On days like yesterday, everyone stops to stare when B.J. Walsh begins shoving his three-ton steel snowplow through the neighborhood.
The kids have a tendency to hurl snowballs, so Walsh keeps the windows rolled up. The adults, well, they're either grateful or outraged--depending on whether they've just finished shoveling the driveway.
"No matter where you put it, there's always going to be somebody that complains; it's either 'in front of my driveway,' 'in front of my mailbox.' I have to put it somewhere," Walsh said yesterday from his perch on the plow truck, a sturdy man dressed in a black cap and sweat shirt.
While the rest of Washington slept, Walsh and his comrades on the three-truck Montgomery County crew climbed out of their bunks in the Gaithersburg depot, where they had slept for just a few hours after a 21-hour workday on Tuesday. Shortly after 4 a.m. they began their slow travels, the snow spread before them like an immense down comforter.
The first task: to plow and salt the main roads to try to make them passable for the morning traffic.
About 4:30, they lowered their plows onto Montgomery Village Avenue, shoving the snow along a slick, two-mile stretch of roadway that gleamed an icy white. By the time traffic started picking up about 6, streaks of blacktop had become visible.
"The first thing we've got to do is open the road up curb to curb. Plow it, salt it and try to get it down to bare pavement," said Kevin Wines, a lean fellow who drove another yellow Ford truck on the same crew. "The cars will do the rest once traffic picks up."
But the real yeoman's duty came after dawn. After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and biscuits back at the Spartan depot, and installing new wiper blades to clear the frozen muck from his windshield, Walsh was back on the road, heading for the four subdivisions assigned to him.
That work goes more slowly, a constant back-and-forth to clear small cul-de-sacs and intersections. Lumbering along in trucks that can weigh as much as 12 tons when loaded with salt and sand, the drivers must dodge mailboxes, shrubs and low-hanging tree branches. A mere manhole can rattle the spine if not spotted in time.
"It's the most tedious part of the job," said Walsh, 38, of Aspen Hill, who does road maintenance for the county when he's not plowing snow.
He'd likely work until 11 at night, when he would go back to the depot for another short nap, with the rumbling of the Ford engine, the scraping of the plow and the ping-ping of the chains on his back tires all still ringing in his head.
"I like the winter. I like the cold weather," said Walsh, who sported a day's worth of stubble. "The thing I miss most about it is not being able to play in the snow anymore. Now, once I get home, I just want to sleep."
CAPTION: B.J. Walsh checks his plow truck. Part of a 3-truck Montgomery County crew, he was up at 4 a.m. yesterday after working 21 hours.
CAPTION: Crew member Kevin Wines: "The first thing we've got to do is open the road up curb to curb. Plow it, salt it and try to get it down to bare pavement. The cars will do the rest. . . ."