By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
In a rural county, there are a lot of dirt roads to be kept up. Madison County has approximately 460 miles of them, or about forty miles more than a round trip from Madison to Tampa on I-75. It takes regularly scheduled road grading to keep a road from turning into a “washboard” that can shake fillings out of teeth, and keep the drainage ditches clear for the rainy dog days of a North Florida summer.
“That’s one job you never get caught up with,” said Hugh Sherrod, who has been with the department six and a half years. “You grade it and you go back a week later, and it looks like you haven’t touched it.”
A team of six men makes up the two grading crews that circulate throughout the county on a regular schedule. Unlike most of the other crews who receive their lists of assignments each morning when they come in, the grading crews simply pick up where they left off the previous day and continue on their route. “We pretty well know where we’re going when we come in,” says Dennis Odom, who has one year and eight months with the Road Department. Grading at construction sites and other “specialty jobs” are not on their list. The specialty graders on other crews take care of that.
For this team of two grading crews, it’s all about the roads…smoothing out miles and miles and miles of unpaved backroads winding throughout the county, and keeping them all in passable condition. That’s more than enough to keep them busy, and when rainy weather sets in, the amount of work grows accordingly.
The two crews divide the county into two sections, north and south, with US 90 and SR 6 as the dividing line. Larry Cressley, Rosevelt Nelson and Buddy Bryant take the roads in the north section, while Dennis Odom, Hugh Sherrod and Kenny Sevor work the south.
On this particular day, Sevor, a single parent with three daughters, is out with a sick child. “Does that mean we all get to tell stories on him?” one of them jokes, and everybody laughs. However, Sevor has been with the department since October of 2002, and they all agree he’s a great guy. “He can pretty much run anything they need him to,” says Nelson. “He can do it all.”
Almost all the men were born and raised here, and have family here as well; they consider Madison County their home. Sherrod and his wife Ellen just celebrated their 38th anniversary Dec. 30, and they have a son at NFCC. Cressley has a 96-year-old mother here in Madison, as well as a daughter, son-in-law ,and a grandson who just turned four. Odom’s wife Debbie drives a school bus and their children are all adults. Nelson, the youngest crew member at 28, takes some kidding about being “fresh out of high school,” but he has worked with the road department for five and a half years.
It’s been a long day, and they’ll shortly be headed home, but at 6:30 in the morning they’ll be back and ready to roll. After all, those roads don’t get any smoother by themselves…in fact, just the opposite.
Madison County Road Department, Part Nine:
By Lynette Norris