AUGUSTA — Finding Nemo? No problem. Look outside.

Fighting Nemo? Big problem. Look outside.

Now look again. The plow truck has swept through with a dustpan and a wing, making pass after pass to push back the snow and sometimes drop salt and sand on the roads and intersections.

The snowfall in the capital from a storm the Weather Channel has dubbed “Nemo” topped 20 inches, keeping plow drivers behind the wheel most of the night and almost all day.

You could call Dave Burlingame or any of the 20 other plow drivers for the city a Nemo buster.

They arrive with the storm and work until it subsides.

Burlingame, who lives in Litchfield, started his run from the city garage before 2 a.m. Saturday, driving his 6-yard, single-axle dump truck at 5 to 10 mph as it made the initial run through heavy snow.

“It was almost impossible to see anything,” he said. 

Fortunately, the city vehicles were alone until private plow drivers clearing commercial and residential lots joined them later.

“That’s what’s nice about big storms like this, where everything gets closed and nobody is on the roads,” Burlingame said. “Most people stay at home and let us do our jobs.”

His job is plowing the main arteries on the east side of Augusta, including Memorial Bridge.

On Saturday morning, traffic was light, with a few more motorists on the east side. Burlingame attributed it to people driving to and from MaineGeneral Medical Center. A few other businesses were open, including gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies and supermarkets.

He reached out the half-open window occasionally to flick the windshield wiper free of ice that can impair his vision. 

The view from the passenger side of the plow truck was impeded when Burlingame raised the wing as the roads narrowed, and he slowed almost to a stop for the speed tables as he drove up Cony Street.

“You have to have a run for the hill, and you can’t get it because you have to slow down for the speed bumps,” he said. “The speed tables are the worst idea ever, especially on Cony hill.”

A camera gave him a clear view of the road behind the truck, and a bank of levers allowed him to lift and lower the dustpan and wing.

The vehicle can move a lot of snow, attracting some envious glances from homeowners armed only with a shovel and scoop.

Burlingame said he gets less welcome visual messages from people as well, particularly those who have just finished clearing their driveway entrances. 

“They say, ‘I’m number one,’” he said. “But for as many people as get mad, there are the same number of people who are happy to see me coming.”

After a few hours he breaks for coffee or eats a sandwich from a cooler tucked on the floor of the truck’s cab.

Burlingame refuels the vehicle at the city’s public works garage on North Street. 

On Saturday, three trucks in the fleet were broken down, largely from pushing heavy snow. Mechanics worked on them in the main five-bay garage.

One plow returned wingless to the road, and another was getting an electrical system check. Most of the vehicles would be run for 20 hours a day Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Lesley Jones, the city’s public works director, said crew members would be sent home as the storm waned so they could return Sunday for more clearing and removal.

“Everybody and their brother puts the snow in the street,” she said. 

So that has to be pushed aside, too. 

Supervisors can track the whereabouts of trucks and drivers on the “snow board,” a road map of the city dotted with cutouts in the shape of miniature trucks and labels with each driver’s name.

They also track the sand-and-salt piles, using those materials sparingly because each large truck holds about $500 worth of material. 

“We’ve used a little more than normal at this point in the season,” said Jerry Dostie, a supervisor. 

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected] 


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