Tag Archives: Public Works

Snowplow drivers prep for winter at the annual Roadeo

RoadeoBy: Mike DeWitt



The sun sat high in the sky beating down on the hot, black pavement. Midday was in the rear view mirror, the competitors in front of me had come and gone, and there I stood face-to-face with more than 50,000 pounds of metal that I was expected to control through a timed obstacle course.


“Do you have your driver’s license?” asked the judge to my left as I stared at the vehicle.


A grapefruit sized lump made its way into my throat as the little voice inside my head said what everyone was thinking, “you entered a snowplow driving competition and you left your license in the car?” It was a rookie mistake, and I answered back in a way only a novice can, with false confidence and a dash of ignorance, “No, I left it in the car.”


RoadeoThe judge chuckled and made a couple of marks on his score sheet. I hadn’t even entered the snowplow yet and my score was already sitting in the negatives.


As a celebrity driver at the American Public Works Association (APWA) Snowplow Roadeo, hosted this year by the Wyoming Department of Public Works, I had the opportunity to personally get behind the drivers wheel of a snowplow to catch a glimpse of the challenges the snowplow drivers face come winter. While the competition is all fun and games for myself and the other celebrities, the Roadeo acts as a training seminar for drivers to prepare themselves for the winter ahead.


“This is a training session, but it looks very much like a competition because that’s the way we run it,” explained William Dooley, Wyoming Director of Public Works, “The Roadeo is all about preparing the drivers that have to remove snow and ice from our roads in the winter. It’s really about getting all of the drivers in West Michigan thinking about it again, getting in the trucks, and getting used to where those blades start and stop.”


The idea for the Roadeo was started by the City of Wyoming where they hosted the event for 21 straight years before cutbacks in the department forced the event to come to a close.


“At that time we said we could no longer host it every year but that we would take our turn,” said Dooley. “Well, here we are in 2016, and we’re happy to host the Roadeo once again!”


RoadeoThe drivers take turns driving through a timed obstacle course that tests their fundamentals inside the snowplow. Those fundamentals include basics like having your driver’s license and medical cards on hand, entering the snowplow properly and adjusting the mirrors. After the intial prep is completed, drivers make their way through a course lined with cones and barrels designed to test driving ability with maneuvers like going around a turn to the left and right, backing up, and moving snow in-between parked cars.


Oh, and it’s all timed.


“This event is an opportunity to get drivers back in the trucks to see some real life situations. In addition to the course, we have classroom training on how to interact with the public and stay alert behind the wheel,” said John Gorney, Kentwood Director of Public Works.


“Every element they’ll face on the job, we test them on,” added Dooley.


And the tests are anything but easy. For starters, from the driver’s seat, both blades – the big one in front and the one underneath – aren’t visible. Yes, you read that correctly, you cannot see the blades. The front blade has one orange pole on each end that acts as a guide for the driver. They give a frame of reference on how wide the blade is and an idea on where it’s located. It’s very much a ‘feel’ thing where a driver must become one with the snowplow.


The green cones mimic snow that has to be moved between parked cars
The green cones mimic snow that has to be moved between parked cars

Unfortunately for me, I did not feel one with the machine, and my Master Yoda was nowhere in sight to teach me the ways of the force. During the serpentine I ran over a barrel like it was nothing more than a fly on the windshield. The obstacle that mimics pushing snow between two parked cars was also an epic fail as I distinctly clipped a barrel acting as the rear bumper of a car. Hopefully they had insurance. As I rounded corners, I assume I trucked numerous cones because, truthfully, I couldn’t really see whether I did or not. The sight lines in a snowplow aren’t the most advantageous to a roadway vehicle.


Thankfully the obstacles that involved backing up were taken out of the course for the celebrity drivers. After making my way through the course, I know why, it would’ve been a disaster.


Upon completion of the course, scores were gathered and tallied. Shockingly, yours truly didn’t bring home the celebrity hardware.


I never thought driving a snowplow would be easy, but it didn’t think it would be as difficult as it was. Even with a beautiful day and no true stress of hitting other cars or pedestrians, it was still a lot to process and handle. The ability to drive one of those on a busy street in the middle of winter is daunting, but the Public Works Departments take their biggest job very seriously.


“The event is very important,” Gorney emphasized. “Snow removal for all of the Public Works Departments is the biggest efforts we have. It costs the most money and the trucks are the most expensive piece of equipment. To get back in the truck and get some training is critical.”

Big trucks and hotdogs: It’s National Public Works Week

Kentwood Public Works Department oversees the city's recycling center.
Kentwood Public Works Department oversees the city’s recycling center.

By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma


It’s the kid in all of us that watches those big machines that build and plow our roads in wonderment and a little bit of awe. Next week, thanks to two local Public Works Departments, we will all get the chance to let our inner child out.


In celebration of National Public Works Week, May 15 – 21, both the Kentwood and Wyoming Public Works Departments will be hosting open houses, giving area residents a chance to discover all that these departments do for the city and its residents.


“Road, water, sewer, recycling, household hazardous waste,” said Kentwood Public Works Director John Gordy as he listed off just some of the items area Public Works Departments take care of on a daily basis.


In 1960 the American Public Works Association established National Public Works Week to create a better understand of the various responsibilities of a Public Works facility in maintaining the infrastructure of its community. This includes such areas as ground maintenance, sewer and water, potholes and road maintenance, and snowplowing to list a few of the many services provided by these departments.


Having hosted a Public Works Week Open House for the past 22 years, the event has become one of the City of Wyoming’s most anticipated activities for families..


The City of Wyoming will have various equipment out at its Public Works Open House set for May 16.
The City of Wyoming will have various equipment pieces out at its Public Works Open House set for May 16.

“It has become a tradition,” said Wyoming’s Public Works Assistant Director Aaron Vis. “We have been doing it so long that people have just come to expect that we will be hosting it.”


Because there are several entrances into the event, its hard for staff to take attendance, Vis said, adding they estimate attendance by the number of hotdogs served.


Last year, the Wyoming Public Works Department went through about 1,800 hotdogs with staff estimating about 1,500 people attended the event. Vis said he expects about the same for this year’s open house which is set for Monday, May 16, from 5 – 8 p.m. at the Wyoming Public Works building, 2660 Burlingame Ave. SW. Various Public Works Department equipment will be on hand for people to explore along with a police cruiser and fire truck. Staff will be on hand to talk to visitors about equipment and projects as well as serving free beverages, chips, and, of course, hotdogs.


Kentwood’s Public Works Department will host its first Public Works Week Family Event with the Kent County Road Commission Wednesday, May 18 from 4 – 7 p.m. at the Kentwood Public Works building, 5068 Breton Rd. SE. Road plow trucks and construction equipment will be on hand for visitors to explore along with 20 different displays on various Public Works topics. Gorney said there also will be live demonstrations on maintenance and repair of water and sewer systems and discussions on how and why different improvements are made on roads. Kent County Public Works officials will be there to discuss household hazardous waste and how to properly dispose of such items. There also will be giveaways for children, free snacks, and yes, hotdogs.


According to APWA’s website, National Public Works Week has been growing with more and more municipalities participating. Besides Wyoming and Kentwood observing the week, the City of Grandville will have a display at its library as part of Michgian Week BBQ, the City of Grand Rapids will mark the entire week with a display of Grand Rapids Public Works equipment on Market Street, and the City of East Grand Rapids will host a “Touch a Truck” event starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 18.