westminster, and Steve Strawsburg, the city street superintendent, these days, the city removes snow for approximately 150 “lane-miles,” 20,000 feet of sidewalks, 20 parking lots, and two parking garages.

The snow removal equipment at the Westminster Street Department gets ready to roll the evening of Feb. 11, 2021. Currently the city, under the leadership of Zac Amoss, assistant street superintendent for the city; and Steve Strawsburg, city street superintendent, uses 32 employees, 17 pickup trucks, 11 dump trucks, two loaders, and two tractor mounted snow blowers to keep the city streets open during winter storms. Digital photomontage by Kevin Dayhoff.
The snow removal equipment at the Westminster Street Department gets ready to roll the evening of Feb. 11, 2021. Currently the city, under the leadership of Zac Amoss, assistant street superintendent for the city; and Steve Strawsburg, city street superintendent, uses 32 employees, 17 pickup trucks, 11 dump trucks, two loaders, and two tractor mounted snow blowers to keep the city streets open during winter storms. Digital photomontage by Kevin Dayhoff. (Kevin Dayhoff)

To accomplish this, the city uses 32 employees from the street department, utilities maintenance, and inspection departments, along with two supervisors. The employees usually sleep at the street department from the beginning of the winter storm event until it is over. Six route leaders oversee 17 pickup trucks, 11 dump trucks, two loaders, and two tractor mounted snow blowers.

The city maintains an 8-ton salt storage barn, and a 4,000-gallon salt brine storage tank. In order to save money, the street department constructed its own salt brine system “that consists of mixing and constantly testing for the right consistency recommended by the State. We constructed our own truck mounted application system. Salt Brine is applied 24-hours prior to snow events,” according to Amoss.

The city is broken down into six routes, explained Amoss. Each route has one or two large dump trucks and two to three pickups.

“Both Supervisors run equipment throughout the storms as well as supervise,” according to Amoss. In addition to keeping the streets plowed and safe, the street department also assists the police and emergency services to come to the aid of citizens in need. (Several of the employees also serve as volunteer firefighters.)

Both Amoss and Strawsburg want citizens to understand “City crews need to keep streets plowed curb to curb to prevent traffic hazards. … Citizens should not try the get in between our vehicles when we are plowing in a caravan formation. Citizens who have a concern should call 410-751-2262 to speak to a supervisor or the police department.”

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

One of the Westminster snow plows at work westbound on Windsor Drive Jan. 31, 2021. The city, under the leadership of Zac Amoss, the assistant street superintendent for the city; and Steve Strawsburg, the city street superintendent, uses 32 employees to remove snow for approximately 150 “lane-miles,” 20,000 feet of sidewalks, 20 parking lots, and two parking garages during a winter storm event. The Street Department divides the city into six routes. Each route takes four hours to maintain. Kevin Dayhoff photo.
One of the Westminster snow plows at work westbound on Windsor Drive Jan. 31, 2021. The city, under the leadership of Zac Amoss, the assistant street superintendent for the city; and Steve Strawsburg, the city street superintendent, uses 32 employees to remove snow for approximately 150 “lane-miles,” 20,000 feet of sidewalks, 20 parking lots, and two parking garages during a winter storm event. The Street Department divides the city into six routes. Each route takes four hours to maintain. Kevin Dayhoff photo. (Kevin Dayhoff)

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