December 17, 2017
Overcast, light rain
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  • Overcast, light rain
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Snow Men

County highway department maintains 550 miles of road
Employees of the Vanderburgh County Highway Department stand ready to treat the roads on a recent cold, foggy morning.

Scot Wichser, a Darmstadt, Indiana, native who still calls the incorporated town in Vanderburgh County home, watches a lot of weather online and on television and reads — and puts stake in — “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.” It’s part of his job, and, “I don’t want to take a chance of kids getting hurt,” he says.

Wichser, superintendent of the Vanderburgh County Highway Department, and his team of 48 employees and four foremen maintain 550 miles of road in Vanderburgh County. “That’s really 1,100 because you don’t take care of one side of the road,” says Wichser.

The department is responsible for mowing, maintaining ditches, paving, tree cutting, draining, pipe installations, storm sewer repair and installation, snow plowing, and crack sealing.

This time of year, winter weather is on Wichser’s mind. As bad weather approaches, his commercial drivers all are on “general call,” standing ready to serve the residents of the county by clearing the roads.

Wichser talked with us at the county highway garage on N. Saint Joseph Avenue.

Are there new technologies or trends in the snow removal business?
We use beet juice. When the temperature is below 22 degrees, salt quits working. We buy a product made of sugar beets and we use that to make our own brine (to further bring down the freezing temperature).

How much salt do you store for winter?
We have 1,500 tons in a building on this lot, and a hoop barn behind it holds another 1,000 tons. Mulzer’s Crushed Stone hauls it in by barge.

No doubt you have seen all kinds of things. (Wichser has been with the department 10 years; he was foreman before being named superintendent last year.)
Of course; anything affecting the county roads we see. In flooding we run across dead horses and cows. We have seen total disaster. The county highway department was the first on scene behind the first responders after the Nov. 6, 2005 tornado. (Eastbrook Mobile Home Park is in the county.) Our guys did a hell of a job. I am proud of them.

What are some memorable snows?
The 2-foot snow of Christmas 2004. We’ve dealt with lots of 10-inch snows. Every snow is different. We have to know how to treat different conditions: ice first, then snow; snow first, then ice. We learn from experience and studying. We never quit learning.

“It’s amazing how different they are,” Wichser notes. “Usually as (the weather event) gets closer, the reports become more similar.”
•   “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” (Published by Yankee Magazine)
•   www.weather.gov
•   www.noaa.gov
•   www.weather.com
•   www.wunderground.com

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