Business has been pretty good lately at Reggie’s Sales & Service in Auburn.

It could be just the normal gear-up for winter, with customers looking at new snowblowers or servicing old ones. But, owner Reggie Emery thinks there’s something else in play.

He estimated that recently, more than 25 people have been in his store buying snowblowers because they lost their regular plow driver or couldn’t find one for the coming winter.

“For what they’re getting (paid) for plowing, a lot of guys are getting out of plowing,” he said. “There’s a big vacuum of people looking for plow drivers.”

With rising expenses for equipment and maintenance, random hours and payment not always guaranteed, some local plow drivers say they’re noticing fewer people doing the job — and residential customers are feeling it the most.

Chris Gould of Lewiston said he knows more plow drivers are getting out simply because of the costs of maintaining a proper vehicle. He said some people don’t think about the cost of smaller items such as new tires or even an oil change for some trucks, which can add up. Just to change the oil and filters in his truck runs about $150.

Gould posted his contact info recently on the Lewiston Rocks community Facebook page after a few residents said they were looking for a plow driver for the winter.

One of his friends recently gave up plowing, so Gould took over his accounts.

“I would say there’s starting to be a shortage,” he said.

In Poland, David Ferland does both commercial and residential plowing, but he’s scaled down in recent years. He mostly works as a welder and metal fabricator.

He said he wasn’t sure whether fewer people are plowing, but he believes finding reputable drivers with the necessary insurance may be what’s harder to come by these days.

“It’s hard to find, because they’re already maxed out with the clients they have,” he said.

He also believes more plow drivers have been moving away from doing residential jobs in favor of more steady commercial work, which could explain the recent concerns from homeowners coming into places like Reggie’s.

Ferland wasn’t the only driver to tell the Sun Journal that he’d been “burned” in the past by homeowners who didn’t pay him for plowing. It makes the decision to move into commercial-only plowing that much easier, he said.

Emery also said he’s noticing more drivers move into commercial because, he said laughing, “they tend to get paid.”

“It’s the residential folks that are suffering,” he said.

Another thought from Ferland: The younger generation doesn’t seem to be picking up jobs like plowing. He said that as the labor force ages, more people are retiring and leaving manual jobs like plowing than there are people learning to do them.

Then there’s equipment.

Plow drivers told the Sun Journal start-up costs for a new truck and plow rig can reach between $50,000 and $80,000 depending on the truck, gear and possible salt/sander hookups.

Emery said he’s been hearing more and more stories about newer-style trucks having issues with plow hookups.

“It just wrecks the truck,” he said.

Ferland said he bought a “beater” Dodge truck to use just for plowing, instead of putting the wear and tear and mileage on his diesel truck. He said newer trucks tend to have thinner metal, meaning the winter salt can cause them to rust faster.

“Someone told me they went through a brand-new truck in one season because the salt and calcium just rotted up the whole bed,” he said.

Susan Daigle of Mexico said she’s having the most trouble finding people willing to snow-blow or shovel driveways. She believes more plow drivers are giving up offering those services.

She said she doesn’t know what her 70-year-old cousin is going to do this winter. She lives nearby, and her driveway is too narrow to be plowed.

“Every year we’re having problems with this,” she said.

Daigle said she’s reached out to a few plow drivers who told her they don’t offer shoveling or snow-blowing because of time constraints.

She was finally able to nail down a plow driver for the winter but said she knows rates have been going up.

Gould said customers are looking for a reasonable price, and he’s hearing that more plow drivers are “trying to charge outrageous prices,” perhaps in an attempt to stay ahead of expenses.

For larger seasonal contractors — often landscapers who offer plow services during winter — finding drivers can also be difficult.

Phil Richardson, of Richardson Landscape Service in Oxford Hills, said the cost of running a larger professional contracting business like his is already high, meaning plow drivers working alone can get burned out or decide to move into commercial work only.

Richardson said it costs his business between $60 and $80 an hour to provide a professional service. A reliable truck with a plow and sand spreader can reach $50,000 or more, he said.

Then there’s insurance, an additional 25 percent, which can be more for commercial clients. Then add administrative and accounting costs, preseason preparation, training, a shop with heat for in-storm repairs.

“We have multiple units to cover our accounts in the event a truck goes down,” he said.

Even then, he said, hiring plow drivers is tough because of the “awkward, unpredictable hours.”

He said he’s tried to keep as much of his seasonal landscaping crew on board for winter, and either hire part-time personnel or workers from other seasonal companies.

He said he pays the typical plow operator between $18 and $25 an hour.

As far as plow drivers doing residential homes, he believes the cost of equipment and insurance is driving them away, especially nonprofessionals who do the work on top of another job.

“I think with the cost of equipment and insurance, (some) companies and ‘driveway jockies’ are opting not to bother,” he said.

Local business owners and managers of places including Marco’s restaurant, Sam’s Italian Foods and George’s Pizza say they haven’t felt the shortage yet. Many use larger plowing contractors or have maintained the same plow driver for years.

They weren’t surprised, however, to hear about a possible shortage. Many said it’s likely related to an aging workforce in Maine, particularly in manual labor jobs.

Last winter, the Maine Department of Transportation had 90 job openings for plow drivers, a shortage bad enough that the department was allowing uncertified drivers to use smaller plows.

Glenn Mills, chief economist at the Maine Department of Labor, said there wouldn’t be any hard data on snow removal jobs because most local plow drivers are doing it as a second job.

But, he said, he could “easily speculate” that the graying of the workforce is part of the perceived shortage.

“It’s the middle of the night, long nights sometimes, and I think there may be some who just don’t want to do it as they get older,” he said.

Mills said he has a friend who used to plow “tons of driveways,” but is now down to just a few.

“He’s in his 50s and he just doesn’t want to anymore,” Mills said.

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