The next time someone complains that young adults can’t get out of Maine fast enough, that there’s nothing to keep them here, that too many of them are more interested in whining than in working, refer them to Joe Somerset.

“People say we millennials don’t work. We’re lazy. We just want everything handed to us. And for a portion of the population, that might be true,” Joe said last week during a break from his job at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly Inc. in Gorham. “But at the same time, there’s just as many of us out there that are busting our backs, earning a blue-collar living.”

A week ago this evening, while snowplow drivers far and wide went about beating back the second of three storms that dumped 3 feet of snow or more on much of Maine, Joe grabbed his sleeping bag, hopped in his pickup and headed for work.

Sunday is normally the one day of the week he can call his own. But heavy snow means an armada of snow plows on the road – each relying on a maze of hydraulic lines to maneuver the massive blades up and down, side to side … and whatever you do, don’t lose track of that wing plow.

Problem is, hydraulic lines break. And when they do, a snowplow is essentially kaput until a new line, with precisely the right fittings at each end, can be fabricated — not tomorrow, not next week, but right now.

Joe Somerset fixes a broken hose at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. He gets plenty of work when snow plows are running around the clock and says he gets his work ethic from his father, who rises at 2 a.m. to drive a dairy truck. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Enter Joe Somerset.

He’s 22. He lives with his parents in Buxton in the same house where his mother grew up.

But when necessary, he sleeps on a cot in the loft overlooking his workbench at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. Or tries to sleep, as was the case last Sunday night.

“I was up for like 31 hours,” Joe recalled. “I came in, I did some stuff around the shop, I made some hoses. By the time I climb upstairs into my cot and started to fall asleep around one o’clock in the morning, the phone’s ringing to come back down, make some more hoses, let the guy in who’s come to pick them up. So I might have maybe caught 20 or 30 minutes of sleep that night … but not really.”

Much has been made in recent years about the shortage of able-bodied young Mainers who can drive the state’s economy forward while the rest of us grow older and less productive.

Many say, quite correctly, that the state’s future hinges on the energy and talent of immigrants and young adults who come here from away searching for quality of life – offsetting the steady drain of native Mainers who vamoose upon reaching adulthood and never look back.

Overlooked in all that hand-wringing, though, are the young men and women who are born here, grow up here and actually stay here because, well, they know a good thing when they see it.

Joe is one of those people.

“I probably will never leave Maine,” he said. “I love this state.”

He first went to work when he was a 14-year-old at Bonny Eagle High School. John and Ramona Snell, owners of Snell Family Farm in Buxton, knew from the start that this kid was a keeper.

Eight years later, he still is — in addition to his full-time job making hydraulic hose assemblies, Joe spends as many as 30 hours a week with the Snells, tilling the fields, planting and harvesting and, of course, fixing the farm equipment when it breaks down.

“He is energetic and ambitious, determined to get ahead and not expecting anyone to hand him things in life,” Ramona Snell said in an email last week. “He’s immensely helpful to us.”

Joe Somerset’s work gloves wait for him at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. Somerset, 22, works there full-time and also works at Snelling’s Farm. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Then there’s the carpentry, roofing and other construction work Joe does with his dad, Mike Somerset, who rises around 2 a.m. each day to drive a truck for Oakhurst Dairy.

“That’s where I get my work ethic from,” Joe said. “My dad just drives, drives, drives, drives and drives. He’s always working.”

To Joe, hard work is not something to be endured. It’s a way of life — sometimes for money, sometimes not.

Just last week, shortly after he got out his towing straps and yanked two vehicles out of the snowbank on River Road in Buxton, Joe logged onto Facebook.

There he saw people complaining that the school bus stops hadn’t been adequately cleared of snow, forcing their kids to wait for the bus in the street.

“Well, none of these people who are complaining about the bus stop not being shoveled out went out there and shoveled out a bus stop,” he noted. “They just complain about it. You’re going to complain about it, but you’re going to let your kid stand in the street?”

Ditto for the wags who see a fire crew out there shoveling out hydrants while the fire engine idles nearby.

“People say, ‘Hey that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to be driving around in a half-million dollar firetruck,’” Joe said. ‘Well, it’s right across from your driveway. Why don’t you go and shovel out the fire hydrant?”

Shaking his head, he grinned out from under his thick red beard. “I think we do live in a world where people might complain a little too much.”

A registered Republican, Joe’s too busy to get bogged down in the red-hot rhetoric now radiating from Washington, D.C. There’s too much “pissing and moaning” on both sides, he thinks, and not enough energy being put into “coming up with actual solutions to the problems.”

Little wonder that more than once over the years, people have told Joe he’s “an old soul.”

Maybe that’s because he’s teaching himself the art of blacksmithing (in his spare time) or dreams of one day owning a chunk of land and starting his own farm.

Or perhaps it means that this rural millennial who last week spent the wee hours doing his part to keep the plows running – the Snells now call him “an unsung hero in the snow removal business” – embodies the fabric of Maine.

Unlike so many of his peers, there’s simply no place on Earth he’d rather be.

Joe Somerset wipes the oil from his hands after fixing a hose at Hydraulic Hose & Assembly. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“For the ones who stay, you kind of grow up and realize one day that your pickup truck doesn’t run off hopes and dreams,” he said. “So you start working and you realize, ‘Hey, it ain’t bad here. I’m making a living. I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve got gas in my tank, a roof over my head, food in my belly.’”

Break time was over. Time to get back to work.

“For some people, they realize that’s enough,” Joe said. “They don’t need to run away to a different state to find that. It’s here.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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